A lot of us are unhappy at work, especially in fields such as the museum world, teaching, healthcare – arenas where we were told “if you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life.” Because, that advice is very silly. In America especially, income inequality alone is a reason to feel unhappy about working. Everything is tied to your work – healthcare, being able to afford a home, send your kids to college, etc., so even if you love aspects of your job, it can be hard to not feel like you’re being taken advantage of. Especially if you love what you do, right? Because in that case, the job says to you, “you’re getting more out of this than I am because you LOVE this AND you’re getting PAID to do it.” It’s easy to feel crushed by this system.
There are a lot of internet resources about how to know when it’s time to quit your job. There is also a lot of dialogue specifically around leaving the museum field. (Even some on this blog.) Those are important resources and we need transparency around getting out of a bad situation, putting yourself first, and advocating for your own needs. But as the saying goes, sometimes you have to bloom where you’re planted. The grass is greenest where you water it (shout out Watered Grass). Sometimes it’s not the time for you to be repotted. It’s spring and its all about the blooming metaphors.
Why do we need a post about how to not quit your job within the context of the Great Resignation? It’s a great time to renegotiate your role or pursue a dream career – there’s more social support for doing so than ever. For folks in certain fields, especially for-profit work (I think? I don’t really know anything about for-profit work) the rise of remote work has eliminated a lot of the risk of potentially needing to adjust your life that often comes with a job change, a new commute, a new schedule, a move. For me, it really is about the grass being greenest where you water it. In the museum field it’s rare that there will be multiple opportunities within a reasonable commute of where you live that will match your current pay, your career goals and your specific knowledge area. At some point you have to take a look at the expectations you have for how a different job would bring you more joy and consider that perhaps its unwise to hang your hopes on a new job making you happier. The good news is, there are steps that you can take to make yourself happier or at least, more content. And if they don’t work, you’ll have the clarity to up and leave.
So if you find yourself in a position where your compensation is adequate or better, you’re living close to family or in a city that you really love, you have children in a school system with a network of friends that make them happy, your surroundings make you feel safe to be your authentic self, or you live within an hour of your beach oasis dream home but you’re feeling unsatisfied with your job – this is the post to bookmark and refer back to when you need to adjust your relationship to your workplace.
Make a list of what you like about your life outside of work.
This is a two-pronged benefit: it both can help you refocus on how your job helps you to live the life you want, while also reminding yourself about who you are separate from your work identity. I’ve always been someone that struggles with hobbies (see: this blog as my hobby which is basically an extension of my work) but whenever I incorporate hobbies into my life outside of work, I feel like a much more complete person and can show up as myself to work. A few weeks ago many of us museum folk were emotionally rocked by Mike Murawski (co-founder of Museums Are Not Neutral)’s raw and vulnerable account of being let go from his long-time art museum position during the pandemic. One of the things that stood out to me when reading was when Murawski wrote, “had wrapped my identity so tightly around my work for an institution that I felt a blurry sense of loss of identity without my job.” While of course in creative or helping fields our identity is deeply tied to our work, we need a strong sense of self to remind us that our jobs are our jobs. More on that later.
The other thing I like about thinking about what I like about my life outside of work is that it helps me reframe what I’m grateful for about my job. For example, I live and work in a different state than my family and most of my friends. My best friend works in healthcare and getting time off on random days is difficult – her workplace has plenty of benefits, but a flexible schedule is absolutely not one of them. One of my favorite things to do is take a random PTO day and go visit her when our schedules align, and then I remind myself how fortunate I am to have flexibility, especially now that my loved ones have little ones and are restricted in their ability to travel to me. If you need a place to start with a gratitude practice, my girl Watered Grass has you covered as always.
I asked you all how you remind yourself that you’re more than your obligations on Instagram and there were many adorable answers, including my personal favorite, “going to the post office,” which I cannot explain but do understand.
Write down your goals and refocus – get out of the reactive/immediate mindset.
It is so easy to get bogged down into the emergency mentality – especially in a setting where trauma bonding over complaining about how busy everyone is/how stressed and burnt out everyone is/how annoyed etc. is rewarded with friendship and camaraderie. I love a good vent sesh as much as anyone, but I see it with Museum Drip, too – people are much quicker to respond to negativity than positivity. It takes a lot of fortitude to pull yourself out and say what you’re excited about accomplishing. More on that in “Be a Leslie Knope.” Block off your calendar for a couple of hours. Take stock of your current projects and what’s on the horizon. What are the long-term projects that are on the back burner, such as revamping a school tour or your collections management plan? How can you set aside an hour or two a week to accomplish those goals? What are your long-term career goals? When is the last time you updated your resume and LinkedIn to reflect what you’ve accomplished while your nose has been to the grindstone? It feels trite, but this is where that “grass is greener where you water it” really comes into play – if you invest in creating some breathing room to refocus on what matters to you at work, you’ll see the benefits quickly.
