The more time you clock up as an employee, the more prone you will be to utter the inevitable statement: “I hate my job.” In fact, 85% of the global workforce “hate their jobs.” This means that only 15% of employees actually feel a sense of purpose, work satisfaction and joy when they work.
The average person will spend 90 000 hours at work. Essentially, a third of our lives is devoted to work. So why are we choosing to be so miserable for such a massive portion of our lives?
What is the gap between rewarding work or frustrating work? Or the gap between I hate my job to I love my job?
The root of this issue, I believe, is that we were never taught the difference between getting a job and finding your life’s work. Think about all the messages you received about work growing up. Work was always something awaiting you at the end of a pathway – post high school or graduation, you would enter into the working world and everything would fall into place.
Except it doesn’t. And young people are lambasted for battling with this disconnect instead of receiving support on how to navigate this crucial life path.
The focus during this stage of life is finding a career path that will make us money. And that is an important motivation as it is the path to creating freedom from the family unit and becoming an active citizen. The problem is that we think getting a job or entering a career is all there is – when our hearts are yearning for something more.
We make decisions about what we do based on what we think we should be doing, what we’ve been told we should do, rather than discovering what will really make us come alive.
Doing prescribed tasks in an organisation doesn’t tell you who you are, neither does it give your life meaning. The paycheck at the end of the month is nice but you probably were also never trained on how to manage your money and this eventually increases your frustration.
So when we say “I hate my job”, what we are really pointing to is a sense of dissatisfaction about how we’re currently engaging with work. In my work with young professionals, I’ve identified some key underlying issues that are driving workplace frustration.
1. You have a fuzzy life purpose.
There is a massive difference between a job description and knowing what your life’s work is. People who have a clear sense of life purpose are those who are able to seek out opportunities that they know will play to their strengths and they therefore have a greater sense of meaning and fulfillment when it comes to their current job.
Think about the professionals you admire and aspire to be like. Do you think they go into the office everyday with knots of dread in their stomach or are they operating from a sense of purpose where they do they work that makes them come alive?
Not everyone has a clear sense of purpose at a young age but there are definitely golden threads that surface over time that can be weaved into personal meaning.
Working at various jobs and organisations can provide clues about what your life purpose or meaningful work will look like. Your twenties are a time of great self-discovery. There will be tasks that you do that you will love and find easy to handle and other tasks that will leave you feeling stuck and frustrated. The journey to finding your sweet spot is not linear.
How do I understand my life purpose? There are a few steps involved in this process and you will likely require some facilitation and assistance to define a purpose that really resonates with you. (Contact Whole Person Academy if you would like a one on one coaching session).
- Reflection and journalling: Use the above diagram help you identify areas of strength, ability and passion. Improve your self-awareness by taking time out for personal reflection and journalling. You don’t have to be a writer for this to be an effective personal growth tool for you. Create a file on your Google Drive and record insights from experiences as they happen. This will grow into an active record of what you tend to lean into and what makes you want to run a mile!
- Identify blind spots: Speak to trusted friends, family members and colleagues who will reflect areas of strength and challenge that they notice in your life.
- Take time to dream: Create a work life roadmap to your sweet spot. Remember to overcome the temptation to expect a massive life purpose to manifest in two years. We can only really measure the true impact of our lives at the end of it.
- Give yourself permission: This is something that so many young professionals struggle with. Many of them have chosen careers because that’s what their parents wanted them to do or they were looking for the most lucrative career path. A few years into their working life, they find themselves struggling with the anxiety of making this choice and feel powerless to make a new choice.
You only have one life. You can’t live it for anyone else but yourself. You might not be able to do your dream job at 25 but don’t underestimate what can eventually unfold over time.
- Commit to the long-haul: I’ve had 15 job titles and three careers to date – and I am finally in my sweet spot as I build a business to help young people and women to live from a place of wholeness in the areas of relationships, career and finances.
