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Why We Settle for Jobs We Hate & How to Break Free
Why We Settle for Jobs We Hate & How to Break Free

Once upon a time, you liked your job. Now the magic is gone. To improve your outlook, you’ve tried changing teams, duties, work hours. You’ve talked to your boss, started telecommuting on Fridays, taken up meditation. But to no avail. You’re still miserable.

Sadly, you’re not alone: Nearly two-thirds of Americans are disengaged at work, unhappy in their job and phoning it in.

If you have yet to hatch an escape plan, you’re in good company. “A lot of people prefer the slow torture of constant discomfort to the intense discomfort of job hunting,” says vocational psychologist and career coach Janet Scarborough Civitelli, who regularly counsels dissatisfied workers.

Ringing any bells? Perhaps some of the following excuses for treading water at a job you’ve grown to loathe will, too. But not to worry. I’ll dismantle these reasons one by one and offer some steps you can take to make a change.

INNER THOUGHT: The economy isn’t what it used to be. I’ll never find something else. 

REALITY CHECK: Untrue. The hiring market has improved by leaps and bounds since the recession. In a recent CareerBuilder report, hiring rates for full-time permanent positions are projected to reach an all-time high since 2006 this year. According to CareerBuilder, 34 percent of U.S. employers plan to hire full-time, permanent staff during the last quarter of 2015. That’s up from up from 29 percent last year and 25 percent back in 2013. Seasonal hiring is up this year, too, which is good news if you’re looking for something temporary, maybe to help pay for school or an unexpected medical expense.

INNER THOUGHT: I’m the breadwinner in my household. 

REALITY CHECK: Certainly having other mouths to feed complicates things. Maybe your family isn’t prepared to give up your Cadillac health insurance plan, or maybe your generous work-from-home privileges give you the flexibility to care for a special needs child or aging parent. It’s possible your scarcely tolerable job is the only one within reach that meets your financial and scheduling needs. But how do you know unless you’ve looked?

A job you hate doesn’t have to be a life sentence, Scarborough Civitelli says. “You can still move toward work that will be a better fit for you, even if the progress happens over time and requires sacrifices, such as having less free time if you pursue additional education,” she adds. “Small, consistent steps can cumulatively lead to big changes.”

INNER THOUGHT: I’ve already invested in this job, company or profession. 

REALITY CHECK: Let’s set aside for a moment the absurdity of continuing to do something that pains you because you’ve invested time or money in it. Even if the only takeaway from your job is knowing how to avoid the ire of volatile managers, that’s a valuable skill – one you’re sure to put to use in your professional and personal life hundreds of times over. But I doubt that’s the only knowledge and experience you’ve gained at your current gig.

Every position exposes you to a particular industry, clientele and skill set. Maybe you don’t like working on a software help desk team, but you love assisting others. Maybe you don’t like supervising people, but you love the number-crunching part of being a manager. Maybe you’re curious about the work your Web design colleagues down the hall do and want to learn more. You get the idea.

INNER THOUGHT: I’ve only been here a year. 

REALITY CHECK: The era of sticking with one job or company for years (or decades) on end is over. The world will not slip off its axis if, after all your efforts to better it, you leave a deadbeat gig after 12 months. Nor will potential employers judge you unfairly. In a recent CareerBuilder survey, nearly a third of companies polled said they now expect employees to job hop. More than half said they’ve hired people whose last position was short-lived. And almost half said they expected younger workers – those less likely to have hit their professional stride – to stay at a position two years or less.

INNER THOUGHT: My team needs me. 

REALITY CHECK: While loyalty and dedication are admirable traits, you unfortunately can’t count on your employer to show you the same courtesy. Should money grow tight, they won’t hesitate to eighty-six you or dump an outsized pile of work in your lap. It’s possible your loyalty may earn you more responsibilities and a higher salary, but a job you dislike is still a job you dislike, even with a few thousand extra dollars in the bank and a fancier email signature. So forget corporate chivalry. And if your company’s in trouble, forget going down with the ship. Listen to the people in your life outside of work, the ones who really need you. I’m guessing they’d prefer it if you threw on a life preserver and made the jump.

INNER THOUGHT: I hate networking and interviewing. 

REALITY CHECK: As a fellow introvert and a recovering wallflower, I empathize. But these are important life skills to have, much like showing up to work in freshly washed clothes or paying your bills in a timely manner. After all, you never know when your employer might decide to clean house.

Entire books, websites and social media platforms focus on how to look for work, ace the interview and hobnob with industry colleagues, even if you stink at small talk. If you can’t bear to go it alone, consider joining a meetup group for job hunters or hiring a coach to walk you through the process. With practice, you’ll soon find that job hunting, when done well, has much in common with apartment hunting or car shopping – it’s a necessary evil, but nothing to hide under the covers about.

INNER THOUGHT: I don’t know what I want to do next. 

REALITY CHECK: If you’re stumped on what type of job or career to pursue, it’s time to start asking yourself some questions. Doing this will help jumpstart your research process. A few questions you can begin with: What did you enjoy doing as a child? When did you feel on top of the world? What aspects of your work do you love? What do friends and colleagues always say you excel at? What type of work environment appeals to you? What do you want to learn next?

From there, the Internet, the library, social networks like LinkedIn, and the many classes and events out there, like those offered by UW Professional & Continuing Education, are at your disposal to help you learn more and move forward.

Excuses like the ones above often have more to do with emotional reactions than facts. Yes, you should be grateful to have a job at all. Yes, other people may depend on you to bring home the bacon. And yet it’s entirely possible that another job that meets your personal and professional needs – without making you miserable – is out there.

Realizing you’re ready to pull up professional stakes can be liberating. The trick is to push past the fear and enjoy the exploration. Tackle one quick 15-minute step a week, if that’s all you can squeeze in. Attack it with the same gusto you would planning a long-anticipated vacation. Even the smallest bit of forward momentum can invigorate you. We spend too much time at work to let it ruin our daily disposition. Time for you to make the most of your professional life.

For more career tips and industry trends, visit the News & Features section of our website, and subscribe to our email list. To learn more about UW Professional & Continuing Education certificates, degrees and courses, explore your options or contact us.

Michelle Goodman

Guest writer Michelle Goodman is an award-winning journalist and author based in Seattle. Her books — The Anti 9-to-5 Guide and My So-Called Freelance Life — offer an irreverent twist on the traditional career guide. She specializes in writing about work, entrepreneurship and career change.

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