Dear Tiff: I'm sooo unhappy in my job
How do I 'hang in there' until I’m ready to move on?
This article was originally posted in my newsletter - the Tiff Weekly.
I am soooo unhappy in my current job. In fact, I’ve decided I want out of my current career altogether and make a career transition. This of course doesn’t happen overnight and I am in the process of upskilling into my new path. In the meantime, it’s becoming increasingly harder to stay committed and motivated in my current job and I can feel myself disengaging and getting resentful. It’s a bit of an inconsistent work environment, the pay is terrible and frustration is building every day. Do you have advice on how to “hang in there” until I’m ready to move on? Quitting altogether is financially not viable for me right now and getting a new job in my current field just seems like it will take more energy which I could be directing into my new endeavour.
Hope you’ve got some advice! Unhappy worker
Dear unhappy worker,
I once read that the closer soldiers serving on the front lines get to returning home, the more they struggle mentally. I have spent hours seeking out this research and trying to find it because it so often comes up in life and I so believe it to be true. The closer we get to change, even if that change is good for us, the more painful being in that bad place becomes. I imagine it’s true of prisoners as they get closer to their release date and it was certainly true for me as we were facing the end of each lockdown. Each time we got closer to restrictions lifting, the more my brain struggled to cope with being in lockdown. It, therefore, doesn’t surprise me at all to hear that although you have a plan to get out and move on from your job, you’re struggling to hang in there more than ever. Perhaps simply knowing this and thinking of yourself as a soldier may help in the first instance.
The good news is, you’ve made the decision to change your circumstances. Well done you. That’s actually the hardest part. So many people stay miserable and exist in denial because they’re scared of change. Even better, you’ve decided what that change is going to be and you’re taking steps to get there – that’s incredible. Few people get to that stage. Fear often holds them back and so honestly – WELL DONE. You aren’t stuck, frozen or at a loss. You’re taking ownership of your life. Unfortunately, our brains try to keep us safe and hate change and when they spot upcoming uncertainty, they go into overdrive and start to act up. The closer we come to fulfilment, the more our brains glitch. It’s a real pain. It’s a survival thing. But one we can overcome.
The other good news is you’ve assessed your options about whether or not you can leave your current job. This is an important step in the process and you’re right to conserve your energy for the number one priority, which is your new career. Each moment you spend finding another revenue stream or job or something else is time you’re stealing from your new path. You must stay on that path no matter what. However, the struggle is real and your energy is being zapped and robbed in a sneaky way by the turmoil you’re experiencing by being unhappy with what I’m going to call from now on your ‘gateway job’. Your main job right now is to change careers, your only other job in your ‘gateway job’ is to keep your job for as long as you need it. And because life is happening now and doesn’t exist in the future, you are right to address the issue of how it’s a daily struggle to do so. So, how can you tolerate the job you have until the day that you’re set free from its tyranny and move on?
What’s not clear to me is how you feel about the new path. Career change takes a huge amount of bravery and sacrifice. It’s so tough in fact that I believe you need to be bursting with obsession and belief in that path, even though we can never truly be sure what paths are right for us. I made a huge number of sacrifices to pursue a writing career and here’s what I’ve learnt – a career change takes a lot longer than you can predict or can imagine. Career change hits you hard in all the ways (financially, socially etc.) It’s also really stressful being new at something and constantly out of your depth, especially if you’re later on in your life.
Career change is TOUGH. And the only thing that’s got me through mine is holding that vision for myself and imagining that moment I’ve dreamed of (when my first book is in my hand) that’s kept me going. I don’t know what you’re changing to do, but realise a vision for some sort of milestone and hold on to it. Training to be a teacher? Imagine walking into the classroom for your first day and looking at a room of kids. Want to sell your craft? Picture yourself at your stall talking to customers about your items. Whatever it is, hold that vision and revisit it OFTEN and remind yourself that you’re amazing for having the boldness to be a hero who is the master of their own story.
