How To Enjoy Work That Makes You Miserable

by Stephen Mills on August 28, 2010

Woman at Work

If you have followed me for any length of time you will realize that I am NOT a proponent of doing things that make you miserable.  I do not recommend staying in a job you hate or any other life-killing behavior.  However, on the assumption that at the moment you are in a circumstance or situation that is making you miserable, and that at the moment it is the best alternative you have in front of you, there are some things you can do to improve your experience of it.

This article is focused on work, but the general principles can be applied to any circumstance you turn into misery for yourself.  The following are some of the things that work best for me and I think if you put them into practice they will work for you as well.  I’m going to use the example of a job you don’t like for much of this article, but the ideas can be applied to anything.

Accept That You Don’t Control the Universe

If I could snap my fingers right now and be free from having to earn a living, be transported to a beautiful white sand tropical beach in front of a lovely glass-fronted home, and be waited on by beautiful half-naked girls in grass skirts, I would snap my fingers.  But alas, the universe doesn’t work that way.  Instead I will continue to write this article.

You control your actions and sometimes things go your way, but mostly they do not.  Even if it is possible, whatever it would take me to get to the home on the tropical beach with the grass skirts would not be worth it (and after a few months it would lose its impact), so here I am writing this article happily.  When you accept that you control your actions but not the outcomes, you automatically become much happier and thus less miserable.  Stop continually focusing on the gap between where you are and where you want to be and your misery level will drop dramatically.

Accept That You Choose Your Actions

If you say you have to go to a job you don’t like, you are speaking a falsehood.  You do not have to do anything.  You are choosing to do it because you believe it is the best alternative you have at the moment.  I know people who don’t work, who don’t have an income, and are overweight.  Somehow they have shelter and eat more than they need without going to a job they hate.  And they have consciously made that choice.  When you truly accept that you are choosing your actions, there is an immediate and significant change in attitude that improves your outlook.  You chose it so stop wallowing in your self-pity.

If You Are Going to Do It, Get Something Out of It

This is one of the most neglected methods of finding the positive in something you don’t like.  I guarantee you there are a huge number of opportunities in and at your work to develops skills that will improve your life.  You can learn peaceful well-being at a job you don’t like and you will thereby gain a huge benefit that will last the rest of your life.

Ignore what you don’t like about your job and instead focus on your skills training.  Screw the job and enroll yourself in The University of Self-Growth – your employer is paying your tuition and providing the classroom. 🙂

  • When you walk into the office instead of telling yourself how much you don’t want to be there, enthusiastically and with a smile greet the people you see.  Start your day off with a bang and practice an optimistic outlook.
  • Practice not gossiping and talking about other people negatively.
  • You can literally spend all day practicing being in the moment, not being affected by what happened five minutes ago and not worrying about what is going to happen tomorrow.  An incredible skill-building opportunity!
  • Work on building personal and professional networks.
  • When you write emails or other documents, practice your written communication skills.  Work on a crisp, clear, style of writing that is perfect for emails.  You can also practice presentation skills and computer skills.
  • Take any training offered that gets you away from the job and lets you build useful skills.  Ask for training for anything you can relate to your job.  You will be surprised how often it is allowed.
  • By definition if it is a job you don’t really like, you will have tremendous opportunity to practice the skills of remaining calm in stressful situations, detaching from outcomes, looking for the bright-side of things, and being happy no matter what your circumstances.
  • Work on improving your negotiation skills.
  • Practice the art of listening.
  • Practice the art of understatement.
  • Practice being engaging and witty.
  • Stay alert at all times for opportunities to grow in some way.  You will never run out of them.

To get the benefit, you have to stay aware of consciously building specific skills.  Otherwise, you’ll just fall back into the “I hate my job” habits.

