7 Steps to Stop Hating Your Job (Part I)
Formerly my official photo. Bold power suit, conservative pearl earrings, and…an asymmetrical haircut in case no one knew I was a closet rebel.
It took a long time to make peace with my job after I started hating it. Hating it didn’t happen overnight, and getting back to a place where I was comfortable with it also didn’t happen overnight.
I was considered a “super star” early on in my career, earning the privilege of signing contracts on behalf of the US Government when I’d barely been in the profession for four years. At the time, such responsibility that early and that young was highly unusual. I was at the tail-end of the Baby Boomers and there were lots of people with far more experience than I had. I loved my job in those days, even with the insane overtime and pressure cooker stress. But at some point, I didn’t feel like I was getting much support from others in my field, that I was tiring of working double and triple workloads, and it manifested in a back injury that took my off the fast track. Mentally and emotionally, I wanted to be on the job, but physically, it was an awful struggle that, because it was a back injury that couldn’t be seen and back injury frauds were on every TV news magazine at the time, I was suddenly considered a liability. I’d put my career ahead of everything–including my health and my family–and the favor was not returned when I was in physical hell after lifting a box of files on the job…files I’d worked on all weekend at home so my engineers could stay on schedule.
My on-the-job injury was a life-changing experience. It took me off an all-consuming fast-track and I got back to my spirituality and eventually to a more balanced life. For all the pain, it was one of the best things that has happened to me in my life because it corrected the course I was on. But there was also a lot of resentment toward my employers and “the system” for letting me down when I needed them. That was probably the biggest damage to how I felt about my job. Not that I stopped working hard…I just didn’t feel passionate about it anymore.
For probably 10 years or more, I frequently came home and cried because I was so miserable. Financially, I could have quit during that time. We paid more in taxes for the last several years I was married than I grossed in a job I hated but my ex was adamant that I not quit to pursue my dream of being a full-time novelist. Funny, how things work out. The publishing industry tanked around the time we divorced, and I ended up glad to have a steady job with a good income that afforded me the luxury of writing whenever I wanted and whatever I wanted.
The biggest difference has been these last couple of years, and I’ve gotten to a comfortable place with my job. It doesn’t consume me anymore because I have many passions now, and I rarely stress to any degree of what I once did. The job is as stressful as ever and, given the past year’s drastic changes, probably more stressful for most people. The change has not been in the career field but in my mindset, and that’s made all the difference. Here are a few highlights of how my mindset changed and thus how I stopped hating my job:
- I shifted the pressure of my own expectations. For a long time, I resented my job when I was hoping to leave for a career in the arts. If I’d worked a minimum wage job, it would have been much easier to convince my husband that we could do without my steady income. Instead, it seemed that I was being punished for being successful in my career. I focused my frustrations for not being able to sell enough books regularly to a publishing house (thanks to fertile young editors constantly orphaning me to new editors who had a different vision of the books I should write) on the career field I wanted to leave. Maybe that doesn’t make sense, but the more I struggled to be a full-time writer and make that jump while working 60-to-80 hour weeks, the more I disliked my non-artistic career. It was always the same career. None of that had changed. But it took shifting my expectations of the publishing world and where I wanted to go next with my dreams before I could make peace with my employment.
- I began feeling grateful for my career. After my divorce, when I needed to make sure I could maintain a home for my children and feed the three of us, I was happy to have a good-paying job where I was good at what I did and trusted with my work. If I’d jumped to being a full-time writer right before the publishing industry hit the skids, I would have had to go back to something more secure. I let myself feel thankful that I had reasonable job security, a steady paycheck, health insurance, and could afford the roof over my head. It didn’t have to be my vision for the future, but I could find things that I was grateful for today.
- I changed my expectations of where my income would come from. As part of the shift mentioned above, I stopped associating my wealth with a specific career. I didn’t have to make my fortune off my writing or anything artistic. Or off my non-artistic career, either. I simply set my intentions to include 1. a good income and 2. fulfilling and creative work. They don’t have to be at the same place. That one little change made a huge difference in taking the pressure off my expectations and began to help me make peace with my job.
- I decided to stay in the position I was in. Rather than move to a new office that would require travel and time away from home or go for a promotion that would add a lot of extra stress, I chose to stay in my current position and not ask for something different. I looked for ways to enjoy where I was rather than go to different offices with people I enjoy less and working conditions that aren’t as good. If some other place had offered better, I would have jumped at it. But I didn’t jump ship as expected because I wasn’t excited daily to be where I was. I decided to jump ship only if some other office could increase my happiness.
- I began looking at horrible bosses from a psychological point of view rather than as their victim. Most of my bosses (either direct or up my chain of command) have been either control-freaking weasels or wimps. It’s hard to find anything in between, though I’m really happy with my current supervisor who backs me up when needed and the rest of the time, stays out of my way and lets me do my job. Once I came to understand the whole dominance and submission game, I could easily see all the dominatrix types at work, cowing the men and keeping other strong women in line as well. It became very interesting to watch objectively as our then highest-ranking woman insisted on destroying my confidence in a briefing by jumping down my throat for doing exactly what she asked me to. And the 30 people sitting at the table with us knew it but were too chicken to speak up. Once I realized the pattern of dominating anyone and everyone, regardless of whether they were right, I began to play back. I kept my confidence and if she raged at me, I didn’t lower my eyes and beg for her blessing as most there did. When she saw I wasn’t being submissive, she would usually then turn and berate one of my bosses, who’d lower their eyes and yes-ma’am her until the beating stopped. But I never ever felt like a victim again. Afterward I learned that, I was often–to be truthful–amused by the animal behaviors in the boardroom.
- I began to change the way I saw myself and changed my role. This took several years, I’ll admit. I couldn’t find a comfortable way to see myself. For most of my career, I’d been the reformer, the visionary, the change agent, the outside-the-box thinker, the forerunner, the guinea pig. I’d spent years being the one who thrilled to do something risky first and pave the way for others. When “acquisition reform” and “streamlining” were killed off around 2005, I struggled with my place in the acquisition career field. No one was allowing me to do anything that I felt made a big difference anymore. Eventually, I found a comfortable new scenario for myself where I was the human archive, the vault of information to train newbies and middle-managers who didn’t have the corporate history I did. The career field changed to one of bureaucracy that allowed me to challenge it, to transformation and reform that I loved, and then back to killing off any chance at doing anything differently and an insistence on sameness and structure.
And number 7….. (watch for Part II)