So, I started work this week. And by “work,” I mean “the job I’m doing to pay my school tuition, but that I by no means enjoy in the slightest.” And I’m apparently not alone at all in employment dispassion. I have a friend who’s been steadily searching for a job for the last eleven months. Still others are waiting tables and letting their bachelor’s degrees gather dust. And some are beyond depressed at being grossly underemployed in jobs where their creativity is left to stagnate and their work is rote, rudimentary, and unvarying from day to day.
The situation is pretty universally bad. In fact, I’d say that less than ten percent of my friends are actually content with their employment situations, and for the rest of us, working is a daily exercise in learning to cope.
Luckily, we’re learning. And learning well. And it’s making us better and more focused on Getting Excited and Making Stuff. I’m terribly lucky to be close to some of the most driven and creative people ever, and I’m picking up some of their habits to help me get through work every day. Here’s a bit of what I’ve learned:
- Remember why you’re there.
Maybe your benefits rock. Maybe your tuition will be reimbursed, or your meals are free. Or maybe your pay scale leaves a ton to be desired, but you’re learning a new programming language or adding a handful of amazing projects to your portfolio. Or maybe you’re just glad to pay rent without much strain. Whatever it is that brought you to that job in the first place, keep it in mind whenever you start telling yourself how much you dislike it.
- Don’t let work be your absolute foremost priority.
Yes, I know. You have a habit of eating, and you don’t want to stop doing it, and your job is what allows you to continue eating. I understand. But if you hate your, it doesn’t make any sense to allow it to take up the biggest chunk of your time, effort, and headspace. Don’t bring it home with you. Don’t allow your job to eat into whatever you’re doing, thinking, or consuming outside your obligatory forty hours a week. Remember that your job is a means to an end [see above], not the end itself.
- Find a way to do what you want to do outside of work hours.
Even if it’s not paid or prestigious, stay in the habit of being creative. It can be so easy to let your piano gather dust every night, or not to open the novel you’re working on for weeks on end, or put off finishing that poster design project, but don’t do it. Because if you do, before long you’re going to be lying when you call yourself a designer or a musician or a writer.
- Seize control of wasted time during the workday, and use it to do what you want.
This is my favorite thing ever. Between answering phones and writing up reports at warp speed, I’m sketching fashion figures in the margins of my TPS Reports and knitting under my desk, wandering the neighborhood during my lunch hour to shoot pictures of the awesome architecture for which Cincinnati is best known, and writing out blog posts in longhand. One of my best friends spends his downtime at a web design firm learning the rudiments of 3-D modeling so he can use them in his video installation projects and writing letters to galleries where he hopes to have shows. Do this. Do this every day.
- Give yourself a deadline for moving on, and make it happen.
This means being an adult about your finances and making sure that you have savings to weather whatever downtime you might have between gigs. It means staying in and working on your portfolio at night instead of going out with your coworkers. It means not getting sidetracked by any guilt-based or fear-based reasons you might want to stay just a little bit longer. It means promoting yourself and your creative work and taking your career seriously, not just being a dilettante with a tedious habit you half-ass your way through. Stop making excuses and just do it. Because if your job is unfulfilling, you’re never going to grow to like it. So why don’t you do something you love instead?
Do you guys like your jobs? If not, how are you handling it?