With the exception of about two years of my adult life (split into two periods), I have never actually hated my job. I’ve usually been relatively happy about going into work. I’ve enjoyed the tasks I’ve had to work on and the people I’ve had to work with.
Those two periods where I hated my job, though? They were horrible.
During the first period, which lasted about six to eight months, I was in a small office with two other people. My boss actually worked in another building and was very hands-off. The three of us in this office were tasked with a standalone project that we were basically expected to pull off on our own. It was up to us to sink or swim, and it was a pretty challenging project.
One of my coworkers was an awesome person, someone I valued greatly and am still friends with more than a decade later. The other person was one of the most poisonous people I’ve ever interacted with. This poisonous person would claim to be working on specific tasks or sub-projects and produce nothing. This person would skip meetings and, on the occasions when this person would show up, would be acidly negative about everything and offer no positive ideas. This person would claim that we were “sabotaging” this person’s work, including such things as changing this person’s laptop password when this person wasn’t even in the office. There were negative comments, extremely critical emails to the boss (sometimes blind carbon copied to us, sometimes not), and almost-daily secret phone calls and meetings about how evil we both were.
This was all happening while the other guy and I were trying to build a successful prototype to solve a pretty difficult and multi-faceted problem in six months. The work itself was stressful, even without this third person. It reached a point where I didn’t want to go into work at times.
Eventually, that person was fired, primarily on the back of a presentation at the six month mark where that person literally knew nothing at all about the prototype.
During the second period, I was charged with essentially maintaining a large software project. It was one of those government jobs where you could just sit there and earn a paycheck if you were just quiet and willing to do very little. Most of my tasks involved paperwork shuffling. I liked the people I worked with quite well, but the truth was that the entire eighteen month (or so) period where I was doing this work was utterly soul-sucking. Every single day, I wanted to do anything other than go into work. I was basically restricted from actually even trying to do anything interesting – my work was pure maintenance, nothing else, and nothing else was welcome. I did maintenance and paperwork and twiddled my thumbs and hated my life. The sole bright spot of those days was that I liked my coworkers.
After a year and a half, I walked away from that job. I couldn’t take it any more. I am simply not psychologically built to sit there and just collect a paycheck. If I am not working on something or building something or creating something, I get very frustrated and negative.
This brings us back to the key question of what exactly do you do if you hate your job but you’re not in a financial position to just quit. It’s a tough spot to be in, but it’s a spot that a lot of people eventually find themselves in at some point or another in their career.
Some people can just stick with it. They can go in every day, deaden themselves, collect a paycheck, and go home. Other people force themselves to go to work each day. They hate the job, they hate themselves, but they feel forced to do it because they need the paycheck.
In either case, having a job that destroys your soul does not have to be the way life is. There are other options.
First of all, you can get off the financial tightrope. People often stay in jobs like this because they’re spending every dollar that they bring in. Often, much of that money is needed to pay actual bills – mortgage payments, car payments, credit card payments, huge cell phone bills, internet bills, energy bills, and so on and so forth.
People find themselves walking that financial tightrope because of a long history of personal spending choices and thus one of the most effective ways to get off of that tightrope is to change those choices. Cut back on your spending. Don’t trade in that car every three years. Downsize your home or rent out part of it. Eat out less and eat at home more. Have more modest vacations. Actually use a shopping list at the grocery store. All of those things will cut your spending by the hundreds of dollars a year.
Then, take that money and eliminate debt. Wipe out your credit card debts and your student loans and your car loans and, eventually, your mortgage. Build an emergency fund, too, so that when things go sideways, you have cold, hard cash to handle it. When your bills go down, don’t spend that money; instead, channel that extra money into even faster debt payoffs and into retirement savings or into savings for a small business. You’ll pretty quickly find that you don’t actually need that full paycheck as bad as you think you do.
Another strategy is to start a side gig that can earn money. What are you good at? Can you sell that skill on the side, or sell the things you produce with that skill? Can you at least talk about that thing with passion and insight and turn that into some income via a podcast or a Youtube video channel? There are lots of ways to start side businesses, whether it’s selling your art on or broadcasting your thoughts on a topic on or fixing computers in your community or countless other things.
This achieves the same effect as cutting back on spending. You can use this extra money to start trimming your bills so that you have fewer required expenses going forward. You can also use both strategies in parallel – improving your income while cutting your spending.
Another alternative version of starting a side gig is to simply get some education that will help you move into a better job in your current career. It might be that you love your current career in general, but you just hate your current position. In that case, more education often becomes the ticket for getting up and out of your situation.
Of course, neither one of these strategies is going to directly help with a situation in which you truly hate your job. They’re just going to help create some financial breathing room, but it is that very financial breathing room that is going to make all of the difference.
Once you have a little bit of financial breathing room, you can start searching for a different job with a much lower level of risk to your current job. You can afford to take a job that pays a little less for a huge increase in the quality of life. You can afford to be on shaky ground in your current workplace if they catch wind of your job search. You might even be able to afford the risk of jumping onto one of your side gigs as your full time employment, which is exactly what I did when I walked away from my second miserable job experience.
Sure, this is a long term plan, but the thing to remember is that it is a plan, and having a plan means that there is light at the end of the tunnel. Without a plan, a soul-killing job looks like it will keep cycling forever and ever without any hope. It can feel bleak.
Add a plan to that picture and you can begin to see that change is on the horizon. Rather than looking like a black hole of pain, your job can instead begin to look like a tool. It’s merely a tool that you use to convert your hours into money so that you can start moving toward a job that you actually want or a career shift you actually care about.
In the end, that’s the truth about a job that you hate: it’s just a way to convert your hours into dollars until you can find a more fulfilling opportunity in life. If you have a plan that gets you off of the financial tightrope, then you open the door to lots of fulfilling opportunities.