You should totally rock your job -- especially if it isn't all that. Here's the why and how.

Let’s face it: some of us aren’t exactly living our dream jobs. In fact, for many of us, our feelings towards our jobs range somewhere on the scale of “mildly dislike” to “stab me in the eyeball.”

Maybe your current job is just a placeholder while you figure out what you really want to do. Maybe it looked good on paper, but now that you’ve got into it, you realize it isn’t for you. Maybe you’re planning your escape, but for now, you need something to pay the bills [raises hand here]. Whatever the case, you are where you are, so for now, you have to figure out how to deal with that.

So, how do you deal with that? There are two simple options: A) Show up, put in your time, do the minimum, and collect your paycheck; or, B) Rock it like it’s hot.

Me? I’m an advocate of Option B. Here’s why:

Why Bother?

If you know this job isn’t for you, if you’re out the door the instant it become feasible, why care how much effort you put into it? What does it really matter?

It’s a heck of a lot of time. Most of us spend around 40 hours of our lives every week at work. That’s an awful lot of time to be disgruntled and miserable. You owe it to yourself to make the best of your circumstances, if for nothing else than your own sanity.

Being half-assed never made anyone happy. After a while, being mediocre doesn’t do anything to increase your self-confidence, your self-image, or your day to day happiness. Most of us want to do things well. Being a half-assed version of yourself only makes your situation feel worse. Why not rise above and at least be happy in yourself, if you can’t be happy in your situation?

Everything is a learning opportunity. Sure, making the coffee may never lead to a corner office, but even the most mundane of jobs is an opportunity to build your skill set. My crappy phone survey job in high school taught me people skills (and patience) that I use constantly now to handle touchy clients and diffuse stressful situations. Rather than seeing your job as merely a series of tasks you have to do get your paycheck, look at it as a chance to get some practice in for bigger and better things. See what you can get from it. Use it for all it’s worth.

The best “F you!” is a cheerful attitude. If none of the positive angles above does it for you, and you’re still itching to stick it to The Man, consider this: the best way to stick it to The Man is to refuse to let him get you down. Resenting your job and grumbling your way through the day just gives your job power over you. Don’t let it. Determine to be happy, upbeat, and optimistic, and you’re already one step closer to freeing yourself.

Okay, so that’s the case for the why. Now let’s get to the how.

5 Ways to Rock That Crappy Job

Let go of resentment. Let go right now of the better job you could be at, the way you wish your boss would treat you, the hundred better things you should be doing with your time. You are where you are. So, what are you going to do with it?

Be the best little worker you can be. Collate those copies like it’s an Olympic sport. Make your Power Point presentation the snazziest anyone’s ever seen. Not to impress anyone, not because your job is “worth it,” but for you. Because you deserve to be your best self. You deserve to take pride in your work, even if the job itself is less than ideal.

Find satisfaction in doing a good job. I’ve started to cultivate an almost Zen-like attitude towards the simple act of doing things well, and finding satisfaction in that. My job may not have much personal meaning to me, but I do get satisfaction from knowing at the end of each day that I’ve done everything to the best of my ability. I like getting my work done faster than people expected. I like turning a pile of rampant paperwork into neat, orderly files. It’s not the deep, soul-fulfilling satisfaction I hope to one get from my dream job, but it’s something. It makes me feel like my days aren’t entirely wasted.

Be a ray of sunshine. So many workplaces are dens of negativity and defeatism. People have meltdowns over copier jams. Office politics breed resentment and gossip. A common answer to “How was your weekend“ is an Eeyore-like “Not long enough…” Rise above all that. Come in with a smile on your face, be genuinely nice to your coworkers, and radiate the sense that the world isn’t such a dreary place after all. You’d be amazed how much better your day feels when your attitude doesn’t suck. And if you can make some of the people around you a little happier, too, then that’s bonus points for you.

