Why You Hate Your Job (And What To Do About It!)

One of my favorite TV shows growing up was called The Wonder Years. It revolved around the life of a young boy named Kevin Arnold growing up in a typical, suburban American family during the late 1960s. The very first episode of The Wonder Years captured in comedic fashion the impact and tension of a father coming home from a job he hates:

EVENING. ARNOLD HOUSE.

[Shot of stack of white bread. Camera shot widens to show KEVIN, PAUL andWAYNE sitting at the table and having dinner. Scenes from the Vietnam War can be seen on the TV. NORMA is fussing about in the kitchen.]

KEVIN: When’s dad coming home?

NORMA: Any minute. And between the traffic and his job he’s liable to be very tense so let’s not make him crazy.

KEVIN: He’s always tense.

NORMA: That’s true. He’s always tense but he’s not crazy yet, so let’s try to maintain that sense of equilibrium.

[JACK enters through the kitchen door, walking through into another room.]

NORMA: Hi hon. How’s traffic?

JACK: Traffic’s traffic.

NARRATOR: Dad had a Spartan sense of language.

[KAREN enters.]

NORMA: Karen, honey, you said you were gonna come home early and help me with dinner.

KAREN: Peace mom, okay? [Gestures.]

NORMA: Peace is fine, but you said you were gonna help me with dinner.

KAREN: You have so much bad karma in your life, you know that mom? I’d be careful if I were you.

NORMA: Thank you, I’ll keep an eye out. In the meantime, when your father gets back try not to make him crazy.

[JACK re-enters kitchen, takes drink from Norma and sits down at the kitchen table. He takes a sip, then turns toward PAUL.]

JACK: Hi, Paul.

[PAUL waves his bread at JACK.]

NARRATOR: Dad always said “hi” to our friends, but it was like he had this understanding with the family – he worked hard for us, he provided for us, and he certainly didn’t want to have to talk to us on top of that.

[Shots of individuals.]

NARRATOR: My approach was to not make any sudden moves or sounds until he’d finished that first vodka tonic and hope that nobody else did anything that might upset him too much before then.

KAREN: I’m gonna get some birth-control pills. I thought you should know…

[Sound of teapot whistle starting. Shot of JACK.]

[Shot of whole group as JACK bangs the table with his fist.]

JACK: I didn’t hear what I just heard.

[Everybody starts arguing and KEVIN starts laughing.] [Joni Mitchell song “Both Sides Now” starts and continues.]

NARRATOR: And that’s pretty much how that summer went.

Here’s the actual scene if you want to watch it unfold:

It’s funny, yes, but similar scenes have been playing out in American homes for decades now. In fact, Americans are among the most non-passionate and disengaged workforce on the planet. A 2012 Gallup poll found 70 percent of U.S. workers label themselves as “not engaged” or “actively disengaged” at work.

“These actively disengaged employees cost the U.S. between $450 billion to $550 billion each year in lost productivity,” the poll notes. “They are more likely to steal from their companies, negatively influence their coworkers, miss workdays, and drive customers away. Having the vast majority of American employees not engaged with their workplaces is troublesome as the country attempts to recover ground lost during the financial crisis and get back on track to pre-recession levels of prosperity. Even more troubling is that workplace engagement levels have hardly budged since Gallup began measuring them?in 2000, with fewer than one-third of Americans engaged in their jobs in any given year.”

The thing is, you don’t need a Gallup poll to tell you this.

Your heart already has.

The Wonderful Truth

What if I told you something scandalous? What if I told you that you can have it all? What if I told you can have the life you’ve always dreamed of, doing work you love, and crafting a legacy that outlives anything you can imagine?

What if I told you that if you don’t pursue that type of existence, you’ll remain mired in misery, sitting at the kitchen table and swilling vodka tonics like Kevin Arnold’s dad?

If you’re still reading this post, then I know you’re eager for what I’m about to tell you.

But first, we have to talk about my backyard grilling experience.

Passion Fuels Purpose

The other day, my wife and I decided to grill steaks for dinner. When we grill out, I normally use the “Match Light” charcoals that come pre-coated in lighter fluid. All you have to do is strike a match, light the pile of black coals and watch the fire ignite.

This time, however, the store was out of “Match Light” coals. That meant we had to buy a different bag of non-coated charcoal along with a bottle of lighter fluid before I could start my fire.

Following the instructions (or so I thought!) on the bottle of lighter fluid, I doused the pile of charcoal with the solution, struck a match and lit the coals.

A massive fireball came to life, engulfing the entire grill. For a moment I felt like Tom Hanks’ character in the movieCastaway, dancing around: “Look what I have created! Fire! I have made fire!”

Then something strange happened. As fast as it had ignited, my fire went out. Yes, there had been an initial, exciting burst of flame and energy, but then the fire died.

So, in order to eat that evening, I had to figure out how to not just start, but alsosustain my fire long enough to cook the steaks.

In order to overcome the obstacles in my path, I attached a larger sense of purpose(I want to eat steak!) to my passion for building a fire that evening. In the end, I stuck with it long enough to figure out how to keep the fire going and cook our dinner.

Here’s the point:

If we don’t attach our emotion, energy and passion to something larger (i.e. a purpose), we’ll flame out.

That is why so many of us are stuck in jobs we’re not engaged in or passionate about. We’re not ready to commit and sustain the time, energy and passion needed to make a lasting change in our careers.

Bosses Beware!

It’s important to note that yes, some of why so many employees are unhappy has to do with upper management, workplace culture and similar factors.

But even in those instances, the solution is the same. If you’re a top executive or high-level manager inside a business, what’s the purpose of your organization or company? Let’s say it’s to make money. To achieve that purpose to the utmost, you need passionate, engaged and happy employees, right? So, in order to achieve your stated purpose, you, as an employer, need to get passionate about figuring out why your employees are disengaged, and what you need to do in order to change the situation.

With that in mind, here’s the most important part when it comes to defining your purpose: You need to be as specific as possible.

It’s not enough to say, for instance, “I want more money.”

As motivational speaker Tony Robbins would reply, “You want more money? Fine. Here’s a dollar. Now get out of here!”

Be specific! How much more money do you want to make? Give me an exact amount! And in what timeframe? The next 30 days? The next 6 months? The next 10 years?

You want a new job? Tell me why! Saying, “I’m unhappy at my current employer” isn’t enough. You need to go deeper than that.

If you were one of my coaching clients, here’s what I’d ask you: What is it that youreally want to do? Not what you went to school for, not the career choice you feel pigeonholed into … but what you feel like you were put on this planet to do!

Figure out that unique, powerful purpose first, and then the passion you need to see it through will follow.

Best of all, the journey to building (and sustaining!) your own internal, career-focused fire doesn’t have to be painful. After all, if you’re pursuing a purpose that you’re passionate about, the exercise will be a delight! The work you put in will feel more like play, and you’ll have the energy and motivation to overcome whatever obstacles stand in your way.

Let’s finish with this:

If you’re unhappy and disengaged at work, what are you going to do about your situation? Right now? Today?

Send me a LinkedIn Message or leave a comment this very moment and tell me what you’re going to do.

I don’t care how large or small the next steps are. But you need to do something today to begin building momentum and moving toward your stated (and specific!) goal. Otherwise you’ll stay stranded on the sidelines of life, taken out and filled with resignation like Kevin Arnold’s dad in that scene from The Wonder Years.

Life’s too short, and I’m too passionate about who you are and what you have to offer the rest of us to stay quiet a minute longer. I look forward to hearing about where you’re headed!

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