How to cope with a difficult and unhappy job?
January 19, 2014 8:19 AM   Subscribe

All week I have been feeling lost, unhappy, disappointed, confused, and trapped.

In December I started working as transport driver for a flour mill where I live, driving an 18-speed Peterbilt truck with a 53-foot, tri-axle trailer. During the summer I completed around two months of vocational training to do this because I am too incompetent to achieve a higher education and I thought it’d be a good way to start becoming financially independent.

Even though I am thankful that the mill offered me my first break after months of unemployment because I lack experience, I am not really happy with where I work and what I do, but I am not able to do anything else either. The chances of me finding work somewhere else is almost zero because of my limited experience.

However I am conflicted because working where I am is providing me the financial stability to save for the things I want to do: travel the world and later re-attempt higher education in the fields of Geographic Information Systems and Cartography. Currently I am making around $1, 400 to $2, 500 bi-weekly.

Is it unreasonable in these times to want a fulfilling job?

Can someone offer me some advice on how to cope with a less than ideal job?
posted by 8LeggedFriend to Work & Money (28 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I am not really happy with where I work and what I do

It would help to know why not.
posted by flabdablet at 8:23 AM on January 19, 2014 [3 favorites]

Most of us have to do things we don't want to do in order to achieve our goals.
posted by shihchiun at 8:30 AM on January 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

Keep at it. You'll get more used to it. We all have to do things we don't like to get to where we want to be.
posted by sid at 8:34 AM on January 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

Also, a hundred thousand bucks a year can buy your way out of quite a lot of traps.
posted by flabdablet at 8:36 AM on January 19, 2014 [3 favorites]

working where I am is providing me the financial stability to save for the things I want to do: travel the world and later re-attempt higher education in the fields of Geographic Information Systems and Cartography

Are these definite plans or just vague ideas for "sometime"? I wonder if it would help to come up with a definite five year plan and start working towards it. Perhaps find a career advisor in your area to find out what you would need to undertake your further studies, and find a travel agent specialising in round the world travel to find out exactly what is involved. Then you can see your job as more of a means to an end than something you are trapped in. With a firm plan you can think more along the lines of "this week's pay will go towards X leg of my journey", or "this week's pay is X amount of tuition fees." Open an account specially designated for your plan and pay in a percentage of your wage each month so you can see your dreams becoming viable as the months pass. Bear in mind you are on a path and what you're doing right now is a stepping stone. In five years if you decide to do something different entirely you'll have savings that give you some freedom to make other choices.

But what I would also say, looking through your question history, is that your issue seems more deeply about a kind of dissatisfaction with yourself, not your job. Consider putting a little money towards therapy or some kind of work on your self-esteem. Believing you are good enough and where you are at is good enough for now might help ease the pressure you're putting yourself under.
posted by billiebee at 8:53 AM on January 19, 2014 [5 favorites]

Yes, you should specify "not really happy" Don't like because there are safety issues or you're being mistreated? That's bad. Don't like because you have to answer to someone else all day? That's an attitude problem, one that won't go away if you change jobs.

Also, you've been doing this for a few weeks. Most new jobs are uncomfortable at first as you settle in. I've never done it, but it seems like hauling work may be a little monotonous, which would be incredibly uncomfortable if you're used to a lot of stimulation and generally entertaining yourself. There may be ways you can improve that situation, audiobooks or podcasts maybe, something to feed your mind while you drive, as long as it isn't an unsafe distraction? And make sure you're getting exercise in your off hours, as that kind of sitting work is hard on both your mental and physical fitness. You've been doing it just long enough to start feeling the effects.

Again, unless the job is unsafe in some way, you need to give yourself some time to learn how to not be unhappy in the work, and you just plain need time to get experience and paychecks so you have options.

Very few things in life, including things you actually want to do, are going to feel good without some work on your part.
posted by Lyn Never at 8:56 AM on January 19, 2014 [4 favorites]

I am too incompetent to achieve a higher education

Just want to start on this. You completed a two month vocational training course and received your Class A CDL. I don't have one of those, and to be clear - while it would be useless for my job - it is still a very technically different understanding of driving than a lot of people have, and something that is extremely versatile, It isn't GIS and it isn't Cartography, but it is a definite skill.

In addition, time fixes a lot of things with higher learning. Some people can jump straight to it and they do fine. I envy them. Others struggle in some ways and need more time for aspects of our self to mature before they are ready to learn. Failure is only failure if we chose to learn nothing from it.