Have a life outside of work. You may be stuck doing a job you don’t love, but your free hours are still your own. And the more you really make those hours yours, the easier it is to get through another day at the office. Start a hobby, join a club, pursue a dream on your evenings and weekends, and suddenly the hours spent at work don’t seem so be-all and end-all. You have something to look forward to at the end of the day. You have something that gives you a sense of meaning and purpose. Maybe your hobby could even lead to that bigger, better job that you’re waiting for. Don’t let yourself fall into the routine of slumping home to watch TV till bedtime. That’s what so many people do with their unhappiness at work, and that’s why so many people are still stuck. You’re better than that. And you know it.

If you’re one of us currently in less-than-perfect jobs, what tips or tricks do you have for approaching your work day? How do you rise above your circumstances and make the most of things?

Kelly Gurnett, a.k.a. “Cordelia,” runs the blog Cordelia Calls It Quits, where she documents her attempts to rid her life of the things that don’t matter and focus more on the things that do.  You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.


  1. Brian Gerald

    I love this! So often “the internet” says that if you are unhappy in your job, quit! While I wholeheartedly promote entrepreneurship as an act of resistance against soul-crushing corporate culture, “just leave” is not always an immediately viable option. Your post is spot-on advice to help people transform their situation RIGHT NOW. Invaluable. And if/when they strike out on their own, they’ll be even better at it because of this.

    Keep it coming!

    • Cordelia

      Thanks, Brian!

      I agree–if you subscribe the usual lifestyle independence, anti 9-5, follow-your-dreams sites, they constantly inundate you with motivation to Get Out Now, Do Your Own Thing, and free yourself. But, in the real world, it’s not quite so easy. Even if you’re on your way to claiming your path, you still have to learn to exist in the here and now, which can be even harder once you’ve officially declared your intention to quit (eventually).

      As someone who’s right smack in the middle of this reality, I’ve really been struggling to keep my outlook up while still reporting daily to the grind. But I’ve come to find that the more you give your A-game and represent your best self, the better you feel about where you are and what you’re doing, even if the situation is less than ideal.

      Lessons learned from someone who’s been there (and is there, struggling daily to remind herself of exactly what she’s preaching). 🙂

      • souleclectic

        love this article and wondering if you have any advice specific to my situation- I find myself in the frustrating position of having taken a dreary job with the plan that I could spend my 9-5 (or in my case 8-5) hours collating, Excel-ing, etc. and use my weekend and evening time to launch my freelance writing career (a dream of mine). However, a year into my employment- 2 years ago- my company initiated a strict policy against working outside the company. No freelancing, no side jobs- all external ventures prohibited. I thought I could roll with it, and volunteered my writing services here and there, but as time drags on I am more and more worried that I will never be able to live my dream of becoming a professional writer. Any thoughts on this particular brand of stuckness? many thanks. 🙂

        • Cordelia

          My personal reaction in your situation would be to start looking for a new 9-5 pronto (if you haven’t already).

          Unlike the stuckness of being in one place temporarily while you work towards a new goal, your situation is being stuck in a place that directly refuses to allow you to pursue ANY goals. (Which, quite frankly, I find absolutely horrific. Unless your side jobs would be directly competing with the business your 9-5 does, what should they care what you do with your free time?) It sounds like your job itself might have been o.k. if they hadn’t enacted these awful restrictions.

          My best advice would be to start looking furiously for something else (if you haven’t already), and in the mean time, do what you can to keep your writing muscles exercised and your goals in sight. Work on some creative pieces, blog (are you allowed to blog anonymously if it’s not for pay?), start putting together a resume or web site to advertise your services that you can finally unveil once you’re in a new job–anything to lay some groundwork, keep yourself in touch with your dreams, and keep working towards your goal “unofficially” until you’re in a position where you can start officially doing it for pay.

          Good luck to you. I really feel for you in this situation!

      • Anonymous

        I love and hate articles that advocate a better life if you just quit your job.

        I love those articles because they inspire me to follow my dreams, and to challenge myself to take risks and grow personally and professionally.

