How to Survive a Job You Hate

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Although the phenomenon that economists dubbed the Great Resignation has abated, some signs point to a cooling labor market, meaning it might not be quite as easy as it once was to find a new job. This isn’t great news for the millions of Americans stuck in jobs they hate. 

However, don’t be quick to despair! Whatever the reason you’re holding a job you intensely dislike, there are steps you can take to alleviate your misery. Check out the guide below to learn what you can do to make the most of a bad situation, and reach out to our resume experts to get your job applications in tip-top shape.

Identify fixable problems

While it’s true that you won’t be able to fix every problem at work, there are likely many that have solutions. 

First, make a list of the things you dislike about your job. It doesn’t matter how big or small they are—you just have to be honest about how you feel. Try to collect them all in one place. You can keep a file on your personal computer or in a notebook at home that you can edit over time, whichever you find more convenient. 

Next, go through the list and evaluate each entry. Is the problem totally out of your control, or do you have influence over any part or all of it? Even if most of the problems you’ve listed seem outside of your control, don’t get discouraged (more on those later). 

Go through each problem you can control and devise an action plan. This might not be something you do all in one day, and you don’t have to come up with a panacea for all your work woes in one go. You can revisit this list as you get insights into new solutions or discover that some things work better than others. Maybe you have a rocky relationship with your boss. Try to be as honest as possible about the factors that contribute to problems in the relationship. What are you doing wrong, and how can changing it improve the relationship, at least to some degree? 

For example, your persistent tardiness could be a major source of tension. Once you’ve identified possible causes of the problem, develop an action plan that’s as specific as possible. If tardiness is the issue, resolve to set an alarm that will remind you to leave 10 minutes earlier than you usually do. You may not be able to fix the entire problem, but alleviating one or more big problems can make a huge difference to how you feel about work. 

Also, it’s okay if you fail sometimes. Don’t abandon your entire improvement strategy because of a few setbacks—perseverance truly is key!

If a problem is totally out of your control, brainstorm ways to minimize its impact. For example, if the relationship issues with your boss are due to a personality mismatch, it might be best to find ways to limit the number of interactions you have. Acknowledging that the issues stem from a personality clash may also help you come to terms with the strained relationship since there’s nothing either of you can do about it.

Focus on the things that work for you

Even if you find your dream job, you’ll still have paperwork, boring meetings, and thankless tasks to suffer through. In other words, all jobs have their drawbacks. Focusing on the positives can make some of the things you hate more palatable. Unfortunately, it’s far easier to decide to develop a positive mindset than it is to shift into one. However, there are some strategies you can employ to gradually change your focus. 

Try to remember the reasons why you accepted the job in the first place. Was it the excellent pay? If so, one idea is to maintain a spreadsheet that tracks your progress in paying down debt or inching toward a savings goal. Every morning before work, look at how far you’ve come and remind yourself that your job has gotten you there. The association you make between your job and your progress toward your goals may help you adopt a more positive outlook. If you start viewing your job as the thing allowing you to achieve your goals, those annoyances may suddenly become a lot more bearable. Doing these things won’t get you to love your job, but it can certainly help make going to work less of a miserable experience.

Regularly reflecting on the things you’re grateful for can have a positive impact on your mental and emotional health, too. Each day, try to think about and be grateful for a few things you normally take for granted. Perhaps it’s the health benefits, the fact that your job allows you to have a comfortable home, or the ability to save for your children’s college education. You may find that focusing on gratitude improves your overall mood despite your less-than-ideal work situation. If it’s things related to your job that you’re grateful for, even better. Making a conscious effort to feel gratitude can go a long way.

Develop a career plan and be proactive

It may feel like you’ll never escape a job you hate, but you won’t be in this situation forever! Even when the labor market isn’t that great, there are always alternatives and ways to turn your situation around. 

Think about what you want out of life and why you have this job. If positions in your field are hard to come by in the area where you live, are you willing to move for a new job? Can you switch industries or obtain certifications that will open more opportunities in your current location? Does your present situation require that you grin and bear it for a few years to get to the next stage of your career? 

Once you clarify your goals, you can devise an exit plan. The timeline may not be quite to your liking, but having an end in sight can often help you make it through a difficult situation. Even if you don’t have a timeframe for getting out of your job, making progress toward a new one—whether that’s applying for a position, conducting research, or pursuing additional education—can make you feel empowered and somewhat assuage the pain of feeling trapped.

At least several times a week (daily is better), peruse job postings or research alternative career paths. Make networking a priority and seek to connect with people who work in your industry. Consider asking someone who has achieved professional success to serve as your mentor. Though it may be difficult to find the motivation to do these things when you’re in a bad work situation, deepening your resolve and committing to daily action is the fastest way to fix things. Even a little bit each day adds up, so as long as you have the discipline to soldier on, you will soon witness the fruits of your labor.

Take care of yourself and don’t give up

Giving up is almost always the worst thing you can do. As tempting as it may be to stop caring about the quality of your work or tell your boss off, it will only make matters infinitely worse. Keep those fiery, mic-drop-worthy outbursts where they belong (in your head) and focus on positive action in the real world. Presumably, you’re reading this because you have important reasons to stay put. Continue to do excellent work and follow the tips above, and you’ll eventually escape your situation. 

It's important to know where you draw a line in the sand. This will vary from person to person, but one universal cue that it’s time to exit is when you find yourself in an abusive situation or one where you’re asked to act unethically. Know your boundaries and be prepared to walk away if they are crossed. If you’re unsure whether you’re being treated ethically, confiding in a trusted friend or a relative and getting their feedback may be a good idea.

Don’t neglect to take care of yourself! This might involve talking to a counselor, embracing spiritual practice, or leaning into a fitness goal. Ensure that your personal needs are being met while you make it through this challenging chapter of your work life. You may even find that exercising regularly, eating well, and taking care of your spiritual health improve your mood and help you see the positives in your job. Looking back one day, you’ll probably find that you learned important lessons during this time, and you will be glad you stuck it out. 

Finally, always be prepared for unexpected opportunities! Having a polished, professional resume ready at a moment’s notice is essential because you never know when a tremendous opportunity will come knocking. Get your resume edited by our experts to make sure you seize your chance!

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