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6 Ways to Cope with a Miserable Job

Unhappy at Work

“Instead of complaining that the rose bush is full of thorns, be happy that the thorn bush has roses.” ~Proverb

If you’re feeling miserable in your current job or career, wondering when you’ll be able to do something that makes your heart sing, I know exactly how you feel.

I spent nearly a decade of my life working in jobs that I despised, having to dig deep every day to make it through another eight hours. All the while, my soul felt like it was dying inside.

I remember writing one-page memos and having to wait a month while they worked their way through the bureaucracy. Every manager would return the memos, requesting a small, pointless change. By the time the memos were released, I barely recognized the words as my own.

I knew that I had to get out, that I had to find something more meaningful, something where I could actually make a difference. But getting out of these jobs was hard. Really hard.

One time, three years into a job, I knew that I needed to make a change. But it took me another three years to save up the money and find the courage to actually walk away. Meanwhile, I struggled to make it through the daily grind.

Perhaps you’re in a similar situation and wondering how you can continue going to a job you hate, day after day after day, not knowing when or if you’ll be able do something more meaningful.

I don’t want you to go through what I went through. So here are my suggestions for how to cope when you’re stuck in a career or job and find yourself feeling miserable.

1. Figure out why you’re miserable and change what you can.

People can feel miserable for all sorts of reasons. One of the first things you can do is to reflect on why you personally feel miserable in your current situation.

Perhaps you don’t feel challenged enough in your current position. Or maybe you find the job too stressful. Or perhaps your current work team isn’t a good fit for your personality.

Rather than accepting your current situation “as-is,” be proactive and work toward improving it. Can you ask your boss for more challenging projects? Can you be transferred to a different team?

2. Change the stories you tell yourself about your career.

Most jobs or careers aren’t inherently miserable. We often feel miserable because of the stories we tell ourselves. Your stories about your job are a creation of your mind and are neither true nor false. They’re simply stories.

Misery is created when we create and cling to stories such as “I can’t stand this,” “This is awful,” or “I should be doing something else with my life.”

If you want to feel less miserable in your current situation, then change your stories to something neutral or even positive. For example, you could tell yourself “This isn’t really that bad” or “I will continue working toward a meaningful career. What I’m doing right now is only temporary.”

Those stories are equally as “true” as the negative stories that you’re currently telling yourself. Next time you catch yourself repeating one of your negative stories, see if you can replace it with a more positive story.

3. Shift your perspective—it’s not as bad as you think.

Throughout the world, there are millions and millions of people who would be confused if you told them that you were miserable in your current job. They’re making a lot less money, while working longer hours, and often in far worse conditions. They’d change positions with you in a heartbeat.

When you’re feeling miserable in your job or your career, try thinking about these people and remembering that your situation may not be as bad as you think. Things may be far from ideal, but they could also be much, more worse.

4. Build meaning however you can.

While it may be easier for you to create meaning in some careers than others, you can always create meaning right where you are. Find the one or two things that you like about you current job situation and focus your time and energy on those.

For example, I’ve worked in many government jobs that I found boring and repetitive. But I always had co-workers that I enjoyed talking to and spending time with. Those relationships were what provided me with meaning and helped me cope with the day to day drudgery.

5. Connect your job to other values.

If you can’t find anything meaningful about your current job, then try connecting your job to other values.

For example, if you value providing financial support to your family, then focus on how your current job allows you to fill that value. Put up photos wherever you can of your family and periodically look at those photos and remind yourself how important it is for you to support them.

Or perhaps your job provides you with ample time off to pursue other activities that you value. Again, focus on how lucky you are to have a job that provides you with that opportunity.

6. Focus on other parts of your life.

Finally, if nothing else works, you can always focus your energy on other parts of your life. Simply accept that it will take time to move to a more meaningful career. And that for now, your work won’t be a primary source of meaning in your life.

And then put your focus and energy into creating meaning in other parts of your life.

Build the best, most meaningful relationships that you can. Explore all sorts of different hobbies or explore one hobby in-depth. Get involved in volunteer activities that provide you with a sense of meaning.

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with wanting to change careers in order to do something that you personally find meaningful. I’ve done it several times myself. But making a career change can take time.

There’s no reason for you to be miserable where you are right now, always waiting for a better future to arrive. Try using some of the suggestions above and see if you can improve your current situation while also taking steps toward a more meaningful, future career.

Stressed businessman image via Shutterstock

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About Ed Herzog

Ed Herzog is a life coach whose mission is to help people discover an authentic career path – one that allows them to use their talents and passions to make a positive contribution to the world. If you’re searching for an authentic career path, you can start today by downloading his FREE guide: 10 Powerful Questions For Discovering Your Life Purpose.

