When I was a university graduate, I got a coveted position doing Corporate Reorganization at a top tier accounting firm. It felt like a total win: there I was, on my way to success!
Until I started ...
After no more than two weeks, I knew it wasn't for me. I felt physically trapped in my cubicle. I felt intellectually trapped doing meaningless work — sifting through piles of paper, photocopying.
I couldn't stand the people. My assigned mentor loved the corporate life, and asking me questions in a way that made no sense to me. I never knew the answer: we spoke different languages.
Every morning, the future looked bleak. I couldn't see the possibility of doing any work there that I wanted to be doing. So I had to pretend to be someone I wasn't to fit in.
Yet one night, I was chatting with a friend at the pub (did I mention that I spent far too much time in the pub in those days?). I told her casually that I wanted to get hit by a bus on the way to work. No, I didn't want to die, I assured her. But I did want to get really badly injured so I didn't have to go to work anymore.
That's when I realized that something had to change. At the same time, I didn't think I could leave the company. Forty years of a career seemed too daunting to give up on — at least at that point.
So I decided that I had to change what I could while staying in the job. Though six months later, I had a similar conversation with the same friend, who told me I had to quit.
Hopefully you don't feel quite as helpless as I did then. And if you do: I encourage you to find an alternative as soon as you can, rather than wait like I did. But if you want (or need) to stay in a job you aren't happy with, here are a few tips to help improve your days. Take it day by day ...
1. Get out of the office for some time every single day.
Take some personal time in whatever way you can throughout the day. This will help remind you that you are not the same as your job, and that you can get some distance from your unhappiness.
Do whatever is possible: go to the gym for a quick sweat session, meet a friend for lunch, walk around the block, go buy a coffee from a coffee shop a few blocks away (not the ground floor barista).
2. Connect with your people.
Make an effort to see your friends. You may be busy and tired after work, but carve out time to cultivate your support system: in the evening, at lunchtime, for morning walks. This will help you feel connected to the parts of yourself and your life that do make you happy.
Keep an open mind about people who you might be able to connect with in the office as well. Having just one friend will transform things.
3. Do the best job you can.
Most people have to prove themselves at work before they get given the best work, particularly if you're young and just starting out. It's an unfortunate truth.
So do your best work all the time, and ask for more challenges. Managers like people who approach them looking for more work, and the more you ask for the more you will receive. As the work gets more interesting, so, of course, will your days.
4. Look at yourself, and look after yourself.
I tried to drown my sorrows in a wineglass (let me have a bit of break, I was only 22). But we all know that denial doesn't work, and especially not with alcohol.
Hangovers made my days much harder. I couldn't do good work if I was exhausted, and my lack of motivation would send the wrong message about me, both to my colleagues and, more importantly, to myself. What I needed to do was take a long, hard look at myself — so I could learn to look after myself.
So sleep properly, eat well, exercise. All those things give you the greatest possible chance of feeling happy, positive, and energetic enough to do good work so you can ask for something more engaging
5. Be yourself.
I didn't think I'd get any respect if I acted like myself at work. I thought I laughed too much, so I forced myself to keep quiet. I felt totally stifled.
Since those days, I have learned that most people will actually choose to work with someone they like as a person over someone they don't, even if the person they don't like does a better job! If you are yourself, and feel comfortable, you'll be more likable and feel more relaxed. And you'll probably be more likely to get asked to join projects.
I know not everyone can — or wants to — jump ship and head off into the unknown. But there are lots of ways to escape the misery of the cubicle. Be yourself, do your best work every day, take control by making time for yourself every single day. No matter what.