Reflect on the Positive

Take some time to deeply reflect on the positive benefits of whatever it is you are choosing to do that you don’t like.  And I mean some time to reflect deeply.  If you go to a job you don’t like five days a week, then spend 30 minutes any time you feel down reflecting on what you get out of it.  I know people who say they don’t like their job who use that job to obtain:

  • An active single social life at trendy places
  • A beautiful climate-controlled home
  • Travel and Vacations
  • Nice cars and clothing
  • A wonderful family who is well clothed, fed, and schooled

The list is endless.  Reflect on the fact that probably most of the people in the world would snap their fingers to have the life you you have.  Think about the other joys you have in your life that the job you dislike makes possible.  Think of that beautiful smiling child you are taking care of by doing what you are doing.

Whatever it is you are doing, reflect on why you chose to do it and focus on those positives and do not dwell on what is making you miserable.  I’ve done this and it works wonders for me.

Don’t Take The Train Ride of Misery

An architect was building a magnificent cathedral.  During an inspection he passed three workers toiling away in the hot sun doing the exact same task – smashing rocks with a sledgehammer.  He asked each what he was doing and why.  The first man answered “I’m breaking rocks because I get paid to break rocks.”  The second man answered “I’m making small stones that will go into the wall of that building and I do it to feed my family.”  The third man answered “I’m helping construct a wonderful cathedral.  People will come from far away to gaze upon its marvels.  I’m doing it so I can learn how to build a cathedral.”

When you are starting to do whatever it is that is making you miserable, you have a choice and it is truly your choice.  It is not being forced upon you.  You can chose to hope on the train full of miserable complaining people and join in all the wallowing, or you can skip it and take a nice pleasant walk instead.  This was a very hard lesson for me to learn, but I finally learned it.  I spent years talking myself into frequent misery and joining others on the misery train.  I still fall into that trap sometimes because I am human.  As often as I can remember to make that choice, I talk a pleasant walk instead.

If There Was Ever a Job For the 80/20 Rule

If you can get 80% of the results with 20% of the effort then this is the time to apply it.  If you don’t like cleaning the house then don’t try to make it spotless.  Get in the moment and spend a small amount of time happily making it look decent instead of a lot of time making it look perfect.

Apply the 80/20 rule at work every day.  On the least desirable tasks, spend 20% of your time getting most of the results and then move on to something better.  Most people have far more leeway in their job than they believe.  If you will simply get the courage to take control and empower yourself you will be surprised by the results.

You can’t work intensely and enthusiastically for hours on end without burning out.  Besides if you don’t like your job you’ll never be motivated to work like that.  So what most people do is a half-assed, hit and miss, watching the clock, wallowing in their misery job.  So consider an alternative win-win that you can feel good about.

Work intensely and hard, really getting into it for a period of time; say 30 to 45 minutes.  Then alternate that with a break; even a longish break.  Take a walk, take a nap, meditate, listen to some music, read a book, surf then internet, go into the coffee bar, or whatever you can get away with.  If you do this throughout the day, your employer and you will both benefit.  You will contribute more to him and you will get more out of it than doing it the miserable half-assed way.  You will probably be many times more productive than you were before.  I can also guarantee you that the time you spend working will be more enjoyable as a result.  Forcing yourself to go with gusto for a period of time is much easier and more enjoyable than sloshing through a whole day.  Don’t feel guilty or feel like you are cheating because you are not.  It is a win-win.

Focus is the Key Point

You are miserable when you focus on the things that are wrong.  You are happy when you focus on what is right.  Focus on what you can learn from whatever you are doing to help you in the future.  Focus on the moment and not the miserable past or your worried future.

In A Word It’s “Attitude”

I could go on and on, and perhaps I’ve gone on too long already.  I wish I could explain it in 200 words, but I can’t.  Ultimately it’s something you have to experiment with and work out yourself.

The bottom line is you can choose a positive or a negative attitude about whatever you are doing and in that choice lies the difference between joy and misery.

What do YOU think?  Leave a comment and join the conversation.


