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Make the Most of a Job You Don’t Love

A ‘glass half full’ mentality can make all the difference.

The economy has been steadily recovering since the 2008 recession, but we aren’t out of the woods yet. With recent unemployment figures around 4.5%, there’s a lot of folks competing for a limited number of job positions out there. Getting a paying job is not a sure thing. Knowing this, the focus of many professionals has shifted away from how to find a career you love to making the most of the job you get.

That does not mean you have to give up the hope of building a highly fulfilling and enjoyable career you love. More than anything, this economy stresses the importance of making job decisions that help you find your career path–not necessarily land you at the highly lucrative and exciting destination in one step. How do you set yourself up for success while still showing up at a job that does not exactly light you up? Here are five ideas to try.  

1. Focus on what’s right in your job.

Let’s be honest–every job has its pluses and minuses. No matter where you find yourself, there will always be tasks, people and pressures that you don’t enjoy. Instead of zooming in on the negative factors, make a conscious decision to focus on what’s right.

How do you do that when a day at the office looks like an endless stretch of drudgery? By going back to why you accepted this job position in the first place. Perhaps it was the pay, the easy commute, the opportunity to work with people you enjoy or the chance to get some experience in your professional field. Regardless of what your personal reasons were, revisit them, and find a way to be reminded of them daily.

Challenge yourself to actively look for things at work that make you smile, get you excited, or bring you joy. A weekly sushi lunch out with your co-worker? Excellent coffee in the office? A sense of accomplishment when a report is done? Set a goal of finding at least three things for which you are grateful at work every day, perhaps even writing them down to keep yourself accountable. This exercise may look simple, but it can do wonders for turning your attitude around.

2. Validate what’s true.

A proactive focus on what’s right does not mean you must pretend that everything at work is rosy. Be honest with yourself about what’s not working for you. Do you have a hard time concentrating in a noisy cubicle? Does the repetitive nature of your tasks make you want to climb the walls? Does your boss seem unappreciative or unreasonable?

Make a list of things, people and tasks that you don’t enjoy, then look at each item to determine whether something can be done about it. Is there a way to create templates, automate or somehow optimize the tasks that are boring and repetitive? Could you ask to be relocated to another cubicle away from noisy neighbors or sell your manager on the idea of working remotely for a portion of the week? Are there professionals who have a good relationship with your boss, and if so, what are they doing differently from you?

If a pain point does not seem to have an immediate solution within your reach, acknowledge it and work on ways to minimize its impact on your day. Stay away from negative co-workers, find a great soundtrack to make stuffing envelopes go quicker and create bright spots in the day to which you can look forward: chocolate cookies after a particularly painful meeting or a nice plant for your desk.

3. Clarify your career path.

Just because you have this job today does not mean you are stuck here for the rest of your working life. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, a typical professional changes an average of 11 or more jobs over the course of their career, so learn to view any position as a step along your path. This gets easier if you know where you want to go.

Begin with getting some clarity around your career goals, then determine what you are willing to give up in exchange for what you want. I have known some professionals who consciously choose to grit their teeth through a high-intensity or high-pressure job so that they can have more options or boost their earning potential with two to three years of highly valuable experience under their belts.

4. Actively seek out job opportunities.

Having goals is helpful, but moving up and finding a career that you love takes knocking on many doors and being present to job opportunities when they arise. The more proactive you are in networking with other professionals, volunteering, taking on different responsibilities and trying new things, the greater are your chances of landing a job that you love.

5. Keep a clear head.

The most difficult thing about holding down a job you don’t love is not sabotaging yourself in the process. The temptation to slack off, mutter a snarky comment or just throw in a towel can be strong. Be clear on your personal “do not cross” lines, avoid situations that turn abusive or unethical, and know what it would take for you to leave. Short of those boundaries, keep your eye on the ball and remember that this job is just a stepping stone.

Sometimes, difficult jobs offer the best learning opportunities. To make the most of a job you don’t love, consider applying a lesson from the organizing master Marie Kondo: begin with gratitude. After all, you are getting something out of having this position! A paycheck can allow you to have financial independence, buy things that bring you joy, or build up a financial reserve that will serve as a bridge to your next job opportunity. A job with boring and repetitive tasks might highlight how much you value the ability to be creative, and the opportunity to solve a tough puzzle. A job you don’t love may also prove to be a powerful motivator and catalyst for change.

No matter what your job situation is, be thankful for what it gives you–and you will find that this attitude allows you to use any job to create your own perfect outcome.

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