        I hate those articles because in my experience not everyone has the skills and resources to make it as an entrepreneur. Some might not even want to be their own boss and the challenges that come with it, but they do want career satisfaction. I feel those types of articles overlook career satisfaction in a corporate job and I do believe it’s possible to be happy in a corporate job.

        My personal and professional success is about my attitude, using my talents and skills to give back to my employer and/or customer and not about my position or situation.

        • Cordelia

          I have the same issues with “quit your job” posts. They’re inspirational (and we all know I’m fully behind them), but they don’t tell you how to live in the here and now while you’re in the process of quitting.

          And although I personally advocate quitting for myself, I do realize that some people are perfectly happy with their jobs, like the structure of having a job, or aren’t comfortable with the thought of striking out on your own. As you said, the important thing isn’t that we all subscribe to the same idea of career happiness, but rather that we strive for happiness in where we are, right now, while working for change if that is what we feel is necessary.,

  2. H-Band o' Cordelia

    Right on! Everyone at work tells me that I work too hard and care too much. I’m just rocking my crappy job.

    • Cordelia

      Damn straight, H-Band. Don’t let the haters hate on you. They’re just miserable that they AREN’T rocking it. 🙂

  3. Teala Miller

    You’re so right! It’s not my coworkers that make me unhappy with my job. It’s just the job itself, and the fact that it’s not where I want to spend the rest of my career. This is in the process of changing. But for right now I’m in an imperfect job, and I can feel my unhappiness carrying over into other parts of my life. It ends now!

    • Cordelia

      I am right there with you, Teala. This is something I struggle with daily, and which also carries over into the rest of my life. It’s especially tough sometimes to stick it out when you’ve already made the decision that you’re ready for something else–but, there’s no point in making yourself miserable in the meantime over something you can’t change quite yet.

      Here’s best wishes to you and me both! We can make it! Hang in there. 🙂

  4. Meredith

    Great tips, and perfect timing. I may very well be accepting an offer for a job that’s “below” me within the next week simply because a paycheck is better than bill collectors. I’m still waiting for the day when my writing, tutoring, and editing will pay the bills, but bills don’t wait. I’ll need to give myself daily pep talks to get through it, so thank you for sharing these tips. “Kill ’em with kindness,” right?

    • Cordelia

      Exactly! Good luck to you–I know how hard it is, but I can attest that trying to keep these things in mind every day helps to make it at least a little bit better. 🙂

  5. Tonyjg

    This is a positive approach for difficult times. The alternative option is really bad for your mental health – you get depressed and stressed becuse you aren’t using your potential. By taking option B at worst you get a good reference when the right job comes along. At best you stand a good chance of getting promoted.

    • Cordelia

      Precisely! I firmly believe that you shouldn’t treat any moment as a “throwaway” moment. You never know how what you’re doing right now might affect your future; the important thing is making each moment count and knowing that you’ve brought your A-game. Doesn’t matter if you feel the circumstances “deserve” it or not–YOU deserve it!

  6. Jrandom42

    Here’s how I deal with a less than perfect job:

    1) Give them the 8 hours of work they pay you for. Nothing more and nothing less
    2) Learn all you can while you’re there
    3) Connect with as many people who you respect as you can
    4) When the time comes ( and you’ll know it when it happens), take all you have learned, the people you’ve connected with, and leave on the best terms as you can. You never know who you might work for or with, or even if you might find yourself back at the same company some time in the future.

    • Cordelia

      That sounds like a perfectly intelligent, sensible way of handling things. Do your best, make the most of it, and then move on as professionally and politely as possible. Couldn’t have summed it up better myself. 🙂

    • Edward - Entry Level Dilemma

      8 hours? Only 8 hours wouldn’t be so bad. When you work 8 hours and have 4 more to go, then you have a right to complain.

