Once upon a time, I thought I was pretty miserable at my job. I made decent money, but there were some bad aspects of the job that couldn’t make up for the paycheck.
So I quit. And then shit got real, financially, and also working from home all day meant my pants stopped fitting, so I set about looking for another job. And when it came time to find another day job, I was committed to finding one that I really, truly loved.
First of all, I am the kind of person who would take ANY job over NO job. Knowing how crappy the job market was/is, I was fully prepared to deliver pizzas or clean toilets -- or perform some other job that I didn’t necessarily want to do, but that I absolutely would do if they were my only options. I knew it was possible I would not find my dream job, but I still hoped that I would.
The biggest gift quitting my relatively high-paying job gave me (aside from that sexy mountain of credit card debt and a deeper appreciation for employer-sponsored health insurance) was some perspective.
Perspective: no job is perfect.
Through a seemingly serendipitous series of events, I did actually find my dream job. I work in a botanical garden now. A FREAKING GARDEN. I can step outside of my office and into a wonderland of natural beauty. I regularly see bunnies and little cute lizards. For the past couple of months I’ve watched the goslings and ducklings that were born on our property learn to swim.
It is goddamn magical is what it is. I thank the universe every day for putting this job out there -- I feel as if it was waiting there for me to claim.
I can honestly say that this is where I'm meant to be. I love my new job, and I feel like a steward of the garden in which I work 40+ hours per week. I give so many fucks about my job, you don’t even know. This is a new feeling for me, this caring so much about a place where I am contracted to do work in exchange for money.
What's even better is that I am damn good at the job I was hired to do, and after just five months I was promoted. Not bragging here, just illustrating how much I love my day job and how useful and appreciated I feel as an employee.
And yet, it is not perfect. I have a fair amount of stress. Sometimes I work long hours. Sometimes I have to deal with difficult personalities. And I make 25% less money than I did at my last job.
I daydream about paying more than the minimum on my credit cards, or being able to splurge on a new pair of shoes. These are things I could easily do before I quit that higher-paying job. Now I have to stay on top of where every single penny goes, or I come up short at the end of the month. Ouch.
Recently, a friend asked me if I was happier making less money at a job I love, or making more money at a job I hate. And of course, without even thinking, I said I am much happier making less money doing something I enjoy. And I do feel that way, deep down.
But was my last job really so bad? It was no botanical garden, that’s for sure. But it had its moments and bright spots -- and I was really good at it, too, which was satisfying. Someone else is doing that job now and thanking their lucky stars that they get to go to work every day.
I’m a big fan of quitting doing things that I hate doing -- whether that is a job or a workout (see: running on a treadmill, ugh) or a book that I just can’t get into reading. There are times, though, when quitting a job is just not an option, and I don’t expect that most people are "crazy" enough to quit a steady paycheck kind-of-impulsively like I did.
So. What if you are “stuck” in a job you can’t stand? What then?
There’s a saying, something like this: The key to true happiness is not in wanting what you don’t have, but in being grateful for what you do have. (Who says that? Buddhists? Wise people in general? Someone tell me in the comments -- I am too tired just now to Google.)
Do you wake up every morning with that gnawing pit of dread in your stomach because you have to go to your workplace again? Are you burning through your vacation time on mental health days? Does your paycheck suck? Do you have a “challenging” boss? I have been there, plus some.
I’m willing to bet that if you are not in a position to quit your lousy job, you can at least find one bright spot. Something you can cling to when things get tough at work.
How does one find the bright spot in a crappy job? First, I think it helps to make a list of all the good parts, and repeat it to yourself every day. Seriously, say it or think it every day. For example, if you live in Los Angeles and you only have an eight-minute commute, that is a damn miracle. Every morning when you leave for work, instead of dreading the day ahead of you, think “I work so close to home that I have more personal time and a better quality of life.”
If your job stinks but your paycheck is great, think about how lucky you are to make enough money to support the kind of lifestyle you currently enjoy. When you sit down to eat a meal, or pay your electric bill, or write your mortgage or rent check, think, “I am so glad to be able to buy food and keep the lights on.”
What if your job involves a soul-sucking commute and also doesn’t pay very well? Think about your co-workers -- do you like them? Have you formed friendships or close working relationships with any of them? Are you at least making valuable professional connections that you can call upon later in your career? Are you gaining skills or knowledge that you will carry forward with you to other, future jobs (hint: you definitely are)?
How about the work itself -- even if you find it to be boring or unimportant, do you gain any satisfaction from doing your job well? Is there anything you do better than anyone else at work? Does your employer rely on you -- whether you are a cashier or a housekeeper or a tax preparer or an executive -- and consider you to be an integral part of the company?
What if everything about your job makes you want to just stop showing up? My advice is to find one thing you can look forward to during your work day, even if that one thing is your lunch break.
But you probably shouldn’t listen to me, since I basically woke up one day and decided I didn’t want to go to my ex-job anymore.* (And it’s maybe one of the most important decisions I’ve made in the last decade because it led me to find an opportunity I wouldn’t have found otherwise.)
But I think, if I had had a better attitude about my former job, I wouldn't have been so miserable in it. We create our own realities.
My point is I’ve let go of perfect; I’m learning to be happy with what I have, because what I have is more than good enough.
What about you? Does your job make you miserable? Do you need help finding a bright spot in your day? Are you ready to quit right this minute but you can’t? Or do you love your job so much you would marry it?
* I gave plenty of notice, don’t worry. I’m professional and shit.
Somer is on Twitter: @somersherwood.