The Beginner’s Guide to Enjoying a Job You Hate: 8 Steps to Getting the Most out of Right Now

Written by Scott April 5, 2011

love a job you hate

“Everything can be taken from a man or a woman but one thing: the last of human freedoms to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

~Viktor E. Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning

Two weeks ago, I wrote an article about How to Hate Your Job. It was the most popular article I’ve ever written.

That scares me.

Hundreds of you wrote in with horror stories of situations you dreaded but didn’t feel you could get out of. I was reminded of how difficult it can be to leave your present situation to pursue something more meaningful. It’s often downright terrifying.

We often over-exaggerate our worst case scenario and we feel stuck.

When you’re involved in something you don’t like, you have two options. You can either change the situation or reframe it to make it more useful. As important as it is to do everything you can to find and do the work you love, sometimes that’s just not an option in the immediate moment.

We often can’t just quit and start over. And that’s usually not the best first step, anyway.

Before we can do what we love, we must first start by loving what we do.

Unfortunately, that doesn’t usually happen overnight. Sometimes it does, but it’s rare. It generally takes a boatload of hard work and experimenting. Once you find it, it’s more than worth the effort. But even if you have a vision of what’s next, what about right now?

Hating your job is a choice.

You may be in a spot you don’t feel you can get out of right now. Perhaps because you have a huge mortgage, kids, an unfortunate divorce or any one of the other million possibilities that don’t allow you to totally push reset. That’s fine (for now). But that also doesn’t mean you condemn yourself to career complacency and sleepwalking.

Take a second to reread the quote at the top. Even if we have nothing else, we have the freedom to choose what things mean and how we interpret our experiences. If Viktor Frankl could find meaning in his tortuous years spent in a concentration camp, you can certainly find it in your work.

If you tell me your job sucks, I bet you haven’t gotten creative enough.

How to make your job fun:

1. Be candid with your boss.

No boss wants their employee to be miserable. I know it might seem that way, but there’s no question that happy employees do better work. Your boss knows that. And with hiring a replacement costing an average of $50-100k, I doubt they want you taking off.

They just might need a brass tacks talk to show them how bad it really is. They honestly might not realize it yet. Be nice about it, but be truthful – don’t hold anything back. Tell them you want to stay but need to figure out something more enjoyable. Put it on them – or on both of you to figure out together. I bet they’ll come up with something interesting. You are worth more than you think.

2. Understand your strengths.

Then spend your time using them. And find a way to stop doing the things you suck at. If you love spreadsheets but hate making sales calls, then find a coworker who has the opposite skills. Offer up a trade. Your situation might not be that clear, but I guarantee there’s room to work.

I hammer home the importance of strengths in almost everything I write. It’s been the biggest single contributor to fulfillment in my work. Everything is so much better when you fill your time doing things you’re awesome at. Strengths Finder 2.0 is the best test I’ve found to start the discovery. Better off, be the office hero and have everyone take the test. You’ll save your company a fortune.

3. Find a bigger reason why.

When you’re stuck in your sixth set of spreadsheet gymnastics, it’s all too easy to lose sight of life. Find a way to connect your seemingly mundane task (assuming someone else can’t do it) to the overall purpose of the company or the people your product is designed to serve.

Maybe pitching newsrooms isn’t your favorite part of your public relations job. But once you connect with the fact that your pitches are what is going to get the word out to support the juvenile diabetes campaign you’re working on (and the kids affected), I bet you’re going to be a lot more eager to pick up the phone. You have to identify with the underlying why.

Everyone can find a reason. Chip Conley wrote a whole book (called Peak) on just this, where he describes an approach for even janitors to find fulfillment in their work.

4. Get really f*&#ing good at something.

Becoming an expert is unbelievably fun. And one thing’s for sure, it beats the crap out of doing mediocre work. Not only will your boss be impressed, but you’ll also feel mountains better about how you spend your hours, and you’ll become a ton more marketable for when you finally decide to pull the ripcord.

Pick something inline with your strengths and get specific. Maybe you decide to be the best presenter, salesman, relationship builder, analyst, product usability guru or number cruncher. Pick one and start running. People will start to notice. The better you are, the more you’re valued and the stronger your leverage. Let your natural strengths and talents lead the way.

5. Knock something out of the park.

Think of a project or role that looks like a ton of fun. I don’t care if it’s outside your job description – if you hate your current role, then maybe it should be. Find a way to take it on or at least pitch in to help. Do kick-ass work and before long, you’ll be given more of it. All of a sudden, you’re having fun.

6. Negotiate working from home.

Sometimes being in the office and dealing with a commute is the worst part of your role. You might love the work but get lost in the b.s. of a bureaucratic office. You’ve got to convince your boss you can do better work at home. Start with asking for half a day on a Friday and then maybe a full day.

