Hate your job? Look in the mirror

There are no shortage of reasons why people are unhappy in their jobs, but much job unhappiness is self-inflicted. It's far easier to change your ways than to change your manager, organization or coworkers.
Written by Ramon Padilla, Contributor

I am sometimes disheartened by the negativity of people’s attitudes towards their job situations. If you comb the TechRepublic discussions or any board where people can comment, you will find a lot of hostility and pent-up frustration. Partly, this is a function of this kind of medium—people can vent in a safe place. However, I think there is more to it than that.

First, there is the fact that working in a support function (which IT typically is in most organizations) is very challenging. You have to try to meet the needs of everyone and, for the most part, attempt to keep your customers happy - customers, by the way, who are stressed, as overworked as you are, and often have no clue about or desire to learn more about the technology tools provided to them.

Second, your work is often involved in/with organizational change – which is one of the hardest tasks to perform.

Third, if you go by many of the posts, decent managers are few and hard to find. (I happen to think there are plenty of good ones as well, but few write about them).

OK, those are some excuses for why you might have a bad/negative attitude toward your IT job and some objects to blame for it. But our attitudes are our own responsibility. What we bring to work, how we approach our work, and how our work affects us is a function of our own personalities and personal choices that we make every day.

Want some examples? I knew someone who liked to grab every last minute of sleep he possibly could before waking up, and when the clock went off he entered a frenzy: shower, mess with the hair, shave, take care of a pet, and blow out the door as if his hair was on fire. He would grab breakfast on the way to work and build ZERO flexibility into his schedule so that any delay caused him extreme stress. Needless to say, when he actually arrived at work, this frenzied mood stayed with him throughout the day. While he was extremely effective at his job, he was not a happy person at work.

Another person I know worked in a non-managerial support function in an organization. She performed her job well, but was overly concerned with the performance and decision-making of management in her organization. And while the concerns were legitimate, she did not have the power to change things.

In both of these situations, much of the individual’s job stress was self-inflicted. The first person managed to change to get himself up 30 minutes earlier and realized a total shift in how he approached work. Suddenly, the day didn’t start as a crisis and he had a major attitude change. The change was somewhat forced upon him by a spouse, but over time he came to see the wisdom of this shift.

The second individual failed to realize that the thing she was stressing about the most simply was not in her job description or pay grade. While workplace stupidity can be aggravating, it is also pretty common, and it's something you need to be able to deal with. That’s not to say that you can’t attempt to change your organization for the better, but keep in mind what your responsibilities are, and don’t sweat the things you can't control. Do your job as well as you are allowed to do so.

A personal story: I used to work for an organization that paid me well to perform a task and then placed every road block possible in the way. This organizational ineptitude did not keep me from successfully performing the task. I worked my tail off to accomplish the objective, but during the time I was working on it I was extremely unhappy. I finished the task on time and on budget, and then got the heck out.

In our jobs, we often fail to take a reality check of our situation and to step back and examine things as an outside observer. Is the situation at work truly intolerable? And whose fault is that really? How much of your misery do you create? Only you can control your attitude and emotions and how you react to situations.

We also box ourselves into situations that, in fact, we have the power to change, but we may not have the guts to do so. Many people stay in bad work situations for many years hoping for a miraculous change or because they feel that their circumstances prevent them from leaving. In fact, we usually create our own jail.

I went unemployed for nine months at the height of one of our nation’s worse job recessions primarily because I limited my job search to my hometown or somewhere nearby because of family. I had also just built a new house a few years before and didn’t want to leave it. But you know what? No one wants to live with a miserably depressed person simply for the sake of staying in one place. I could have had other jobs during that time - had I had the conviction to move.

Eventually, I came to my senses and realized that hard decisions had to be made and that some changes were going to have to be made in order for life to get back to normal. While it was hard to do, I left my new home, my friends, my extended family, and my wife and I relocated in order for me to find the kind of job I wanted. It wasn’t easy – but life goes on, and we are doing better now career-wise than we ever have.

All of this is to say that we have a great deal of control in shaping our realities. If you hate your job, try to rationally determine why. It may be you, it may be the job, and it may be a combination of things. Figure out what they are and do something about it, whether that is changing personal habits, getting training, going back to school, talking with your boss, seeking counseling, moving on to another opportunity, or even a new line of work. Just don’t suffer due to inertia or fear.

Lastly, there is no such thing as the perfect job. Even if you are in one of those situations in which your work is also your passion, there will be things that make you want to scream. That’s why it’s called work and that is why they pay you for it. So take a deep breath, make some private time, and do a self-assessment. It’s a healthy thing to do and it keeps you growing, both personally and professionally.

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