You are now doing a very different kind of physical job than a lot of other people. You likely want to start making sure that you take care of your body. At a minimum buy a foam roller and take a few minutes on both ends of the day to try to roll out the parts that hurt. If nothing hurts right now, use the foam roller any way - you'll find stuff does but you just don't know it.

As far as the mill goes - you've said the most important thing about it: providing me the financial stability to save for the things I want to do. So here's the thing: focus on that. Keep your costs as low as possible for as long as possible, and focus on your goals. Set milestone rewards and do some pre-reading and learning. Take some time in your evenings and learn some free GIS software. Map your truck routes in something like GRASS. Start looking at maps and trying to figure out why they are the way they are - what people are trying to convey.

I dunno, use your downtime for your passion, acknowledge the bad sucks, but help yourself through it, above all: focus on what you truly want.
posted by Nanukthedog at 9:00 AM on January 19, 2014 [8 favorites]

Is it unreasonable in these times to want a fulfilling job?

No. But to want a fulfilling well-paying job that will allow you to fund all your goals in the not-extremely-distant future when you are very young? That's pretty unreasonable for a normal person, yeah.

If your job is boring, tedious, beneath you, the hours suck, your coworkers are not interesting, your boss is sort of an ass, etc., it will be worth it to stay. If your job is putting your health at risk, or your boss and coworkers are abusive bullies, then that's a different story. It's hard to tell here which it is.
posted by DestinationUnknown at 9:07 AM on January 19, 2014 [6 favorites]

Why are you unhappy with work?

If you give us more details about the source of your unhappiness we might have more concrete ideas on how to cope.
posted by bunderful at 9:08 AM on January 19, 2014

Can someone offer me some advice on how to cope with a less than ideal job?

Hobbies, friendship, generally finding meaning and enjoyment in your life outside of work. Lots of us work jobs we dislike, and frequently for wages much, much lower than what you're making.

Give it some time, try to find satisfaction in doing your job well and safely. Make a bit of a game of it, see how many loads you're hauling on a daily basis, whatever helps you keep your spirits up while you're building your savings and your resume. There's a lot to be said for doing a job that actually needs doing rather than bullshit office make-work, and you're actually getting paid real money to do it.

If the problem is that the job is mind-numbingly boring and your access to any other stimulation is limited, I can offer some suggestions there if you let me know what those limits are. (Like, audio not allowed? Can't speak with coworkers? Etc.)
posted by asperity at 9:14 AM on January 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

Maybe I'm feeling a little cavalier with my advice this morning, but why can't you quit and travel the world?

How old ARE you? I rarely enjoy dealing with the adult products of young folks who did nothing but the responsible thing. If nothing else, in 5 years you may appreciate a solid driving job that gives you time and funds to support your other passions.

Financial stability is a great thing, but sometimes you can be open to more possibilities without anything holding you back. Take $3000 or so and go somewhere cheap and keep your ear out for under-the-table tourism industry opportunities and stretch your trip out. Make sure you have some money to get home.
posted by jeweled accumulation at 9:29 AM on January 19, 2014

The jobs I was unhappiest in - even if they were objectively perfectly fine (like, not abusive, decent co-workers, decent pay, etc.) - were the ones I didn't want to have because I wanted to be Elsewhere doing Something Else, but I didn't know exactly what or where. My unhappiness was external to the job, and I had no exit plan.

I agree it would be helpful if you could describe what it is you dislike about this job more concretely so that we can offer better advice about how to mitigate the worst bits until you can get out, and offer advice on making a plan to get out.

There's a lot of Do What You Love! stuff floating around out there. Doing what you love is great, but don't put all your emotional and financial eggs in one uncertain basket. Try to separate your self-worth from what you do for money. There is nothing wrong with Doing What You Think Is Okay for money and finding fulfillment in other ways. Personally, I became a happier person once I figured this out.
posted by rtha at 9:35 AM on January 19, 2014 [2 favorites]

"Eyes on the prize" should be your mantra. If you really want to travel the world and then go back to school, sit down today and calculate how much money that will take. Then calculate how much you'll have to work to get there, and get a calendar. Mark down the date on which you can leave the job you dislike and do the things you want to do, and make every monetary decision between now and then based on "will this impact my end date?"

