An extended excerpt from, “How to Stay When You Want to Quit; Strategies to get over yourself” by Karl Bimshas
Clicking keyboards keys, chirping phones, the monotone sound of uninspired hushed voices, and all the other maddening sounds of general office din play outside your office. You had arrived to work well dressed, but are now disheveled and have a bleak look around your eyes. You massage your temples with your fingers, a vain attempt to fight off a fresh headache. Your office is cluttered with papers, tattered file folders, binders, policy manuals, marketing plans and aged corporate initiatives.
You halfheartedly type on your laptop. You pause and tiresomely flip through a nearby report. A sliver of sunshine forces its way through the clouds and captures your attention. You stand up from your desk, meander toward the window and scan the midmorning cityscape.
In the park below, young children play catch with an exuberant dog. You notice an elderly couple with their arms linked, admiring a patch of flowers. With a reluctant smile, you turn back to your desk and open the top drawer to reveal a folder titled: CHANGE PLAN GOALS. You reach for it but are startled by the booming voice of your boss, Fred Seaver, a middle-aged, gruff, unkempt man who clutches a water bottle by his side as though it were an oxygen tank. He sticks his head past the doorway and into your office.
“I need you to get me the numbers for the tandem report before the end of the day,” he says.
You shove the drawer shut as if caught peeking at something you weren’t supposed to. “Ahh, yeah they should be done before the . . .” Your voice peters to a mumble when Mr. Seaver, walks away, disinterested. You pause for a moment, take a deep breath and let out an anguished sigh. “This job really sucks.”
Your declaration hangs in the air for a moment. A temporary self-satisfied look of relief creeps across your face before it once again melts with the pang of torment. You pick up your cell phone and tap a few numbers.
“How about lunch?” you ask.
You sit in a booth with Madeline Tait, who’s been your friend for several years. In her early thirties, Madeline is radiant, with an air of confidence and professionalism that is in stark contrast to the hunched posture you’ve adopted.
“So your job isn’t fun anymore?” she asks plainly.
“Madeline, it’s not only my job,” you say. “My weekends are no longer fun either. On Saturdays, I just veg out all day, maybe do laundry or hit the grocery store, and by Sunday night, I’m filled with anxiety instead of anticipation. On Monday, every day really, I go back to my drab work routine.” Your eyes dart between the tabletop, Madeline, and the ceiling. “Sometimes something catches my attention and I start to daydream about beginning a new project, something that’s better aligned with my personal goals. But really, trying to reconnect with why I wanted this job in the first place is pointless.”
“Oh, Sweetie,” Madeline says. She tilts her head slightly to the side, with empathy.
“I used to want to make a difference, but things have changed,” you say. “I’ve been so busy sorting through all the corporate fire drills, paperwork, and bureaucracy I didn’t see what was happening around me.”
“I think I know where this is going,” Madeline says.
“I sensed it was happening, but I didn’t want to admit it — until today. My job really sucks and I just want to quit,” you say.
Madeline nods her head knowingly as you anxiously roll the corners of your paper placemat.
“How are you sleeping,” she asks. “You look tired.”
“Sleep? What’s that?” You laugh. “At best, my nights are just a series of fitful naps. By morning, I’m a grumpy basket case. I snap at people who cut me off on the way to work and I’m frustrated because my coworkers don’t seem to have any passion either. We’re just a bunch of drones. There’s nothing to grab a hold of – no cause, no purpose.”
“It sounds like everyone around you has quit too but no one has left yet,” she says.
“Well, I can’t afford to quit,” you say. “I’ve got bills to pay, responsibilities to meet. Besides, I do like some of the people still there. I mean, they’re my friends. We’ve been through a lot together.” You absentmindedly unroll your flatware from the paper napkin and they clattered to the table.
“So then, it’s the company?”
“Maybe a little,” you say. “It’s changed so much. There’s such a focus on making profit numbers and cutting costs, and nil on problem solving or continuous improvement and learning to make everyone better. You know, all the stuff that drew me to it in the first place.”
“What about your boss,” she asks.
