If You Think You Hate Your Job, Read This

if you think you hate your work

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.

15 thoughts on “If You Think You Hate Your Job, Read This

  1. ” 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.” Great advice!

    1. Thanks, Jeff. I think we find the negative parts of the work we do so overwhelmingly discouraging that we sometimes fail to really look at the BIG PICTURE. Often, doing the sort of inventory I mentioned in an objective way will reveal the truth–that most of those things asked of us are tasks we can take some pleasure from. It seems we psychologically accentuate the negative and forget about the positive. Maybe we have some sort of built-in negativity gene or something?

  2. I don’t hate my job, I love it. But maybe I love it too much, because I hate the system… I want to find the balance between doing what I love and still generate an income… private enterprise is really hard. But… I don’t know what I’m doing, I’m just… trying. Everyday. I do get called out for it though because I put my focus on trying to navigate through uncharted territory and not enough focus on what is behind me.

    1. You’ve touched upon the eternal struggle: How to make money doing the thing we love because, often, our passions can’t easily be monetized. Many of us are artistic people. But are the masses really interested in art? I’d like you to say more about what you meant when you wrote “I put my focus on trying to navigate through uncharted territory and not enough focus on what is behind me.”

      Thanks for the comment.

      1. When one is so focused on trying to press forward, figuring out how to “get to that desired goal”, it can leave the people around you to feel alienated from you. So like… I don’t pay enough attention and affection to my family as all my time and attention is “trying to figure this out” or “spent doing this or that”.
        Also, while I am plowing forwards and onwards, when other people don’t share the same vision (or don’t understand it, or don’t want it), it’s almost like I am turning my back on them… though I’m here physically, I’m not really here in my mind.
        Gah. It’s all metaphorical! I’m sorry. I don’t know if it helped clear it up..?! LOL sigh

  3. Hey. What a meaningful piece you have here. Most of the time, I look solely on the bad side so I tend to quit on the things that do not give much fulfillment, but now, I think it might be a good idea to look my job in a different way and perspective. Thank you for this.

    1. Thank you for the nice comment. Yes, we are often so overwhelmed by things that bother us that we simply forget that there are plenty of things we do in our work that give us meaning.

  4. I’ve bounced around a lot, following my heart as I seek my happy place. I’ve held three-year stints in print production, finance and banking, sales management, product management, free-lance graphic design, road-repping gift lines, and insurance sales, oh, yah, and momming. I enjoyed all the positions (except insurance sales, and momming was the best by far). I have lived and learned. The jobs had their positives and negatives… mostly positives… however… I had a tendency toward the three-year itch. I like to change things up. Maybe bouncing goes hand-in-hand with well-roundedness. Anyways, now I have settled into a combination of teaching and writing (almost eight years), because I can change these up at my whim… and teach and write about so many things. I love my work. Life is a journey. Mine has been a very bouncy one. What is your passion? I’m passionate about life, and I believe the important thing is to follow your heart.

    1. I really loved reading your comment because it seemed so relevant to my own experience. I am an American who spent nearly twenty years living outside my home country, often in places some might call “developing” or “third-world.” (By the way, I hate those terms.) Many of us grow up with this idea in our heads about what life is supposed to look like. This idea is that we grow up, grow to school, get a job, settle down, and live happily ever after. Rarely (especially now) does this sort of “perfect life” ever happen. I suppose some would be happy living it. Others, not so much. I never had such an ideal situation. But, like you, I feel that I’ve grown so much bouncing around the way I have. My mom once gave me a pillow with the following words embroidered on it: “Not all who wander are lost.” I still have that pillow and it means a lot to me.

  5. Nice post. I’ve lost count of the number of people I’ve worked with over the years who seem to hate their job and continually complain but do nothing about it…I have no time for them as I suspect they just want to suck others into their misery…there is always some degree of control over what you do within your job and how you choose to approach it I think. 🙂

    1. Thanks for the comment. I agree with a lot of what you’ve said here. It seems that those things about our work that really bother us so dominate our thinking that they play a disproportionately important role in forming our overall opinion. Bad experiences always seem to leave a bigger impression than pleasant ones do.

  6. Wise words! i will pass them on to my kids, as I’m retired now from a job I loved – Childbirth educator and labor coach. It’s always good to think about changing the things you can if you you “hate” something and focus on the positive. I would add to pray about those things you cannot change and ask God if this is a way He is using to move you on to the next thing.
    Welcome! and thank you for following DailyBiblePrayer.wordpress.com
    May God bless you with encouragement, direction and protection as you grow in your relationship with Him through the scriptures and spending time in prayer!
    Be sure to click on the scriptures at the bottom to read and see what God will share with you personally!
    God bless your day.

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