Here’s the ugly truth: There is no such thing as the perfect job.
Maybe you started your current gig because you needed the cash or health insurance, even though it isn’t really what you want to do with your life. Maybe you’re in a role that began really well but has since fizzled.
Maybe the culture of your organization has changed during the pandemic, and you don’t feel like it’s the right fit anymore. Whatever is making you feel “meh” about your situation, I want to offer some possibly counterintuitive advice, inspired by that fount of career wisdom, 1970s folk-rock:
If you can’t be with the job you love, love the job you’re with.
No matter how or why you arrived at your job or how long you plan to stay, you can turn any position into a valuable stop on your career journey and use it as a stepping-stone to your next opportunity. (Unless your job is purely toxic, in which case, you should probably do what you can to leave.)
The trick to turning any job into a great one is to shift your focus away from the aspects of the role that you don’t like and instead put energy into the opportunities that your job can provide.
Here are three ways to help you make the most out of a job you don’t like.
Skill building: Build your resume and skill set to position you for your next opportunity.
Consider ways you can turn your current job into a “curriculum” of growth that will help improve your career prospects in the future.
For instance, if you know your writing could use some improvement, pay attention to any well-written emails you receive from your colleagues and start practicing the styles that impress you most. If you want to be promoted to a management role in your next job, keep notes on the actions and characteristics you like and don’t like about your current boss, and raise your hand for any chances to demonstrate leadership. And, of course, take full advantage of any free training programs your current organization offers.
One recent graduate, I interviewed for my new book Recalculating: Navigate Your Career Through the Changing World of Work struggled to find a job after graduating from college with a marketing degree in the early months of the pandemic. She ended up taking the only job she could find at the time: as a grocery store checkout clerk in her hometown.
While this was far from her dream career move, she needed an income and consciously decided to approach the job with a positive attitude. She figured it would be a good opportunity to become more confident in her communication skills, by chatting with all of her customers.
Her plan worked: she improved her comfort with small talk — a great skill for professional networking — and it made the grocery store job far more enjoyable until she was able to secure a full-time position in marketing.
Relationship building: Meet mentors, deepen professional relationships or interact with different personalities.
Every job offers an opportunity to build your professional connections and expand your network. Even if you change industries in the future, you never know how your current contacts might be connected to people in other fields.
Be sure to sign up for any formal mentoring or networking programs offered by your organization, such as mentor matching or speed-networking events. Raise your hand to join a committee or attend an online or in-person event hosted by an employee resource group (ERG, also known as an affinity group), which are internal, employee-led networks that exist to bring people with similar identities and allies together.
One of my rules of thumb, when I’m trying to increase my business or raise my profile, is to “default to yes” whenever I’m invited to a professional event. This is a great way to expand beyond your current group of work friends and colleagues. By saying yes, for example, you might end up joining the welcome video call for interns who are significantly junior to you. It may not seem like they are important contacts now, but junior people also move up! If you want to meet new people and achieve new things, you have to place yourself in new situations.
But what if the exact reason you don’t like your job is the people? Maybe you have a really tough boss or a gossipy, cliquey team. I know this is hard to believe, but learning to work with difficult people, especially early in your career, is genuinely a gift. The sooner you learn how to handle jerks, the better. (I know from experience.)
If you shift your attitude to one of learning and growth rather than irritation, you can reframe challenging people as a learning experience. The thing is, it is absolutely impossible to make it through an entire career without encountering any problematic people. It’s a tremendous asset to your career to be known as a person who can handle a wide variety of personalities unless they’re truly toxic and making you miserable. (Can you tell I have a zero-tolerance policy for that?)