Your job may be boring, and it may be unfulfilling, but a job can sometimes be nothing more than a means to an end, which is what this sounds like for you. Keep the end in mind and you'll be amazed how fast the time will go by.
posted by pdb at 9:46 AM on January 19, 2014 [2 favorites]

Save some cash, and quit in two years to travel for a while.
posted by empath at 9:47 AM on January 19, 2014

You do know that it is incredibly common -- universal, I daresay -- to have a "less than ideal job?" I'm not dismissing your unhappiness, but I wonder if you are comparing your current job to a fantasy. You are very young and you certainly do not need to settle and stay put where you are. But I think you should talk to people in various professions about their workaday lives before concluding that the grass is that much greener elsewhere.
posted by Wordwoman at 10:03 AM on January 19, 2014

That's darn fine money for a job you're unhappy at, especially when you don't have a concrete reason why... there's a lot of people making $1200-1400 a MONTH, not every two weeks, in the same unhappy-with-job boat who don't even have the ability to do what you're doing, because they lack the free time/ability to go without an income long enough to do the training/various other reasons.

And they do it because they need that income on the table. And most of them do it their ENTIRE LIVES because they didn't have that opportunity.

You might not be, but you sound young. It's been the fad lately to tell every kid going through school that they're some special snowflake who is wonderful and will get everything they dream of and that nothing can stop them, praising every time they even attempt something, like that's all it takes - and the reality is, that isn't true.

It takes sticking with things, even if you don't like them once you got them. Otherwise, ten years down the road, you'll be on job #10 - or 20 or 30 - and you won't have moved forward an inch.

Abandon things cautiously. Have a darn good reason when you do. Following whim isn't going to accomplish anything except make you feel like a leaf floating around in the breeze... and how many of them are there? And what do they achieve? Somehow, being raked into a sodden lump with all the other dead leaves at the end just doesn't have the appeal of the free floater gliding on the wind.

Enjoy those dollars like the gift they are - because there are thousands, if not millions, who wish they had them.
posted by stormyteal at 10:05 AM on January 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

Is it unreasonable in these times to want a fulfilling job?

Unfortunately, it is unreasonable to think entry-level jobs in any field are going to be emotionally fulfilling. They rarely are. On the plus side, they do teach you the how to be an adult working a full-time job, while also paying you and building your experience so that after a while you can move up or on to a more suitable career path. Some careers will never fulfill workers emotionally, but the ones that don't at the higher levels tend to compensate their worker better financially and/or in work/life balance. If you've already learnt that you're the type of person who does need fulfillment at work, well, there's one of your big goals. If you're at all unsure, wait until you are sure. You're making a very good salary right now.

Can someone offer me some advice on how to cope with a less than ideal job?

Keep your goals in mind and constantly work toward achieving them without acting hastily in regards to your current position. I worked my first business job (really a succession of three positions in the same company, as I was promoted twice) for two years; in that time, I paid off all of my undergraduate student loans, saved money, and worked hard at getting promoted so I could see if it was just the entry-levelness that was getting me down or if it was the nature of the industry. Once I decided that I wanted to try a different path I started to work in my off time on laying the groundwork for my graduate school application.* By the time I was accepted to graduate school and it was about to start, I had saved enough money to be able to afford to relocate and pay for the first year of living expenses, which minimized the amount of new loans I took on for graduate school.

Some friends of mine who took similar first jobs that didn't suit as well as they'd like blew their money after work on bars/fun to try to buy immediate happiness. Other friends I met in graduate school did follow their dreams but didn't prepare in advance for them and one has over $150K in accumulated student debt in a field that has an average starting salary of $35,800 and that's if you can even find full-time employment. Short-term, they were happier than I; long-term, I am happier. But even that wasn't without its own cost.

In switching career paths, I lowered my overall salary considerably and also took on more debt and endured missed earnings while in school. Switching was also a huge gamble in that my first industry was fairly stable; the current one is ridiculously risky with a horrible supply/demand ratio. Know that that stuff has its own major repercussions - part of my ambivalence about having children comes from feeling like I can't afford them, friends who earn more than I do take group vacations and I often can't afford to join in, I must move to where the job is, and so on. So know, too, that the equation for overall life happiness is not as simple as job enjoyment = perfect and that very, very few people are fortunate enough to have all desirable job categories (money, time, enjoyment, stability, location, coworkers) maxed out. As in, lottery odds.

*Graduate school was required for the career I wanted to pursue and I had already tried out and liked aspects of this career before deciding to go.
posted by vegartanipla at 10:32 AM on January 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

Is it unreasonable in these times to want a fulfilling job?

Of course it's not unreasonable. I would wager just about everyone wants a fulfilling job, given the choice. At the same time, the Do What You Love ethos that has been so widely promoted for the past several decades has, frankly, given many people profoundly unrealistic expectations about the workplace, the economy, and the way our society is structured: “Do what you love” disguises the fact that being able to choose a career primarily for personal reward is a privilege, a sign of socioeconomic class.

