Anyone who has had a bad day at work (or a string of them) is likely to have said, mouthed, thought, muttered, or otherwise expressed this sentence. Whether privately or publicly, these words are never far from the disgruntled worker’s mind.
The harsh reality is that it’s almost never true. When we say to ourselves, “I hate my job,” what we’re really saying is “I regret the way I’m choosing to spend my time.” Is this really true? Well, if you happen to be a masochist, then maybe. But for the rest of us, there’s a good reason why we are where we are.
If you’re asleep at the switch and you genuinely didn’t realize until just this moment that going to work at your current job is not the right move for you all things considered, then by all means quit tomorrow. Everyone else, buckle up.
I know someone who graduated from a prestigious college and went straight to work at a sustainability-oriented startup. A couple years in, he jumped ship and began working at a financial institution. I care about this guy, and in my head I was screaming, “You’re going the wrong way! You had it right the first time!”
Once the steam stopped issuing from my ears and my gaskets had un-blown themselves, I had a chance to reflect. “Wait a second mister, isn’t that exactly what you would do under the circumstances?”
Startups are inherently risky, even more so for people fresh out of school. With no rubber stamp on their resume from a “respectable corporation,” there is little to fall back on when your startup goes toes-up and you’re left hunting for jobs sooner than you planned.
So, while I liked his initial career choice better in the abstract, in the context of his situation at the time, it made perfect sense for him to jump. A nice paycheck at a respected financial institution starts to look pretty attractive when the rocket ship you hoped would send you to Mars appears more and more likely to sputter out on the launchpad.
Implicit in my realization that I would have done the same thing in his shoes was the seed of an insight. Unless you’re participating in actual forced labor, “I hate my job” is never quite true. Let me explain.
The reason I was so disturbed by the change in career choice was that in my head he was going from a job one could really love to a job one could really hate. But that’s not a fair comparison. If you only look at the assets of one alternative, and only look at the liabilities of the other alternative, you’re engaging in motivated reasoning, not an objective analysis.
If you truly hated your job, you would quit. Many may read this and scream, “But I can’t, I need the money!” But, contained within that retort is the tacit admission that going to work is a good deal for you. I’m not saying all jobs are equally enjoyable, I’m just underscoring the fact that going to work tomorrow is a choice.
It may not seem like it due to debt, bonus structure, children to feed, or any other of a number of reasons. But what’s the alternative?
The alternative is, well, not going to work tomorrow. When you think of what might happen if you made that a habit, chances are going to work will start to feel a lot less like an obligation and a lot more like a privilege.
Who Is This Guy?
Those of you who are familiar with my work are probably getting uncomfortable right now. “Wait a minute, aren’t you the guy who is always trying to convince us to seek fulfillment instead of money and find a job that makes the path to Financial Independence enjoyable?”
Why yes, I am (and thank you for noticing!). So what am I up to talking about how we should be grateful for the jobs we have, even if they aren’t our ideal jobs in the long run? Am I turning into some sort of corporate lackey saying the proper response to getting spanked is “Thank you, sir, may I have another”?
No, I’m not. Let me explain.
Opportunity cost is the “cost” we incur when we make a choice that results in foregoing another option. If you can either have an apple or a banana and you choose the banana, your opportunity cost is the apple.
Let’s say you start the day with an apple, and then you trade it for a banana. Is it correct to say you “sacrificed” the apple to get the banana? Technically, sort of. But qualitatively, the word “sacrifice” evokes a connotation of loss. Assuming you prefer the banana, this is not loss, but gain. It’s a good trade.
Mourning the loss of the apple when you got something better is just bad cosmological manners. If you make a good trade, you shouldn’t mourn the loss of what you paid. You should rejoice about the good you received in return.
So it goes with a job. It’s just a trade. You’re trading your time for money. If it’s a bad trade, don’t do it. If it’s a good trade, make the best of it.
In Paulo Coelho’s “The Alchemist,” the main character is seeking his treasure. Along the way, he finds himself penniless and in need of a job to complete his journey. He takes up work in a crystal shop, polishing the wares for months and months in an effort to save up money and continue his journey.
He “should” be pissed. He wants to seek his treasure, and instead he’s polishing trinkets. But he is content, knowing that in that period he is doing the best thing he can to make progress toward his treasure.
What if we could be like him and appreciate the nature of the fact that sometimes even standing still is making progress in its own way?
Every day is a choice. If you’re on your way to the office, there is a reason. It doesn’t mean this is your job forever, it means that today it is in your long-term enlightened best interest to go to the office. If it isn’t, then turn on your heel and head back home.
Did you turn? If so – good for you. If not – good for you. Either way, you learned something today. The day is yours. Own it.
If you feel like you hate your job, or even worse, you’re just indifferent, this is setting off alarm bells for you. “If I keep on making that same decision every day, I’ll wake up when I’m 60 and still be doing this rotten job.”
This is a worrisome point. What I’m advocating here is a positive attitude. I can tell you from experience that it feels much better to take ownership of the decision to go to work than it does to grudgingly drag yourself to the office every day, even at a job that isn’t your end-all-be-all.
You owe it to yourself to take a step back and reflect periodically. You should run the numbers and ensure that you’re on the right course (and there’s an app for that!). But so long as you’re confident that you’re making progress on your journey, focus on enjoying the ride.
Do your homework and make sure that all things considered, your current job is a part of you living your best life. If it’s not, quit. But if it is, be grateful for the privilege of doing it, and welcome the extra bounce in your step that comes with knowing that sometimes staying put and polishing crystal is the best thing you can do at the moment to seek your treasure.
Founder of ChroniFI
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The foregoing are the opinions of the author and are for educational purposes only. They do not represent professional financial or investment advice. For financial advice, please consult a licensed financial professional.