Could your current work situation be a scene straight out of the movie Office Space? If you aren’t familiar, twenty years ago this film forever changed how we look at cubicle life. It’s the story of a man who hates his job at software company. Asked to describe his state of mind to his therapist, he said, "Since I started working, every single day has been worse than the day before, so that every day you see me is the worst day of my life." Yes, that’s a bit dramatic, I know but actually not so far off from what some of the folks I work with describe.
If there was an instant life hack for ditching a job you hate, or improving the job you have, I would have it and I would share it. After all, we spend somewhere around 90,000 hours of our life at work. That’s a long time to be miserable. If you are, it doesn’t have to be a life sentence. You can start taking steps to improve things right away. It might not be the magic bullet to a life of rainbows and unicorns, and it might not happen overnight, but most worthwhile things take some time and effort. If you are looking for a place to start, I'd like to offer you 3 small steps to be happy at work when you aren't:
1. View your situation as temporary.
As I said, you can change your situation if you want to. There is something powerful about the act of deciding to change. Knowing that you can make choices and take control of your life can be liberating. Try replacing the thought "I am stuck" with "This is temporary". Can't you feel an immediate happiness boost? It’s amazing what starts to happen when you give yourself permission to want what you want.
2. Start a list of things you'd change about your job if you could.
Spend some time each day dreaming. Ever heard the phrase "If you can dream it, you can do it?" What are things you don't like about your job? The commute? An unmanageable schedule? Meaningless paperwork? Man, I've been there. How would eliminating or changing these pet peeves improve your work day? Brainstorm the consequences of both! Identify solutions to obstacles, and create paths around problems. Then, consider speaking to the powers that be about implementing them. I've had clients kick themselves for not arranging work from home days, flexible work hours, or streamlined systems much sooner. Sometimes you need to be the one to step up, identify the problem, create a solution and then ask for it.
3. Start planning something on the side
Remembering your situation is temporary, and making small changes, is only the beginning. Now it's time to add in some extra good stuff. It’s time to start thinking about what your interests are and what you could get involved in to add meaning to your current role. This is also good information to be gathering to help you figure out where you want to go next. Set up coffees with colleagues in other departments, get curious about what other people are working on and get involved. Start speaking to people you trust about how you are feeling and ask for their insight and suggestions. It’s okay to feel sad or frustrated about an unhappy work situation. Feel those feelings! However, when you are at work, at least temporarily, choose to see something positive about every day. Avoid negative conversations, gossip, and unhappy people as much as possible. There is a time and a place to vent but spending too much time complaining can have a profound impact on your psyche.
It's important to take responsibility for your own Career + Life happiness. If you don’t create your ideal work and life for yourself, someone else will and only you know what works for you. This is your life and you get to decide how to live it. It’s never too late to change and it is possible to get happier at work.
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