Reader Challenge

Positivity Challenge Week 7: Staying Positive at Your Non-Ideal Job

Think big. Don’t settle. Find your passion. Get your dream job. Follow your bliss.

For many of us, those messages are thrown at us from a young age. We’re made to believe that we can do great things and that we shouldn’t settle for anything less. And then we’re saddled with tens of thousands in student loan debt and a worldwide economic crisis and dismal job prospects and expected to be grateful if we can even find a job.

Kind of mixed messages, hmm?

A wall of sticky notes that are pre printed with thought bubbles and the text "Voice You Dream" from The one in focus says "I wish I could quit my job today"The reality for most people is that you can’t jump straight into your dream job. Whether it’s starting at the bottom rung of your dream industry or working wherever it takes just to make ends meet, the majority of people are spending 8 hours of their day in their non-ideal job. In a 2009 survey, 65% of respondents admitted that they were “looking around” and only 15% stated that they were “extremely satisfied” in their job. In the current job climate, there’s even more pressure to stick with something if it pays decently and gives you benefits, even if it’s not exactly enriching to your spirit. There has to be a way to make it enjoyable until you get that Dream Job, right?

(Image: Only for now, a Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike (2.0) image from quinnanya’s photostream)

Now, we’re not talking about terrible job situations where you’re being harassed and dreading going to work every day and making yourself psychosomatically ill. That’s a whole different can of worms. Some of these tips might help, but if your job situation is really abusive, the only thing that can help is putting your all into getting yourself out of there as quickly as possible. What I’m talking about is the day-to-day drag of the menial. Jobs that are perfectly adequate, but aren’t your passion. Jobs that you are truly happy just to have, but which wear you down, day in and day out. Jobs like customer service and retail, where even the most Pollyana-ish person can get worn down by the monotony and ordinariness. How do you stay positive when the daily grind is getting you down?

  • Focus on the little blessings. Do you have a window? Easy commute? Good food options? Good benefits? Nice coworkers? Laid back boss? Ability to check Facebook on the clock? Relaxed dress code? Look for the little things that make your job a decent place to be and relish them.
  • Remind yourself that it’s not forever. If this really is just a stepping stone to the next place for you, just remind yourself of that as much as you need it.
  • Keep working toward your dreams. Are you in the industry you want to be, just not where? Focus on building up your resume and experience. In a completely different field? Find ways to bring your passions into your job: join committees, volunteer for interesting projects. One of my friends works in a retail setting and is trying to get a photography business started. She asked her boss if she could hang a few things in the shop, and as a result, she gets exposure and inquiries.
  • Relish the small victories. If you’re going to be writing form letter after form letter, well goshdarnit, push yourself to write the best damn form letter there is. Make it a game for yourself, especially when you have really monotonous tasks: stuff 30 envelopes, watch a funny YouTube video; get all your pending emails replied to, treat yourself to dessert with lunch.
  • Throw yourself into your hobbies, especially if they’re related to your passion. Sometimes, there’s just no way to make your day job more fun or enriching or fulfilling. Find that enrichment in hobbies. Volunteer with a local organization you’re passionate about. Make your evening walk your “Me” time. Set up an Etsy store to sell all the neat things you make. Stretch your writing muscles again with SlayBelle’s Sunday Writing Challenge. You never know – your hobby might just lead you down a new career path.
This Week’s Challenge

For the not-Dream Job employed: In those moments when you get annoyed or frustrated or dejected with the job you’re currently in, stop for a second and think about why you’re feeling the way you are. Are you frustrated because you’re bored with what you’re doing? Feeling stagnant? Feeling underutilized? Use the suggestions above to brainstorm ways you can expand your opportunities or re-frame your daily challenges.

For those in-between opportunities, I’ll get you next week with an article on Staying Positive While Job Searching. For a jump start, though, tackle Unfuck Your Habitat’s Job Search Challenge.

This Week’s Mantra

To help you remember that your job is just a job, a wordy mantra commonly attributed to Ralph Waldo Emerson: Finish each day and be done with it. You have done what you could; some blunders and absurdities have crept in; forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day; you shall begin it serenely and with too high a spirit to be encumbered with your old nonsense.

A picture of a branch of leaves against a sky. Text reads: Finish each day and be done with it. You have done what you could; some blunders and absurdities have crept in; forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day; you shall begin in serenely and with too high a spirit to be encumbered with your old nonsense." Attributed to Ralph Waldo Emerson

If you want a reminder of your mantra for the next week, feel free to click the image above to download a wallpaper-sized version. Special thanks to Poppy Thomas-Hill for her amazing free stock photos, available under a Creative Commons license.

Disclaimer: I am not a medical professional or mental health expert, and there are problems that positivity cannot overcome, so please do not take this advice in lieu of a doctor’s care.

Not all challenges will be relevant to everyone, so I welcome you to come and go as you please and take from each challenge what works for you! Please make sure to share your thoughts in the comments!

By Crystal Coleman

Florida girl living on the west coast. During the day, I consult in social media and community management. I have a really cute puppy (Elphaba) and a British husband (I keep him for his accent) as well as an unhealthy relationship with parentheses.

16 replies on “Positivity Challenge Week 7: Staying Positive at Your Non-Ideal Job”

Wow, this post is so timely for me! Thanks for tackling this subject.