In reality, a vanishingly few number people get to do what they love right off the bat, if ever. Those that do, as the article notes, are frequently able to do so because of financial and social privileges -- in other words, they probably have money, and lots of it, as well as a personal and professional network of support.

For the vast majority of us who were not born to such circumstances, we have to work harder to make our lives meaningful. This may mean finding a way to slowly build a meaningful career over many years (almost everyone I know who has a career they love -- or at least like a lot -- didn't really get there till their 30s or even their 40s). It may mean spending a lot of time with hobbies, creative pursuits, etc. (I know tons of people who make art or music, travel, do political activism, etc. outside their day jobs). Sometimes the hobbies and creative pursuits themselves can lead to meaningful work, but that usually takes a matter of years (see point 1).

tl;dr -- of course there's nothing wrong with wanting fulfillment in your work and in your life. But building that fulfillment is a process -- often a long and challenging one, given the realities of 21st-century capitalism. I don't think you should ever let go of your desire and drive to find fulfillment and meaning in your life. But I do think you need to start letting go of the notion that finding that fulfillment and meaning is just a matter of one-stop shopping for the perfect job. It's not. It's going to be a process. This job you hate right now can be a valuable step in that process by allowing you to earn good money and learn some important skills -- both of which will provide you with some options in a year or two that you do not have right now.
posted by scody at 10:47 AM on January 19, 2014 [9 favorites]

Everyone has jobs they hate that are the bridge to something else. My first job after I graduated college, I got to the point where I dreaded coming in and would cry just thinking about having to go to work. I hated it and I earned a hell of a lot less than you. But I did it for two years and the experience it's given me has been valuable in helping me move on and up.

It would help to know why you hate it so much and whether you have any other options, prospects, ideas, etc. for what to do instead. But I would say if you just plain don't like it, toughen up because it's a real opportunity for you to make your life what you want it to be someday. I wouldn't just give up. If your company is making you do unsafe things, your co-workers are abusive, etc. and it's bad for your health, mentally or otherwise, then that's another story. But everyone hates their jobs sometime. But they stick with them so they can eventually do something they don't hate.

I think listening to podcasts, music, etc. to keep yourself distracted and mentally occupied is fine. I'd find podcasts or talk radio programs you enjoy. They have audio drama and stuff too, if you might like that. I personally love Sirius XM radio. Just drive safe and definitely do not attempt to watch anything while driving. There was a horrible accident where I lived because a truck driver was watching stuff while driving.

Keep in mind with higher ed, you can do student loans, but you should look at your other debt and financial situation first. I did pay for all my schooling via financial aid and student loans. Paying it back every month is no fun, but I earn enough now that it's not really a problem to do so. And also, if you don't graduate, you still have to pay them back.
posted by AppleTurnover at 11:00 AM on January 19, 2014

And yes, I agree with rutabega to use your off-time wisely. If all you do with your waking hours is work, of course you'll feel trapped. Try to have some fun sometimes. Don't just sit around and watch TV when you don't have to work. Plan little trips, even if it's just to the zoo or a baseball game or something. Not sure where you live, but get out and see stuff every now and then. Visit family or friends. Make sure you have other key moments in your life other than work.
posted by AppleTurnover at 11:09 AM on January 19, 2014

Too incompetent for higher education? I'm in a community college now and had to attend an orientation to literally show us how to use a web browser and it took 3-4 hours for them to deliver it. I'm in a class where over 50% of the initial signups got dropped because they didn't manage to fill out and turn in an orientation form that was almost literally "Did you read the syllabus? Y/N." I don't know what you think college is like but by being able to navigate here and type coherently you're ahead of the game.

I know a lot of truck stops have Wifi now. Is there a community college by you with online courses so you could at least start working through the prerequisites so the job would have a little more purpose? My online math class, you have assignments to turn in but have a full week to get them in and several ways to do that, from faxing them to scanning them into a PDF and emailing them to dropping them in the US Mail. Failing that, is there a university that offers correspondence courses that you can knock out on your own timeline over time that'd tackle some prereqs so you're making progress?
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 11:15 AM on January 19, 2014 [2 favorites]

Just to note, there are six-figure salaries for truck drivers up at the Alberta oil sands. Now, that’s a place where you’ll be breathing carcinogenic air and working in landscape that makes Mordor look unspoiled… but at twice the pay rate, you’ll make your financial goals in half the time. There are probably also unlimited opportunities to work in even higher-paying driving positions: the guys who handle the big CATs are hauling in the megabucks.
posted by at 11:49 AM on January 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

