Jon Acuff: Three Questions to Ask When You Hate Your Job

When I was in my twenties, I thought I would be given my dream job. 

I’m not sure who I expected to give it to me, but that was my expectation. Perhaps I envisioned a dream job unicorn galloping triumphantly through a sea of cubicles, its hooves pounding out a message of freedom and hope. I’d look up into its big, rainbow-colored eyes and know that my magical dream job had arrived. 

That is not how my life has gone.

It turns out there is no dream job unicorn. 

Realizing that, I decided to try a different approach to my career called, “Quit every job the minute you don’t like it.” Have you ever tried that? It’s very effective, at first.

Boss you don’t like? Quit that job! Projects not interesting? Quit that job! Blog about dreaming big inspires you? Quit that job!

It’s a lot of fun, but it doesn’t really solve anything. Quitting jobs the minute they get challenging or boring doesn’t lead anywhere. And here’s a sobering thought I waited to say until after I had wooed you with unicorn jokes: Every job has boring parts. 

It’s true. There’s no such thing as a perfect job where you just sit around all day watching entire seasons of shows on Netflix and eating bottomless bowls of queso. (That’s not your dream job? Fine, we’re different.)

What if, regardless of the job you have right this second, there was a way to enjoy it more? 

There is a way. And the first step is switching the questions you’re asking yourself. 

Am I Able to Adjust My Expectations? 

We all carry laundry lists of secret expectations, and when our jobs fail to meet them, we fail to enjoy our work. 

Take three minutes and write down your expectations for work. And then, take another three minutes and write down the real ones, because you probably just lied to yourself a little bit. 

Tom Magliozzi, the late co-host of NPR’s Car Talk show, theorized that “Happiness equals reality minus expectations,” but I disagree. To have an expectation is to have a hope, to have a dream, to have a desire about something you want to happen. 

God has given each of us unique hopes and dreams, and surely, deadening our ability to hope is not the solution to our frustration at work. The trick is not to eliminate your expectations, the trick is to adjust them.

Write them down and then find the right home for them. You may have some expectations that belong at your job. You may also have a lot of expectations that belong somewhere else, like a side job or a hobby. Starting the blog Stuff Christians Like helped me enjoy my corporate job more because I no longer expected that job to be my sole outlet of creativity. 

Is My Attitude Getting in the Way?

This isn’t about “Changing your attitude.” That could take years. No, this is about choosing your attitude. Choosing it takes a handful of seconds. Tomorrow at work, choose to have a good attitude. Choose to not be cynical. Choose to not complain. Choose to cheer for the accomplishments of coworkers. Choose to treat customers like superstars. 

Choose your attitude every day until, eventually, it chooses you right back. 

It’s not about feeling happy or committed to your work or like being a good employee. Feelings are the flightiest things in the world. Feelings will tell you the day is already ruined because you woke up on the wrong side of the bed or had a bad commute that morning. 

Don’t listen to feelings. Make choices. Today, choose a good attitude. This is the one thing you can do right this minute to actually shock your boss, improve your work relationships and dramatically increase your long-term odds of an awesome career.

See Also

Am I Hanging Out With Lobsters?

A few years ago, while walking around in Rockport, Massachusetts, I saw a pile of old lobster traps. There were stacks of them stuck behind a store next to the harbor. 

Inside each old cage, birds were building nests. Dozens of sparrows were flying in and out of the traps with pieces of straw. It was interesting to watch, like some sort of fowl construction site. Birds, the original hipsters, were using locally sourced materials to build their houses. They were gentrifying lobster cages. 

I started to think that if you asked a lobster if that was a good place to build a nest, they would probably tell you no. For a lobster, going inside that trap was the last decision they would ever make. Their entire lives were spent trying to avoid lobster cages. 

And yet, for the bird, that cage was perfect. It was open and airy, but completely protected from cats. What was a cage to a lobster was a home to a bird. 

Regardless though, the lobsters do not understand. And right now, you have some lobsters in your life, too. 

Every job has lobsters—that group of people who is determined to hate the entire experience of working somewhere. Misery loves company, and it also recruits it. You have a gossiping, cynical group of lobsters that all go to lunch together at the company you’re at right now. They’re fun to hang around with sometimes—negativity is more enjoyable than we like to admit at times, but it’s death to a career. 

Hanging out with lobsters never teaches you how to be a better bird. Give the lobsters at work what they really need: Distance. 

I hope you don’t need any of this advice because a dream job unicorn found you. I hope right now you’re watching your seventh straight episode of The Mandalorian and enjoying an ungodly amount of queso, laughing at my foolhardy advice.

If you’re not though, if there’s a part of you that thought about quitting your job because you don’t like it, I hope you’ll try these three things first. 

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