“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.