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  • Fantastic post 🙂 I use a lot of these with my clients too – especially getting them to think about some of the good things about their jobs. Like a gratitude practice, this can help shift their perspective sometimes, even when they know that their job won’t be their long term career.

  • Talya Price

    This hit home for me. As many people know my day job does not serve me creatively. And financially it is becoming very difficult, to stay above water. I have no idea what to do. I still work and I still get up everyday. However I have a feeling things will end soon and I will be faced with some more problems. I could say I wish things were different, but that does not change the reality.

    I caused these problems and now I have to find a way to get out of this mess. I just wish I knew how. If I had money, more money then things would be much better but now I am living payment to payment and soon I have a feeling I will either be evicted or homeless or both. But it is all my fault. I wish I never came to Poland.

  • This was totally my story for many years – I’ve only just recently left a terrible job and am making my way in my own business. Thank you for supporting those who have yet to make the leap!

  • The Interview Maven

    All of these suggestions are great. As someone who just started my own business after decades of not being quite miserable enough to take the big leap out of employment; I want to encourage others to start small and start taking action. It feels wonderful to be the boss and be in charge.

  • Thanks Naomi! I appreciate the positive feedback!

  • Taking that leap takes courage but can definitely pay dividends!

  • Glad to hear it Elizabeth and thanks for the positive feedback!

  • I’m sorry for your struggles Tayla and hope you can find a positive way forward. I don’t know enough about your situation to give you any specific input but I’m sending some positive energy your way.

  • Michaela

    This is a beautiful article, thanks Ed. I really agree with everything you’ve stated as I, too, have come to these conclusions whilst working in a job that isn’t what my heart truly wants to do.

  • Thanks Michaela! I really appreciate the positive feedback! We may not always be able to change our external circumstance but we can always change how we respond to those circumstances.

  • I’ve quit every job I’ve had because I quickly lose interest and I get bored doing the same thing. I don’t know if there is “something wrong with me” or its just that I have a strong drive to feel free. A job can become such a routine that it no longer motivates us to be the best we can be. Sometimes people stay in jobs they don’t like because they are too afraid to move on. However, I understand we all have bills to pay and sometimes we just have to buckle down and stick it out. I am guilty of telling myself that “I should be doing something else” or “I should be pursuing my passion.” Once this story enters my head, the job becomes a bigger encumbrance on my life. I still haven’t found the balance between accepting life as it is and wanting to pursue “greater things.” I don’t want to be complacent and just let life happen to me because I was trying to be safe.

  • I hear your Marcos! I think you’ve identified some universal struggles for many of us when it comes to work and employment.

  • The real question is- Is it worth it to cope?

  • jmlou67

    Marcos, I highly recommend a couple of books that were eye-openers for me, because you sound a lot like me. One is “Refuse to Choose” by Barbara Sher, and the other, my favorite, is “The Renaissance Soul: How to Make Your Passions Your Life” by Margaret Lobenstine. Good luck wherever the road leads you. 🙂

  • Thank you for taking the time to recommend these books. I will definitely check them out.

  • I remember a job I thought I hated so much! Like your suggestion #3 I learned to change my perspective. Change your thinking, change your life, right?

    When I realized that I did have more than a lot of people, I felt better. When I learned to think about my employer first, they felt better about me, or so it seemed, and vice verse. I learned to do what they said, when they said, and how they said. Within 6 months, I had been promoted!

    I was young then. Since, I’ve learned a lot about myself being that I AM NOT someone who enjoys working for someone else, so I made changes.

    I am self employed and nowhere near rich or as comfortable as I want to be, but I don’t have to schlep to the office on Monday morning at 8am and that suits me, just fine! 🙂

  • Yeah, that FEAR is a tough one. I think that gets a lot of people. I’ve made the changes because I was more tired than I was afraid. I want to live my life and my passion, so I rarely operate out of fear.

    As long as no one will die, take your #CalculatedRisks and live your life!

    I crashed and burned in 2009, having to return home to my mom with only the clothes on my back! But, I survived and “you” can too!

  • Isn’t it nice…TIM? I started out mystery shopping as a hobby and now I work for myself and earn a decent living as a field services professional. From mystery shopping to government contracts – start out small and #TakeAction

  • Talya Price

    Hi Ed. My day job in teaching English on a freelance basis in Poland. It does not bring me joy and as of recently is not bringing me in the money that I deserve. My passion is acting and film making. And I have been trying to make the move to London. But it seems to be an issue of money. I need money, real money to move to London and live a life there. And I feel so lost that I have no idea what to do.

  • I hear you. I have put myself through some hard times because I didnt have money coming in, but the alternative was keeping myself depressed in a job that I didnt like. The hard thing is knowing what will make us grow as human beings. Sometimes we have to learn to accept and other times we must change.

