Remember that scene from Office Space where Ron Livingston, suddenly able to speak his mind thanks to the wonders of hypnosis, explains exactly how he spends his time at work? Of course you do. If you’re anything like us, then you probably think about that scene at least a few times a month, mostly while sitting behind a desk. Perhaps you’ve even begun to work the Peter Gibbons way – sneaking in 15 (or 30, or 45, or 60) minutes late, spacing out for hours at a time, sighing audibly every time your supervisor asks you to do anything at all – which might mean that the daily grind has finally lost some, or all, of its luster.
No one loves every part of his job every day, but it’s excruciating to show up to a 9-5 that gives you no satisfaction whatsoever. If you’re in this boat, then you’ve probably considered quitting to pursue your passion for making short claymation films (or whatever it is you tell people you’d do if ‘money were no object’), only to discover that money is an object and quitting with no backup plan falls under the heading of ‘terrible, irresponsible ideas’. While staying at a job you hate will kill your soul faster than the evil dudes in those kid wizard novels, though, it’s not always easy to switch companies or careers. So what’s a despondent dude to do? Network on LinkedIn and peruse TheLadders all you want, but if you want to take some initiative to improve your work life today, then take a breath, step away from the stapler, and look to these tips for inspiration.
Reconnect with your coworkers
The people with whom you share cubicle and fridge space have a huge impact on your work life, and you can choose whether that influence is positive or negative. Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project, spent a year studying and testing what makes people happy, and she determined that “having strong friendships makes work more fun… close relationships [are] essential to happiness, strengthen the immune system, and reduce anxiety”. Science agrees, people. You can be a rock and an island all you want, but sooner or later you’re going to want to have some comrades in your battle against the office blahs or you risk losing your marbles altogether. You may have been unsuccessful in forging relationships with your colleagues in the past (or you may not have cared enough to try), but there’s nothing like a post-work happy hour or weekend get-together to get things moving again. Trust us. If you look hard enough, you’re bound to find at least one person who’s fit to share a beer with you.
Check in with the people who benefit from what you do
Does your company do pro-bono social service work in underserved communities? Do you analyze data that helps improve the efficacy of education programs? Is your job at all related to people in any way? Answer honestly (and thoughtfully) and you’ll find that almost every job, no matter how far removed from the ‘client’ it might be, impacts someone, somewhere, somehow. When you’ve lost touch with the reason you started working in the first place, it’s damn near impossible to muster up the motivation to get your work done, much less take pride in whatever it is you manage to churn out; however, it’s surprisingly easy to find joy in even the most menial of tasks when you realize that your work impacts real people. It’s time to remind yourself why you spend hours on end staring at spreadsheets: if your boss or department head doesn’t have an adequate explanation of where your work goes when you submit it, then your HR department should be able to point you in the right direction. If no one gives you a satisfactory answer, then find ways to use your professional skills and connections to better the lives of people in your community. It’ll do wonders for your morale.
Take up a passion project on the side
Like it or not, your main gig might never float every part of your boat, but it might provide enough scratch to keep you working there long past your happiness expiration date. Like the old adage says, though, it’s foolish to put all of your eggs in one basket; there’s no rule that says you have to limit yourself to only what’s in your job description, so as long as you’re getting your work done, why not find ways to nurture your other, non-gainfully-employable passions? Sometimes this can happen in the workplace – you might be able to consult with other departments to find fun side projects on which to consult or assist – but if not, there are still countless hours in the week in which to discover what really lights your fire (instead of, say, sitting on the couch and getting fat). Take a writing class. Brush up on your German. Find a community organization that desperately needs your mad Photoshop skills. Start a blog. Learn to cook. And so on. The point is: if you have something in your life that excites you – something engaging and challenging on which to focus your energy – then you’re less likely to look to your full-time job as the sole provider of intellectual stimulation which in turn will make you less likely to resent your job for doing exactly the opposite of that.
Make a plan to get the hell out
Sometimes all you need in order to lift yourself out of the proverbial dumps is a plan of attack. If you’ve had it UP TO HERE (please imagine someone making the ‘up to here’ hand gesture for maximum effect) with your dead-end profession, then why stay? Yes, you need money, but other jobs will pay you for your services. And yes, it’s difficult to network and interview and wait around for someone to return your calls, but what else are you doing with your time that’s so much more important? There’s no guarantee that you’ll be able to find something else immediately, but the simple act of making a plan (as in, ‘meet with a career counselor,’ ‘send five resumes a day,’ ‘attend three networking events a week,’ etc.) is the first step on the path to achieving your professional goals. It’s also an incredibly empowering exercise. In time, you’ll stop focusing on all the things that are wrong with your current job (you’ve probably already created an extensive list anyway) and start being excited about all the great things that are just around the corner. (Plus, you’ll be spending so much time job-searching and cover-letter-writing that you’ll have to complete your work much quicker than normal, which will make everything seem way more exciting. Like how you get way more into your Super Mario game when the ‘time running out’ music starts to play. Just like that.)