In 2010, a week after graduating college, I got an offer from an ad agency for what I thought was my dream job.
It paid well. The agency was hip, creative, and known on a national scale. The people were incredibly intelligent, helpful and treated me with respect.
And after about a month, I freaking hated it.
I was overworked (the only Assistant Media Planner on not one but two accounts) with two bosses that were fighting for my time. My days quickly filled up with phone calls from eager media reps trying to weasel me into buying space with them, Excel formulas that were more complicated than my college calculus homework, and maintaining the exhausting appearance that planning a $250K ad budget as a 21-year-old by myself didn’t scare me absolutely shitless.
None of that was the fault of the agency – they were running a business and all of those tasks are necessary to the operation. The fault was mine. I was young and naive and I thought that the place I was working was more important than my actual role. Boy was I wrong.
Whether we like it or not, our work takes up a pretty large chunk of our lives. So if you hate it, it matters. If you’re in a position that doesn’t utilize your best skills and doesn’t speak to your values, it matters.
But this post isn’t about doing work that makes you come alive. (A topic for another day.)
This post is about what to do in the mean time until you figure out HOW to be doing work that makes you come alive. It’s about how to hate your job less.
Back in 2010, there was a stretch where I came home every day and I cried. Not even because my days were that bad. Just because the dissonance between the life I was the living and the life I wanted to live was too much to bear. It weighed on me, and that weight manifested itself in my emotions.
I distinctly remember having a phone call with Jason one night after what seemed like an eternity of tearful calls night after night. He said to me, “Your situation is not going to change itself. It’s up to you to make your days different.”
I realized that I had been waiting for someone or something to save me. I dreamed about a gallant knight from the creative department riding over to my desk on a white horse and saying “Hop on m’lady. You don’t belong here” and riding me back to the “fun” part of the office. I fantasized about getting an email in the middle of the day from some amazing artist asking me to be their young protege (despite the fact that I had never really revealed to many people that I was even creative… whatever, they just KNEW okay.)
I could have spent years (YEARS!) waiting for those things to happen. But instead I decided to do something about it.
If you’re there right now, please know that I understand what you’re feeling. You know you have a greater purpose inside you and it may feel like that inner spark will never see the light of day. But I’m telling you right now…
It is completely within your control to do the work that you love.
But it doesn’t happen by magic and it does’t happen in an instant. Until you get there, here are three things you can do to avoid crying every day.
1. Get specific about your exit strategy.
What you want to be doing instead of your current job? I mean what would really make you excited to get out of bed? Avoid broad sweeping titles like “I want to write about food” or “I want to work in fashion” or “I would love to work for myself.” Instead try “I want to have my own food column for a major lifestyle website” or “I want to become a retail buyer for XYZ store” or “I want to do freelance wedding invitation design full time.”
Getting specific will do two things for you. First, it will make it easier to come up with actionable steps to reach that goal. Second, it will give you something tangible and concrete to focus on while you’re in your current position. You’ll be amazed at how your attitude will change once you have a “light at the end of the tunnel.”
Once you have a specific goal in mind, write down one thing that you can do right now to work toward that goal. Think about the skills or attributes that someone would need to get that position or start that business and then work backwards to discover how you can start cultivating that RIGHT NOW.
No one would probably hire you to write a food column if they didn’t know you could write or cook. So focus your energy on starting a food blog. If you got an interview, you could point to that work as an example of your skills. No one would hire you as a buyer if you didn’t know about current trends or the buying process, right? Devote one hour a day once you get home from work to reading up on buying and identifying trends so that you could speak intelligently on the subject.
These steps will help mitigate that feeling of helplessness you may be experiencing right now. The positive feelings you get from this intentional action and progress will spill over to your daily life and it will make your current situation feel less permanent.
2. Make this time mean something.
Like I said, most people are not in the position to walk into work one day and quit. So how can you make the time that you’re spending every day at your current job worth it?
Once again, working backwards can be especially helpful here. Think to yourself what your current company or role can offer you in terms of resources, skills, connections etc. that you might not have the opportunity to utilize after you’re gone.
Maybe you work with really smart, creative people. Make it a point to pick a few you look up to and ask them to lunch or drop by their office to ask questions and build a rapport. Those relationships you form could prove invaluable later on and your time will have been worth it. Or maybe you work for a company that has training seminars or classes – something you would not be able to have at your disposal at a smaller company. Take full advantage and learn all that you can to make your skill set more rounded.
Like I said, just knowing that your time in this position isn’t being wasted will help you see your job more as a stepping stone and less as a sentence in purgatory.
3. Make a conscious effort to add joy to your day and remove negativity.
I know this seems obvious, but take a moment and think about your day. If you’re miserable, and especially if you’ve been that way for a while, you’re probably just going through the motions. Showing up, grabbing your coffee or whatever your morning routine is, checking your email, showing up to meetings, doing your daily tasks, watching the clock tick down to the end of the day, and getting bummed out that it’s dark when you drive home. It gets easy to wallow in the suckiness, doesn’t it?
But screw that. You’re in control of the joy that you let in to your day and the joy you shut out. Do you have a song that pumps you up? (I highly recommend Whitney’s “I Wanna Dance With Somebody“) Why not listen to it every single day before you open your inbox? Why not send a daily email to your project team with funny GIFs? Or every Wednesday take your lunch to a coffee shop and read an awesome book with not a single person bothering you. Whatever your thing is, make it conscious and purposeful.
If there are other coworkers that are unhappy with their jobs too, at all costs avoid the “bitching circle of doom.” This is when you get so comfortable with commiserating that it’s the only thing you talk about. If you’re constantly chatting with someone about all that sucks at your job, believe me, it’s only going to make you feel worse. When someone brings it up, acknowledge their feelings and gracefully change the subject, maybe even talk to them about what you’re working on from points 1 + 2 above. It will put you in a much better mental place to make the changes you need to make to get out of your situation, and to maintain sanity in the process.
Like I said, I’ve been there. Consider this post your gallant knight on a white horse. I’m telling you you don’t belong here. But it’s totally up to you to save yourself. You don’t have to wake up every day and dread going to the office. You just have to put in the work to make your days different.