Thinking about ‘work’ and what it’s really worth

I’ve talked with people both recently and in the past, ongoing conversations over decades, in which they voice that they love their career, but that they really dislike their job. It might be the location, or the size of the workforce within that location, or the policy and management (or lack thereof), or the gossip or lack of privacy, or seemingly inept supervisor or boss…some aspect is keeping them from really finding pleasure in getting up, getting ready and entering the door of their workplace. Most often it turns out to be a combination of aspects, but the simple and clear point is that they would rather be anywhere but there, doing the job that they were hired to do.

The people I refer to here are competent, intelligent, qualified, rational. Some have a passion, a feeling that their career choice was a calling or meant to be. Others perhaps take time to come upon their path, but have grown to see that it was the correct road for them. Yet they go to an office, or job site three or four or five days per week, and they hate it. Many literally say they hate it.

I think we can all guess at some of the reasons why they keep showing up. Money and finances are most likely the biggest reason. Perhaps the investment and education behind the career drives them to appear each day at a job they dislike. Perhaps a desire for a specific lifestyle. Perhaps insecurity or worry about all the what-if’s keep them returning day after day.

I spent years going back and forth between two careers. I felt a passion for both, initially. I liked performing my jobs. Of course, like any job some days were better than others. One job I left by choice and have regretted and missed horribly ever since. It was never a burden to participate in that job. The other, over time, became too physically demanding and in that way I felt forced to leave. That job though, I have never missed. I spent way too much time trying to invest myself and my energy into attempts at change, at attempts to rectify systemic failures, at putting up with individual differences that would never come close to tolerable common ground rather that be moralistic or idealistic. I knew long before I left that job that I was done. The system in place was flawed and that I didn’t fit anymore, nor even want to attempt to carve out an identity to fit what was being pushed. Even knowing that I would be better, happier, and value myself more if I left – I stayed on. It took me years of personal compromise before one day, simply having experienced enough, I moved on – not back to a career I loved, but just to another location and another job within the same flawed system. In time I knew that I had made a mistake. All the inner voices that had been screaming at me for years were quickly mounting another onslaught and poised to needle my brain non-stop with the big question – “Why, why did you do this again?”

I knew enough about this job to realize that just about anywhere I could go, I would eventually encounter all the issues that made me dislike the job in the first place so many years ago. The work was wonderful, the physical hands-on doing was a job I loved, but the BS and game playing and mismanagement pushed all my dislike buttons and all those things came with the territory.

Of course, we don’t necessarily have the luxury to simply stop working because we dislike aspects of a job. So many people feel stuck or trapped (I did) within a job. So many people have no choice, but in this case, I suppose I am speaking to those who do have some choice, some control.

For those of us who have been, or who now fall into that dreading going to our jobs category I think we all have our own individual line that separates the ‘I’ll try to stick it out for a while’ from the ‘I refuse to tolerate this for another minute’ moment. We also have a lot of gray days, those not so bad days when thinking about family, or the weekend, or vacation in 2 months can curb some of the dislike and annoyance and frustration. We don’t let ourselves acknowledge that temporary fixes aren’t going to make the job better. They are only going to prolong the agony, and increase the frustration. We can’t seem to allow ourselves to take back control of our lives and our happiness.

Is there uncertainty, fear, even panic that comes with the thought of moving on. You betcha there is, but if everyday is filled with displeasure, anger, unhappiness, even physical and/or emotional pain, because of the job we force ourselves to go to, how can it be worth spending even one more day there?

Everyone always asks, “But what if it’s worse, that next place that I end up?” It might be, because really, until you’re there and in the mix, you have no real idea. But, what if it isn’t worse? What if it’s better, even just a little bit? What if you can go there, do your job and enjoy three of the five days you’re there…what if you can actually look forward to opening the door at 8 AM and feeling like you will probably like the day ahead…what if your family won’t have to hear all your complaints…what if you could just have time to stop asking what if, or if only, or I should…what if you make the decision to try?

I’d love to hear some opinions on this, no matter which side you fall on. Have you been/are you in this situation? Have you come across your own personal line and triumphed…or failed? What would you tell someone who is unsure, who is fearful or worried, or can’t bring themselves to take the step?  Why do we feel it’s okay to devalue our own self-worth and happiness for a job that we dislike?




11 thoughts on “Thinking about ‘work’ and what it’s really worth”

  1. I was desperately unhappy when I returned from maternity leave a couple of years ago. I tried looking for a new job while I had that one, but I had no time or energy left over after work, commute, pumping, and parenting, so that I finally decided to walk off the job without another one lined up. We lived on credit for a few months (since I was ineligible for unemployment. It was far from optimal, but also … so very, very worth it, with time!

    By the time I started working as a contractor almost a year ago, I was not feeling too great about continuing along my career path as a contract negotiator. I felt fairly well stuck, though, because that’s where I’ve developed my career. Still, I grew more and more open to by the day to redefinition, and was considering how to segue out when my then-manager told me he’d heartily recommend me to anyone, any day of the week. He told me about one contracts-unrelated position he thought I’d be good at, saying that he felt the fact I was good at contracts didn’t necessarily mean they were good for me. (He’s either perceptive or reads my blog; I had a few moments where I was fairly certain it was the latter! Hee.)