  • There isn’t “something wrong” with you my friend. To me, you’re in a far far better place than most people. It is because you have the awareness of what you truly desire. Being “free”. My personal opinion is that taking up a job is not the best way to earn a living. Think about it. When you take up a job in an organization, you agree to give the major time of your day, week after week for the purpose of somebody else’s dream and vision. You must act in a certain way. Work in a certain way. Do exactly as you’re told. Not as “free” as you’d like to be.

    A better alternative could be to become self-employed. Choose the nature of your work. Choose what you’re most passionate about. Choose when to work and when to take an off. And if you do it systematically, you can go on to earn full time (yes it is possible nowadays with the internet and all the technology) doing what you love. Now that sounds like freedom.

    Because in the long run of life, no matter how much secure you’d have lived with your job, you may always find that nagging voice within that wanted you to explore and really “live”.

    Go for it my friend. 🙂

  • Awesome 🙂

  • Theantimartha

    I don’t need meaning, I just need the paycheck. My current job used to be pretty good, then things went south in the institution as a whole: closed half the parking garage, which means I have to be there before 8 am to fight for a space (I used to work 10-6 & public trans isn’t an option); I have a supervisor who took several duties away from me BUT forgets to do them/doesn’t do them correctly & then blames me; I have been illegally denied sick time with a doctors note becuz said supervisor was going on vacation; most long-term employees in the institution left or retired, leaving entire departments where no one knows how to do their jobs thus dealing with them is a nightmare. I’m 64, no college degree, no second language so finding a new job is next to impossible & I can’t afford to retire. I hate my job & I’m beginning to hate my life & none of your touchy-freely suggestions seem like they’re gonna be of any help

  • Thats very encouraging, thanks for that!

  • You’re welcome 🙂

  • Pamela

    I am currently fighting the “I should be doing something different” mindset. I have been at my current job for 7 years. I love it (somewhat) but I don’t love the lack of freedom I have to pursue what I really want to be doing. I have to fight the urge every day to quit because this job isn’t what I’m really supposed to be doing with my life. I should be out there making a difference and I feel like I’m caught in the bureaucracy web, and I’m too busy fulfilling someone else’s dream, rather than my own.
    My dream is to be a Life and Personal Development Coach, and eventually start a non-profit for abused kids. I have known my whole life that kids are where it’s at for me, but I haven’t gotten there yet. I tell myself it will happen, and yet I’m still here, stuck.

  • Hi Tayla! The trees appear dead before the spring blossoms bloom . . . but they always bloom. Do drop me a line in Vancouver, I look forward to hearing from you 🙂 Love Victoria

    @VanCity_Chic
    VanCity_Chic@Execs.com

  • Hap

    Thank you for this inspirational article. I particularly needed it today. I’ve worked for 25 years in what is now a struggling industry. I will use your suggestions to switch my mindset from “just get me to retirement” to making the best of it – now!

  • fitpreneur

    What is stopping you from helping abused kids in your area? If you are truly passionate about this I am sure there is something that you can start right now. Just do something little but I am sure that if you did some research you could find places where kids are abused or even a program similar to Big Brothers Big Sisters program. You don’t have to quit your job to find happiness, at least not yet. See what it is that you can do and it sounds like this is truly your passion so you should be able to make it happen! With the amount of crowdfunding here is these days you could easily raise enough to help out abused kids in your area. You have insight in this area so you know what these kids are going through and thus know how you could get the community, the world involved to help.

  • Nicole B

    I agree. Telling someone that there are people worse off often makes them feel guilty as opposed to grateful. It’s a forced gratitude and doesn’t last very long.

  • SJ21

    Hi Marcos, I would love to know how you liked those books recommended above? Did you find your passion yet? Have you found your balance? What has been the biggest barrier in feeling content in your career?

  • SJ21

    Hi! I would love to know your story. What were your major pain points in the decades of employment that you did not like. What made you take the change?

  • SJ21

    Hi Pamela, After a year since you wrote this, what steps have you taken towards your dream? I would love to know just out of curiosity.

  • I actually haven’t read these books yet. However, I did quit my job and I went backpacking through Latin America for 3 months. It was better than being stuck in a job. But, from this experience I can tell you that everything becomes ordinary when there is no peace of mind. I also don’t expect that a book will change my life anymore because I have fallen in that trap many times before.

    “Finding your passion.” – This thought also causes suffering when you don’t know what it is. We are so career focused, in my opinion, that we forget to live and be happy. This is the real problem… I think.

  • SJ21

    Thank you for your response. Would you have time to hop on a call or chat with me? I am trying to understand the pains of people trying to make career transitions or life changing decisions or finding passions and it would be great to connect. My Skype is sneha.jhanb339 if you can add me.

  • Pamela

    I am currently in training at a job that will really help toward my dream. I will be working with mentally ill and emotionally disturbed children. This is one step closer as I will receive invaluable training in helping children.