Ravi Rajan is a program director working in India. He writes articles on management, creativity, and positive psychology techniques
Sometimes Quitting Isn’t an Option
A page from my diary in 2008 ran as below.
"I again woke up today with a pit in my stomach. The office starts in one hour and I could not think of any legitimate excuse to skip it. So, it has to be yet another horrifying 8 hours today. I check my Facebook; everybody seems so happy; a lot happier than me. As I go to work, I dream of a utopian world, where one day I can do what I want to do…...”
There is no way to sugar-coat it, I hated my job, pure and simple. And every time I pushed myself to work, I felt I am trudging my way through a slush of cement. My anxiety, stress, and sadness from work bled over into real life and made me a miserable bummer living life without meaning.
You might argue here. Why don’t you just quit and do what you want to do? It is a piece of well-meant advice but it is easier said than done. Yes, it’s probably smarter to start looking for something else. But, let’s face it—all of us don’t have the luxury to pack up our desks and wave goodbye to our bosses whenever the going gets a little tough.
Sometimes we have to live with our job and learn to love it in the best way possible. And when you do eventually get a new gig and move on, you want to do your best to make sure it’s something you’re truly excited about. You don’t want to jump from the frying pan straight into the fire, so to speak.
You need to be selective while trying to get the best of the worst situation you are in now. And quitting isn’t always a realistic option.
Here are some things you can do to love the job you hate.
1. Assess your situation realistically
2. Take control of your job
3. Switch your perspective toward the job
1. Assess Your Situation Realistically
This seems obvious, doesn’t it? But it's a step that's often overlooked. Most of us are so wrapped up in the thoughts of that "special" day that will come and relieve us of all our sorrows that we fail to take steps to assess the reality on the ground.
That brings us to the interesting case of Stockdale’s paradox. The Stockdale Paradox is named after Admiral Jim Stockdale, who was a United States military officer held captive for eight years during the Vietnam War.
Stockdale told his story to author Jim Collins in his book, Good to Great. He told Collins about his horrid experiences of getting beaten, tortured, not receiving medical treatment, and enduring solitary confinement for more than 8 years.
Despite all this, He still had faith that one day he was going to get out of there. He knew he was going to prevail in the end and even turn the experience into the defining moment of his life.
That was where the paradox came in. While Stockdale had remarkable faith in the unknowable, he noted that it was always the most optimistic (read positive thinkers) of his prison mates who failed to make it out of there alive. As he observed
“They were the ones who said, ‘We’re going to be out by Christmas.’ And Christmas would come, and Christmas would go. Then they’d say, ‘We’re going to be out by Easter.’ And Easter would come, and Easter would go. And then Thanksgiving, and then it would be Christmas again. And they died of a broken heart.”
According to Stockdale, what the positive thinkers failed to do was confront the reality of their situation, and subsequently died of broken hearts. What is required here is to have the mindset to never let blind faith cloud the terrible reality of the situation.
Jim Stockdale genuinely believed that he was going to get out of that concrete cell. And for that, he was going to have to endure pain, suffering, and isolation from everyone and everything he loved — not just for weeks or months: but for years.
So, he confronted those brutal facts. When he came to terms with his situation, he was able to devise coping strategies that would help him and his men endure life in the camp. This mindset is what Collins later called "the Stockdale Paradox."
So, it’s time to ask yourself some hard questions about your job.
- Is it your position that you hate, or is it your employer?
- Is there some activity in your job that puts a sour taste in your mouth?
- Have you always disliked your job?
Self-analysis isn’t easy and often the results are brutally clear, but, these important questions will lay the groundwork for you to attack the next steps with a clear head and a narrow focus.
2. Take Control of Your Job
The way to integrate our control and connection with the job is by “job crafting”. That's the term used by Yale University psychologist Amy Wrzesniewski and University of Michigan professor of business administration and psychology Jane E. Dutton.
Job crafting as Amy explains is all about taking control of, or reframing, some of these factors, in your current job. And one of the simplest ways to do it is to hack your job into three buckets.
- Things you like about your job, big and small.
- Things you don’t like about your job, big and small.
- Things you'd like to do in your job that you currently don't -- even if they have nothing to do with what you're paid to do.
Once the lists are in place, it is time to plan and attack the 2nd and 3rd lists. Go with the low-hanging fruits first. Once you conquer them, your confidence will get boosted substantially. Some items may take months to change, which is ok.
Some items may require buy-in from your management (At least try for it!!). Some changes will directly help you in your job and some will be the catalyst for future success. But, one thing is for sure; all changes, even if not fulfilled will reduce your stress and bring you happiness. That is 100% guaranteed.
Over time, your lists will grow and, as you cross off items, it will shrink also. Every new item added to the list increases your workplace happiness multiple times, and it will feel good to check on the progress periodically to feel the change in your very attitude towards life.
3. Switch Your Perspective Towards the Job
There is this famous story of three workers who were building a wall.
You ask the first one what he is doing. He says, he is laying bricks on top of each other. He is not concerned or bothered if he is doing right or wrong. The second worker says he is building a wall but he is not sure about the purpose for which the wall is been built. The third worker with eyes shining and full of enthusiasm says he is building a cathedral. He is proud of his role however minuscule, in the building of the cathedral.
Perspective is everything. Be grateful for the contribution, however small you are making. If you look at it like that, you will find meaning and purpose in whatever you are doing.
For example, When I wasn’t motivated to do the same repetitive support fixes day in and day out, I would wear my superhero cap and imagine how I was bringing value to the people I am serving. And suddenly, it wasn’t about me anymore. It was all about progress and accomplishment I can bring by the tiniest contribution I was doing.
Remember to chase mastery and accomplishment in anything you do. Every job involves some skill. Your aim is to get better at it no matter where you start. Once you get into the growth mindset even in your most miserable job, you will soon find that you have built up the resilience to face anything and everything in life as well.
That said, building resilience is all about accepting your new reality, even if it's worse than the one you had before. You can either scream about what you have lost and do nothing or accept it and try to put together something good. The difference between the options only lies in our perspective and mindset toward life.
As Steve Maraboli has rightly said.
“Life doesn’t get easier or more forgiving, we get stronger and more resilient.”
- Thoughts of a Philosophical Fighter Pilot-James B. Stockdale
- Job Crafting: Make Your Job Fulfilling and Meaningful-Robyn Schultz
- The Quitter’s Manifesto: Quit a Job You Hate for the Work You Love-Tim Rhode
- Mid-Life Career Rescue: How to confidently leave a job you hate, and start living a life you love, before it’s too late-Cassandra Gaisford
- Why I Hate My Job-Maribel Vega
- Beyond Burnout: What to Do When Your Work Isn’t Working for You-Amy O'Hana
- Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap and Others Don't-Jim Collins
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2022 Ravi Rajan