By Anne Evenson
If you’re stuck in a job you don’t like, you may be looking for a way out. While preparing your next steps in your career, here are some things to do to make the most of your situation.
“There’s a trick to the Graceful Exit. It begins with the vision to recognize when a job, a life stage, a relationship is over—and to let go. It means leaving what’s over without denying its value.”
Ellen Goodman, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and columnist
Having difficulty sleeping? Lingering too long over breakfast? Does your anxiety grow the closer you get to the office? Whether it’s a toxic boss, harmful organizational culture, unfulfilling work, or a confluence of other horrible things, disliking your job stinks. And feeling trapped in the job you despise because you can’t leave can suck the life out of you. You may be a single parent, and the job pays well and has excellent healthcare, or the location is close to home, reducing your time in traffic. Your employer may match 100% of your retirement contributions, or there’s a recession and job growth has slowed.
Whatever the reasons, if the only path to professional happiness is leaving, but you can’t make the transition yet, you can still take action to weather your current situation. While you’re updating your resume, interview-prepping, networking and pouring over job listings, here are some things you can do to survive and even occasionally thrive until you land a better position.
Face the Facts, But Don’t Ruminate
While venting to your friends, family, or colleagues can be therapeutic at first, doing it too much can ruin your day and theirs. Acknowledge your situation in all its terrible glory without thinking about it too much every day. This will likely take some practice but try to control your negative thinking and not let it dominate your every waking thought. Practice mindfulness and meditation to calm your mind and redirect your thoughts to more optimistic territory. Beware venting to coworkers in case it gets back to management or leadership, as this could damage your reputation or cause you to lose control of the situation or your job before you’re ready to leave on your terms and timeline.
Look For the Silver Lining
There are probably a few positive elements of your job, so try and focus on anything that provides joy or satisfaction. Perhaps you work from home, have some great coworkers, or find some of your work fulfilling. You may even develop valuable skills and abilities, like maintaining professionalism during a tense meeting or dealing with difficult people. Whatever benefits you can find will help you get through the tough times. Shift your focus to things you can control and remember that you can manifest positive events by adjusting your attitude.
It’s difficult to stay engaged if you’re doing work that you don’t find challenging or repeating the same tasks every day with no end in sight. This situation is like quicksand and can quickly pull you into apathy if you let it. Setting goals can break the monotony and motivate and inspire you. It could be a modest goal, like completing a task faster by flexing your creative thinking muscles, or something more ambitious, like learning new software to help you work smarter. See this time as an opportunity to improve your skills and knowledge base whenever possible. Regardless of your goal, remember to reward yourself as you complete tasks; you’ve earned it! Small wins are essential when you’re coping with a job you despise.
Take Breaks and Enhance Your Workday
Doing something you don’t enjoy or working with people you don’t like can affect your psyche and make you feel miserable. That’s why it’s crucial to divide your day into manageable chunks and take regular breaks to avoid getting sucked into the void. Get coffee, go for walks or stare at trees; do whatever soothes your soul, even if it’s just for 15 minutes, so you have something to look forward to every day. Visiting nearby museums, libraries or outdoor spaces can have a restorative effect and give you the energy and focus you need to survive the rest of the day.
Look for ways to enhance your daily routine, like listening to music, podcasts or audiobooks. Bring yummy things in for snacks and lunch, or lighten up your workspace with fun photos, art or plants. If you work remotely, consider working from a quirky coffeehouse, energized coworking space, or in a tranquil outdoor setting on your balcony or backyard. Inject joy into your daily routine wherever you can to help you stay positive. Remember to schedule some fun stuff outside of work too. Spend time with friends or loved ones, exercise, make art, read, relax, garden, whatever refreshes and reenergizes you.
Consider How to Improve Things
Ask yourself if you can do anything to improve your situation. Is your supervisor micromanaging you? A conversation with them to establish regular times when you can update them on your progress so they can offer feedback could ameliorate this issue.
If you feel overworked, consider asking for more support. If you’re the manager and are overburdened, delegate tasks and schedule activities to those who work for you to reduce the pressure and ensure even distribution of workplace duties.
Is your manager aware of how unhappy you are? If they aren’t the source of your frustration, and you think they would be open to discussing your situation, it may be time to speak up. Managers often juggle many responsibilities, so they may need to learn the details about your day-to-day. Try managing up by showing care and empathy for them. If they’re amenable, find out about their frustrations and feelings and ask if there are ways you can help them. Communication is vital to establishing trust, and you never know; this could improve your situation dramatically.
Boundaries are essential in all situations; however, having them in the job you hate is critical. Don’t check emails, texts or Slack messages after work hours. Communicate with your supervisor when you’re feeling overwhelmed. Don’t feel compelled to share your personal life with people who don’t care about you; instead, opt for polite professionalism, and don’t feel obligated to listen to complaining coworkers. Protect your mental and emotional health however you can until you get out. Take vacation time and use personal days whenever you need a respite.
Reflect to Learn and Grow
Finally, note what you dislike about your job to avoid these things in your next position. Is there a lack of leadership, or does your role require independence wherever you go? Is your team ruthlessly competitive, or are you in a dog-eat-dog industry? Take time to assess what’s working and not working for you in your career so that you can course correct moving forward and find something that’s a better fit. Try journaling to record your thoughts and feelings so you can focus on what your optimal professional future might look like.
Most of these strategies aren’t sustainable long-term, but try some and see if any can temporarily ease the stress and boredom until you’re ready to move on to something better. In the meantime, remember that your well-being is paramount, and you deserve a fulfilling career where you’re treated with dignity and respect.
Anne Evenson is a native Austinite and a proud Veteran’s spouse with over 20 years of marketing, communications and program coordination experience in the public, private and nonprofit sectors. She is also a sculptor, jeweler and all-around dabbler in the arts and loves to help military-connected individuals discover their inner creativity.
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