My job is soul-sucking.
It’s not the first time I have heard this phrase from someone that is miserable in their work. Many people that are deeply unsatisfied and unhappy at their jobs describe an oppressive (and sometimes hostile) daily existence including: a lack of trust in their co-workers or management, feeling pressure to perform without support (or sometimes active sabotaging), political game playing such as others taking credit for their work, experiencing subtle or overt sexism, finding the work meaningless, boring, or in some cases morally bankrupt, etc…
Others say they feel as though they are not living up to their potential or want to be involved in work and people that matter to them. At some point during the conversation, I usually ask:
So why not quit?
And the response:
I can’t afford it.
This is smart response. Financial security and taking care of your family are meaningful reasons to stay at your soul-sucking job temporarily. If timing is your choice, I never recommend quitting your current position without a transition plan and an understanding of what’s next for you.
Sometimes though, especially for those in high-paying and/or prestigious positions, the conversation leads to staying because of the importance of maintaining a certain lifestyle.
Reminder: A few weeks of family vacation where you worry about your work often, that beautiful house where you can’t sleep without medication, or weekend’s where you feel depressed and exhausted…is not much of a lifestyle.
Whether you are at a soul-sucking job or simply want to do something bigger or more meaningful, there is a third option. Stay while you plan your escape by:
- Saving. Reduce or alleviate the financial risk of making a big shift. Reduce your expenses, get a second job, support your spouse in working, or start a side gig. Most people that are unhappy at work feel that they do not have any other choice but to stay. Without some level of financial safety net, the risk and anxiety of leaving your job may be too significant.
- Dreaming. There is zero risk in dreaming about what you want. Carve out even five minutes a day to explore and be intentional about your work and life dreams by asking yourself the big questions. Reflect on what it is most important to you in the next phase of work and life. With the right questions and process in a short time you will see patterns and a direction emerge. Reconnect with your dreams first and then get very practical about what is feasible and what would be a financially profitably way to approach it. Here are a couple of questions to get you started. Remember these are brainstorming exercises, so no filter and no right or wrong answer. This is between you and you. Your answers may range from specific and small to visionary to vague: If time, money, or the opinion of others were not a factor, what goals and activities would you pursue? What issues, causes, and problems that need solving have you been particularly drawn to.
- Taking micro steps. Don’t stop with dreaming, because without action (and eventually a plan), you won’t make progress. Once you know what you want, then start making a list of infinitesimal, doable steps you can take toward it.
- Finding something meaningful in your work now. Bringing more of yourself into your life can help. Try one of these every day: write down one way in which you are contributing in a positive way to your company; start the day by recording one thing you are grateful for at work; reach out consciously to someone at work with a kind or encouraging word; go outside at lunch and breathe the fresh air; or brainstorm out-of-the-box ideas to help your company that would also fuel your own passions.
How about you, what one small, infinitesimal step can you take to begin toward work that is meaningful to you?