    The contractor role was different than my usual contracts role. I had to look a little bit into license counts and deployments. At first I was frustrated with how much of my time this peripheral item took me, but I grew to enjoy that non-contracts piece the most. I especially enjoyed my key contact for related questions, so that when I looked on the intranet after having that conversation with my then-manager, I was disbelieving when I saw a job opening working on a team with that key contact … for a counterpart position! I seriously thought I was wishful thinking seeing the position.

    I called the contact immediately and asked what he thought about my applying. His response? “Come to the Dark Side!!!”

    I realized how fully I was done with contracts the moment I moved everything I’d worked on as a contractor into an archive folder. I wanted to get up and run circles around the campus shouting, “I’m done with contracts! I’m done with contracts! Foreeeeeeever! Done!” I’m not joking, either. I was envisioning it as I physically restrained myself from doing it.

    I’ve thought often on questions like those you asked above since. Each time, I come to the conclusion that I am SO GLAD I walked away from one job without another lined up. That I tested life past the leash. Untethering myself from that put me in the position to be exactly where I am today, which is in a job that will allow me to learn and grow and try so many new things in excellent company. I still can’t quite believe it, but I know I’m glad I made the move I did. It was a risk, but man … with great risk, great opportunity. I am so glad I took the risk.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think that this may have been around the time I found your blog, and I remember so many posts filled with emotional pain regarding work. You took a step that worked so well for you and your family, but I know that the same step into the unknown is what holds so many back. There’s no one easy answer and the decisions to stay or go are all wrapped up in so many deeper social and personal issues. I really can’t remember the last time I talked with someone who liked their job, or could see a feasible way to move on which might simply mean that I’m just surrounded by those who feel stuck and the rest of the world is doing okay 😉
      I’m so glad for you Deb. It makes me feel good to know that your courage and sacrifice was the right choice 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. By accident and divine providence I stumbled into a job that has fit my passions, giftings etc. a year out of high school…that being working with my hands in construction. during these 40 years, I have worked for bullies and been self employed. I have been full time self employed now for the the past 8 or so again. At this point, I would be hard pressed to stay more than a couple of days @ a place I really hated if it was due to the people in charge. I would rather flip burgers @ Hardees or work as a temp somewhere than put up with the interpersonal nonsense of some joint.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. So here’s a thought,…might our no nonsense, get out if it’s bad attitude be a generational or age related POV. We are close in age, and even though I put up with things in my work when I was younger, when I hit that wall I clearly knew that I didn’t have to spend any more energy on crud that drained my outlook and attitude. Perhaps some of the answers also lie in choice of career and job. Maybe some are just easier to walk away from, easier to move on and keep moving if needed.
      Thanks for your thoughts DM 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I do think it’s generational/ age related. I have never felt more alive and secure as a person as I’ve gotten older. Wish I could have possessed the inner sense of grounding and self worth as a 20 yr old…but I’m guessing many of my attitudes have come about through suffering and parenting.

        Liked by 2 people

  3. I am not sure that it is possible to be completely happy anywhere, truthfully. Being in a field that feels like a calling helps me to tolerate the crap because I can feel like there is some point to my suffering, that there is a purpose beyond me. That being said, I did leave a crappy situation and did benefit from it in some ways and actually was hurt in others.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. I agree that 100% happiness is likely not an absolute for anyone when it comes to their job, because life isn’t like that in general. I’m just so curious why one individual will move on from place to place while others of us so often feel stuck, or as you note that we somehow feel we must suffer or deny our own happiness for a bigger purpose. Perhaps it sounds selfish, but when do we literally get to think about ourselves/family first. Are we truly giving the best of ourselves to those we work with/serve when we’re so down and unhappy with what we must ‘put up with’
      I’m glad you weighed in here, as I know you struggle with this issue a lot. I also have to wonder what our kids, grandkids see and remember as they hear their parents/family struggle with this day after day. How do we help them as they inherit this crazy system of careers/jobs/self-fulfillment – GAH!!!!

      Liked by 2 people

        1. Anthony actually asked me a few months ago to answer Li’l D’s questions about my day and the like, good and bad. (As an introvert who’s had to talk through several meetings, I usually reply to Anthony’s how’s-your-day with, “It’s done.” I’ll give Li’l D a few more words, but not much.)

          Anthony pointed out that I’m setting an example for Li’l D that he’ll carry with him for a long while, so I’ve started shedding a little more light and hoping he, too, remembers how I resolved certain problems when I’m no longer around to answer his new questions.

          Liked by 3 people

          1. Covering emotions and negativity as a parent goes without saying in many cases. We’ve all put on a more pleasant persona to spare our kids from issues I think, but doesn’t that weigh on the adult, day after day? Somehow I have to suspect that the kids pick up on emotional conflict and as they get older, begin to ask more and understand that mom or dad goes to a job they really don’t like day after day. They have to wonder why, even with the best explanations and intentions. In some ways, Lil D’s school issues mirror this adult conflict I think, or maybe it’s the adult issues that mirror kids and we have all been stuck in this position from childhood without seeing how early situations hold long term ramifications into adulthood???

            Liked by 1 person

            1. It’s funny, because D and I have really big conversations about anything and everything, but I loathe small talk and tend to ascribe anything that follows small talk beginnings as also small talk. I need to rework that rule in my brain, to know that I am setting so many examples for D. We talk about all kinds of emotions and contexts (including complicated things like Ferguson and death), just never beginning with questions like, “How was your day?” I do want D to have the feeling of me with him in hard times as I now do thanks to my mom’s candid, almost completely unfiltered conversation. I do try filtering the tiniest bit, though. 😉

              Liked by 1 person

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