A job you hate is like a bad haircut. It’s hard to hide, it makes you unhappy, and it’s probably led to quite a few tears.
A new job that you hate is even worse.
Can you simply walk away from your new position? Well, sure—but then you’ll face the challenge of explaining that ever-expanding employment gap to future employers. Unless it’s truly unbearable, it makes far more sense to reap whatever benefits you can and continue to collect a paycheck until a new door opens.
To do that, however, you have to get in the right mindset. If your attitude is only bitterness, resentment, and anger when you walk through your office doors each morning, that’s going to show up in your work.
It’s OK to have those feelings and realize they signal the need for action; however, it’s not OK to let those feelings consume you. When they do, you’ll start putting in less effort at work out of spite, and your rancor will seep into your answers when interviewing for new positions. (And trust me: No one wants to hire an angry elf who can only talk about doing the bare minimum at his or her last job. No one.)
I know you can’t control everything at work. But if you’ve read some of my previous columns, you know I’m a big proponent of identifying when and where you can take control—and doing so. Your mind is one thing you can (mostly) control.
Instead of bitterness, here are a few healthier mindsets to try.
1. Go to Work Prepared to Take Advantage of Every Opportunity
You deserve to build your network and your resume through your role at the company. However, unlike a paycheck, your employer can’t just hand you great experience and a rock-solid professional network. Taking advantage of those opportunities is largely up to you.
For example, maybe you get assigned a task you aren’t fond of—like developing a press release for a small event, which you feel is a waste of your time. You could put in minimal effort, write a crummy release, and turn it in at the last minute. Or, you could connect with key players in your organization to get some solid quotes for your release, perfect a catchy lead, and turn in the best product possible. Then, when a version of your document is published, you could email the people you quoted to say thank you and share a link to the story, then add the release to your portfolio.
Committing that extra effort—which can seriously build your relationships and portfolio—is entirely up to you.
When you get busy building your experience and relationships, you might be surprised by a couple of things. First, you might be able to bring your contributions (e.g., if you increased revenue, expanded company exposure, caught a mistake before it became a costly issue or PR nightmare, or pushed a difficult project through on time and on or under budget) to the bargaining table to improve your compensation.
Even if you aren’t able to negotiate a higher pay rate in your current role, your relationships and experience may eventually open doors for you to move on up to a better position.
2. Go Out of Your Way to Build Your Network
Do you feel like you work with a bunch of jerks? That stinks, but in reality, it’s almost impossible that every single person at your job is a first-class a-hole. There has to be at least someone—probably several someones—who are decent people. But if you just sit at your desk stewing about your misfortune or grouse about your unhappiness every time you get an opportunity to talk with someone, you’ll never build relationships with these folks.
If you seek opportunities to connect when and where you can, however, you are likely to reap a range of benefits from your new relationships. For starters, those people will make your job more enjoyable. Plus, your new network may also be able to alert you to new opportunities and provide references when those opportunities arise.
When it comes to building connections, you aren’t limited to the people in the cube to your right and left. Wander around the place and meet people who work in different areas. Get creative in the ways you connect with people. Consider bringing in donuts in the morning and engaging in chit-chat away from your desk, joining a workout at the company gym, showing up to happy hour, or bringing up the marathon you ran last week to strike up conversation about hobbies and interests.
When you connect with people in ways other than standard work talk, you get a chance to know them differently and more holistically. Instead of seeing Hilde as the person who asks a lot of questions about every single project, for instance, you might see Hilde as the analytical thinker who built her own robot and likes the Science Channel—and so of course Hilde questions everything. Now the habit that was annoying is just a quirk that makes Hilde, Hilde.
3. Go Above and Beyond
Do the bare minimum? Not you. Remember, your company owes you good, resume-building experience, so you’re going to do your job and then some. Look for opportunities to be innovative, to push a project beyond just “getting it done,” to take something to the next level.
Let’s say you have to give a presentation about the status of a project to your organization’s board of directors. You could get up and give the standard PowerPoint complete with lengthy bullet points, charts, and graphs, with the dynamism of a sloth.
Or, you can take a few tips from Carmine Gallo and tell a compelling story about the project that reminds the listeners of why the project matters and include photos or a video that allows the audience to literally see what’s happening on the project.
Maybe you have to launch a new initiative, and there is likely to be some dissent in the ranks. You can communicate only through convoluted emails and ignore any questions or frustrations that the team expresses. Or, you can walk out of your office and make a point of meeting key players face-to-face, discussing the initiative, considering their feedback, and following up with them about their suggestions. You may not win everyone over, but you’ll definitely gain respect.
Sloth or dynamo. Cold or personable. Those distinctions largely lie in your choices and actions, and they will make a difference when it’s time to discuss a raise, promotion, or new opportunity.
When you swap out a defeating mindset for a mindset that allows you to thrive, you might inadvertently create new opportunities for yourself that you can’t see right now. You might even figure out the job isn’t that bad (and just maybe the biggest problem was in your own head). But if not, your amazing experience, solid reputation, and supportive network will help you on to your next opportunity.