It took me 21 years to get here. During that time, my own life and work experiences have shaped and refined my passions. When I look back at old journals, even my naïve teenage self had an inkling at what my life’s work was linked to.
Also, every single job I had equipped me with skills I use to this very day. So never despise your current job and pay attention to the lessons it is teaching you. Your future self will thank you.
2. You have a fixed mindset.
If you have a fixed mindset, you believe that your talent and intelligence is established at birth, therefore there is no point trying to learn anything new or stretch yourself. You tend to get annoyed at colleagues who seem to have it easy and are getting ahead while you feel stuck in your job role.
Another form of a fixed mindset is a victim mindset. People who have this defeatist, default way of thinking have generally faced difficult situations in their lives which has caused them to feel powerless. Take that mindset into the workplace and it manifests as someone who is unable to take responsibility for their actions and gets stuck in blaming others instead of finding creative solutions to problems.
If you have an external locus of control, then you are more likely to blame outside forces like your boss, politics or your mother for the state of your life. Granted, no work environment is perfect but people with a growth mindset are able to face adversity and take personal responsibility for their lives.
How do I develop a growth mindset? This can be tricky and in my experience, the earlier you start, the better! Patterns of thought and behaviour become more established the older we get.
- Start small: Identify one limiting pattern (eg: not speaking up for yourself in meetings). Seek support from someone you trust to help you identify the core belief (eg: no one listens to me anyway) and then develop a positive alternate to challenge your negative belief (eg: My voice is as valid as anyone else in the room).
- Take action: Now you have to practice this until it becomes your new default. Most of us are afraid of failure because we falsely believe that we are failures if we fail. Not true. Every successful person has only been able to progress because of repeated failure.
- Repeat: Once you are able to exercise your growth muscle in one area of your life, keep applying this process to other areas of your life (like fitness, finances, etc). You will surprise yourself with what you’re truly capable of.
3. You are frustrated with your current salary.
This is one of the major, seemingly overt causes of work frustration and yet, if you dig a little deeper, there is a Pandora’s box of personal issues that one could too easily file under the complaint of: “I need more money.”
I once worked with someone who was always talking about his low salary scale and gave everyone constant updates about his battle with management and HR to increase his pay grade.
While some of his concerns may have been legitimate, he spent most of his energy focused on what he should be getting paid instead of contributing positively to the team and proving himself to be an asset.
In a different organisation, I came across this Zig Ziglar quote and had a printout of it on my office wall. A colleague noticed the post and scoffed at it saying that you shouldn’t be oppressed by an organisation (he held strong political views). Unfortunately, his work ethic didn’t match up to his politics and he is yet to find secure formal employment.
I was eventually able to earn a higher salary by doing more than I was paid to do – not at that organisation but I received a massive increase in the next role I took on. Developing an owner mindset (what would I do today if this was my business) helped me to work hard not to impress my boss but to grow my skill set and expand the limits of my potential.
Accept the fact that you may not receive the promotion you’re looking for at your current organisation. Develop your own professional pathway (see point 1), commit to becoming an excellent worker(regardless of what your boss does or doesn’t do).
You will attract the right opportunities to you because you’re not waiting for the organisation to heap rewards on you for just showing up every day. In this new work reality, with rising retrenchments and declining work stability, employees can no longer rely on their salary as their sole source of income.
We have to learn to manage what we have and develop multiple streams of income to not just survive, but thrive in the future.
How do I manage my current salary?
- Stay out of debt! Everyday I wish I could go back and arrest my 20-year-old self from making all the financial blunders that got me into a massive financial hole in my 30s. There will be immense pressure to cave into the normal debt-ridden lifestyle once you start working.
Buying clothes on credit that you will just end up giving away one day or buying a car to impress people who don’t like is downright foolish – in hindsight. We tend to want to make our own mistakes when we’re younger, but we enslave ourselves to places and people because we’ve signed up for a lifestyle we can’t afford. Watch the video about how to stay debt free in your 20s.
