Troy Headrick’s personal blog can be found at Thinker Boy: Blog & Art
I’ve spent nearly my entire career working on college and university campuses that were located both inside and outside of America. I currently direct the Integrated Reading and Writing Learning Center (INRW LC) on a community college campus that’s located in San Antonio, Texas. In our center, we help students become more mindful as a way of bettering themselves as writers, readers, critical thinkers, problem solvers and human beings.
I manage a team of seven really talented tutors, mentors, and coaches. This morning, just after opening the center, I got involved in a really interesting conversation with Kate, a newly hired tutor and someone with an MA in literature and rhetoric. The subject of our talk was work and the world of work, topics almost all of us know something about. During the course of our discussion, it occurred to me that I wanted to write my next blog on work, job satisfaction, and some of the ways we think about what we do for a living that might be problematic. In fact, many of us who feel that we hate our jobs are actually making a pretty common thinking mistake. If we simply look at the work we do in a slightly different way, we may end up feeling a whole lot better about it.
I want to be totally frank with you. There have been periods of my life when I really and truly despised being in education. During such periods, I hated preparing for lessons, especially if I had Monday classes and therefore had to do my prep work on Sundays. Many college and university teachers will tell you that the absolute worst part of the job is grading papers, so when I was in one of my funks about my profession, I would often put off marking student work as long as humanly possible. Then, because I had been such a terrible procrastinator, I’d often have to do my grading very quickly, making the task even more loathsome than usual.
These feelings of wanting to change my career were so powerful that I actually got out of teaching for a time. Quite a few years ago now, I worked as the director of a nonprofit museum, and I also did technical and creative writing for a Fortune 500 company.
My story is certainly not unique. Virtually everyone, at one time or another, has grown to despise his or her job, and many, like me, have even reinvented themselves and changed careers. I’m back in education and now no longer fear that I’m going to wake up one morning and hate what I’m doing for a living. That’s because I’ve learned to think about my profession in a more nuanced way than I used to be able to.
I think it is potentially a very big mistake to say something categorical, like “I hate my job.” There are certainly things about the work that might be really irksome or even stressful, but the average job is actually a complex system of activities that one regularly performs for pay. If one were to break the average workday down into the various tasks performed, one would have a better sense of which specific parts of the work one finds onerous and which aren’t. One might truly despise certain very specific duties, but there are likely many others that would provide pleasure and even fulfillment. Unfortunately, we have a tendency to think in either/or terms when we think about the work we do. We believe that we either hate the whole thing or that we like or love the whole thing. (This is a very unrealistic and unproductive way to conceive of the situation because there is almost nothing in life that we either wholly love or hate.)
The truth is, if we take a very analytical approach, almost all of us would discover that there’s quite a lot that we enjoy about the work we do. In my case, back when I wanted to the leave the classroom, I really only disliked about twenty to thirty percent of the job. I let the negative feelings associated with that small percentage color what I thought about those parts that weren’t so bad.
Here’s what I recommend. If you’re feeling really negative about your job, sit down and make an inventory of all the duties you are required to carry out on a daily basis. Write down the things you hate and the things you love about your work. Then, with this list in hand, try to find a way to accentuate the positive and minimize the negative. For example, if you dislike one of your coworkers, see if you can find a way to be around him or her less. Or, if that is impossible, train yourself to interact with him or her in a very Zen way.
Of course, some jobs truly are despicable. If the list of things you enjoy about your work seems to be very small, then it could very well be time to update your CV, write up a nice resignation letter, and move on to greener pastures.