Strategies to Deal with a Job You Don’t Love
At some point in your career you may encounter a situation in which you aren’t as happy, fulfilled, and satisfied as you’d like to be in your work. It’s a common challenge that almost everyone faces. The key to coping with the situation is to use strategies that help you deal with a job or career you aren’t totally thrilled with at the moment.
In his book Adversity Quotient: Turning Obstacles into Opportunities, management consultant Dr. Paul Stoltz studied over 100,000 people in more than 100 companies to learn how they perceive and deal with challenges. Dr. Stoltz studied all kinds of challenges, from the common to the extraordinary, including everything from flight delays to losing a big client to a competitor and so on, and he came up with a measurement he calls an Adversity Quotient (AQ). Having a high AQ is increasingly more important as the world of work becomes more challenging. Employees and managers are being asked to do more with less. Increasing burdens and demands of the workplace lead to more stress (adversity) at work.
In his research, Dr. Stoltz discovered that people who had a high AQ had three things in common:
- They don’t blame others.
- They don’t blame themselves.
- They believe their problems are limited in scope and can be dealt with.
If you aren’t happy with your job right now, pay attention to points 1 and 2. It’s easy to blame your boss, an annoying co-worker, or the jerk who cut you off in traffic for the occasional bad day, but if you find yourself frustrated every day for eight months, you can’t blame the outside world for what’s going on inside your head.
You can’t blame yourself either! In fact, the key is to let go of the whole blame conversation replaying in your head altogether. It’s not serving you or doing you any good. It’s just putting you in a bad mood every day. You can raise your AQ by changing the story you tell yourself about your work and your situation. You can let go of the beliefs that you are helpless, that the challenges at work are insurmountable, and that it’s someone’s fault. It’s no one’s fault, not even yours.
When you unburden yourself of these improper assumptions, you strengthen your belief in yourself. You did make the best decision you could at the time, you can achieve success or happiness at work, and the challenges you face are totally do-able. You don’t always need to add something in order to become stronger. Sometimes you can strengthen through subtraction. Subtract the negative feelings, emotions, and beliefs you have about your job; strengthen your ability to withstand the challenges that will invariably come. This is career resilience through subtraction.
If you dread going to work every day but feel the need to stay because of security, you may be suffering from a low adversity quotient. You’ve accepted that you have to stay even though it’s not the right fit. As a result, you’ve started to amplify every single thing that doesn’t go right and made it a bigger issue in your mind than it really is. Minor inconveniences become major challenges. You allow them to overwhelm you, causing you to feel shame, guilt, and the need to blame someone. You may be blaming yourself for being weak and blaming others for making life more difficult for you.
Get yourself out of shame, blame, and guilt. Increase your self-awareness of how you perceive and deal with challenges at work. Take an active role in discovering what works for you and what you like about your work. Keep these aspects in the forefront of your mind, and reframe your attitude about the challenges you encounter.
Try this experiment for a week. Subtract items 1 and 2 above from your thought processes and conversations. Get rid of any blame or fault-finding of yourself or others. In the place of blame, simply notice. Acknowledge that something happened: a challenge arose, a situation presented itself, an obstacle appeared. Then, after you’ve acknowledged it, avoid assigning blame or fault.
Proceed to item 3: Limit the scope and severity of the challenge and tell yourself that it can be dealt with. You may not know how to deal with it right now, and that’s OK. Maintain your composure and know in your mind that the problem can be handled. Your goal is to examine how you perceive the severity and size of the challenge. Compare the current situation to other challenges you’ve handled successfully. Is this challenge significantly more difficult, similar in difficulty, or easier than others you’ve managed? Once you’ve assessed the level of difficulty, you can decide if you need additional support and the next steps to take.
Find the things that are right, that are positive, that are working for you in your current job. Start with small things, because maybe all you have are small things. Here are four ideas to help you find ways to make the best of a less-than-ideal job situation:
- Gratitude: Start every day with your “gratefuls,” in particular, gratitude for the fact that you are in the majority because you have a job. You have income and all the spoils that go along with income.
- Celebrate Your Wins: When you are in a job you don’t like, it’s even more important to celebrate your wins. If you don’t have anyone to celebrate or share your win with, share it with yourself! Call yourself and leave a congratulatory message, write yourself a note, mail yourself a congratulatory card, or send yourself flowers at work. Just be sure to recognize your accomplishments and celebrate in your own special way.
- Focus on Strengths: Take a few minutes to identify what’s working, what you do well, what you’re good at in your work and find more ways to harness those strengths. Look at what you do that comes easily to you or that you do effortlessly. When you’ve discovered a few of those tasks or projects, see if you can negotiate with your boss to include more of those types of tasks or projects. Consider identifying a colleague who is better at and likes to do the tasks that you are less successful with and suggest trading some of your tasks. When you present this option to your boss, you are coming to him or her with a solution to a problem, making you more valuable because then the boss doesn’t have to figure it out.
- Have an Escape Activity: When you focus on your strengths and become aware of what you do well at work, you will often find there is a task or type of project that you become totally engrossed in. As mentioned above, do more of those. If it’s not in the realm of possibility for you to get more of those kinds of tasks or projects, or to trade tasks with a colleague, find at least one work task or project that you can escape in daily to help calm your nerves and maintain your sanity. Relish this time, and soak it up for every ounce of enjoyment or escape you can. Do it, and do it well; then celebrate the win and be grateful you have at least this one small thing to enjoy at work.
As you begin to subtract blame and fault-finding from your thoughts and conversations, you’ll make better decisions, navigate challenges more easily, and turn obstacles into opportunities more often. You can create a better work environment for yourself, increase your engagement, and perhaps even earn a raise or promotion in the process with career resilience by subtraction.13