Why can't I just keep my head down and cash the checks and be happy?
January 26, 2011 12:44 PM   Subscribe

I know I'm lucky to have a job, but I hate it. How do I cope?

I'm stuck in a dead-end job where my skills aren't being used, and now I feel like I'm 4 years behind the curve. I'm willing to fund my own training (maybe in Public Affairs), but haven't been able to find anything that works with my schedule. I've also "re-invented" myself career-wise twice now and I'm not quite 40; I don't know if I have it in me to start over again.

I'm looking for other work, but obviously this is a bad time to be job-hunting. I've got decent pay and perks, and too many responsibilities to just quit and "follow my bliss," but sometimes I feel like my soul is dying. I look around and know there are plenty of people who would gladly take my place. How do I just be grateful for what I have?
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (19 answers total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
Focus on hobbies. Or start a new hobby. Or volunteer. Or take a class in something you've always wanted to learn. Do something that gives your life value outside of work, and work won't feel like the focus of your life.

And realize that you'd feel much farther behind the curve without the job. (Trust me.)
posted by phunniemee at 12:49 PM on January 26, 2011 [3 favorites]

"I know I'm lucky to have a job..."

I wish people would stop saying this. Unemployment right now is about 10% in the U.S., which is to say, employment is at about 90%. Not being in the bottom 10% doesn't make you particularly lucky. If it does, you're also lucky to not being dying of cancer then, I guess.

You need to do something like move to a different position, or career, or "quit and follow your bliss", or cut your hours and use the extra time to do something you love. You can't just say "how can be happy with my unhappiness?" and use the excuse that 1 in 10 people can't find work as a reason for you to not even try.

And I don't think it's human nature to be grateful for the status quo. We pretty much always want just a little more than what we have. We derive satisfaction from forward progress more than we do from being at any particular level.
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 12:54 PM on January 26, 2011 [37 favorites]

Try to refocus self-worth away from what job you do for cash to some other area of your life?

I know it sounds trite to say/hear, but honestly the best thing that happened to me was to fully realize that as long as your job is not putting you at emotional or physical risk, things are ok. I am not my job, we have moved on from the days where Mr. Miller was a miller, Mr. Smith was a smith and so on. Now, it may be better to look at a job as a means of funding to live your life.
posted by edgeways at 1:00 PM on January 26, 2011

I think the previous comment about looking for a passion where you can volunteer some of your time to is a good first step. This not only gives you something to look forward to, but maybe more importantly, it embeds you in a circle of like minded individuals, who will not only become your friends, but may also be the network that creates or leads to opportunities where you can find a job, etc.

Think carefully about what your "bliss" is: Are there organizations in your neighbourhood that can use your enthusiasm? If you're into art, is there a gallery that needs advocacy work? If you care about a particular subject, is there a club that believes everyone should know about it? If what you are interested in can translate into some form of relevant outcome (regardless of whether you get paid for it or not), I think you'll come off the better for it overall. As well, these days, with places like MetaFilter and Meetup, it's a lot easier to take those first steps.

It's tricky sometimes to enable the work=passion equation. Society as a whole doesn't really help, especially if your passion doesn't fit in the normal sense of employability (is that a word?), but at the end of the day, if you want a shot at it, you have to do something. The key is doing it in a way that you feel is responsible and protects you from things getting worse.

Good luck!
posted by davidng at 1:07 PM on January 26, 2011

When I was having trouble at my old job (around the seven year mark...) I read The Joy of WorkIng and it helped for a while, but eventually I went to being unsatisfied again. Sometimes there is just no polishing a turd job :-)

You could try browsing the many blog entries about gratitude on Zen Habits (like this one).

Phunniemee is right too - focus on the other things that make you happy. Is your identity closely tied to work,? That might be a source of disappointment right there. It took a long time for me to realize this. I am actually soon to be unemployed, or "transitioning out of the company" as they call it these days. All last year I worried and worried about layoffs and then I made the conscious decision to not let work control my emotions. When the layoff was actually announced, I felt surprisingly happy instead of sad. Part of the reason your soul may be dying is that you have too much emotional investment in the job. As I document my job duties I feel a freedom in knowing that some problems are no longer my responsibility :-)

And speaking of that, you may want to re-examine the responsibilities you mention. I can assure you that I'm a very responsible person, but it's amazing how many of them are actually unimportant when you try to figure out why they are important.

