What Do You Do When You’re Stuck in a Job You Hate?

This is a dilemma most of us have faced at one time or another, some of you might even be facing it right now. What do you do when you are in a job that you really don’t like? Perhaps it’s an issue with your boss or co-workers, or the responsibilities and focus of the position just doesn’t thrill you like you thought it would when you took the job. And, now, for whatever reason(s) you just aren’t able to leave. What do you do?

You have a couple of choices.

One choice is to suffer through day by day until you either get fired for your poor attitude or you find another job that you like more. All the while you’re in the position you make everyone around you nearly as miserable as you are, repelling potential customers, and bringing the company down. That’s one option.

The other option is to create happiness and meaning in your work life regardless of the current circumstances. This is a tall order. And, I’ve not seen too many people who are able to do this 100 percent of the time. I have seen that attitude – a focus on the positive, on finding happiness and meaning in tough situations – is key to success, change, and moving forward to better situations.

So, how do you create happiness and meaning when you’re stuck in a job that you hate?

I suggest that you break your days down into one hour segments. For example, imagine that you have to go to a one-hour meeting. You are dreading this pointless, unnecessary meeting and everything about it!

Now, imagine that at the end of this boring, time-sucking meeting, you are going to be tested with four simple questions about how you spent that hour:

  • Did I do my best to be happy?
  • Did I do my best to find meaning?
  • Did I do my best to build positive relationships?
  • Did I do my best to be fully engaged?

If you knew you were going to be tested, what would you do differently to raise your score on any of these four items?

I’ve posed this question to thousands of executives around the world. Some typical responses are:

  • I would go into the meeting with a positive attitude.
  • Instead of waiting for someone to make it interesting, I’d make it interesting myself.
  • I’d try to help the presenter in some way instead of critiquing her in my head.
  • I would try to build a positive relationship with someone in the room.
  • I would pay attention and put away my smartphone.

Here’s my radical suggestion for what to do when you’re stuck in a job you hate. From now on, pretend that you are going to be tested every hour. Your heart and mind will thank you for it. Each hour that you spend at this job is an hour that you won’t get back. If you are miserable, it is your misery, not the company’s, not your boss’s, not your co-workers’. Why waste your hours being disengaged and cynical? By taking personal responsibility for your own engagement, you make a positive contribution to your company. Even more important, you begin creating a better, happier you!

Triggers is a #1 New York Times and Wall Street Journal best-seller! Order it at Amazon. See The Marshall Goldsmith Thinkers50 Video Blog for more of this video series.