See What Sticks: From Love, to Hate

See What Sticks: “I Hate My Job” Does Not Exist Hi everyone, Amma Marfo here. Two quick things about me that you’ll need to know before we begin:

(1) I am a reader. I am a library-loving, constant tome-carrying, unapologetic bibliophile. (2) If there’s anyone you will meet who can connect what she’s reading to the world around her, it’s me.

As such, I want to dedicate my time in this space to sharing with you what I’m reading, and how it could inform a budding professional’s daily life. 

This month’s post covers one of my more offbeat reads of the year to date. In a book that aims to tear asunder our conventional wisdom about Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, Dr. Richard Saul’s ADHD Does Not Exist examines a variety of other ailments that could account for the hallmark behaviors of ADHD- inability to focus, impulsivity, and decreased lack of achievement in the classroom or workplace. I’ll be honest when I say that I didn’t like this book, and had a hard time completing it. Many elements of it frustrated me, but I knew there was something to learn so I pressed on. Although I struggled with the methods Saul used to arrive at his conclusions, I did agree with much of his central argument: ADHD, as we understand it, is a symptom of an actual ailment, not an ailment in itself.

As I talk to friends and peers struggling in their workplaces, a similar thread emerges among the unhappier members of that cohort. Have you ever heard someone say, “I hate my job”? Have you ever said it? In my estimation, saying “I hate my job” is akin to Dr. Saul’s struggle with the diagnosis of ADHD- chances are, you don’t hate your job; something else is causing that final conclusion. My goal is to examine some of those symptoms and dig deeper into what might be causing them, just as Saul did in his book.

Definition of Terms

First, let’s dig into the terms that are being used to define our predicament. Dr. Saul’s primary argument is based in how ADHD is defined in the DSM-V, the seminal document that classifies and describes mental illnesses. He claims that its definition of ADHD is an incomplete and inaccurate one, one that sets those seeking diagnosis up for failure in the first place.

When you think about it, couldn’t our definition of “a job I’d love” (especially early on in our careers) be the same way?

Lots of factors contribute to how we might believe our early career experiences should be: expectations from parents and other family members; media and pop culture depictions of outrageously successful people that seem to be years younger and impossibly brighter; and even social comparison of what our friends are doing and how their lives appear as a result. Sifting through all of these factors, I urge you to dig deep in your heart and think: what’s important to me? What do I want? What do I need? These considerations can and should be made with loved ones in mind, but only you know what factors in a job are important to help you succeed in it. Honor those factors as much as you can.

So let’s say you have your definitive list of what your important factors are…and you’re still unhappy. What might be causing that unhappiness? Let’s dive in and see.

I Hate My Job Might Mean…I’m Having Issues With A Supervisor

We see excellent examples of bad bosses in daily life all the time. The clueless and misguided Michael Scott on The Office, the tortured and enigmatic Don Draper on Mad Men, the trio of ill-fated supervisors in the film Horrible Bosses. When looking for examples of what we don’t want in someone guiding us through our early professional experiences, we have an embarrassment of riches. However, it’s harder to know what will work for you professionally until you’re in it. A supervisor’s ability to meet your needs is particularly difficult to discern in an interview scenario, when a need to make a good first impression may (intentionally or otherwise) mask traits or shortcomings that could affect your comfort and success in the office.

If you find yourself in a situation where you and your boss aren’t meshing well, don’t pull a Half-Baked or Jerry Maguire and storm out of the office just yet. First, see if you can identify specifically where the concerns lie, and find a way to express your issues to your boss. The list I referred to earlier about your non-negotiables and essential needs can inform this conversation, so keep them on hand! None of us have (to my knowledge) cultivated the ability to read minds; it’s entirely possible that the needs you have could be addressed or fulfilled if your supervisor is simply aware of how you’re feeling and what you need. Be as diplomatic and specific in your approach as possible, ensuring that associated emotions don’t overpower your central message. Emails, letter, face-to-face…pick an approach that works for you and speak up for your needs.

Should you express your concerns, and see no change (or if your boss outright refuses to accommodate your needs), then you may need to either adjust your expectations and approach (more on that in a bit), or explore other professional options, ones that can provide the support and environment that you need to thrive.

I Hate My Job Might Mean…Issues With A Coworker

For so many of us, work is not done in an isolated environment. The people we work with and around are essential to our success, and we are integral to theirs. So when problems arise with coworkers, it has a significant impact on our ability to successfully complete and enjoy our work. Perhaps you are having a hard time coping with different personalities in your workplace- people who are territorial, overly political, or just plain mean. Or perhaps you are having a bigger issue, such as outright bullying or victimization in the workplace. In either case, there are ways to attempt to navigate these challenges without throwing in the towel altogether.

If you don’t get your coworkers, take some time to learn more about different personality types, and think about how you might be able to work alongside people who differ from you stylistically. Finding common ground with different people can be a great way to put personal dissimilarities aside. A great book for this is Pat Lencioni’s Silos, Politics, and Turf Wars- a quick read with a lot of helpful information on how to understand and collaborate in an environment with many personalities. Further, remember that everyone involved is a real, live, human being! Get to know these people- see if you can initiate opportunities to spend time together as a staff, talk to them about their families and interests, create an image of them that supports their status as a human rather than an adversary.

If you are being bullied, know that these circumstances are not normal and must be addressed. I am far from an expert in this area and don’t wish to give ill-informed advice in this realm, but there are a few resources I’d like to direct you to. First, the Workplace Bullying Institute has a series of resources that can help you cope with a bullying scenario. Karlyn Borysenko is a leadership professional doing great work in the area of diagnosing and confronting bullying in the workplace. I encourage you to read her article on the characteristics of workplace bullying, and explore her website (Zen Workplace) to learn more about how to cope with these concerns.

I Hate My Job Might Mean…I Expected This To Be Different

In a prior piece I wrote about Questlove’s Mo Meta Blues, he talks about the danger of expectations and how they can sometimes contribute to disappointment and frustration. At the end of the day, we all have expectations for what we’d like our present circumstances and future aspirations to look like. And those expectations can color how we see our current station. Maybe you feel like you should be making more for the work you’re doing, or are convinced that you deserve a promotion, or can’t believe that you’re being asked to do that task. When these feelings consume you, I return to the counsel I provided in the Questlove piece: the only competition you should ever be in is with yourself, with the person you were yesterday.

If you end each day a little better professionally, a little stronger as a person, and a little more experienced than the day before, you’re doing fine. And if you are in a sustained situation where this is not the case, look closely at that. How did you get there? Where would you like to be? And what can you realistically do to get yourself there?

A Final Note On That Job You Hate

It was important to me to write this piece because I’ve been in jobs I “hated” and want to help others avoid that experience. However, I should also say that this is a fairly long piece…based on a book I did not enjoy. I point that out because it’s important to recognize that something good can come from everything. Even the jobs that challenged my ability to stay at the office all day, left me crying under my desk, and caused stress that made my hair fall out (all true, by the way), I use lessons and skills from those jobs every single day. You may be frustrated, feel beat down, and suspect that you’re wasting your time in a role you’re not happy in. This is not an okay state to be in for long periods, and you’re right to get angry about it. But I promise you you’re learning. You’re growing. You’re getting better. And when you get where you’re headed next, you’ll find that the time in those jobs you hate is the reason you can find, appreciate, and excel in those jobs you love.