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Careers rarely start out where we want them to end up. No matter your five- or 10-year plan, the path toward the future you want will probably involve doing some time in a job you hate. Whether it's your side gig, a day job that funds your true passion or an entry-level job in your industry that isn't what you want to do but will help you get there, you will have a job you dislike at some point in your career.
So, how do you find happiness in a job you hate? And at what point does a job become unbearable enough to justify leaving it, even if the job market is in a particularly dire state? Just like all situations that are less-than pleasant, you can start by developing coping mechanisms that will help you use the job you have for what it's worth, without compromising your happiness.
How to be happy at a job you hate.
It's difficult to be happy doing work you hate, especially if you're the type of person who holds your career in close proximity to your purpose and self-worth. If you can afford to — either financially or career-wise — quitting is definitely an option. When it's not, though, you can find a light at the end of the tunnel in other ways. No matter how miserable you are at a job, it's possible to find positive elements of the experience and figure out a way to make the most of it. Here are some ways to find happiness in the bleakest of workplaces.
Pinpoint the problem.
Solving your problems with your job is easier when you know exactly what they are. If you haven't already, sit down and write out exactly what you don't like about the job — everything you wish was happening there that isn't, what you're not getting from the workplace experience and what you hate most about the work you're doing day-to-day. Then, try and imagine what solutions to those problems would look like. Is there a responsibility you can delegate, a conversation you can start with coworkers that would change the space or some way you can improve the company as a whole?
Stay focused on your goals.
Again, oftentimes the job you hate is necessary in some way for your desired path. Maybe you need this entry-level position to open doors for the career you want, or it's teaching you a certain skill set that will propel you toward your goals. Maybe you just need to save up money, and this job is the most lucrative option. Whatever the reason is that made you take this job, keep it on your mind. Constantly remembering how this fits into your long-term goals will keep your eyes set on the future and will make going to work each day have a clear purpose.
Find fulfillment outside of work.
Particularly if your job is not fulfilling the kind of work you want to do or the impact you want to have on the world, find external opportunities that will. Volunteer at an organization doing work you believe in. Find a hobby or activity that makes you happy. Having other pursuits going on that make you feel fulfilled will help you find balance and keep you from relying on your job to give you a sense of purpose and personal progress.
Take time off.
Whether you use all of your vacation days or simply make a point of not checking your work email outside of business hours, find opportunities to take time for you. This way, it won't seem like this job takes up your whole life or all of your time. Build in space in your schedule that is distinctly separate from your work.
Find things to look forward to.
In a job you hate, going to work every day — even if all that involves, in its current form, is powering up your laptop at home — can feel like a chore. If you dread going to work because you don't like your job, finding even little things to motivate you can help you get by every day. Make friends with your coworkers — then, your job becomes an opportunity to connect more with people you enjoy. Whatever it is, discovering something positive at your job that will get you out of bed and through the day without being miserable can help you find happiness in your job.
Identify the positives.
Odds are, there was at least one good reason you took this job in the first place. Take the time to remember why you're here. Is this job giving you the extra income you need to pave the way for your dream future? Do you really believe in the mission at the heart of the company? Whatever the plus sides of this job may be, pointing them out — even writing them down so you can physically look at them — is a good way to help you cope with the aspects of the job you dislike.
How long should you stay at a job you hate?
The answer to this question will be different for everyone, and of course it's been compounded by the pandemic and its all-too real damage to bank accounts and the job market. But just because you feel deeply fortunate to still be employed doesn't mean you necessarily have to eliminate the thought of changing companies before COVID is over.
There are a few questions you can ask yourself to figure out how long you should stay at the job you hate. Some professional etiquette sources say that you should stay at a job for two years, ideally, in general. If it's a job you hate, you should aim to stay for one year, especially if it's crucial to your resume. According to experts, it depends on what your resume looks like. In order to not be labeled a "job hopper," you may need to stay at your current job for at least a year, especially if you already have several short stints in jobs demonstrated on your resume. If you don't, and most of your resume consists of long work commitments, then you can afford a few months-long jobs without hurting your reputation.
That said, job culture is changing, and younger generations are taking over the workforce and changing the way we think about etiquette and view job commitments in general. It's more common now to "job hop," and you shouldn't stress too much if you can't hit your one year anniversary at the job you dread waking up every morning to go to. When it comes down to it, you shouldn't stay at any job that's endangering your mental or emotional health or causing you intense distress. In a society entrenched in capitalism, it's difficult to keep in mind that we are more than our resume and production value; but ultimately, you have to put yourself and your vitality over traditional concepts of career dos and don'ts.
When is it time to quit?
Deciding to quit your job is a difficult task. It means entering the job market again, which brings a level of uncertainty and instability to your life, especially if you don't have anything lined up or potential leads at the moment. And again, COVID has brought a significantly higher degree of uncertainty to what was not long ago considered a "candidate's job market." Additionally, it's important to leave without burning bridges if you need a reference from your employers.
When it's time to quit your job, there will be signs. If you dread waking up every morning and beginning to work, and your job is taking a toll on your mental and emotional health even after you're done working, it might be time to let it go. If you can't stop venting about your job and the environment is not conducive to work or positivity, it may be time to consider putting in your two weeks' notice, if you're financially in a position that allows for this option. If you procrastinate more than you work, or you don't see a future in your job for your career in terms of advancing to higher-level positions, it might also be time to let it go. If you have completely lost sight of how this job fits into your larger goals and can't think of one thing you're gaining in the long run by being there, at the very least, you know it's no longer useful to you.
Basically, if your job is preventing you from doing the job you want to do there or want to do eventually, quit.