Escaping Employment Purgatory

t seems like everyone I know hates their jobs right now. One of my friends commutes two hours each way from her home to her job, and that’s if traffic is moving. Another can seem to do no right, cursed with a micromanager of a boss who has no idea what she wants. And yet another was pushed out of her job entirely, set up to fail by supervisors who just flat out didn’t like her.

We’re all in our mid-twenties, so it’s no surprise that we’re suffering in positions with very little autonomy, very few rewards, and almost no recourse. Many of my friends find themselves reconsidering their career paths, going back to school for advanced degrees (you know, on top of the ones they already have), and doing some serious soul-searching. But in the meantime, they still have to pay the bills.

So how do you deal with a terrible job while you find something better?

Fake it until you make it. Your boss might be a micromanager, or a Negative Nancy who thinks you mess up every project you touch. It’s fair to get down on yourself about that stuff for a minute, but don’t dwell on it – it’ll only hurt you in the long run. Instead, whenever you need to make a decision – no matter how minor – regarding a project, go to your boss and ask how she wants it done. This ensures that you’re catering to her need to micromanage you into oblivion, while also completing the project in the exact way she envisioned it. She can’t very well tell you you were wrong if it’s precisely what she asked for.

Stay out of your boss’s way. My supervisor at my last job and I were BFFs until one day, she had a sudden change of heart. (It was due to pregnancy hormones, but that’s beside the point.) When I confronted her about her terse behavior, she called me a drama queen and kicked me out of her office. (Really.) From then on, I just kept my head down and did my work. I asked questions when I needed to, I provided information when asked, but otherwise, we didn’t speak for the next three and a half years. Was it hurtful? Yes. Was it lonely? Yes. But it reduced my stress on a daily basis until I was finally able to find a way out.

Find an ally. Bad work situations require outlets. If you have another trustworthy coworker who’s in the same boat, feel free to go out for lunch and commiserate. But better yet, find someone away from your workplace – someone who doesn’t know your boss and couldn’t possibly communicate your complaints to her – who is available via text message or GChat from nine to five and willing to listen to your complaints and provide insight and moral support. And choose wisely – this person will serve as your sanity, whether it’s to validate your frustrations, provide tips on how to cope, or just to talk you out of jumping out of that window.

Plot your escape. Update your resume, find a good cover letter template, and set up an email alert on a job hunting website (I recommend indeed.com) with the specifications of what you’re looking for. Then, commit to a specific time every week (I used to hunker down on Sunday nights, but that was when Mad Men was still on hiatus) where you will sit down and apply to the new jobs that were sent to you that week. Even with the way the economy is right now, if you can consistently apply to five jobs a week, you should be able to secure a new position (and ideally, a better work environment) within six months.

One other thing to consider once you begin your job hunt is whether the career path you’re on is where you want to be. Our twenties are an ideal time for us to make changes in that arena. Did you end up working in communications when you’re really more interested in finance? Or did you secure a lucrative corporate position, but wish you could give back to the community by working for a non-profit? Now is the time to explore, and to make the best of a bad situation by applying the skills you’ve gotten from your terrible work experience to something that will truly make you happy (or at least inch you closer to that ultimate goal).

This piece originally appeared on Twenties Hacker.

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