What To Do When You’re Stuck In A Job You Hate

A client came to me a while back with a conundrum: She hated her job, but was paralyzed to move because she’d quit a decent job to take this new one for all the right reasons. Now, a year into it, she wasn’t getting along with her boss, opportunities she was teased with have disappeared; she was stressed, unhappy, and overworked, and she desperately wanted to get out of there.

Since she wasn’t independently wealthy and just working for fun, she, like most of us, didn’t have the option of simply quitting. At least, not until she found another job — so there she sat, stuck in a job she hated, overwhelmed and confused about how to escape, afraid of making another bad decision.

Cut to about three or four weeks later: She’s still working there, happy, buying coffee for her boss before leaving our session and pretty much loving most every minute of it – a near 180 degree shift in a reality where nothing substantially changed. Well, nothing except for one thing: her perspective.

You see, how we approach things, see things, chose to think about things, the language we use to describe and define our circumstances and situations all matter. A lot! She was a good employee who had completely valid complaints about her work environment. But the power of her perspective controlled her reality. So we shifted her perspective in a deep and functional way.

The first thing we did was to recognize when and how these circumstances have shown up in her past; after all, the previous job couldn’t have been perfect, or this one wouldn’t have enticed her away. In that exploration we found behavioral patterns, areas of weakness in her interpersonal skills and where her courage showed up — or ran to hide. Then, instead of looking at the current job as an obstacle, something to escape from and replace, she began to look at it as a training ground. After all, what did she have to lose? She was already set on leaving, so if she messed up — so what? So, for the time being when she was still there, we challenged her to see how much she could use that job to improve herself, to prepare her for a better position, to strengthen her interpersonal skills for managing a difficult boss, and to build opportunities that seemingly don’t exist.

There’s a million ways to see someone or something, each as valid as the next. So, when it came to her boss, we explored different perspectives. If even a broken clock can tell time correctly twice a day, surely this boss has to do something right, yes? “Well, of course,” she said, “she’s terrible — but not that terrible. She’s got a difficult job and as much as I can glean, because she doesn’t talk about it, she has a difficult home life.”  And on and on she went. We find what we look for, so when she began looking for a different side of her boss, she found it.  As a result, she began responding differently to her boss, watching her in a different way, noticing things she hadn’t before, understanding that sometimes what felt like a prickly poke was really a compliment in the eyes of her boss, no matter how poorly delivered. And wouldn’t you know it — when she began seeing her boss differently, engaging differently, responding differently, in return, she got different responses from her boss!

It’s important to understand that my client “faked” nothing. She didn’t pretend her boss was different, and she didn’t make up false stories about her boss’s behavior in order to feel better; she simply worked with truth. All it took was a tiny shift; she just needed to find a couple things to realize that the way she had always seen the situation was not the only way for it to be seen.  When she genuinely shifted that perspective, she changed the way she saw her boss, felt about her boss and reacted to her boss — and ultimately, changed the reactions she got from her boss and the environment in which she worked.

By the time we were done, she no longer wanted to leave. She loves her job, is getting along great with her boss, and others began commenting that things around the office felt differently, though they couldn’t quite put their finger on it. She agreed and smiled at the realization that one person really can make a difference — for better and for worse.

How about you? Which perspective would you like to contribute?

If your intention is to leave your job anyway, then why not try this strategy yourself? Use this job, even if you hate it, to improve your skills for finding new perspectives and engaging differently with those around you. What can you do that will have a positive impact in the way you get along with your boss? What can you do to strengthen your relationships with your coworkers? What can you do make the environment more positive for everyone?

You might be surprised the difference your own perspective can make.