Written by Rebecca Fraser-Thill
Most of us don't want to like our work. We say we do, but we actually don’t.
Especially when we're recent graduates.
The goal is excellent: we definitely lead a happier life when we have meaning than when we have scads of money.
The strategy for reaching that goal, though? Not so terrific.
Let me say this up front: I'm not someone who believes in staying in a job or career path when it's no longer leading us toward the impact we want (need!) to have on the world. Heck, I just coached my own husband out of a decade-long career in public education, financial risks be damned.
That said, I do believe that too often we take the easy route, walking away from jobs that still have a whole lot of untapped potential on the table.
That's why when a career coaching client comes to me and says they want to love their work, I suggest starting with his or her existing job.
The process typically goes something like this:
Together the client and I brainstorm a viable strategy for making their current work life more fulfilling, such as improving interpersonal dynamics, changing the way or the order in which tasks are done, intentionally altering perceptions of the environment, or - shocker! - talking out frustrations with the boss and suggesting concrete changes.
During check-in the next week, though, the client has usually done nothing to make the existing job better.
Instead she's spent oodles of time looking into new jobs or career paths.
“Because I don’t want to get to know anyone who works at that godforsaken place,” the client often says. Or “The tasks at my job stink so much, I have no interest in making them any better.”
Sure, some work environments need to be ditched. Toxic jobs are a notable example.
But the majority of jobs I've seen have the potential to be more fulfilling than they currently are.
So why fight making it better?
While the exact answer varies person to person, I’ll hazard one guess: Because we’re afraid of liking our jobs.
We're scared that if we start to enjoy our tasks or to think highly of our co-workers we may not - gasp - ever leave.
I totally get it. I felt the same way when I started teaching at Bates College at the ripe young age of 25. I’d just ditched a doctoral program in search of a life beyond academia…and then ended up back in academia.
The last thing I wanted was to like my work tasks, environment, or colleagues! I truly believed that if I started enjoying things the teeniest bit, I’d wake up and find myself 60 years old, doing the same old job, saying, “Where did my life go? This isn’t what I had planned!”
So I sheltered myself from my work and made myself miserable. For years.
Here’s the secret I eventually discovered, though: The more fulfilled I allowed myself to feel in my day job, the more capable I was of carrying out my life’s “big plans.”
When I was down in the dumps, my motivation and energy took a dive right along with my mood.
Once I stopped fearing that I might get stuck in my job if I found it fulfilling and started allowed myself to squeeze the potential out of it, lo and behold, my desire and ability to "be bigger than" that job began to fall into place.
To be clear, I still teach at Bates. And why wouldn’t I? It’s an awesome gig - I love what I do, where I work, and the people with whom I work. How I didn’t let myself see that during my first few years is not only slightly mysterious, it’s sad.
The key thing, though, is that in the past six or seven years I’ve crafted an entire work life for myself that extends far beyond the walls of the job that I didn’t - and still don’t - want to be my entire work legacy.
In other words, those big plans I always had for myself? I’m making them happen.
Not in spite of my day job. Because of it.
So here's my challenge to you: what if you opened yourself up to liking your current job?
What if you mustered the courage to ask your supervisor for what you want and need, long before mustering the "guts" to turn in a letter of resignation?
What if you tapped into the reasons you accepted the job in the first place, remembering what you hoped for and doubling down on making those hopes realities?
What if you tested the theory that dream jobs are built, not stumbled upon?
What if you learned to fear being serially unfulfilled more than you fear "settling down"?
What's the worst that could happen? You'll either end up moving on knowing - 100% knowing - that you've wrung every last bit of potential from your existing position.
Or you'll stay put. In the job you always wanted, that you created one change at a time.
We’d love to hear from you in the comments below:
Have you ever resisted liking your job? If so, what did you do to overcome that resistance?
Rebecca Fraser-Thill is the founder of Working Self, a site that helps young adults create meaningful work - that actually pays the bills! She teaches psychology at Bates College and is a career coach. Her work has been featured throughout the media, including on The Huffington Post, The Chelsea Krost Show, and Stacking Benjamins. Follow her @WorkingSelf.