Tuesday, February 12, 2019

How to Survive a Bad Job

A lot of the reasons I was so miserable at my previous institution are no longer a factor there (personnel changes all the way from where I was to the very top of the reporting structure), but I can't lie: I was fairly miserable at my last job. There are a few people in my life now who are just as miserable as (if not more miserable than) I was. I've given some version of this pep talk a couple of times recently, and I thought I'd pass it along to a broader audience.


The first thing you need to do in order to survive a bad job is to know it's not you. It's them. Trust me. Bad jobs are never bad because there are reasonable people around you who have attainable expectations and support you while you're doing the work. A job is bad because you are treated poorly in some (usually many) ways, whether it's an unrealistically small budget or unattainably high standards or colleagues and supervisors who are absolute nightmares.

So, repeat after me: "it's not me; it's them."

No. Say it again. I don't think you believe it yet.

Still with me? Okay. The next thing you need to do in order to survive a bad job is you have to figure out a way to get out of there and work towards that goal. That's going to look different for each person with a bad job. Sometimes, it will mean moving states away. Sometimes it will mean changing industries or sectors of an industry (like academic to public or law to corporate). This step is going to take a loooooooooooooong time for some of you. Spend 15 minutes minimum every day on this. It took me 4 years that last time I wanted to get away from a bad job. (Yes, sometimes you can ameliorate the shite. Talk to your supervisor's supervisor if you trust them. Talk to your union representative if you have them. I'm assuming you've already tried all that before coming to this post.) So what do you do in the mean time? You have to deal with what is instead of what you think it should be.

This is going to sound kind of obvious, but find your real reason for staying there (most likely $$ or educational benefits) and remind yourself of it every time shit gets shitty. The next time your boss throws you under a bus and doesn't apologize when you prove them wrong, remember the core reason you're there.

Next, make sure to take care of yourself. Find a therapist. Find something to do in your not-work life that brings you joy. Find someone to spend time with and cook with and laugh with, or all three at once! (This can be romantic or friendship or both, as suits you.) Get sleep. Eat nutritious food. Also eat junk sometimes, like chocolate or salami, but try to avoid eating your feelings because that will only make you feel worse. Do one thing for yourself, purely and selfishly for you, every day. Drink more water.

Also important, find ways to stay present. When that spike of anxiety or that fog of depression hits, recognize that it is what it is, but you can also be more in your own skin with a little effort. Here's a list of ways I've managed to bring myself back to the moment:
  • Look around the room where you are and count something like everything blue, or everything wood, or everything rectangular.
  • Close your eyes and identify the source of every single noise you hear. As I type this, I hear a colleague on the phone, the blowing of our heating system, the clacking of my typing, my own breath, and another colleague walking around their office.
  • Think of a word that starts with every letter of your name. First name if it's not horrible, first and middle and last and title if you're drowning in anxiety/depression. Jumble echolocation sibilant sonorous ichor calamity alleviate. Do it again and again if needed.
  • Take a slow breathe in, counting to five, and then let it out. I like the constant in and out of breath, but you could also breathe in, then hold, breathe out, then hold.
  • Walk around the entire perimeter of the building you're in. Internally of the weather is crap, but externally if you are at all able to. Getting outside and feeling wind/sun/etc. is very very good for you.

Look, it sounds trite, but it's true that the only thing you can absolutely count on always happening is change. Maybe the change will be you, and you'll find a new job. Maybe the change will be them, and the people making you miserable will retire. You have to be intentional about survival when things are horrible, but you got this.


  1. Thank you for this post. I started my first librarian job in August as an Elementary School Librarian. I went in with stars in my eyes. I hate it. The kids for the most part are great but the staff really bums me out. Guess that's what happens when you're the new librarian taking over the retired librarian who was there for 15 years. I have been told to my face that whatever I am trying to do is not how the old librarian did it. Many times. I just want to get into the groove of things but somedays, I just want to get up, leave and never return...but I can't. I need the money. I've started to pep talk myself in the mornings and texting other librarians in my district daily helps. I keep reminding myself that I got all my wonderful things at home (my boys, my dogs and tortoise). All my happiness is outside. I also have decided to keep my workout regimen up by adding weightlifting. Believe me, it helps. :)

  2. Thank you for this! I love my regular library job but I was asked to take on a "temporary" extra position due to staffing issues and the boss I report to for that has made my attitude about my work life ... go downhill extremely quickly. I love your tips for getting back into the moment. I often find myself in a depression fog at work now and since I work in public services I hate showing that side of myself to my student assistants and public patrons so I'm definitely going to try some of these tips!