I am working with a few folks right now who are either exhausted from an overwhelming job they used to love, or working in a job that frankly sucks. They are working with co-workers who drive them nuts. Or they have too much work, not enough time, and not the best pay. Maybe their work does not bring any joy when it is finished, or the office culture is negative and toxic.
I know the typical advice for someone in this situation, especially because of the current “Do What You Love” zeitgeist. People like to say: “Quit that job that is killing you, do what you love!” And yes, I think that is important advice. If you are really unhappy in your job, it might be time to begin the tough work of looking for something new or even building your dream business or position.
But when giving this advice, there are big things people forget about.
First, not everyone can go out and scoop up a new dream job. This economy is difficult and there are many factors that can hold us back from our dream job. Important things like access, poverty, family care, illness, racism, sexism, ageism and more.
Second, even if you decide to make the move to change jobs or careers, the path to change can be long, and you still need to the survive the job you are in in the meantime.
And here is another thing: You could switch jobs and find the culture of your next organization is toxic, with very difficult co-worker relationships and an exhausting workload.
So what now? Just stay annoyed, exhausted, and unhappy?
No. I do believe and have practiced another way.
Even in the hardest environments, people can survive and sometimes even thrive.
A few practices:
Find a little good
Find something you love about the job. One thing. It can be silly even. Whatever this is will be your little secret. Write it down. Carry it with you or place it in a place you can see it daily.
Yes, this helps. It seems sometimes like such a simple thing. Can finding something to be thankful for really help when there is so much to be angry about? Yes. Gratitude is an inoculation from stress and exhaustion. Practicing gratitude helps connect us to the little things surrounding us that serve as reminders that there is always, always something to be thankful for. And the practice of being thankful cultivates a sense of connection in us and reminds us that even in the hardest circumstances there can still be joy. Every day, write down three to five things you’re thankful for. When you wake up or go to bed think of something you are thankful for. Take pictures of things you are thankful for. (Your gratitude does not need to have ANYTHING to do with your job).
Set boundaries and say, “No Thank You”
The difficult co-worker, the long hours, the pile of work… I know it seems impossible, but somewhere in there is actually something you can say, “No” to! It starts with clear communication about your boundaries and capacity. Be clear with co-workers and bosses alike, and you will have less stress and more room to breathe. What could this look like? Telling a co-worker that from 9:00 to 11:00 in the mornings you would like to work quietly without conversation. Figuring out how long certain projects are taking you, and letting your boss know, so that when your boss adds another piece of work to the pile, you ask them to choose the priorities.
Cultivate your life outside of work
Find the things that bring you joy and practice a few. Put energy into things besides your work and take the pressure off having to have the perfect job. Take time for bedtime routines, family dinners, dance classes, coffee with a friend, jogs, weekend road trips, writing, music, or art. What makes your heart purr? What have you been missing? Do more of that.
Keep tabs on when it is time to leave
Build a plan for getting a different job or even different career. It is possible. You do not have to stay where you are forever. The transition may take a while. Talk to friends about the move or change you want to make. Start looking at options: what jobs exist, what school programs are available, what are all of the ways you can make a change? Do you need to be saving money for a leap? Or updating your resume? Take one step toward leaving, even a small step. Then use the courage you gained from the small step to take the next step. (Even grab time with a coach who can walk you through building your plan).
What is helping you survive or even thrive in a job that is too much?
What one thing can you do now to move from exhausted to feeling grateful?
Next month I will begin to dig into what organizations and leaders can do to create healthy environments where people enjoy going to work.
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Dealing with difficult people (in life and in work)
Nature. Beauty. Gratitude.
Louie Schwartzberg along with Brother David Steindl-Rast
Gratitude, gifting and grandpa
How to find 20 hours a week to work on your business (Even if you have a full-time job)
How to approach your job now while you are transitioning out of it
Is work killing you?
David Posen, MD
A great book with tools and direct talk about the impact of workplace stress on us and our communities