*Please note that I still do the job in question. If you are my boss, or happen to know them, well, you might want to stop reading now. Seriously please: don’t read this.*
Having done my bachelor’s degree in law and worked in the legal profession briefly, I ‘escaped’ into legal publishing when I was 25 which seemed smart at the time. I’m 34 now, and I still work as a journal’s editor.
This job isn’t suitable for me. It never was. It doesn’t play to my personality strengths. It doesn’t cause me to develop in a way that I care about. It gives me little other than financial security and a small amount of kudos in certain people’s eyes (I don’t really care about the latter). The only thing that I have in common with the ideal candidate for this job is that we both have this urgent need to communicate.
Anyway, the job did undergo a significant change at around the halfway point. It went freelance (I know). I could now do this job from anywhere I wanted. Like, anywhere. Really. No requirement to be in the same timezone. Obviously, I went to Thailand, and then Mexico. Because, well, you would, wouldn’t you?
The job has been a lot easier on the soul since that happened. If it hadn’t happened, I’m 100% sure I wouldn’t be doing it, although I’ve no idea what it is I’d be doing, because there is still no one ‘perfect’ job that I can identify.
That’s the background. Onto what I see as being the key lessons from working in a job I don’t like for 10 years:
1. Doing a job you don’t like never stops being a source of pain
Ultimately, I should not be doing this job. I know this. I ought to quit right now — today. And if I care at all about reaching my happiness potential in life, that is what I’ll do.
I can give you a million reasons and excuses for why I haven’t left my job already, but when it comes down to it, it’s because it butters my bread and spares me from doing things I just cannot bring myself to do currently: scale back my spending, for example, or get an office job that I like a little more, but which curtails my freedom.
I want to pay for the things that bring me joy, happiness and meaning in my life, such as off-peak yoga memberships, quality organic food and the ability to go on spontaneous jaunts if I want to (as it turns out, I rarely do. But I value having the option). And this for me is the best way of doing that for the time being.
2. Effectiveness and motivation will always be a challenge
I’m probably about 50% effective in this job. Honestly, that’s probably it.
Effectiveness and motivation come from being aligned with what you do. You have to give a crap about the results you are being paid to achieve, and the impact you are making. If you do not give a crap, or if that crap is all about some ego payoff such as securing validation and approval, then there is no way you are as effective as you could be being. I mean, if I’m wrong and you have proof, then write to me because I want to know.
Motivation happens when you do work that resonates with you at a core level. Otherwise, motivation is an uphill battle, and all the life hacks in the world will only make a limited impact.
3. It’ll affect your self-esteem unless you’re careful
Many people define themselves by their jobs. We know this. Hey, it’s no bad thing. If I was Tim Ferriss, I’d probably lead with being a podcaster and author as these are awesome things to be doing with your time.
But if you’re a banker or you work in a shop, it’s somewhat less appealing to be so exclusively identified with your work.
First, there’s that lack of congruence thing — you might not feel that your job does your personality justice, so to speak.
Second, your job might not earn you people’s respect. It’s simple self-preservation just to account for other people’s judgments when discussing your life with them.
If you aren’t proud of your work, then I really suggest not making it a huge talking point with other people. Steer the conversation to your hobbies instead — anything that you feel is more ‘you’ will do. I find that I often wind up talking with people about places I’ve traveled to or whatever I happen to be reading. Or food! Everyone likes eating.
If you’re one of those lucky people who gets paid to do what you love: still remember your work is just one part of your life. Remember to develop your identity a bit. I just don’t think it’s wise to be too invested in any one trapping of your life, be that your job or your role in the family or whatever. Much better to see yourself as an embodiment of your innate fascinations and curiosities.
4. It shows you some things about yourself that you might not enjoy admitting
If you are ‘stuck’ in a job you don’t like, then there are a couple of things I can guarantee about you:
– You probably aren’t being honest with yourself and/or talking honestly about your relationship with this job. You might be using self-justifications. I recommend not doing this, as it has a disempowering effect that will get in the way of you improving things for yourself. Like me, you probably know which way your bread is buttered. You are making a values decision that places enjoying what you get paid for secondary to other things in life.
– You aren’t as happy as you could be. You might be quite happy — I am — but this element of your life will be a pain point and that will continue.
– You are probably underestimating how much this affects the rest of your life, for example, your relationships. If you are doing work that you don’t feel aligned with, you may find that the numbing that you need to do to maintain the farce spreads across life, causing various inauthenticities. Just saying. It’s a thing.
– You probably use escapism a lot — alcohol, sex, Netflix. And whilst some escapism is soothing, quarter the amount you do currently and you’ll be nearer the mark on what’s useful.
5. Working full time in a job you don’t like doesn’t stop you from building a sideline in something you do like
Okay, something positive finally.
The most important thing that I’ve learned about working a job I don’t like for 10 years?
It’s not the thing stopping you from finding and doing something that you do like. In fact, it can help that to happen, because the pressure is off you financially. This is a great position to be in when exploring ideas around passion and purpose.
Working a job you don’t like should afford you the ability to learn and develop skills you do care about having, and then carve out a career path that uses those.