I recently had a conversation with a 66 year old woman who had retired from a fairly lucrative career, only to take on a completely surprising job as her “retirement job.”
She’s a grade school lunch lady.
Why did she choose to take on such a job? The reason was simple, she told me. Her grandchildren, her grandchildren’s friends, and the grandchildren of some of her friends attended that school. She had a lot of experience working with food over the years working at soup kitchens and the like and she really wanted to put her skills to work making great meals for the little kids she cared about.
To put it simply, she loves her job. She really, really enjoys doing this, and I could tell by some of the stories she told me.
I told her that her job seemed like it could be pretty thankless – the kind of job that Mike Rowe might shadow. She thought about that for a minute and said something pretty profound.
If you hate your job, a good situation can become a bad one. If you love your job, you can turn a bad situation into a good one.
What do you do if you hate your job, I asked her. She dropped another piece of wisdom on me.
If you hate your job, stop doing the parts you don’t like and spend more time doing the parts you do like. The worst that can happen is that you get fired from a job you hate, and is that really a loss? The best that can happen is that you start producing much better work that helps you move up the food chain.
She told me that her job was to put healthy, tasty, and fun meals on the table for the kids. She knew what guidelines she had to follow and she followed the health-related ones, but she would often spend her food budget in creative ways to get healthy and fun food out there. She also didn’t “waste time” on unnecessary paperwork and meetings, stating that if there’s something important, they’ll find her in the kitchen actually doing her job.
I think every job benefits from a bit of her perspective. At my previous job, I loathed the bureaucracy and paperwork aspects of the job. Eventually, I reached a point where I pretty much ignored them until there happened to be downtime – in other words, I moved the aspects I didn’t value to the lowest possible priority. I missed a few minor deadlines, to be sure, but it made my job a lot more enjoyable and, unsurprisingly, more productive, too.
I keep this same philosophy in my writing work. If I’m not enjoying the work, I do something else, and almost always, it works. Why? Because if I move to something that’s fun within the range of stuff that I do professionally, I usually produce something great. If I grind against the boring stuff, I hate it and produce stuff that’s poor.
This is true of almost any job, from flipping hamburgers (some people are better in the kitchen and some people are better at service) to office work. If you hate your job, find out what you hate about it and do less of that. Figure out what you like about it (or at least hate less) and do more of that. You might miss out on a few details, but you’ll produce much better stuff in the areas that matter. Any boss worth his salt will see that and reward you for it (or at least overlook the little things that you miss).
I’ll leave you with one final anecdote from a friend of mine who manages a convenience store. One of her high school aged employees seemed really down, so she took him aside and asked him what the problem was. “I hate working the counter. I hate talking to all these people.” She made a deal with him – if he turned it up a notch with the other tasks, she’d take him off the counter completely. He brightened up quickly. Now, the bathrooms are spotless, the floor is mopped, the products are stocked, and the other employee working the counter is happier, too, because she likes dealing with the customers.
Everyone wins when you don’t hate your job. Find the parts you like and do more of that instead. The happier you are with your work, the better you’ll produce. If you’re worried about how it’ll go over, talk it over with your boss first, but give it a go. You’ll do better in your career, go home happier at night, and be much more likely to receive better pay.