I’ve had jobs on the brain a lot lately, because moving means leaving behind a successful piano studio and when I think about my future, that brain becomes a big jumbled mess of questions about music, self-employment, working, overall career/vocation, graduate school, and other things. I love being my own boss, but depending on what circumstances and connections come together in the future, I could be punching in and out on someone else’s watch again before long. I think I’ve learned a lot since my previous experiences as a full-time employee, which puts me in a position for a much more successful run at it, but I get a little nervous when I think about it.
Surviving a difficult job situation is a valley no one wants to go through. Work is messy because it’s one of those things that God designed for us and then it got all turned around with the Fall. I think the sort of jobs that feel like they are sucking out your soul are a major perversion of what God originally intended to be good, purposeful, and fulfilling. Despite these twists and turns, ultimately all (morally acceptable) work is spiritually profitable, and the mature response to vocational difficulty is to work as unto the Lord and not for man. In other words, pull it together and get the bills paid even if it doesn’t feel personally fulfilling.
While I was in that roughest stage of employment, which meant crying on the way to and from work five days a week, I had to watch several people close to me leave or lose their own “bad jobs,” then “take some time off” while their families covered their bills or welcomed them back home, and it was really demoralizing to feel like I was the only responsible person around. I committed to Aaron that I wasn’t going to quit without another job lined up, so after my (countless) applications elsewhere were rejected, I even cried when a bunch of people in my company got laid off and I wasn’t one of them. Seriously. (I also came home that day to another rejection letter in the mail. It was rough.) The first time I sipped morning coffee on my patio while emailing a new piano student’s mom instead of racing to work by 7:40? BEST DAY OF MY LIFE.
A few months back, a friend emailed me about her own difficult job situation and I felt serious sympathy pains for her distress. I felt bad for her, and I hated that I was not an anomaly. There are plenty of people who feel like their financial stability comes at the expense of their personal well-being. She said, “I know you had a job that was awful for you. Wherever you were a few years ago, I’m there now. I wrestle with having joy and feel so discouraged and disheartened. I hate it. I know those aren’t the feelings we are to have as Christians. How do you get through it?” (It’s totally fine for Christians to feel that way, but that’s another thing all together.)
Another person close to me has made tremendous personal sacrifices to satisfy her difficult bosses and benefit her employer at the start of her career. She sat in a meeting while her boss pointed her out to the entire office, saying, “This girl here doesn’t need a raise for two years, because I could post her job opening and have 100 people apply within two days to take her place.” Could you imagine the humiliation of the company leader telling everyone you work with that you are the most replaceable and worthless employee in the room? This job is how God has provided for her and she goes back every day. I think her courage and work ethic make her the most valuable member of her team! But jobs and offices are often backwards and messy, and the values of a Christian are not always rewarded immediately by a supervisor.
Since I’ve “been there” with the challenging job situation, I have a few practical coping tips here for those still in the trenches (and possibly myself in a little while, too!)… Because sometimes the advice to “make the best of it and try to get a different job” just doesn’t cut it when you are trying to thrive in a valley!
1) Create mental distractions for pointless tasks. I worked in a bank and often counted out huge bags of cash by hand. They have machines that can do this more accurately than people, which makes the task seem totally worthless to me. I would come up with little verses from the Bible or traditional prayers that were 25 words (or I would shove two or three words together), so I would say a word for each $20 bill I put in the stack of $500.
2) Pick something to be really happy about every day. I wish I could say my happy-thing was God’s love. It was usually my shoes. Some days thoughts like, “this person is being a total meany, but I have purple shoes on!!!! With a buckle!!!! I am awesome!!!!” carried me through until closing. I have a friend who left her desk Christmas tree up year round to keep her excited on bad days. Do what you have to do.
3) Make the most of your pre- and post-work hours. Use the drive to and from work to prepare or detox from your day and leave it there. Don’t let yourself whine about work in the evenings. I used to keep reminding myself, “Don’t let a sucky situation suck up your whole life.” I usually listened to teenybopper music (Kelly Clarkson and Lady Gaga) really loud during my drive into work. Silly? Yes. But it felt good to scream, “My life would suck without you” -yes, that is really a song- or some other power ballad on my way in. I had to pump myself up to be ready, and loud music was my ticket.
4) Make up your own reward system when you aren’t rewarded in meaningful ways by your boss. If I correctly filled out 10 reports without getting caught on anything in the checkback procedure, I would get a treat at Starbucks on the way home. If I made it through two days of boring meetings, I would treat myself with new yarn and a weekend craft project. Getting a latte or a skein of yarn wasn’t a really big deal, so I could have done either one any day, but I chose to reward myself for surviving work and succeeding in the tasks given to me.
5) Use your breaks productively. Take a walk outside, listen to an encouraging podcast, eat healthy food, read a book, plan a project you need to do at home, etc. Don’t let it become a pity-party. I wanted to journal during my break but it became an awful woe-is-me writing session so that had to stop. I usually listened to classical music and made lists of things I liked on my lunch breaks – anything that refreshes and refuels you is worth it! Surfing the internet and listening to talk radio are generally not sources of encouragement and invigoration. Be sure to restore yourself during this hour, not just indulge in laziness.
6) Make responding appropriately to others a priority. I dealt with a lot of very miserable, negative people in various aspects of my job and tried to respond with utter cheerfulness to anything they said. I did not feel cheerful about this, but my goal was responding cheerfully instead of absorbing or reacting to the poor attitude projected to me. This may not have actually improved my work atmosphere as a whole, because people noticed it and thought it was weird, but it was what I needed to do to consciously turn away from their misery. Proactivity was key for positively interacting with Aaron in the evenings, too, so by the time my car was in the driveway I was equipped with three things to ask him or bring up that were unrelated to my job. (How was your lunch conference? Did you know there was an article in the WSJ that said….?, etc.)
7) Define personal success by how you’re serving God in the evenings and weekends. I really struggled with self-worth as a college graduate working in an entry-level job and office politics were getting in the way of my chances at a promotion, so it helped to redefine success by what I was doing in the evenings (usually just getting food on the table) and weekends (projects around my house, church events), instead of focusing on being a little bit embarrassed by a non-prestigious job. My outlook significantly improved when Abby-plays-piano-after-dinner became a permanent part of our evening routine, too, because my free time was tapping into some of the things I loved doing. That became a pretty big key (ha) to successfully figuring out the next steps toward a better career.
Is there anything else you would add to encourage someone in a difficult or overwhelming job situation? What encouraged you to rejoice while working in bad job? I have a few articles, book suggestions, and other links to share on Friday, too!