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{ 29 comments… read them below or add one }

John D. Buerger, CFP® August 29, 2010 at 9:19 am

Stephen, this is one of the best articles you have ever written and full of sage advice that lot’s of people need to hear right now. Some of my fav’s:
— You do not “have” to do anything. You “choose” to do it because it is the best option at the time. Take that responsibility and embrace it. There is power there.
— Love the idea to employ the 80/20 rule.
— “Screw the job and enroll yourself in The University of Self-Growth”
It IS all about ATTITUDE. Everything in life and what we get out of it is about the attitude. Very refreshing.
John D. Buerger, CFP®´s last blog post ..Get What You Want


Stephen Mills August 29, 2010 at 12:12 pm

Hi John, thank you so much for those thoughts! I love reading comments like that 🙂


Nea | Self Improvement Saga August 29, 2010 at 9:43 am

Hi Stephen. I love what you said about focusing on the positive aspects. Even when we’re in a circumstance that isn’t desirable, we can find something to be grateful for. It may take more effort than we wish to expend, but it’s worth it to look on the other side of the coin.

On the other hand, I don’t agree that looking at your lack of control over the Universe makes people feel happier. I also don’t think that things mostly don’t go my way. Such an outlook makes a lot of people feel depressed, helpless, and un-empowered. I prefer to look at the fact that I am in control of my reality, but sometimes my thoughts & actions aren’t in alignment with what I want. Also I have to make the best of the buffer of time–the gap–between aligning with my desire and manifestation. If I can’t really believe that I’m headed to that beach with the grass skirts, and if I can’t keep myself from dipping back into contrary thoughts/beliefs, I’m not headed in that direction.

That’s the only point I didn’t agree with, but everything else here spoke to me in an amazing way. Like you said, it’s all about attitude. I refuse to go somewhere every day and look at the negatives, thus making myself more miserable. That’s a really shitty way to live.

There are so many people who feel stuck in a job that they hate and I’m sure they’ll find this post extremely beneficial. You rock!
Nea | Self Improvement Saga´s last blog post ..How to Escape the Chronic Stress Loop


Stephen Mills August 29, 2010 at 12:10 pm

Hi, Nea, thank you for this thoughtful comment and for the compliments!

On the contrary though I think lack of control over the universe and frustration with that is THE main cause of unhappiness. The ability to accept that lack of control is a fundamental step on the path to liberation and peaceful well-being. I can give you any number of examples of my lack of control and how things don’t usually go my way, unless you want to define “my way” as “however things go” which makes it useless and trivial.

It’s funny because obsession with control is exactly what I think dis-empowers and depresses people. It’s much better to focus and what you can do and not what you can’t. What you can do is control your behavior and what you can’t do is control the outcomes. I can vote for a libertarian candidate but he isn’t going to win. So I remain empowered and happy by detaching myself from that outcome instead of frustrated and depressed by the result.

Anyway we will have to disagree, but I thank you for the thoughtful reply 🙂


Positively Present August 29, 2010 at 9:43 am

Great points, especially reflecting on the positive! Always works for me!


Stephen Mills August 29, 2010 at 12:10 pm

Hello Dani, and thanks for your continued support!


Allison August 29, 2010 at 2:26 pm

I love this article Stephen. I think we should always look at situations like this as an OPPORTUNITY. An opportunity to demonstrate our own strength of character – to deal with challenges and come out smiling and wiser at the other side!
Allison Galbraith
Moving you from Redundancy in to Business Success
Allison´s last blog post ..Being Made Redundant – The Top 10 Business Books Ever


Karl Staib - Work Happy Now August 29, 2010 at 3:27 pm

It really does come to attitude. The people that understood their own needs find a way to get them met. No job is perfect. It’s about finding the good aspects of a job and using it to help build your skills. The smarter and stronger you get the more likely you can find work that truly matches your superpowers.


Stephen Mills August 30, 2010 at 5:54 am

Hello Karl, thanks for contributing your thoughts!


Jonny August 30, 2010 at 4:57 am

Dude, why do work that makes you miserable. Life is too short.
Jonny´s last blog post ..CHOOSE- Master Of Money or Slave To It Download Your FREE Promobook Now!!!


