Is it the Job or is it You?

Whenever people tell me they hate their job, I always ask if it’s really the job. Because sometimes it’s not. Sometimes, there are other factors involved that make you hate your 9-5 that have nothing to do with your actual 9-5. Sometimes, it’s you.

There are times when hatred for your job is completely justified, and it’s super obvious that you should leave. You feel anxiety and a creeping sense of dread the closer you get to your office. The thought of going to work makes you more depressed than the end of [insert your favorite TV show]. You cry at the thought of one more day in your office. (Or you’ve cried in your office just because you’re there. No shame: I’ve done it!) You know that it’s time to go because every ounce of your being can’t stand it anymore.

Other times, it’s not so clear if the job itself is what you hate or if you’re blaming all of your life frustrations on it when really it’s other stuff. “Your stuff” as one of my grad school professors would call it. The stuff – sometimes existential stressors, sometimes stressors rooted in an immediate reality – that clouds your mind and makes it so that everything suuuuucks. Being distracted by issues in your 5-9 life can absolutely impact your 9-5 in ways that you may not realized.

So let’s figure it out: Is it the job or is it you?

First, try to pinpoint the root of your issues. (I suggest writing down your thoughts and responses so that you can keep yourself organized.) Ask yourself:

  • Is there anything going on in your life that could be influencing your experience at work? Be sure to be as detailed as possible about your life stressors. You never know what could bleed through the personal/professional wall.
  • What do you think makes you hate you job? Write down as many things as you can think of that could cause you to feel some type of way about work. Again, be detailed and specific.

Next, consider the duration of your work/life stressors.

  • Did everything start around the same time?
  • Are there things that built off of a previous event?
  • These time frames are helpful for getting an holistic view of what is happening in your life.

Now rank your lists.

  • Which stressors most deeply impact your work/life experiences?
  • Which ones are just annoyances that are exacerbated by the major issues?
  • Which ones are just you nitpicking? (These might be there, and that’s okay! As long as you recognize them as such.)

Finally, look over your lists, and consider the following.

  • What are your key work and life stressors?
  • Which one (stressor or set of stressors) as reigning supreme over the rest?
  • What would have to change in order to remove (or at least minimize) this stressor from you life?

Once you have a better idea of where the root of the problem lies, you will be better able to address it. Here are some steps to take when you’re ready.

If it’s the job…

It’s much easier to address an issue if it’s with the job. This site is chock full of advice on dealing with work problems, so poke around if this is where your problem lies. Start with the Career Advice category and go from there! But here is a TL;DR version of the pertinent parts.

Pinpoint the work problem. This part should be easy if you actually did the exercise above, since you’ll have a good sense of exactly what you don’t like about your job. (If you didn’t do it, then get on it! Pinky swear, it’s helpful.)

Try to work on it in-house. Depending on how big the issue is, it might be a good idea to start with a fix. This way, you don’t have to look for a whole new gig just because of one thing. Talk to supportive colleagues and supervisors to see what can be done to alleviate the stressor from your job.

Research jobs/industries/companies that won’t present the same problem. If you find that the problem cannot be resolved easily (or at all), then look up new opportunities that will be more satisfying for you. Hating a place that you have to go to for the majority of your week is not okay, so change it! 10 Steps for Effective Job Search Prep and How to Make a Career Change should get you started.

If it’s you…

When I learned about this ‘your stuff’ concept in grad school, it was it the context of a client/counselor relationship. (My masters is in counseling.) It got coupled with the idea that you could counsel clients to ignore their stressors while away from them, thus giving them the ability to function in their daily lives. By teaching people how to compartmentalize their issues, you could empower them to move forward. Or so they said… In practice, this was a terrible idea! At least, in my practice with high school students in inner city Philadelphia. You can’t tell a child to ignore the fact that they’re homeless just so they can do well on their Algebra test. You can’t and you shouldn’t.

Just as it’s not realistic to tell kids to work around trauma, you can’t always be expected to do that with your own stuff. Shutting off certain parts of yourself isn’t always possible and rarely is it healthy. In order to work through it, you need to confront it.

Work on yourself.
Once you recognize (and admit to yourself) that you’re the reason why you hate your job, it’s time to do something about it. The specific changes that you need to make will be individual to you and your situation, but here are some things you can do.

Reframe your work situation. Reframing is another word for changing your mindset. Up to this point, you’ve been blaming your job for your misery, and you need to actively stop doing this. If you switch your thoughts from “This place is the source of my problems” to “I take my problems out on this place”, you should be able to develop a better relationship with your work.

Develop a self-care strategy. It may sound weird to schedule relaxation times and activities, but I have found that it’s the only way to ensure that you actually do them. (And the only way to ensure that you get back to work!) Even if it’s just an hour or two per week, having a regular time where you can decompress is critical for getting through the tougher tasks of the week. I’ve started documenting my self-care on this blog, and keeping myself accountable to the schedule has definitely reaped benefits in other aspects of my life.

Seek outside help.

Sometimes you can’t solve all of your problems on your own, and that’s okay. That’s why friends, family, and therapists exist! Find someone whom you can trust to both listen to you and give you honest, actionable feedback on your problems. If you find that your person is just cosigning your complaints and not offering you anything valuable to think about or act on, it’s time to find someone else. (Even if that person is your therapist!)

No one should hate their job. But, before you start making changes, you need to be certain that it’s really your job that you hate! Otherwise, you’ll just carry your baggage around from place to place. You won’t be satisfied until you confront whatever is truly bothering you, and resolve it in a way that will help you in all aspects of your life. It’s messy stuff, but the result is worth it.


Dr. Lindsay is career development & academic success coach who loves helping people figure out and proceed to the next levels of their lives.