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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Getting Ahead

Help! I'm Stuck at a Job I Hate

Dear Fran,

I'm about three months into my first professional job in the "real world." Coming straight from grad school (which I embarked upon immediately after my undergrad), I can't help but feel incredibly stifled and disappointed by what it's like to sit in one office all week and do the same tasks month after month. 

This isn't my dream job (I plan on going back for my PhD in a few years), and I'm grateful to be employed at all right now, but how can I overcome this general sense of boredom and feelings of detachment from the world of the working?


Disillusioned 9-to-5er

Dear Disillusioned:

Even though I don’t have a magical solution for you, I’m glad to receive this letter because I think your situation is a common dilemma. In fact, one reason I personally decided to go back to grad school and study psychology after working 9-to-5 in a business office was that I found the work less than stimulating and realized my interests and talents lay elsewhere.

Since then, I changed careers again to become a writer. And then, after writing exclusively for years, with some success, I started to find the profession lonely and (to some degree) oppressive, so I went back to school yet again and now I’m back in an office. It’s not 9-to-5 and it is doing something I’m actually interested in, but it has its downsides, too.

My point is that life—including your career path—is a journey.

One consideration for you: Since this is your first 9-to-5 job, is it possible that you have encountered such boredom because this is an entry-level position? Although it may not be thrilling or challenging work, most of us have had to pay our dues at the bottom of the totem pole in order to gain experience and move up later.

However, your description of your current job, doing the same tasks month after month, does sound tedious. Given that, I’d start thinking outside of the box. Study the overall business with an open mind, learn how your department fits into the greater whole, and try to come up with a new or innovative way of looking at it or doing things. Communicate your ideas to your boss, and be upfront about the fact that you want a new learning opportunity. Be sure to make it clear—calmly, enthusiastically, without complaining—that you’d like to take on a larger project rather than more of the smaller tasks.

Also remember that a job, even a great job or a fantastic career, doesn’t give your life meaning, at least not by itself. Life is about what you learn, who you are or can become, who you love and are loved by. Presumably, if your job is easy or boring, you have energy for other pursuits, right? Why not use this extra time to focus on other areas of your life? Become a more interesting person, and you’ll be more interested in everything life offers, even that which is not inherently interesting.

Here are a few ideas to think about, some of which can be done during your lunch or break time to help you through the day:

  • Develop an art, a new skill, a great hobby. Learn how to salsa dance, study Buddhism, learn new computer skills, take up chess, make sculptures, write Haiku. Leave your comfort zone.
  • Explore different ideas and opinions. Study a new subject.
  • Read poetry. Read novels. Read anything. Join a book group. Take a literature class.
  • Network both in your current business and in any other business in which you might be interested.
  • Grow your friendships, old and new.
  • Take up an exciting sport like skiing or tennis. Climb a mountain. Go scuba diving.
  • Become more compassionate for others. Get behind a cause and volunteer (this can also make for great networking!).
  • Now that I’ve given you my pep talk on making meaning out of where you are, I have to tell you that another part of me wants you to embrace your disillusionment, at least temporarily. Use it to become more clear about where you’re going and, with careful planning and thought, start down that path sooner rather than later.

    You say you’re happy to have a job—and I hear you—but are you sure there’s not something better out there for you right now? Work on your resume and send it out to a few places. Or set up some informational interviews with people who are established to ask for guidance and find out more about their industry or business. This could present yet another great networking opportunity and, who knows, you may end up with a mentor out of the deal.

    If you plan to get your doctorate in a different field than the one you’re currently in, try to take (or even audit) a preliminary course in that subject. Having a class or two under your belt couldn’t hurt when you apply. On the other hand, if you plan to get your PhD in the field you’re currently in, start brainstorming now so that when you get to the top, you’ll find a way to make your job less repetitive for those who’ll be where you are right now.

    Good luck and get going,


    Photo courtesy of Jixar.