I just received a call from a colleague. She was calling me from the cafeteria in her office complex, nearly in tears. She had to leave the office, she said, before she had a complete meltdown. “I can’t handle the negativity any more. This job isn’t what I was hired to do – and the politics are downright toxic.” I felt her pain. I remembered that environment, and it sounds like it hadn’t changed much since I left. I told her I was surprised that she was still there, as I knew she was as unhappy as I was. As we discussed her options, and what she should do, it became clear that she needed to leave, but could not just pick up and quit. “Take this job and shove it” is a wonderful idea, but it just isn’t practical for most people. Mortgage payments, health insurance, tuition, professional standing – it doesn’t matter why you can’t leave. But that just doesn’t make you feel any better. So what should you do if you want to make a change, but need to stay where you are for now?
Don’t just endure, but endow.
What does this mean? It means that you take specific steps to endow the time you spend in a difficult but temporary situation with positive value. Have you heard the saying, “Grow where you are planted”? While the sentiment is similar, it implies a more permanent acceptance. So while you are enduring your current situation, here are 7 steps you can take to endow your time with meaning while you develop your change strategy.
- Identify what it is you love about your profession. Sometimes the daily challenges, the office politics, and the tyranny of the urgent clouds our view. We get so caught up in the problems that we completely lose what it is that attracted us to the job in the first place. Spend some time actually writing down on a notepad the elements of your profession that you really enjoy. Then see if you can identify within your current role a way to focus on those elements as much as possible. This is akin to practicing gratitude – it reminds us what is important.
- Find someone to help or connect with. One of the best ways I know to feel better is to help someone else. Is there a junior member of staff that you can mentor? How about someone who is struggling in their role that you can pitch in and help get through the heavy load? Make new friends – find someone in another office or division that you don’t know well and invite them to eat lunch with you. When we are struggling, so many of us withdraw and isolate ourselves. Resist the urge to hunker down in silence.
- Set and enforce your boundaries. Are you burned out? Is your job demanding more and more of your time and energy? Are you the first one in and the last one to go home? Constantly working in crisis mode saps your energy and lessens your ability to perform at your best. It also makes you feel taken advantage of and used. But remember, you give people permission to treat you that way. Take back your boundaries. Focus on doing your best work, not the most work. The work of the entire organization is not your responsibility. And if it is, let go of some demands or hire more staff!
- Develop a new skill. Take advantage of your organization’s training, or learn from someone else; spend some of your time each day learning or advancing your skills. By improving yourself and your marketability, your remaining time in the role will feel more successful. Learning and development are as important to our self-care as good nutrition and exercise.
- Make an action plan. Create a specific plan to find a new situation. For example, this plan could include updating a resume or website, reaching out to previous colleagues, and attending industry events. Include real dates on your plan. The satisfaction of successfully checking off tasks on your plan will provide you with positive feedback, and bring you closer to changing your situation.
- Take care of yourself. Don’t let your health deteriorate. Don’t self-medicate with junk food or alcohol. Make sure you get your exercise. Eat your veggies! Meditate. Play. Hug your children or your pets. Find sources of joy outside your work. Taking better care of yourself will allow you to survive your unpleasant situation with your spirit intact.
- Create a daily positivity affirmation. As good as it feels in the moment, avoid the temptation to complain, bitch, moan, and commiserate at work. When you are actively expressing negative emotions, it affects your own decision-making and impacts those around you. By actively inserting positivity into your thoughts, you can elevate our mood and make the day easier to bear. Each morning, before your day begins, spend a few minutes reminding yourself of the items above. Vow to banish negativity and focus instead on the positive steps you want to take each day.
Endow each day with purpose and meaning, in spite of the difficult situation you are enduring. These seven steps will help you develop a plan to find this meaning and keep a positive demeanor.