What To Do When Your Job Sucks

Do you find yourself uttering the words, “My job sucks?” If you’re like most Americans, you probably sympathize. A recent Forbes article reported that over half of Americans don’t like where they work.

If you’re not crazy about your job, you’re probably not feeling too great about life, either. That’s only normal: You spend half or more of your waking hours at work, so if you’re not being fulfilled professionally, your day-to-day experience will suffer.

So what do you do when your job sucks? And how do you go about leaving a job you hate?

First, accept that you can do something about it. Then set yourself on the path to change. Career satisfaction is a process, but there are concrete ways to improve your job and your life in the meantime.

Accept That You Have This Job For Now

Right now, you have this job. That can be a hard pill to swallow, but to be effective anywhere else, you need to accept this. The Job Fairy isn’t going to come down from the heavens and give you the job of your dreams simply because you’re fed up. (That would be awesome, but it just doesn’t work that way.) Responsibility for moving forward rests entirely on you. Fighting what is wastes energy better spent other places.

Instead, focus on what you like about your gig. No matter how rough a job is, there’s always something positive you can latch on to, something you find valuable. There’s a reason you get out of bed every day other than a paycheck. It can be the thrill you get from closing a sale, the satisfaction of helping your clients, the small moments you enjoy with your colleagues, or even the gift of receiving a paycheck while you figure out your next move.

Whatever it is, identify that something and hold on to it like a life raft until you find another job. Your sanity might depend on it.

Positivity will make your life a lot easier. Negativity is just going to make a bad situation worse.

Throw Yourself Into Your Work

Believe me, I get it. I’ve had more than my fair share of bad jobs. I know just how strong the temptation can be to phone it in every day.  But that’s only going to make things worse. You’ll dig yourself into a rut. That rut might be hard to get out of, even when you do land another job. On the other hand, throwing yourself into your work can make things a lot better. If nothing else, it’s a great way to blow off steam.

For a moment, ask yourself this: Have you ever considered that what sucks about your job might not be the job itself? Is it possible that you’ve conflated the circumstances of your job with the quality of your career?

Maybe you like your job, but you want more money. Or maybe you like where you work, but you want more responsibility and a promotion. Or perhaps you’re bored with your role and are hungry for a new set of skills. There are dozens of factors at play that we call “work,” when in fact a job is really a set of responsibilities and a number of circumstances (from pay to colleagues to hours to culture), which can change.

But sulking isn’t going to change any of them. Keeping your head down and grinding out top performance, however, will — it is the one variable you can control, and the one behavior most correlated with career advancement. Maybe the solution is a lot easier than you think. Maybe it’s right under your nose. Hard work could mean getting what you’re looking for without leaving your current place of employment.

Because work has a funny way of getting better when you get better.

And if you do have to leave, working hard will make that easier. Your employer will give a much better recommendation for someone cranking it out than someone phoning it in. You’ll be significantly stronger in job interviews. You’ll be confident that the skills you developed and the milestones you achieved in your job — even when you didn’t love it, especially when you didn’t love it — make you a better candidate for the next job.

I often say that how you do one thing is how you do everything. This applies at work as much as it does in your personal life. Giving it 10 percent at work makes it easier to give 10 percent in your job search, in your interviews, and in your next job. Giving it your all is a habit you’ll bring to every part of your life.

Find Other Areas of Fulfillment in Life

Working hard can make things more tolerable. But if your career isn’t fulfilling — and if it isn’t going to change anytime soon — then no amount of high performance will totally offset that. So you need to start looking for fulfillment in other areas of your life.

Personal fulfillment comes in all shapes and sizes. Maybe you need an artistic endeavor, like painting or writing short stories. Or maybe you’re more of a craft guy who wants to repair an old motorcycle or build a new cabinet for your bedroom. Or perhaps you’ve been hanging onto a business idea that can take you out of the working world for good.

Everyone has a different version of the thing their life needs. What’s yours?

Now you need to make time for it. A simple way to make that happen is just waking up an hour earlier every day. It’s how crime novelist Elmore Leonard, among many others, launched his writing career. Carving out a single hour every day that exists just for you can make a big difference in your outlook. When you go to bed at the end of the day, you can reflect on that hour as time you spent doing something just for you. That can be a really powerful feeling, and it will make going to work significantly easier.

Look for Another Job

Sounds obvious, right? But I want to spend some time on why it’s important to look for another job — and how best to approach it when you’re stuck in the “My job sucks” phase.

First, if you’re not just underpaid or underutilized, you’re not going to wake up one morning and realize how much you love your job. In fact, the opposite is probably true. The longer you’re there, the more it’s going to grind you down. One great antidote to that feeling, at least in the short term, is to start looking for another job. You’ll at least be doing something about the problem.

So if you’re considering leaving a job you hate, there are some things you need to know. Looking for another job comes in two parts: Planning, then looking.

Planning means thinking about where you want to be in five years. There’s no point in finding another job if you’re just going to be stuck where you are now, emotionally and professionally. Be intentional about looking for another job. Ask yourself what kind of job will be good for you in the long term. That might mean a total change of career. It might mean just being very mindful of where you apply and selective about where you work. But don’t just take another job for the sake of getting away from where you are now. You’ll probably regret it and you won’t have actually done anything about the underlying issue.

Sometimes the problem isn’t your job per se. It’s the career path you’re on. I’ve known guys in their mid-40s who totally changed careers. I’m talking big changes here, not moving from IT support to IT management. It’s unlikely that you’re too old for such a change yourself. So if you really feel like you need to make that kind of radical change in your life, don’t gloss over this step. Think about it and make the right move for you, be it vertical or lateral.

The second part is applying.

Here, I recommend that you set specific goals. How many jobs will you apply to in a given day? Don’t do the usual “spray and pray.” Instead, be selective. Spend the time crafting your resume for each one. Draft the best cover letter you can. Not only is this going to increase your chances of getting the right job, it’s another great place to direct the negative energy you have about your job. And again, at the end of the day, you’re going to be able to reflect on the time spent as an accomplishment.

Remember, most resumes and cover letters are mediocre at best. Spending just a little bit of time putting spit and polish on yours increases your chances of getting a good job. I’d be willing to bet you’ll learn about skills you didn’t even know you had. You’re basically sitting down and creatively bragging about yourself every time you work on your resume, while remembering — sometimes even discovering — all the things you know how to do. It’s an excellent way to self-reflect, celebrate your wins, and communicate your talents.

For all those reasons, working on your resume is one of the most productive forms of aspirational daydreaming, which is essential to building a better life.

Be Empowered By Your Job Search

A job search can be frustrating, but it doesn’t have to be. For one, it’s a lot easier to find a job when you already have one (another reason to stick around). More than that, you’ll have accomplished something small in making a better life for yourself every day. Just griping about your job is going to make you miserable. But being able to say “I sent out five targeted resumes and cover letters today” will empower you.

Don’t forget to talk to your contacts, cast a wide net or even consider relocation. All of these offer opportunities to improve your quality of life while you look for another job. Talking to old contacts can make you remember professional aspirations you’d forgotten you had, or discover ones you didn’t know existed. Casting a wide net offers opportunities to change careers in ways you hadn’t thought of. And few things are more exciting than the prospect of a new job in a new city. Embrace this part of the process and you’ll get sustenance from it.

So yes, having a draining job can be a real drag. But know that it’s only temporary. When you have a better job, do you want to look back on now as a time when you were apathetic or proactive, paralyzed or empowered? Don’t wait around for your professional life to start. Take charge, make small progress every day, and look forward to the time when you have a career you’ve built for yourself. You’ll never have to utter the painful phrase “My job sucks” ever again.