Hating Your Job: How Dissatisfaction With Your Job Is Unproductive

We spend an awful lot of time talking about work. In America, our work is how we label ourselves, introducing ourselves with the ubiquitous, “I’m a <insert occupation here>….” statement. It’s a seemingly succinct and sufficient way that we can place and orient both ourselves and others, particularly the first time we meet. We become wrapped up in the mindset that our job is a reflection of who we are now, as well as a predictor of where we are going. If we inhabit a poor job, then we feel poor as well. If it’s a dead-end job, we’re likely on a dead end as well. We too often identify with and internalize our job. We forget that we are not one-dimensional people; our lives are multi-faceted, even diverse, and our work and jobs are only a portion of a full life.

Unfortunately, so much of our fascination with work tends toward the negative. We focus on the problems, the inherent personality clashes, the disagreements over culture or where the company or team is headed. This discontentment can simmer and fester until we actually hate our job. This is completely unproductive. Don’t hate your job.

Your job is not who you are.

Its part of your life, but it’s not your life.

It has an end date, it’s not forever.

Dissatisfaction is exhausting.

I write about this with a strong degree of hindsight, having had many jobs and been deeply dissatisfied with some of them. When people ask me the typical American question of “What do you do?”, I make it a point to clarify with “Do you mean for work or for fun?” Our jobs are not our life (at least they shouldn’t be); they are not who we are. Our value, worth, and place in the world is rooted in things which cannot be taken away so easily as a job (or at least they should be). With this foundation, how can we make the most out of our current job, even if it’s stressful or challenging?

We Are Learning

The difficult position, company, or project is actually teaching us something; it’s put in our lives for our profit. It’s teaching us what we do and don’t like, and why. It’s preparing us for all manner of future endeavors, both personally and professionally. It’s inoculating us to stress, constructive criticism, and the inevitable irritating personality that life brings our way. An irritating coworker, a difficult boss, or a stressful project: these are not necessarily bad situations. They are helping us to clarify our next steps and what we should be seeking in a new position or situation. If we are cultivating a learning mindset, we should be considering how much information, how many skills, and how many relationships we can harvest in our current position. We should be actively learning at all times, looking to build up the breadth and depth of our knowledge and experience. This is an active, personal choice and we can do it regardless of particular circumstances, whether they are excellent or poor.

False Fulfillment

Far too often, we hop jobs, careers, or employers because we are seeking fulfillment. Here’s a friendly reminder: your contentment is your own responsibility, not your employer’s. I would look warily at any employer or organization who advertised a message of: “Work for us and all your wildest dreams will come true.” Why do we expect so much from our employers? Our employers have their own objectives and, while they should not be taking advantage of us, so often our attitude is that our employer owes us something beyond what was agreed to. Our unspoken assumption is that our employer owes us contentment, joy, and satisfaction. Those are gifts we give ourselves, not a commodity or prescriptive formula that an employer could (or should) provide.

The reality is that your current job is likely pretty good. Our forefathers worked jobs where the commute (by walking) to the job site or factory would have tired most of us, and the work shift itself would have likely killed many of us from exhaustion. We are soft in comparison and make mountains out of molehills in our professional lives. We do need to acknowledge that there are indeed terrible bosses, awful teams, and disingenuous employers. But they are often easily spotted and with a mobile, free economy we have no one to blame but ourselves if we remain in such a situation past the point where we can learn further from it.

Our Value

The reality is that your employer’s main objective is not to make sure that you are never angry, distraught, or discontent. If you leave, they will pause and regroup, looking to determine how to accomplish the work that you previously did. And then they will get right back to their work; think of the notorious quitting scene in the film Jerry Maguire. We overvalue our own worth and importance, while simultaneously undervaluing the areas where we could be training ourselves (or assisting others) in our current job. If you are striving to improve your professional circumstances, then you need to increase the value of the things that you have to trade. We have an amazing economy based on trade: trade for time, skills, information, or influence. With access to any of those, you have something to trade which is of value to others. But the degree of each of those is not equal across the board; some individuals’ time is more valuable than others because of the skills they bring with that time. Instead of hating our current job and entrenching ourselves in a negative mindset, we should be actively identifying all the potential transferrable skills which we could be learning and cultivating in our present situation so that we can increase our market value and move on to another opportunity that is a better fit overall. Here’s the best part: we are learning all of this on someone else’s dime. An individual or organization is actually paying us to train ourselves and increase our own market value. Every day.

Mental Exhaustion

Being negative about our job does little to improve the situation. The rest of the office or organization is not going to be waiting around with bated breath, making sure our feelings aren’t hurt or our Chi is properly aligned. We need to just make peace with that fact that very little about our job and organization is actually about us. We can easily wear ourselves out with our own negativity, to the point of mental exhaustion. It’s more mental effort to be angst-ridden and discontent in our position than to attempt to reframe our mindset and look at the advantages and potential that our current job offers. If we think that either our current (or future) circumstances are going to change in response to our own terrible outlook, we are sorely mistaken.

Don’t Hate Your Job

The decision to approach our work differently, to change our mindset and seek to glean value out of it, to cultivate a new perspective on it is just that: a choice and a decision. It’s not our employer’s, friends, or coworkers’ responsibility, it’s ours. When we are deeply dissatisfied with our job, it boils down to a very visceral response: fight or flight. We frame the situation into two outcomes: either I go all-out and defend myself in this situation, making sure that my voice is heard, and my priorities are being addressed or it’s flight, jumping to another opportunity or position the first time things gets rocky. What we are often running away from is our own unwillingness to change our outlook, re-frame our attitude, or test our assumptions. We want to blame the job and run away, even though so much of our experience is framed by our attitude and willful perspective. Your job might be tough and stressful. Your boss may be difficult. Your coworkers could be first rate morons. But don’t hate your job. At least not until you have attempted to truly reorient your own attitude and perspective to maximize opportunities, connections, and relationships in that job. Such antipathy towards our work shuts us off from potential growth and reflection. With a changed mindset, we might find that the stress, boss, and coworkers all appear a bit different moving forward.

Moving forward:

Are you discontent or dissatisfied with your current job?

Have you thought of different ways that you could modify or alter your mindset so that your job could profit you more?

Originally published at fjwriting.com on November 6, 2018.

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Frederick Johnston

Frederick Johnston

Lifelong writer and researcher, often can be found at FJWriting.com, pursuing a life well lived