Do you get a sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach every Monday morning? Are you counting down the days until the weekend? If “TGIF!!!” is your most frequent Facebook status update, there is a good chance you secretly despise your job.
I interviewed Joanna Penn, author of How to Enjoy Your Job… or Find a New One! for practical advice on transforming an unfulfilling job into a more satisfying experience. As a business IT consultant for the past 12 years, she knows all about “cubicle life” and how hard it can be. In her book, she draws on extensive research as well as her own personal experience to help others find enjoyment at work.
One of the most common complaints people have about work is boredom. How can people cope?
First, you have to decide on the “why” behind what you are doing. If your job is a career, one you want to invest in and pursue long-term, then you must take charge of your own self-development. Be an active participant. Ask questions and volunteer. Take extra courses that you can to add to your resume and use as a networking opportunity. Most companies have some kind of budget for training and education, so be proactive and ask. You are your own best asset and you need to be responsible for developing yourself.
You may also have to get out of your comfort zone in order to challenge yourself. One of the biggest jumps I made in my early consulting career was when someone more senior got into trouble and was laid off. I volunteered to take his place at the client site the next day, and I had to work really hard to stay one step ahead but I certainly wasn’t bored any longer!
If this job isn’t what you want to be doing long-term, then boredom may be something you have to put up with short-term, but don’t get into a routine of accepting it. Set your target for when you want to be gone from that position and work towards that goal
Stress is another huge problem. Do you have any stress management tips for people who feel completely burned out?
My biggest tip for stress management is to move to working four days per week. This one change impacted my life hugely. Realistically, we can’t give up the day job but just that one “release-valve day” makes an incredible difference. Sacrificing one-fifth of the income is absolutely worth it for quality of life. In the three years since I have been working this way, I have reduced my stress migraines from every two days to every few months and also written four books in my spare time — as well as starting my own business. I am happier and more fulfilled and I work more efficiently, achieving a full-time workload anyway which keeps management happy.
You won’t realize how powerful this is until you try it, and you don’t know unless you ask your manager whether it is allowed. That extra space gives you time to think about what you really want to do with your life without the pressure of resigning in anger.
What advice do you have for workers who feel unappreciated?
This is so pervasive in corporate culture, it’s desperately sad! I know I work harder for someone who praises me, and most people just want that appreciation. You can start by being someone who appreciates others first. LinkedIn is a great site for recommending people, so why not recommend a few colleagues or any managers that actually do reward their employees? By praising others, you will find it comes back your way.
Again, it’s also good to identify where your feelings stem from and what you want to be praised for. Write down a list of what you’re good at and what you should be rewarded for. Keep this in mind for your ideal job and make sure it becomes a criteria for your next career move.
What about difficult co-workers? How can you prevent them from driving you crazy?
It’s important to remember that we can’t change other people. Try to nail down exactly what it is that bothers you about the person or situation. Is there a way you can physically move desks so it is not so much of a problem? A friend of mine used to wear earbuds as if he was listening to an iPod all the time (even though the music wasn’t turned on) so a colleague would stop talking and distracting him. His action solved the problem without causing a scene.
Focus on what you can control and look at the reality and severity of the situation. If someone is bullying or harassing you, then you must act and you have every right to. But if someone has bad breath and bashes their keyboard all the time, you have less of a right to complain. You can only adjust your own working situation.
Not every person is a great fit for every job. What suggestions do you have for people who are a mismatch?
This used to be me, and it’s true for a huge number of people out there. We fall into jobs and find ourselves still there years later, unhappy with what we’ve achieved. But whatever age you are, there is time to change. The first thing to do is to look at what you’d like to do instead. Many people fail at this initial step because they don’t go deep enough. Look at what you enjoyed when you were younger and didn’t have to worry about money. Look at what you do for fun. What are you passionate about?
Then you will need to go through a period of time when you learn about this new thing. Maybe you need to retrain, maybe you need to volunteer. Making time to develop a new career path also changes your focus on how bad your job is. Your energy turns to positive creation instead of negative despair. This actually makes your job more enjoyable in itself because you have more of a purpose and you feel like you are going somewhere with your life.
In your book, you refer to the idea of “learned helplessness.” Can you explain how learned helplessness influences the way people approach work and make choices in daily life?
Basically, the idea of learned helplessness is that when we get used to things being the way they are, we stop trying to get out. There may be a door open to new possibilities but we don’t even see it because our minds can only see one part of the reality. It’s ultimately about control. We think that we have no control over the situation so we stop even trying. It is critical to realize that you do have control in order to escape this thinking. There are actually unlimited possibilities out there; you just need to lift your head up to see them. Sometimes things take longer than expected as well, but wouldn’t you rather be in a different career in five years than still where you are now? The only way to get there is to decide what you want and start making steps in that direction.
As an example, I always wanted to write novels, but for many years I believed I was the academic one in the family, not the creative one. I was truly miserable just being an IT consultant with no creative outlet, feeling increasingly angry at what I was becoming. So I decided to learn about creativity, and I started to say an affirmation – a positive statement about myself – on my commute every day. That affirmation was, “I am creative and I am an author.” Four years later, my first thriller novel reached the Amazon bestseller charts and I was running a business called The Creative Penn to help other people fulfill their dreams of writing a book. I am still a part-time IT consultant, but I have a growing business on the side and I certainly believe I’m creative! What affirmations do you need to make in order to start this process?
If people are unwilling to leave a dead-end job, what can they do to add more happiness to their life?
Sometimes you need to stay in a job for a period of time, maybe in order to provide stability for your family or because you have to wait a while to achieve your other goals. There are ways to make life better in the meantime, and as one example, I’ll come back to creativity again. As children, we create all the time but as adults we lose that joy and pride in having something to show for our time. Try skipping some TV shows and start a creative project or take a class. Push your comfort zone and try pottery or drawing. Go to a modern art gallery at the weekend and just look. Take some photos and make a collage for your kids. It doesn’t matter what, just stop watching TV and do something better with your spare time. This new creative outlet will help you experience a sense of achievement, gain new friends and broaden your horizons. It will also help change your mindset.
(Image courtesy of The Creative Penn.)
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