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Planning Your Escape:
What to do when your job is doing you in
By Neil Fiore, PhD
If all day long you're saying to yourself: "This job is driving me crazy and making me sick." you may need to quit and find a better job. But you haven't because another pesky voice keeps saying: "You can't just quit. You have to keep this job you hate because of our credit card bills, mortgage, family, and because you don't want the worry of looking for another job without health-care benefits. Let's face it, you're stuck here."
With this inner conflict going on inside your head throughout the day, like a very depressing mantra, you no doubt feel less than enthusiastic about your work and your life. It doesn't take long for this form of negative self-hypnosis to lead to difficulty getting out of bed on Monday morning to face the commute to work. After awhile you might even begin to feel a sense of anxiety on Sunday afternoon that leads to another sleepless night.
At this advanced stage of job dissatisfaction you may suffer from a form of "battle fatigue" that accompanies ongoing stress.
Plan your escape. This is the time to seriously consider a strategic plan for leaving your job at a time that best serves you. Consider how much time you need to scale down your expenses, pay off debts and update your resume. Pick a specific date, say six to twelve months from today, that's convenient to you financially and career-wise -- a date when you can leave this job with a good recommendation.
Change your inner dialogue. It's very natural to find yourself constantly complaining about your job to your friends until they avoid you or politely ask you to try Prozac. Once you've decided to start planning your escape - on your terms - you no longer have to tell yourself, "I hate this job. I have to get out of here." Finally you've listened to that voice and are taking action. Remember: a major part of your strategic action plan is to temporarily keep this job to alleviate your worry about bills while looking for a better job. Tell your complaining voice: "Thank you and shut up. By April 15th next year we'll be in a better job. I'm making a commitment."
Choose to benefit from your job. Since you now are choosing this job - instead feeling like a prisoner with a life sentence in San Quentin -- you can perform it without a sense of ambivalence and victimhood. Peace Corps volunteers live in the same conditions as their native hosts but each night they can check their passports and know that soon they'll be home. The cheerfulness of temporary workers and part-time student employees also attests to the wisdom of knowing you can always leave a job, you can create your own deadline, and you can have an escape plan ready.
Watch your attitude change. Choosing to use your job to plan your future career will have a positive effect on your attitude. You no longer are the passive victim, the prisoner, or the captive. You're active in planning the right time for your escape. This principle has been used successfully by the military in training captured soldiers to maintain their morale and increase their chances of survival.
Actively choosing not to leave this job for the next six to twelve months will help stop your complaining to others and, more importantly, to yourself. What a relief! Fellow workers (and your boss) will begin to notice that you once again are part of the team. By freely choosing this job - given your current circumstances and legitimate worries about finances- you can focus on doing your job instead of blaming yourself and others because it isn't your ideal job. As an added bonus you'll notice that your posture and stance will improve from that of a round-shouldered, hangdog depressive shuffle to an assertive, purposeful stride.
Refuse to be the bad employee. Ironically, though your boss, a hostile work environment, or your disorganized organization may have caused your problem, it is now your own ambivalence that makes you look like the bad employee. Others may see you as a moody procrastinator and a poor performer who shows up late for work and delays on important projects and client calls. Some may offer you a role in their movie or hallucination as the enemy, victim, or bad employee. Though it is very tempting to rise to the challenge and play the role, resist the offer with a smile that says, "No thank you, you must have me confused with somebody else." Stick to your commitment to work on your escape plan and showing up with a sense of choice, demonstrating that you deserve a better job.
Expect a surprise. Everyone I've coached in this strategy has achieved more than he or she asked for or expected. After you've started to revise your resume and have shown up on time for work for a few weeks with an attitude of choosing the job, write down what would make your job more ideal. Rehearse telling your boss what you need in order to do a superior job. Work on getting a bonus and leaving the company with some extra money and a glowing evaluation. Then expect a surprise.