The other benefit is that if you attempt to block your calendar for a few hours a week to ultimately increase your productivity and work towards your goals and find that time isn’t being respected, you have recourse to speak to your supervisor. Documenting an inability to take the time you need to improve at your job helps to make it clear if you really need to figure out how to lessen your project or responsibility load.
Remember that the transactional nature of work goes both ways.
The Great Resignation has definitely empowered folks to demand more from their jobs and to be upfront about wanting “just a job,” and I think that’s great! Did I think it was great when I was interviewing candidates for an open position and several of them actually said to me “I just want a job?” I did not love that but I respect it. But here’s the thing – if we get to say, hey, you’re just a job to me, so I’m going to leave at 5 on the dot, I think we need to be realistic about accepting that we are just a person to our job. I tell myself that if I can take a random Wednesday off to visit my friend’s new baby and ask someone else to cover for me that day – that means that I need to sometimes cover for someone else. I need to sometimes stay late even if I don’t want to. The transactionality goes both way. And just like my job can sometimes say to me, hey, you actually can’t take three long weekends in a row even if you technically have the PTO for it, I can also say hey, I actually am not going to work multiple 12 hour days in a week, even though technically I’m salaried. The boundaries go both ways. To boil it down, this piece of advice is about not taking things personally and remembering that you are not your job. I love that we (Millennials & Gen Z workers) are emboldened to say we don’t owe our jobs everything. Ok I love that but also, your job doesn’t owe you everything, either.
So much Watered Grass today but, she deals in the business of happiness so, relevant. I love these tips she shared the other day about being your own advocate – approach what’s happening at work as though you’re your own PR rep. What are you mutually getting out of it?
Switch your brain to work you during work time.
You know, like in Severance! I’m only two episodes into that show, so I can’t make the analysis and comparison the way I wish I could but I can’t decide if its a millennial fantasy or nightmare of work.
I think this is advice to take with a grain of salt. Personally, I think it’s important for coworkers to be honest and transparent with each other – if there’s something serious affecting you, let your coworkers know, because there’s no sense in making people feel uncomfortable or leaving people questioning if it’s them that’s bugging you. You don’t have to go into details just – hey, I’m dealing with a personal issue so if I’m less responsive than usual, I appreciate your understanding.
The note here is to set those things aside not to numb out or act as though you have to keep your work & personal lives completely separate – but to keep your stresses or disappointments compounding on each other. Easier said than done, but definitely worth exercising your compartmentalism muscles to keep yourself from feeling all the things at once.
Schedule coffee with your supervisor (or whoever) to reconnect.
This is similar to the writing down your goals and refocusing. Do you have those coworkers who get to a point where every single thing they say elicits an eye roll from you? And you’re spending meetings more focused on fixing your face than on paying attention to the conversation? 9 times out of 10, getting out of the office with that person and remembering that they, too, are more than their job will remind you that you actually don’t hate them. Find some common ground, chat about a few things that have been bugging you at work, have a conversation without the pressure of your Teams chat dinging in the background.
And if you come back from this coffee chat and you still feel like that coworker’s latest pitch is nails on a chalkboard to you, you can console yourself with this song about being on tour and wanting to kill your bandmates:
(Sometimes it’s good to redirect our rage in a humorous way)
Exercise, fresh air and snacks.
Exercise, fresh air, and snacks! If you’re able, keep an elite snack drawer or at least a car stash. If you can move your body during the day, do it. If you can get a whiff of fresh air or see the sun, do it. I know there are a lot of jobs where this isn’t necessarily possible (see again: best friend in health care) but since this is a museums blog, I am 99% sure that you can make time to take a walk at least a couple of times a week. Even if your coworkers literally chase you down halfway across the park when you try to take a lunch break outside. *insert clown face emoji.*
Finally – be nice to your coworkers. Especially when you don’t feel like they deserve it.
I’m watching Lizzo’s Watch Out for the Big Grrrls (obviously) and there’s one girl who doesn’t get along with anyone and she’s like “I’m from the East Coast. We eat the meat and spit out the bones.” Idk what that means really but, that’s me baby. I am warm and kind and empathetic, but just being nice for the sake of being nice is something I’ve had to condition myself to do. I’m also not ~chill~ and this whole “have more chill” thing is not for me – I prefer that people be more enraged. But I’ve had to sadly come to accept that expending that type of energy on my coworkers hurts me more than it hurts anyone else. Whether or not your coworkers deserve your kindness honestly isn’t something you need to concern yourself with – in a very Gandalf “who are you to deal out death and judgement” type of way.
Just put that part aside and treat everyone nicely. You’ll spend less energy thinking about whether or not they deserve it. While I am not into being chill, I am even more not into wasting time. By setting aside thinking about how someone wronged you and how to word your email so that they know it, you’ll save time and have more time for an afternoon walk in the sun with your work wife. Win-win-win.