Alberta, North Dakota, or get into the Teamsters and drive for movies. (Yes, James Cameron was a truck driver.) I get that it's not much fun, but you're making good money, and if you're saving it, you'll have a freedom that many people your age (and older) envy. You're only been there a month or so, right? Please stick it out for another month or two--just to prove it to yourself.
posted by Ideefixe at 2:15 PM on January 19, 2014

I'm almost 50, have had loads of jobs, and I've never found any of them to be completely fulfilling. Instead, I take the positives where I can at each job. For example, at one job I might like the people I work with. At another job I might like the independence that I have. At a third I might like the commute. Some jobs have several things I like: commute, money, ability to learn on the job, etc. A few jobs had almost nothing to recommend them, but you do what you have to to get by.

I try to focus on the positives, and bitch good-naturedly about the negatives with coworkers or friends. I spend my not at work time not thinking about my job, which makes me happy. If a have a stray "oh god, tomorrow is Monday and it's back to the job" thought on a Sunday, I force myself to think about something else, like I pick up a book or watch a movie to put it out of my head.

Ideally we'd all love fulfilling jobs. And the lucky few have them. But even people with insanely fulfilling jobs have moments when they'd like to chuck it all in.

If I were in your situation, wanting to go to school and to travel, I'd be socking away as much money as I could, keeping myself busy during my shifts (someone suggested audio books/podcasts/learning opportunities while you're driving; that all sounds exactly right), and checking local school continuing ed classes or online classes to see if I could fit some prerequisites in. And, when you get some vacation time, plan a short trip somewhere.

But try not to stress so much about it. We all feel lost and unhappy starting a new job. Really!
posted by clone boulevard at 2:51 PM on January 19, 2014 [5 favorites]

I am too incompetent to achieve a higher education

You sound really down on yourself. Different people are talented in different areas. I was successful in higher education, but there is no way I could drive a truck. I don't know how anyone drives a truck at all. It seems incredibly difficult and dangerous. You are able to do something not many people can do or even would be able to do if they wanted. I'm pretty sure I could never learn how to competently drive a truck.

I've never been able to find a job that I loved. Maybe it's sad, but I don't even expect to find a job that I love. I find things that I outside of work. For me, work is a means to an end. I am able to afford to take care of my dogs, take vacations, and own my own house. The best way I know how to cope with a mediocre job for me has been to focus on areas outside of my work and look at work as a way to make money so I can do the things I love.
posted by parakeetdog at 3:32 PM on January 19, 2014 [3 favorites]

You've been given great advice so far. I'd like to add that one of the jobs I hated the most was a contract that lasted about three months. It was very very well paid because the client was horrible to work for. I was hugely overpaid and under utilised, hiring me was like bringing a bazooka when you needed a knife, so I was miserable and unhappy. Everyday, the only thing that got me through it was the paycheck which is an attitude I never had prior or after.

In retrospect, it was one of the best jobs as well. Why? Because straight after that I had to move to a state for a period of time where there was no work in my field. The money I had made in that contract allowed me to be unemployed and pay my mortgage and live for a whole year without working. I would suck up a few months of being that miserable any day of the week if it meant I could take the next year off. How many people have that luxury? Consider that this job may buy you happiness, it just might be delayed until after you leave. Save your pennies and grit your teeth and plan. You are luckier than most.
posted by Jubey at 6:26 PM on January 19, 2014

I was just flipping through MefiProjects... There is one that is right up your alley.
posted by Nanukthedog at 8:31 PM on January 19, 2014

Do what you love, love what you do: An omnipresent mantra that's bad for work and workers

This isn't to suggest that you should stay forever with a job that makes you unhappy. But if you feel, as I do, some sort of cultural pressure to be doing work that you can proudly announce that you love at cocktail parties, this might provide perspective.

I am doing work that I can't say I love. But it pays me well. I've considered going back to school so I could do work that I love. Then I've run the numbers and found that I would be going into debt to make less than half my current salary. So I've made the decision to do work that I don't love but find fairly interesting and tolerable, that will give me the money to take care of myself and to pursue things I love in my free time.

That's my decision. Some people make the decision to live very frugally so that their career can be focused on their passion. That's also a valid decision.

On the other hand, I believe studies show that rapport with your colleagues is a more significant predictor of job satisfaction than your pay or the work you do. So there's that.
posted by bunderful at 7:38 AM on January 22, 2014

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