But let’s be real, career change is not only tough, it’s also quite boring. As you say, you’re having to struggle your way through a job you don’t want to do. You feel like you’re in the waiting room of your working life. No one likes waiting rooms. Waiting is boring. Waiting is frustrating. How can it feel like anything other than time wasted? First of all, I hard relate. I do a TON of BORING ASS work to fund my creative career. Honestly, it’s so annoying – why can’t I just be paid well to write my thoughts all day? However, I see each of those boring tasks as fuelling the change I want to make. They’re taking me closer to where I want to get to and I become grateful for my work, no matter how boring. I also work in client services and when they’re getting all at me for whatever reason, I feel totally zen, because they’re paying for my creative career so I can sit and write to you now and that’s very nice of them indeed.
But let’s get practical here – as I said – your only job in this ‘gateway’ job is to keep your job. I sense from your message that you’re a bit of a high achiever. I would argue that when you say you’re not committed and not motivated, it’s ironically because you’re actually someone that cares a lot. You also mentioned being frustrated, again frustration is an emotion that comes from caring. Caring is admirable, but it’s not being channelled in a way that’s serving you right now.
You mentioned an inconsistent work environment (again, you care). You want them to do better, you want better for yourself and that’s why you’re leaving. Funnily enough, I think your answer lies in your workplace’s lack of consistency. You need to conserve your energy for the big thing – you need to accept it’s not your job to change the place you’re leaving HOWEVER (again ironically) what you can commit to doing is to be consistent. I recommend you start each day by asking what’s the minimum amount of work you can get away with doing that day. I also recommend being consistent in how you show up each day. Be as nice and friendly to everyone you work with as possible and don’t get sucked in if you see fault in others - remind yourself (again and again) that it’s not your job to change anyone but yourself.
Before long, being nice will become a habit. Be that person who says good morning with some emojis on the slack channel or if there’s an office, go into it, talk to people. See the human around you.
Again, do the bare minimum and be nice to people and possibly, weirdly you’ll find that you’ll start to do better at work (I know, but trust me). Structure your day, take lots of breaks, exercise, do as little as possible to the good enough of your abilities and enjoy the breathing space before your new job begins. Resentment is a waste of energy, heck if it helps, write a little gratitude note to your job every morning before you start work. Without this ‘gateway job’ you wouldn’t get to your vision you hold for yourself. THANK YOU GATEWAY JOB.
I also challenge you when you say ‘the pay is terrible’ – this is irrelevant. I imagine it’s pay that’s good enough to survive for now and I hope more pay awaits you in your future, but how much we’re paid only becomes relevant when we hate what we’re doing. Let’s take this newsletter, for example, it’s the worst paid job I’ve ever had. I write it for free. It’s been weekly for almost two years and takes up most of my day. At no point do I resent that I don’t get paid for it. Why? Because I enjoy it and because it serves a purpose for the vision I hold for myself. I also took so many financial hits for my new career path and boy do I know it HURTS especially as you’re surrounded by those who played it safe up the ladder and got their regular pay rises which after 12 years in the workplace PAY OFF. So yes, terrible pay isn’t fun. But, like the sucky gateway job, it’s a means to an end. Also, when we earn more we just spend more on more crap and things we don’t need anyway. So if you hear that negative thought about your pay come in, bat it away, it’s wasting your energy. I love what I’ve learnt from earning less for this portion in my life: I stepped off the consumption treadmill, started shopping in Lidl and stopped buying clothes that I don’t need that are killing our planet anyway.
I know it’s tough but you got this. I want to end on an anecdote I heard recently. It was talking about how we can find happiness through purpose in our work. A cleaner at a hospital said that his purpose was to make people smile. When he cleans, he talks to patients, jokes with them, says hello. He smiles at everybody. It makes him happy. As you prepare to leave your gateway job, what’s your purpose as you tolerate your final days in a job you don’t want? Can you be consistent and spread a little joy? How do you want to look back and see how you behaved during this time? Empathise for those who you’re leaving behind – perhaps they’re inconsistent because they hate working there too. Better things are coming your way and you sound amazing. You can do a lot better than simply hanging in there. I have faith.