What To Do When You Hate Your Job And Can’t Leave
Here we go again, another round of the bad economy blues. Depending on your favorite prognosticator, the possibility for another recession is somewhere between 33-99%. Standard & Poor’s U.S. credit downgrade has the stock market in a panic, and many companies are shedding jobs and stalling expenditures.
It’s no surprise that many people in the workforce plan to take a similar hunker down approach personally. In 2008, I met lots of executives who didn’t want to stay in their jobs but felt they had no choice. They certainly weren’t going to jump ship to be the last person in another one. I have a funny feeling that those who were finally ready to move to a better position are back to holding tight instead.
So how do you cope with a job that you don’t like when you can’t leave?
I realize that, as a coach, I’m supposed to debunk your perception that you don’t have actual choices with optimistic statements that open a world of possibilities for you — no one is an indentured servant after all.
But I’m going to take another approach and stay in the pragmatic, cold world where there are mortgages to pay, insurance coverage to carry, tuition payments to make, and entire industries contracting. Sometimes to be the person you want or need to be, you really can’t leave. At least not right now anyway. (Ask Timothy Geithner, who was rumoured to want to go but was asked to stay.)
The prudent strategy might be to figure out how to deal with your job, and even make yourself less dispensable. It’s one thing to be bored, it’s another to be frustrated and stagnant. If you’re stuck in a job you’d love to leave, try these coping strategies:
1. Get creative.
When people are tired of their jobs they commonly say they’re bored, uninspired, or not using their full potential. We equate lack of excitement with low creativity. But as Scott Adams, the creator of Dilbert, recently put it so seriocomically in the Wall Street Journal, there’s a benefit to soul-crushing boredom: it allows the mental space for creativity. Brain science continually supports this same notion, that reflective time allows our best ideas to happen.
If your job isn’t lighting your fire, light it yourself. Try scheduling blocks of strategic time where your goal is creative ideation. Develop new ways to do your job, change an entrenched work process, or tackle an industry-wide problem. Write a white paper. Reorganize your department. Develop a new product. Find something that you’re passionate about and can affect. You’re more likely to find creative time in a job you know well than a new one you’re struggling to learn.
2. Reconfigure your job.
Most people have more control over the actual content of their work than they recognize. After all, no two people do a job the exact same way. Perhaps using the time in #1, consider how your job could be stretched to take on a different function, or streamlined to be more efficient, or even rewritten. Your job could include a day a month cross-training in another department, for example, or the addition of external business development responsibilities. You might be able to reallocate budget to fund an area of interest. Pretend that you’re new in your job, and look at it with fresh eyes. (Or borrow fresh eyes by having a trusted peer offer recommendations.)
3. Develop a professional side project.
You picked your job for a reason so hopefully something about it speaks to you. Take a mental walk outside to your larger industry or marketplace, and consider what you could contribute as a side project to your current position. Think of something that will help you with your job and your marketability beyond it. Start a small think tank, or an industry watch group. Tackle a pressing issue by building an online community. With social media, you can do this from the comfort of your office. It can help your current company, give you a broader platform, and demonstrate your leadership chops.
4. Build your personal brand.
Many people don’t think of augmenting their personal brand or network until they’re in the heat of a job search. This is a missed opportunity and feels opportunistic on the receiving end. Instead work on your personal brand while you are gainfully employed. There’s the usual networking events and catch-up lunches and social media updating. But think larger as well. Contribute articles or guest blog for thought leaders in your industry. Offer to speak on panels, or join a corporate or philanthropic board or committee.
5. Focus on the rest of your life.
Though less ambitious by our U.S. standards, this last option isn’t one to be dismissed. When we’re doing more treading water than a 100m butterfly, there is generally a side benefit of time (whether literal or mental). You can choose to do good work, and then invest more energy in your family, getting in shape, hobbies, blowing off stress, or whatever else makes you happy. Instead of getting antsy, revel in the time that’s now with the realization that it won’t be forever. (No matter what the pessimists say.)
Do you have ideas for how to “take this job and deal with it”? Share here or on Twitter @kristihedges.
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