Good luck! You may also like watching Lemonade, a movie about laid off advertising professionals and how being laid off was the best thing for them. It may help you to follow your bliss :-)
posted by Calzephyr at 1:10 PM on January 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

I wish people would stop saying this. Unemployment right now is about 10% in the U.S., which is to say, employment is at about 90%.

Which is also to say that on every grid of 10 x 10 jobs, there are ten marbles rolling around trying to fill each slot that opens.

With that in mind, there are many less desirable slots that already got rolled into by a more deserving marble, who is waiting to jump up a notch given the chance, assuring that the any remaining open slot percolates down in value.
posted by StickyCarpet at 1:11 PM on January 26, 2011 [2 favorites]

Anon, your choice of words is revealing. When we "invent" and "reinvent" ourselves, all we're really doing is acting out a role, but we aren't really being ourselves. I can't fault you for not wanting to go down that road again. But you can, and should, spend some time thinking about who you are, as a person, and what kind of work will make you feel useful to others. In short, it's time to think about a vocation. I found this link on Art of Manliness, about finding a vocation (as opposed to a mere job or career) to be insightful. It's part of a series that might help you as you process what to do next.

While hobbies and activism are well and good, I think you might be happier developing a plan of action to find your calling than just trying to live for the gaps in your work time--that just sounds like living life the wrong way and it won't surprise me if that too, fails to cure your misery.
posted by Hylas at 1:34 PM on January 26, 2011 [2 favorites]

Cultivate gratitude toward your job. Instead of thinking of how dead-end it is and dreading it, try creating lists of things you like about it during your commute, even if those lists include things like, "pays the mortgage", "time to read metafilter", and "lunch break with coworker x".

In conjunction with that, do what you can to do to train yourself in that other work, look for other jobs, and take up other life-affirming activities outside work.
posted by ldthomps at 1:34 PM on January 26, 2011

My mother always told me that your job and your work are not the same. Many people use their job to fund their work.

Speaking for myself, any passion I have is killed when I'm obligated to work at it 40-50 hours per week, so keeping my work and my passion separate has worked out better for me. Not that I'm ruling out finding a job I LOVE to do all day every day, but by holding out for that ideal, I'd be running the "grass is always greener" risk.

However, I would get out of a job I HATED. There are jobs I won't do (so far), and since I don't have kids, I have the luxury of working for a lot less pay in exchange for a very decent working situation.
posted by small_ruminant at 1:49 PM on January 26, 2011 [2 favorites]

[folks, this needs to not turn into an unemployment debate, sorry.]
posted by jessamyn at 2:17 PM on January 26, 2011

There are a lot of things you can do:

At your job, try to change the focus. Try to move up and/or over to a new position. Focus on the people instead of the job. See if you can change your attitude - challenge yourself to complete more widgets than you did yesterday (or fewer) or see if you can figure out ways to improve the processes to make them less drudgery. Or find new bits of work to add to your day if they are more interesting, then convince your boss to give your crappy stuff to the new guy while you work on the new stuff.

Away from your job - focus on hobbies or people in your life. Look for a new job. You mention too many responsibilities - can you cut down on some of those? Move to a cheaper place, spend less, save more and give yourself a buffer for changing jobs.

As for how to be happy for the status quo - learn the serenity prayer or meditate. Figure out your salary per minute and count them away one by one.
posted by CathyG at 2:20 PM on January 26, 2011

Hylas is on to something about finding a vocation. Whether you ever get paid for it or not, it's crucial to have a direction to move in, something you enjoy that challenges and occasionally frustrates you. Sometimes the "find a hobby" advice rings hollow because you can cross-stitch or collect pogs for decades without really giving it much thought, and you won't get much satisfaction from it. Amusement and distraction are fine in the short term, but progress and a sense of accomplishment are what you really want.

It also helps, when you're unhappy, to keep a continuing log of how unhappy you are and why. Maybe your job is making you miserable today, but all next week you'll be fine with it. It's easy to lose perspective of how you've been feeling in general when you're focusing on how you feel right now. Consider keeping a calendar and updating it at the end of every day with how upset you are with your job, on a scale of maybe 0-5, and average it out after a few weeks. Seeing it over the long term like that can either spur you into action or make you realize it's not so bad (depending on how bad it really is).
posted by Metroid Baby at 2:42 PM on January 26, 2011 [3 favorites]

I resigned from a burn-out job, politely with notice. I did not have another job lined up, and after a bit of scrabbling, I eventually found something in a different line of work.