Be sure to be massively productive and send him everything you did on your day off. Explain how much more productive you are in a quiet, focused environment. Then show him the results. If a half or full day is too hard to negotiate, then take a day off and tell him you have to stay home with your kids or wait for the plumber. Pick something realistic (and true).

Take a vacation day but then crush a ton of work out while you’re gone. Then follow up with a note that you had more time at home than you thought and here’s all the stuff you did. A big part of happiness is owning your own calendar. This starts with training your boss to focus on output, not time in office. With that comes freedom.

7. Make someone’s day – everyday.

Humans are hardwired to want to help others. It feels awesome. If you can find nothing else redeeming in your job (which I doubt), then pick someone who could use an extra smile and decide that your job is to give it to them. If Camille in accounting looks miserable, then tell her some jokes, go out of your way to say hi, buy her a latté or ask how she’s doing. Someone always has it worse than you do. Get over yourself – create a connection and help how you can.

No matter how small, find something. Make it fun. Changing the state of those around you is one of the most powerful ways to impact the world. Nothing feels better.

8. Begin your side-hustle.

Just because you don’t like your current job doesn’t mean you can’t start making progress on your escape plan. Working on a passion project on the side can do amazing things not only for your confidence and excitement, but also for how you experience your regular work day.

Building up something on the side also usually makes way more sense than quitting cold turkey, and makes the whole prospect of making a change a lot more approachable. The problem with dropping everything and quitting today is that the fear of having no idea of what’s next often causes people to panic. Panic and fear cause poor decision making and you’ll likely scramble to find another job as fast as possible. But if you haven’t made the proper discoveries about what you want to pursue next (or what went wrong and why at your last role), you’ll grab the next gig for the same wrong reasons as before and likely end up just as miserable six months down the road. Talk about a waste.

Start by dedicating 30 minutes a week to your project and exploring what’s next. Then build it up to 30 minutes three times a week. And so on. If you care enough, you’ll find time. You won’t believe the momentum that can build over a few months.

Finding Good Is a Habit – Learn It.

You just have to be willing (and at times extremely creative). So you have to stuff 10,000 envelopes – you finally get to work on that meditation practice you’ve been putting off. Perfect.

If you’re working at Starbucks and you’re starting to wonder if there’s more to life, how about you make it your personal job to make every one of your customers feel like a king? Make getting their coffee from you the best part of their day. Why not? You get to practice a priceless skill – building rapport, and your effect on them will start to ripple through their world. Or perhaps you apply your passion for art to making the most amazing foam latte designs your customers have ever seen. The small stuff can be more powerful than you think.

A friend of mine (and an award-winning motivational speaker and coach), Jim Cathcart used to rave about a McDonald’s where one of the women who worked the morning shift knew every regular customer by name and had their order ready before they even got to the front of the line. Her job was no longer Burger Flipper. Instead, it was Awesome Day Maker for dozens of people every morning.

Small shift in perspective = massive shift in experience and results.

Or how about the police officer who had the “miserable” job of directing traffic all day? What if he made his job into some stupid-looking hilarious dance? That’s exactly what one dancing traffic cop did. Plenty more followed. This stuff isn’t difficult. It just takes creativity.

Making Good of Today Does Not Mean Sacrificing Passion Tomorrow.

Let’s be clear. This is not about creating an excuse to stay in a job you hate. None of us deserves that. It’s simply a short-term solution to a problem that millions of people face.

You are still on the hook for finding your most meaningful work. It’s out there. But remember, there will never be a perfect time to make the jump. Wait as little as possible.

In the meantime, start by understanding how you can put your dent in the world. The more you understand that, the more likely you are to do something about it. Our Live Off Your Passion Guided-Discovery course and community might be a good place to start.

Work your plan. Make your current role part of it, and suddenly your meaningless keyboard bashing will have a little purpose to it. That’s a start.

It’s on you.

If you’ve done this, you’re in one of two places: you now actually like your job and want to stay, or you’ve at least found some enjoyment in it but still know there’s more to life.

Either way, if you’re going to stay (for now) you might as well have some fun.

But it’s likely going to take work to get there. Welcome it. If you aren’t happy with your current situation, then sack up and do something about it. We’ve been over this before …

Happiness not spent today does not equal more happiness tomorrow.

It’s on you – always has been, always will be. No excuses.

You can either sit idle while your story gets written or you can wake up and start writing it yourself.

Either way, someone’s got the the pen.

-Scott

Need more in-depth help?

If you are currently stuck in a pile of meaningless work and desperately need a change, there’s a good chance we can help. That’s exactly why we created the Live Off Your Passion Guided-Discovery career course – to help you find passion and build a career around work that actually matters to you and to the world (including building out your side-hustle while at your current gig). You are always welcome to try the course out risk free if you think it’ll help. Here are all the details and member stories.

Image Courtesy of Helga Weber

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