“Total jerk! They brought this one in from some other organization.” You rearrange the salt and pepper shakers to keep your hands busy. “No idea what his strengths are – and he has no idea about mine, either. He barely talks to anyone. When he does, it’s a reprimand on why some stupid little task hasn’t been done yet.”
“Wow, sounds like you’ve got a bunch of issues to work through,” she says.
“I’m a good person. Why is this happening to me?”
“Because you let it,” she says.
You ignore Madeline. “What happened to my job? The one I was comfortable in? The one I liked?”
“The only thing constant in life is change,” Madeline says.
“Yeah, yeah, yeah. Cliché.” You wave her away dismissively while a waitress brings over your iced teas.
“If you don’t believe me, crack open your old high school yearbook,” she says. “Do you or anybody else look the same? Dress the same? Have the same hairstyle? Would you really want that?”
“No,” you shiver, “that would be pretty bad.”
“Change is the only constant. If you think your job sucks but you don’t think you can quit, then you have to figure out how to stay. Change it, and what you can’t change, change your attitude about. If you aren’t going to leave it, you need to learn to love it,” she says.
“How do I do that?”
Madeline takes a sip of her iced tea and then adds a packet of sweetener to it. “Reflect, and determine if it’s your job that has changed, or you. What if neither changed? Would you be happy to keep doing what you’re doing now for the next five years?”
“Then you better learn to recognize, respond and thrive with change.”
You roll your eyes ever so slightly. The waitress delivers your lunches; an oversized sandwich for you and a salad for Madeline.
Determined, Madeline presses on. “Maybe it’s not too late; you might not be a complete wreck. Take a look outside your work. Is there anything making you happy?”
“I don’t know.” You shrug without giving it much thought.
“Some people go to the ballpark and do scream therapy. Others like to fish, or fix-up an old car,” she says.
“You know that’s not really me.”
“The point is to find something that has nothing to do with your present condition. You’re looking for a diversion, something different that gets you up and going, gets you excited.”
Madeline stabs at her salad and you struggle to chew an ambitious bite of your sandwich.
“Yeah, it would be cool to feel excited or passionate about something,” you say, “but what if it’s too late? What if I’ve wrapped myself so tightly around my work that the troubles there aren’t allowing me to have fun or find peace in other areas of my life? What if I’m not happy anywhere?”
“Cripes! Give yourself a freaking break would ya!” Madeline is aggravated with your self-pity. “Listen to upbeat music or inspirational tapes or hang out with happy people. Remember, you want to feel better, right?”
She slaps her palm against the table. “Then get excited about it! Find your happy place, a peaceful spot, somewhere to contemplate life. Like Winnie the Pooh does in his thinking spot.”
“How do I find it?” You ask.
“Start to pay attention. Write down what makes you happy. Think back to what makes you laugh out loud. Keep a log or jot ideas down on sticky notes and refer to them to lift your spirits and learn a little about yourself.”
After a while, your empty plates are cleared from the table, and you and Madeline both sip on refilled glasses of iced tea.
“If you give it some thought and pay close attention, eventually you’ll find your happy place.” Madeline says, “and this place, or thing, is going to become a major touchstone for you. It’s going to bring a smile to that sourpuss face of yours. You’re going to do your daydreaming about this place. It’s what will spur you into action and ultimately get you through the day. Your sanctuary may be as large as your home, or maybe as small as your favorite seat at a coffee shop. It might be a stretch of beach or a particular bench in the park.”
You look up toward the ceiling and debate potential spots in your mind. “I see,” you say.
“It might not be a concrete place for you. It might be time. Time spent with family and friends, or reading a book or painting. Either way, it’ll fill a spot in your heart. You’ll need to nurture it with strong love, and appreciation,” she says, “because without your attention and protection, it will most assuredly go away; and if nothing else, that prospect should scare you into some positive action.”
You begrudgingly smile. “That makes sense.”
“So, you know what you have to do,” Madeline says. “Know what your happy place is. There you’ll find a sense of peace, happiness and excitement.”
“Well, all that sounds great.”
Madeline watches you as you fidget with the discarded wrapper from your straw. “I have to caution you,” she says. “Once you’ve identified your happy place and made it real, there will be an invasion. It’s inevitable so prepare for it.”
“An invasion? That sounds ominous.”