- Establish healthy financial patterns: Again, something to start earlier rather than later. Get on a budget (or call it a spending plan if that makes it easier) and track your monthly expenses. It will surprise you when you see what you’re really spending on and what it is really costing your future.
- Start a side hustle: Reading 10% Entrepreneur by Patrick James McGinnis was a gamer changer. People who develop side hustles while holding on full time jobs are more effective in their current roles and are able to develop entrepreneurial skill sets (which is a key 4IR skill by the way). Richard Branson agrees. It also helps you test out the viability of your creative money generation ideas and while providing an outlet for additional abilities your current role may not require.
4. You’re in a toxic work environment.
I wish this was something we could avoid but sadly, you are bound to experience a toxic work environment at some point in your life. The key when assessing whether your workplace is truly toxic is to firstly ask yourself the following questions: 1) What are my expectations of the workplace? 2) Am I being fair and unbiased in my assessment of the behaviour of my boss or colleagues? 3) Am I contributing to the toxicity of the office?
There are a number of poisons that contribute to a toxic work environment, the culmination of which makes you feel like you cannot progress no matter what you do and that you are stuck in maddening cycles of bad communication and bullying. There is a plethora of online articles that will help you identify a toxic work environment. Here are some key indicators:
- There is constantly shifting work expectations
- Low accountability among leaders
- Bullying is overlooked and even encouraged
- Colleagues gossip and look for ways to undermine team members
- Low morale and team work
- Lack of work life balance
- Blame shifting
- Poor communication
How do I deal with a toxic environment? The best way to deal with this (once you recognize that you are in it) is to have a plan on how long you will stay. You can have the best intentions to be a positive influence but the longer your stay, the more of a detrimental effect it will have on your confidence.
While certain sectors are more prone to toxic or hostile environments, you can encounter this in any field. In one of the organisations I worked at, I developed anxiety that eventually led to panic attacks due to a particularly intense toxicity. I eventually became physically ill and it affected other areas of my life. All the ways work wasn’t working began to consume my life. Although I was still able to execute projects that I am proud of, the constant bullying and lack of accountability eventually took its toll.
The longer you stay in a toxic environment, the longer it will take for you to recover after you leave. So develop a coping strategy that includes an exit plan!
5. You’re ready for the next challenge.
You may be earning a good salary and enjoy what you do but things have become routine. Depending on your personality, you may be someone who seeks new challenges and are getting frustrated because your current job is not giving you the high of achievement it once did.
Because you are ready for something new – and maybe aren’t able to acknowledge that yet, you may find yourself focusing on small issues that didn’t really bother you in the past (like the way your colleague chews when he eats his lunch or the fact that your boss didn’t greet you when she walked in the door).
How do I prepare for the next challenge?
- Figure out what the next step is on your professional pathway. (I don’t like calling it a career path anymore because it might just be that you are ready for to launch your next career).
- Develop a plan on how you will take that next step: This could mean updating your resume, considering jobs not necessarily in your current field but nevertheless excites you and you have the required skill sets for. If you have a burgeoning business idea, start working on it during your evenings and on weekends. (See point 3 about starting a side hustle)
It is ok for you to be a multi-passionate individual. We no longer just need to do one job for the rest of our lives (thank goodness!). If you find yourself muttering the words, I hate my job again, take the time to figure out what you really mean by that.
Then, YOU need to do something about it. No one is going to come to your desk, cup your face in their hands and say: “I’m your fairy godmother. Your wish is my command.” Life is shorter than you think. Don’t waste your time (or your company’s resources) floundering in frustration.
It’s normal to feel frustrated about your job – use that to lean into the underlying why and you will find the keys you need to set yourself free. The path to finding your “life’s work” is not going to be linear or predictable – but that is really what everyone yearns for: meaning and joy in their work. It is how we are wired. Work culminates one third of our lives – why waste all that time and life energy being miserable?
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