How to Be Happy in a Crappy Job

What to do when you can't leave yet

Let’s face it. Not all jobs are rainbows and sunshine. While I’m generally an advocate for changing yourself before changing your job, sometimes your job just sucks. And for reasons beyond your control, you need to stay in it.

If that’s the case, rather than trudge through in misery each day, here are some tips to get happy at work even if your job sucks and make the best of a bad situation.

1 – Know why the job sucks

While it may seem counter-intuitive to focus on the negative, understanding specifically why your hate your job will help you make the job better. You can’t change something if you’re not aware of it.

Set a timer for 15 minutes and  write down all of the reasons you hate your job. You can even be really petty here – maybe the coffee is terrible and coffee is your thing, but not bad coffee. Don’t hold back. Think of everything that regularly pisses you off about work and write it down.

Then, go through the list and highlight the circumstances you can change. If bad coffee is one of yours, you can easily go get coffee, make coffee at home and bring it, or bring a french press into the office for yourself (I actually had a boss that did this!).

On a separate sheet of paper, write the actions you’re going to take to change the low-hanging fruit (i.e., I will bring an aeropress and pre-ground coffee into the office for a coffee break each morning).

Then, you’re left with a list of the harder ones to change or those you can’t change. Spend more time on these. Think of one thing you can do to make each item better.

If one of the items is a long commute, you could get an audiobook from your local library to listen to on the ride. If one is a particularly toxic co-worker, try to only interact with that colleague when others are around. The point here is not to make every “bad” item on the list disappear, but it is to make them slightly better.

It just has to be a nudge:

Remember, we’ve already acknowledged the job sucks – you’re just trying to get by by taking some control so you’re not completely miserable.

2 – Find time for you

Even if one of the items on your “bad” list is that you’re overworked, you have to find a way to disconnect and walk away. Whether it’s a literal walk in the middle of the afternoon, a workout in the evening or a morning breakfast ritual, find time to stop working or thinking about work. The best way to do that is to focus on something else.

Hobbies are great. It turns out, people with hobbies and activities outside of work are generally happier. So, what have you always wanted to learn to do? Start learning it! This doesn’t have to be a big deal. You don’t need to register for a class or join a club. Go to YouTube and look up how to videos or just google “how to play the harmonica” (or whatever your aspiring hobby is) and start doing it!

This is a time for you to play and since you’ll be focusing on something else, you CAN’T focus on work! It also will give you a reason to tell work you have to get out. Saying you have something else to do – an “appointment” – is much easier than telling your boss you need a break.

It’s nearly impossible for those of us that aren’t monks to stop thinking about something that’s consuming our mind. Instead, replace it with a new activity to focus on so your mind gets a break from your terrible situation.

3 – Focus on what’s next

Generally, I advocate for presence. By that I mean being content and satisfied and aware of where you are and not always striving for what is to come or longing for what once was. But when the present sucks and you’re stuck in it, you need perspective. It’s a good time to focus on next steps and remember that nothing is permanent.

Set goals for your next role or long term career strategy. A goal will focus your mind on what’s to come and direct your efforts at your bad job to be better at your future job. Make one of your goals a learning goal – a goal focused on learning a new skill for a particular task – and try to make it something you can learn in your current role.

With that focus, you’ll be developing skills for your future, stay focused on what’s to come, and get your mind off the bad circumstances you’ve found yourself in. When you have a goal for your future, that will make the actions you need to be taking now clearer, and you might just find a way to get out of your crappy job sooner than you thought.

The Short Of It

All of these steps – which WILL make you happier in a job you hate – boil down to a few pieces of advice.

  1. Control what you can
  2. Get your mind off of it
  3. Dream about the future

Of course you need to do this in a strategic way (my favorite!), so take the time to determine how you want to approach these steps. Then do it!

You can’t always change jobs and you can’t always change bad circumstances, but you can control your mindset and approach to work. You’re in control here, so stop sitting back and allowing yourself to be the victim of your job. Get out there and control your career!


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