“It is. That’s why you need to nurture it, to make it strong enough to defend itself in your absence. Build a fortress around it if you need to. Just know that something will intrude on your time with your happy place. It will probably come from work and that will make you hate work even more.”
You throw up your arms and sigh. “That’s, great.”
“It is great, because at least by then you’ll have awakened some passion to defend it. So see that, your work is good for something after all.”
As you both step away from the table, ready to leave, Madeline turns to you. “Thanks for lunch,” she says.
“Thank you for your time,” you say.
“So, what three things do you need to do?” she asks.
You stumble for a moment, unprepared for a pop quiz. “Um . . . Acknowledge and honor change,” you say.
Madeline holds her finger up. “That’s one.”
“Find something or someplace that helps me get happy.”
“That’s two,” she says. “What’s the third?”
“Defend and protect the place that makes me happy,” you say.
“Good. Do those things, and you’ll lay the groundwork for improvement,” she says.
You both exit the diner and out to the city sidewalk. “I know you well enough to know that you want to be part of something great,” Madeline continues. “I’d like to share a matrix that my boss shared with me not too long ago. She’s not one for elaborate models or theories so she was able to whittle this concept into a pretty simple model.”
“Sock it to me,” you say.
Madeline attempts to describe the matrix, using an invisible whiteboard. “Picture a grid with four columns, basically labeled, ‘If You Feel ____’, ‘Than,’ ‘You Should ____’ because ‘Your Value’. Some people feel that what they’re doing is just a stupid job. They don’t feel like they get enough, and in fact they often think they’re owed something.”
“I know a few of them,” you say.
“Than, second column,” she says, “the job is a mismatch. The person should, third column, go away, because they bring low value, which is the final column, to the team. They are a ‘Greatness Inhibitor’.”
“Greatness Inhibitor. Nice phrase,” you say.
Madeline resumes ‘writing’ on the invisible board.
“On the next row there are those people who wish things could be better,” she says. “They may not love what they’re doing but it helps with the bills and they at least have some ambition. They want to help, if asked. They’ve typically had moments of greatness and liked how it felt.”
“That sounds a bit like me,” you say.
“I think so too,” she says. “Following the model, you should place yourself where you can make the greatest contribution. Because right now you’re of moderate value to the team, but you’re a ‘Potential Star’.”
You wince at the assessment but can’t find it in yourself to disagree. “Yeah, you’re right.”
“If you want to make a dramatic improvement, start hanging around people who see possibility,” she says. “They’re often the people who problem-solve away from work and have the sense that their professional life enriches a part of their personal life and visa versa. Begin to imitate them. They are the rare and needed leaders. They’re driven to continue to perform and enrich themselves and others. They are the highly valued ‘Stars’ in the organization.”
You turn to Madeline with a bright smile and point toward the imaginary board in front of you. “That one is you, right?” you ask.
Madeline blushes. “Partly. Finally. It took awhile to get there.”
“I like it,” you say. “You can easily tell where someone falls and what impact they could have on the organization.”
“Well, you certainly can tell a lot without exerting too much effort but be careful, no one likes to be put in a box. I like to use it on myself as a sanity check to ensure I never become a Greatness Inhibitor.
“I couldn’t ever imagine you inhibiting someone’s greatness,” you smile.
Reflections on, You Hate Your Job
- When you look in the mirror, describe whom you see.
- What do you think you sounded like to people who may have overheard your conversations today?
- Is your job fun? Why or Why not?
- What’s changed from the first day you started your job? (Was it your job that changed, or you?)
- What if neither you nor your job changed? Would you be happy to keep doing what you’re doing now for the next five years? (If no, you must learn to recognize, respond and thrive with change.)
- Do you have a sense of purpose in what you do? Why or Why not? (If you do have a sense of purpose, what is it? Are you living on purpose?)
- List three things that currently make you happy.
- Figure out how to spend more time with the things and people that lift your spirits.
- What or where is your ‘happy place’?
Writer and leadership consultant, Karl Bimshas, is the author of several books, including, “How to Stay When You Want to Quit; Strategies to get over yourself”. Karl Bimshas Consulting, is the leadership development and accountability firm that helps busy professionals who want to lead better.