Stephen Mills August 30, 2010 at 5:53 am

Hello Jonny, I don’t recommend it but many people do. I answered that question in the first paragraph.


Jonny August 30, 2010 at 3:44 pm

Lol, yeah I know but thought I’d voice it again. Must touch a nerve with me. 🙂
Jonny´s last blog post ..CHOOSE- Master Of Money or Slave To It Download Your FREE Promobook Now!!!


Lionel August 30, 2010 at 10:59 am

Hi Stephen,

I get a lot from your posts. Thank you.

In this specific one, there is an irony that is contained in your title. People who either consciously or unconsciously approach their job (or life) in this manner all of a sudden find they “like” their job (or have defined themselves a new one or …).

Thanks again for the reminder,


Stephen Mills August 30, 2010 at 5:07 pm

Hello Lionel! Yes I realize the the funny title. I guess I thought it was cute. Thanks for commenting and thanks for the compliment.


Steven Aitchison September 1, 2010 at 2:01 am

Stephen that was a great post and one extremely relevant in todays world as there are so many people who are unhappy with their jobs. I’ve been there and it’s not a nice place to be in inside your head, but it really is all about your thought processes and attitude and making the most of it while you are there. You suggestions for getting something out of it are brilliant.
Steven Aitchison´s last blog post ..A Second Has the Power To Change the World


Stephen Mills September 1, 2010 at 7:47 pm

Hi Steven and I thank you so much for your support. I’m really loving the comments on this article 🙂


Steve-Personal Success Factors September 1, 2010 at 10:55 am

Stephen, this is an extremely practical and very well-written article. I like your new blog design as well!
The long list of what is possible when you practice a disciplined positive focus at work is so very helpful. I’m going to be sharing this one on my counseling page, so that everyone can enjoy it!
Steve-Personal Success Factors´s last blog post ..Secrets of Life and Death


Stephen Mills September 1, 2010 at 7:48 pm

Hello Steve, thank you for commenting and I think it is wonderful you are sharing it. Fantastic!


Paolo Valteroni September 1, 2010 at 1:10 pm

Spot on Stephen! I have applied many of the suggestions you give for quite some time and they do work. As you said, it’s mostly our attitude, and once we shift it, everything else shifts with it.
Thanks for the article.
Paolo Valteroni´s last blog post ..How to Turn Failure into Achievement


Stephen Mills September 1, 2010 at 7:50 pm

Hello Paolo and welcome. Thanks for taking the time to let me know what you thought. 🙂


Jessy September 1, 2010 at 6:15 pm

I enjoyed this post so much that I made a copy of it to give to my friends. I have it on my wall and I will look at it often so that I stay focused. Thanks for the lesson.


Stephen Mills September 1, 2010 at 7:50 pm

Wow Jessy, that was a wonderful comment. I’m so glad you enjoyed it; thank you!


Chris September 4, 2010 at 9:11 am

I’ve never thought of the 80/20 rule in that way… nice suggestion! The other nugget I found? Being aware of how easy it is to jump on the negativity bandwagon! I’ve fallen into this trap from time to time… the second I’m aware of what I’m doing… I’m back out!
Chris´s last blog post ..3 Ways to Quickly Beat Writer’s Block


Pete September 16, 2010 at 10:11 pm

Thanks for the great post. Good advice! Work day to day can be extremely difficult. Is the answer to enjoy what you do or do what you enjoy? It’s tough. Thanks for you insight though.

I stumbled upon this blog like I did yours. Though their insight on work was very meaningful:

Thanks for the post! I’d love to see more like it.


pardis March 6, 2011 at 11:44 am

I simply loved it. I really liked this part : “stop focusing on the gap between where you are and where you want to be”. It was so like me! A brilliant refreshing article. Thank you so much


jaypee April 1, 2012 at 2:41 pm

Simply superb. Very much refreshing and motivating.


bryanthebrave December 31, 2012 at 7:52 am

I dont think this article was written for people in these situations who also suffer with depression, as some of this advice is nearly impossible for people especially with social anxiety

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