You really should be looking for another job now before you resign... but if you are burnt-out, it can be hard to organize a cheery face for interviews.

Hobbies are nice, but if your job is killing you, you should bail out. Just be prepared for dealing with some different and difficult forms of stress in your life in the transitional phase.
posted by ovvl at 3:00 PM on January 26, 2011

- As someone else said, find a hobby that you are really passionate about. It really helps/
- There are so many different dimensions to life (work, recreations, family, spiritual life (assuming spirituality ..). They matter and assuming you do not have to work extraordinarily long hours , try to stay focused on that
- Look for a new job that you can be passionate about while you have this job. If you were 21, it is a relatively easier decision to quit and look for a job. If you are 40 and you have had consistent career progression, it may be far more sane to hold on to your soul-crushing job (assuming you are providing for others in your family) until you find something which works for you (OR UNLESS you have significant savings that you can leverage without putting your potential retirement at risk. You probably know this already -it is much easier to look for a job WHEN you have a job compared to when you don’t
-Do some soul searching. If you have "re-invented yourself" twice, the issue may potentially have to do with how to react to routine/conventionality/large corporation bullshit et al instead of the job per se. Consider that and think about what (if anything) you can change in your current environment to make your work experience better before moving on
- If you are surrounded by people who are forever bitching about work, that makes it worse

Here are two stories that stayed with me -

- Lucy Kellaway on FT responding to a reader- once a reader asked her if he should quit an accountancy degree program to join a film degree program (since he obviously loved films a lot more and thought that he could make much better films than most people who seemed to be attending these programs ..). Kellaway replied that a good framework will be to think of people queuing up for newly released movies. The most popular movies will have the longest lines and if you join late - you sometimes have to wait the longest and may not even get the ticket in time. The reader was smart enough to figure this out when beginning college and made the painful choice of not joining the most exciting program (by any stretch of imagination). If he wants to become a filmmaker (and who amongst us dont want to be a filmmaker?), he'll join hordes of other people who may not all be equally good/tough/crafty. Some will never get the "ticket" so to say. He needs to consider all the other aspects of his life and take the right call before quitting his current degree program.

- I had a boss who once put this much more plainly - Most cubeville "jobs" have at least 60% to 90% suckiness factors(for lack of a better word). It really is up to you - how you negotiate the cool/sexy part of the job component to well beyond what it is – it doesn’t always work, but it is always worth a try.

I know it does not sound very motivating. And having said all that, I have often failed to take all this good advice myself. So don’t feel too bad if you choose to ignore everything we are saying. This is the framework in which I would like to decide – that is not to say I have always done the pragmatic thing 
posted by justlooking at 3:53 PM on January 26, 2011

Start taking on more responsibilities and tasks that DO use your skills. Don't wait for someone to ask you -- volunteer to do something, or just start doing stuff that you notice needs doing. Fix processes that are broken and inefficient, etc.
posted by Jacqueline at 3:53 PM on January 26, 2011

My apologies for all the typos and the stream of consciousness stuff :(. This is what happens when you try to post after 3 glasses of wine :( ....
posted by justlooking at 3:55 PM on January 26, 2011

Reading these answers very closely...

taking on more responsibilities and tasks that DO use your skills

Agreed, but what if you're not allowed? I'm so micromanaged I can't even update our Intranet site (one of my job duties) without getting permission first. (And then my boss is too busy to give permission, but that's another story.)
posted by JoanArkham at 5:17 PM on January 26, 2011

If you're micromanaged that much then it's time to get the fuck out of there. Being infantalized by your manager is toxic and will slowly erode your self-confidence, efficacy, and capacity for problem-solving. Learned helplessness happens at work too.
posted by Jacqueline at 1:06 PM on January 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

I hate to re-iterate, but:

I'm seeing: "if your job sucks, then just regress into hobbies" advice here.

No, if your job sucks, you have to re-evaluate your life-goals again. There really is no specific limit to number of times you are allowed to re-invent your career. It sounds like you might have to try to do it again.
posted by ovvl at 9:17 PM on January 30, 2011

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