How many of us grew up hearing “If you love what you do then you’ll never work a day in your life”? I must have heard this a thousand times from my parents and teachers. The implication being that you want to love what you do for a living. Makes sense. I mean, who wants to be miserable day-in and day-out at work? It is only recently that I realized exactly how much this mindset messed me up.
This epiphany can be linked to my friend asking me a pretty simple question – how many jobs I have had since I was eighteen? I started counting them in my head. Finally, I was done and I told him that I have had eighteen jobs since I was eighteen. He was beyond surprised and did not believe me. It had never occurred to me that most people didn’t average 1.8 jobs per year. I realized something about myself – I am a serial job hopper.
Why did I have so many positions on my resume? Why did I leave each position so quickly? The reasons always seemed logical at the time. There was a better job opportunity, I did not like the hours I was working, or the pay was better somewhere else. In general, when I left a job, I was just not as happy as I thought I should be. Wait, what was that saying? If you love what you do… Right.
I had been chasing this concept for years. The idea that you MUST love what you do at all times or you are not happy. No one ever told me that no matter how much you love something you will never be happy with it 100% of the time. No one ever told me that you need to learn to be content in unhappiness from time-to-time. No one ever told me that work is work no matter how much you love it.
This is a lesson we should be teaching our students. Chase your dreams and be all that you can be, but do not expect constant professional love. There will be days that you do not want to leave work because you are so happy. There will also be days that you come home feeling like you have made a huge mistake with your career. It is okay.
Below are some tips that I would share with anyone beginning a career.
First, you must learn to not let the stressful, depressing days ruin your overall appreciation of your job. When you have a bad day at work, find a way to renew and refresh. Remember the last time you smiled or laughed at your job. Find a friend (coworker or otherwise) who can relate and help you through your feelings.
Second, you need to understand your feelings. A mentor once told me that the only truth in life is our feelings. They cannot be discounted or disproved. They exist and are always true. However, as someone who struggles with depression, I am not always confident that what I am feeling is legitimate. Be sure that your feelings of sadness, anger, resentment, or whatever are accurately targeted at your place of work.
Third, you should identify what steals your joy at work. Is it a particular coworker? Is it the long hours? Is it a specific task you have been assigned? Understanding what is making you upset will help you to find ways to address it. Even if it is something that you cannot change, at least you will know what is making you feel this way. You can then try to change your attitude about your circumstances.
Fourth, if this is a persistent problem that you are experiencing then you should talk to your supervisor. Hopefully you have developed a good relationship with your supervisor (and they are not the cause of your unhappiness at work) and they will be able to help you.
Fifth, you must find joy outside of work – whether you enjoy exercising, traveling, hobbies, family, friends, or whatever else. Your job cannot and will not be the sole source of your happiness.
Lastly, the bad days should never outnumber the good days. If that is the case, then maybe you have a good reason to leave. If you have tried to stay positive but still cannot find happiness in your job anymore, then do what you have to do to get your joy back. If that includes finding a new position at your institution or leaving your institution for another position, then do it.
Life is too short to be unhappy. Just make sure that your expectations are not too high. Life is short, but it is also hard sometimes.
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