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Life After University: Stuck in a Bad Job

17th August 2015 Posted by: Kate Istead

SO what if, after all that effort, all that switching direction, and all that self-esteem crushing rejection, you finally get a job offer? You optimistically accept, show up full of ideas, keen to work hard and eager to impress. And within a month, your balloon is deflated: you realize this isn’t your dream job. Not even close.


What now? Do you stick it out, learning to put up with the stuff you dislike (or perhaps loathe) for the sake of a paycheque, maybe even convincing yourself 'it’s not so bad'? Or do you launch yourself back into that dreaded 'search' zone and start the whole job hunt all over again? And if the latter, do you take that step from stably-employed to desperately-searching while remaining in your unpleasant job or do you get out as fast as you can?

After university, it took me six months to get my first job, but that’s all it was to me: a job. It wasn’t something I was passionate about, it didn’t contribute to building my desired career, and it certainly was not something I aspired to be doing for the rest of my life. Worse than that, it actually served to drain me of all the positivity and hope I had once felt for my career, my life and myself. The environment was so toxic it resulted in a fundamental change in my personality; I became chronically unhappy, consistently spiteful, and uncharacteristically low in self-esteem. My boss, for all his attempts to pretend to be cool and enlightened, fed his own ego and placated his own insecurities by nurturing a context of fear and control. First, I started hating being in the office. Then, I started dreading going to work the next day, and eventually the two merged and I began to feel actual fear as I walked to work. Looking back, I now know that I wasn't just in a bad employment situation; I was in an abusive relationship. Though he never hit physically, the scars he left behind on my psyche still show up like shadowed bruises that haunt my self-confidence at work.

Sure, my case may seem dramatic, but lots of people out there don't like their jobs for one reason or another. This isn't something unique to a graduate, of course; many of my friends and colleagues who have been working the same or similar job their whole lives do so somewhat robotically and unenthusiastically. My uncle was chronically stuck in a job he tolerated for years, fearful that the devil he didn't know would be worse than the one he did. There are no easy answers, Buzzfeed quizzes or fail proof checklists that can tell you when it's time to leave a job. Nor is there any one-size-fits-all advice for if you should do so before finding another one. What there is, and what there has to be when it comes to deciding to leave a job, is your own set of guiding values. The very same values that, long thought out and personally selected, should drive all your behaviour and tell you when enough is enough and when to take action.

I have two precepts that guide me through life: always head in the direction of what makes you most happy and follow the path of least regret. In my case, the job I had was not only making me unhappy while at work, it was making me (and by extension, the people around me) miserable in all the other areas of my life: it violated the first of my two principles. It took me months of deep psychological pain to get there, but eventually I also realized that even in the face of being without a job and without money, I'd always regret staying in that job more than I'd regret getting out. I left my job before finding a new one and the second I handed in my resignation, I knew I'd done the right thing. I felt free of regret, and for the first time in a long time, I remembered what happy felt like. Eventually my uncle got out too, though he did it in the traditional way and found a new job first. His guiding principles are different to mine so his path had to be his own, and much to the happiness of the rest of us in his life, he is now getting to spend his last working years before retirement in an environment that supports, challenges, and values him.

If I had one inspiring thing to say to someone in the position of having a job they don't like, for whatever reason, it would be this: life is too short to waste it on things that make you unhappy. Though we can’t always control where we end up, we always have a choice. If you can get out, get out. If you can’t get out right now, make a plan to get out and let that plan motivate you to get out soon. But never, ever compromise your values or put up with something that takes more from you than it gives. Maybe the next job won’t be your dream job either, but maybe it will be better than this. Take that chance. 

More from Life After University:

How to Stay Motivated Between School and Work

Searching for a Job


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