How to make work you hate bearable

There are few things as soul-destroying as turning up at a job you loathe, feeling like you’re going nowhere or surrounded by people you just don’t click with. But just like every other problem, there are solutions for this and a number of ways you can cope with the cards you have been dealt. 

While we all grow up encouraged to “live the dream” and pursue our passions, sometimes the universe has other things in store for us. Whether an economic downturn has dried up the job ads or you’re doing your time in an entry-level position, unfortunately there are periods when we have to suck up a pay cheque for a less-than-satisfying role.

And while you might imagine a dramatic “I quit!” mid-meeting announcement, sometimes we don’t have the luxury of giving up our earnings. So how can we make the best of a less-than-ideal situation so our job doesn’t completely get us down?

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1. Appreciate the skills you’re accumulating

US entrepreneur Beth Haggerty recently reflected on the way all of the unfulfilling roles she’s had over the years actually shaped her for the “life’s work” she now does today.

It’s a good reminder for all of us that whether it’s the network you’re building, the skills you are developing or simply the salary you’re earning, there’s a good chance that this current role is an important part of your future resume. “Try to envisage how your future self will view this,” Dr Jo Lukins, performance coach and author of The Elite: Think Like an Athlete, Succeed Like a Champion, tells body+soul. “It can be really helpful to try to view the less palatable tasks through the lens of, ‘Why am I here?’ and ‘Why am I doing this?’ and ‘How does it meet my greater goal?'”

2. Celebrate the influence you can have

It’s easy to assume you have to be the Head of Culture to have a significant influence on your colleagues’ lives, but Dr Lukins says it’s important to remember how much sway we have on the people we associate with every day. So even if you’re on the bottom rung, your jokes might brighten your colleague’s day or your empathetic ear might help someone get through a tough time, which could actually be life-changing for them. “Mood and culture is contagious so no matter how far up or down the pecking order we might sit in an organisation, we can definitely have a strong influence on those who report to us and work alongside us,” Dr Lukins says.

“How can you frame what you do from the perspective of how you’re helping others or making a difference? If you’re stacking shelves or serving customers at the supermarket [you could frame it as] ‘I’m providing an environment for people to come and nourish their families’ – that’s a bit different to, ‘I stand at the register and deal with dockets all day’.”

3. Bathe in the discomfort

Whether you’re bored out of your brain or being pushed to the end of your tether, Dr Lukins says there is merit in all of us learning to get comfortable with the uncomfortable. “Every day is a learning opportunity, so regardless of what you’re doing, see if you can remember your goals and what this is leading to, and understand that things come through perseverance,” Dr Lukins says.

“You might need to appreciate that this is part of earning your stripes and the learning and wisdom that comes from having to learn [things] from the bottom.” If you don’t really gel with your colleagues, it might be an opportunity to practise your communication skills or patience. “Ask yourself, ‘How can I reconceptualise this for myself so that it sits well with me, so that then I can get the best from the opportunity and the experience?'” Dr Lukins says. “Who knows down the track what these connections might go on to do or what this learning might teach you.”

4. Find things to be thankful for

Even if it feels like you’ve got the world’s worst job, Dr Lukins says that developing a daily gratitude practise can be a powerful vibe shifter. “At the end of each day, as you’re putting your keys in your handbag or pushing your chair in, remind yourself of what you’re grateful for from today,” she suggests. “When you look at life through the lens of gratitude, it’s very difficult to not [enjoy things].”

5. Build a great life outside of work

If your money-earner just doesn’t light your fire, then consider ways you can take your pay packet and build a vibrant life outside of work. “It’s important at any time in our lives to have something that gets us excited, so [consider], ‘How do I manage that when it’s not my work?'” Dr Lukins suggests. “Maybe you can take up painting or photography or put time and energy into your family and friends. Is there something outside of work that you can really sink your teeth into?”