For me, I worked at a major drugstore chain during the first few years of college, and then as soon as I figured out my passion (print publication and journalism!) I got a job at my local newspaper and worked my way up to editor in chief of my university newspaper. For two whole years, I had those two jobs and LOVED EVERY SECOND OF IT! And then I graduated and wanted bigger, better things. But, to make a long story short, I had to compromise with other people in my life and didn’t quite end up where I thought I would, but at least I made it to a big city with a much bigger industry.

But you know what happened? I couldn’t find my dream job :( I applied at a ton of places and even got a few interviews where I was in the top 10 of 150+ applicants, but I didn’t get hired. And honestly, none of them were exactly a good fit for me, either. And so I took my passions to the freelance/volunteer side of things and got a job working again at the same major drugstore. (Edited to note: at least by staying involved with my passions via freelance/volunteer, I’ve still been able to feel like I’m doing something I love. That’s been huge for me.)

I’m lucky in that I don’t have to commute because my job is two blocks away, all of my coworkers are great people, and they’re pretty great about being flexible with my schedule, but I still dread going there every day. It’s like a small piece of me dies inside every time I clock in. Ugh! Like seriously, some days when I’m walking those two blocks, I feel on the verge of tears. The only way i can do it is to be dead inside.

So anyway, finally, things have run their course for me. That person I compromised for is no longer in my daily life, I can’t afford to live here much longer anyway, and my lease is up at the end of April. Since I’m screwed anyway, I put in my two weeks notice yesterday, and then I’ll have SXSW totally open to enjoy, plus a whole month to finally enjoy this city for what it is and not have to turn down all the fun opportunities because I have to go to my crappy job.

Here’s where I’m especially lucky: I’m moving back home to live with my parents for awhile and get myself back on track financially. But I’m also taking my life in a brand new direction by applying to the Peace Corps. In fact, I have my interview next week! I’m about 75% sure it’s going to work out, but if it doesn’t I’m getting my TESOL certification and going to teach English abroad.

The lesson I’ve learned from all of this is that I can’t settle on something that, to me, isn’t meaningful. And maybe journalism and print media are dying/transitioning/going through a difficult period, but knowing that I can step out and try something new without having to risk a career (the silver lining to not having one, I guess), that’s pretty freeing for me. Knowing that this dreadful job has an ending is the only thing that makes it bearable.

I agree with absolutely everything you said except “treat yourself to dessert with lunch.”  I completely agree that sometimes a reward system is the only way to get through those menial task (I no longer work in an office but I did and know just how demoralizing it can be) but food rewards are a dangerous trap for someone with disordered eating who has the propensity to stuff their emotions via food anyway (like me).

I have found that it is much better to reward myself with activities for example I will say if I finish XY&Z I will read 2 chapters in this book or “If I clean the toilets then I will give myself a pedicure.”  I can’t do food rewards, they are a huge trigger for me and a gateway to eating all my emotions and stress both good and bad.

I will give you an example of just how intense and detrimental giving in to food as a reward can be for me personally.  I have been dealing with a lot of stress over the last week and yesterday at my doctors appointment I had gained 9lbs in 7 days.  I answered this last additional stressor by leaving the doctors office walking next door to the pharmacy and buying (and eating) 4 candy bars before I made it to class.  I have to be very cautious about using food as a reward and I know there are many others who feel the same.

I apologize for highjacking what was otherwise a STELLAR article to vent my own personal issues but I want to warn others who may be in a similar struggle to reward themselves in some other way than food.  Thanks!

Hi Helga, and thanks for your comment. Using food as a reward is definitely something that should be shied away from for people who have disordered relationships with food. I applaud you for recognizing that it’s unhealthy for you to use that kind of reward and I’m sorry you’ve been having a rough time of things lately.

I try to give a variety of options that users can view as a springboard for whatever works best for them and I definitely hope that readers will take their own personal experiences in consideration along with my suggestions.

This is totally my situation. While there are a lot of perks to my job, I sometimes feel underappreciated and like there’s an entire skill set that’s going untapped– I was an English major in college, and so I love to write and edit, but I never get to do that at my job and by the time I get home I’m too tired to do anything other than eat dinner and watch Britcoms and Sailor Moon.

I’d actually been following at least some of these tips subsconsciously. For example, one of my main passions is reading, and so I decided to start reading more again and going to book clubs. I’ve also started listening to new music and NPR again, as in college, and when things get too bad, I like to focus on the fact that at least I’m getting a paycheck, and that career wise, I’m much better than where I was two years ago (a customer service representative in call center hell). But I’ve put this in my reading list in my phone so I’ll always have this reminder. Thank you for reading this.

Oh, I feel you. I have a Master’s in English and my second job is in retail. It’s not that fun, but we have “scripts” we’re supposed to say when hocking crap. I like to try to make the extremely annoying, salesperson-y crap they give us to say into something not so creeptastic, but still within the parameters of what we have to say. Oh, fun with language!


I’ll be sending you good mojo for a change in that situation very soon. Stress migraines are no good. I had a similarly illness situation at a previous job… I ended up getting let go, which felt like the end of the world at the time, but it ended up being the best thing that had happened to me in years.

This article has brought me to tears in the best way possible. I’ve been feeling so frustrated lately with my line of work – it is not what I want to be doing and it absolutely exhausts me – but this has really put a lot of things into perspective for me. I feel extremely motivated for tomorrow and for working harder on getting that job where I’ll leave just as energized as I arrived.

I am taking that last bulletpoint by the horns. I realized that if I stay an extra hour and finish the QC for this very craptastic project, that hour will finance a really cool evening 7k race this summer that I wanted to do but have been waiting to drop cash on because of unexpected bills. Signing up and working on. Thanks for this post!

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