First (or Second) Job Blues

Seven Ways to Beat Them

This blog is about your first (or second, or third…) “real” job.  And the fact that you may hate it. Maybe you’re not doing what you thought you would be doing.  Maybe you don’t like the hours, procedures, your boss, your colleagues, your commute, your working conditions or frankly, the work.

Here’s how we suggest you handle this situation.

(Before we dive in, allow us to state the obvious: if you are really in any kind of a dangerous or threatening situation, get to a safe place immediately and talk to a trusted adult about it, inside or outside the company. But that is going to be a rare situation.  We are talking more typical scenarios, like general, “I hate my job” feelings.)

1. Work Your Hardest

I’m sincerely sorry you don’t like your job. Have faith that it will get better there or somewhere else. And if you work at it, you will eventually find a job you love. (Karen and I are big believers in ‘everything happens for a reason’, and according to that philosophy, there’s a reason you are in this job – to learn something new, learn something about yourself, or to meet certain people.)

That said, you’ve heard the saying, “work is called ‘work’ and not ‘play’ for a reason, blah blah blah. And “You have to pay your dues” blah blah blah, but it truly is a thing! Everyone at a higher level than you at one point had to do work they didn’t like or was super boring. And if you are irritated about it, people around you will know it, trust me, and it will be duly noted.  People HAVE been fired for a bad attitude. I’ve seen it happen more than once.

As a wise young man once said, “Embrace the suck.”  He and I were working on a painful project, but we leaned into it and worked hard and learned a lot and made the best of it and ended up having fun despite the ambiguity and tedium.  (Note that working with someone else always makes a tough job more fun as long as you both have a good attitude. Find someone you enjoy working with.)


– Erik

2. Learn as Much as You Can.

I read somewhere that you know it’s time to switch jobs when you stop learning. Which means you should do this first. So, show up every day with a pen and paper. Set your frustrations aside for 8 hours a day and learn as much as you can so that you are not wishing away your time and after you leave, wish you had leveraged more of the opportunity there. No matter where you are, there is something to learn. Talk to as many people as you can. Find someone who is doing something interesting and interview them. Ask them about their jobs and their career paths.

3. Build Relationships

The people you work with now can help you in the future, if you form real relationships with them. So, consider this job a full-time networking opportunity. (More on Networking in an upcoming blog post.) Ask their opinions on anything and everything. Show that you are interested, be a good listener, show you care about their experience and are passionate about the industry.  Reciprocate:  Ask if you can shadow them or help them.  Thank them for their time, advice, insight, even if they are your peer. When you give back and express appreciation, it is noted.

4. Do Not Become a “Recruiter”.

Do not be that guy who bitches about everything at work. You may be justified, you may be right!  But it’s only going to hurt you. I’m not saying not to bitch. It’s good to blow off steam.  Find a trusted friend who you can vent to. For me, it was my office mate. We were in the same boat and I trusted her not to tell anyone anything I said. Of course, ideally the person you bitch to is not someone in the office, but they can relate and they are less likely to try to “fix” it than a friend or family member.

5. Resist the Temptation to Burn Bridges.

I cannot stress this enough.  RESIST the urge to slack off, be a jerk, say something you shouldn’t, quit dramatically and storm out the door without giving 2 weeks notice. Seriously. Just don’t. Take a deep breath. Be professional. Don’t set yourself up for serious regrets now or in the future.

Story:  I have had (on more than one occasion, I swear I am not making this up) utterly despised colleagues become clients.  This one guy was such an arrogant turd. He was just full of hot air; he never contributed in any substantive way. He just swaggered around and listened to himself talk. I never saw him do a lick of work, but he would order everyone else around and condescend. It was all I could do not to tell him where to stick it.

Fast forward 10 years and here he is, my direct client as the director of marketing at some random company. HA! Boy, was I glad I hadn’t told him what I REALLY thought of him! Turned out that having him as a client was actually pleasant — Because it is not necessarily out of the ordinary to have a client act arrogant and not do any of the heavy lifting , whereas a colleague who behaves this way is maddening. (Also, I think he had been knocked down a few pegs in the interim. Karma. Karma always gets them.)

6. Take Control: Make a Plan Forward.

Instead of being discouraged, start thinking about and making notes on your next step.  What do you like about this job? What don’t you like? What more do you need to learn? Is there a place to move within your company? Do you need to go elsewhere? What kind of companies are out there? Again, network. Read. Learn. Take a free online class. (No, don’t presume you need to go back to school/to grad school  – more on this in another post.)

Consider finding a mentor or coach to help you determine if this is really the right job path for you – it may be that you just need a plan.  Is this dissatisfaction with your job just circumstantial? Or is this really not a good career fit for you?

Story: A good friend from high school earn her degree in Pre-Law… and then Law… and then when she started practicing law at a firm in Chicago, she HATED it.  Ruh roh. To bad she didnt discover this before going into serious debt. But it happens — And you will find something that works better for you. (She did.)

7. If Things Get Ugly, Document.

Again, if things are bad and you’re trying to do all the right things (like points 1-6), and you really are being mistreated, disrespected or harassed: Document, document, document. The only way to complain in a credible way is to write down exactly when and how someone is mistreating you. Specifically, write down who exactly said or did what to you in what circumstances on what date. Note if there were any witnesses. (And, again, if you’re being truly abused, get help right away.) And of course, start looking for a different job. 

Be sure that when you do resign, ask for an exit interview (if you aren’t offered one as a matter of course) and be honest (but polite and professional) with what your experience was. Be thoughtful and constructive and specific. If something is seriously going wrong at your company, they can’t fix it if they don’t know. Sometimes they can’t fix it without enough evidence.

As someone with an “over-developed sense of justice”, I believe that it is your responsibility to communicate this information to the administration for the good of those who come after you. Don’t assume that someone else will report it and/or deal with it. You would be shocked to know how many people actually don’t ever provide feedback on anything.

One Last Word.

There are certain skills needed to productively move forward through long agonizing hours, days, weeks doing something you would rather not be doing. Unfortunately, many of these skills come with time, age and learning the hard way.

So, in the meantime (or instead of learning the hard way), I recommend reading/listening to  “How to Win Friends and Influence People” by Dale Carnegie (I also suggest, “7 Habits of Highly Effective People” by Steven Covey.) You won’t regret it. It’s $10 on Amazon. Even though it was first published in 1936 (Yes, it’s older than your grandma and more relevant than ever), it’s easy and fun to read and if you follow the advice in this book, it will impact your whole life in a positive way — and even help you make the most of a bad job situation.


First or Second Job Blues

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