      • Cordelia

        Ahh, but 8 hours can feel like 20 in certain situations. I firmly believe in not making qualitative judgments about other people’s experiences, because it’s impossible to measure or compare something with so many varying factors.

        That said, I certainly don’t envy someone who has to put in a 12 hour day, and I can absolutely feel for them. (While similarly feeling for the 8 hour worker.)

  7. Ashley Hoffman

    Great article. Another good thing is that if you think it’s a crappy job, everyone else does too. So that means if you take a diff approach, you can be star of the office = case for raise.

    • Cordelia

      Exactly. Can’t hurt to do your best work. It could lead to a raise, an excellent reference for a future job, or just simply making each day a little more enjoyable. As long as you’re there, why *not* make a difference?

  8. Catherine Adamson

    I’m totally agreed. My day job is not stressful or remunerative, and my co-workers are pleasant, but there is little challenge or opportunity to move up here. So I try to make sure the people I work with have reason to be pleased with my work, but I’m not going to kill myself to be perfect as raises are non-existant. Then I take those extra hours and work on my side hustle, or just do something that makes me feel like a more whole person (gardening).

    • Cordelia

      You make a good point about “not killing yourself” to do an epic job.

      Although I’m all about giving it your all and doing a good job, what I’m not advocating is overextending yourself to the point where you wind up exhausted for the sake of this job that doesn’t matter. The point is more about being happy with what you can do where you are now, taking pride in your efforts, and not resorting to the route of schlumping through life just because things aren’t perfect.

      Do a great job? Absolutely. Then leave it at that and get on with your real life. You can rock it and still stay disengaged enough to pursue your own things.

  9. Mmcdaniels

    I don’t fully agree. You shouldn’t try to be the best damn photocopier in the world if photocopying forever is not the goal. The farther you go down this route, the farther away from your goal you get. Put in the least amount of effort to meet expectations, then use the excess time on your own hustle(ala paretos principle). You want win awards for being in the middle of the pack, but you won’t get fired either and will get a good recommendation. If you are forever waiting for “the right time”, then your goal is just an escapist fantasy.

    • Temit27

      I agree – aim for simplicity and speed in times like these. Not mediocrity! Just keep focused on the big picture.

      • Cordelia

        I like the phrasing of “simplicity and speed.” That can be part of being an awesome employee–doing things in the most efficient means possible.

        I consider my job well done if I can cut out needless steps and unnecessary wastes of time and energy. I make sure I’m bringing my A-game, but part of that involves not putzing around on things that don’t matter.

        The key, as you said, is to fight the impulse toward “mediocrity.” And keeping your eye on the big picture is a great way to do that. The big picture is actually the entire reason for rocking your job rather than just settling for mediocrity–because you know you’re meant for bigger, better things, and you deserve to live like the awesome person you are, regardless of *where* you are currently.

    • Cordelia

      I understand where you’re coming from–I think we just may be reading this from different angles.

      I never meant to imply that you should throw your soul into photocopying, using up all your energy for other things. (Please, by all means, do NOT do that.) And I definitely don’t think you should interpret “rock your crappy job” to mean “stay there forever just trying to be as happy with it as you can.”

      If the goal is to get out, and you’re working on that but haven’t been able to just yet, then I believe you owe it to yourself to find happiness and satisfaction in your current situation in the mean time. *While* you continue to work to free yourself.

      Similarly, with the photocopying example, the idea isn’t that you should channel all your life’s meaning and energy into your job to the detriment of your goals. I would never recommend overextending yourself or taking things to ridiculous extremes. The idea is more along the lines that, as long as you’re stuck doing this work for now, you may as well find whatever satisfaction in it you can, take pride in your efforts, and represent yourself in the best light possible.

      I personally get my crappy job done in kick-ass fashion, try to find as much satisfaction in that as I can, *and* have plenty of time and energy left over to run a blog, do freelance work, and write creative pieces. If anything, being my best self for the 8 hrs. I’m stuck at work each day energizes me and gives me the confidence and positive momentum I need to be able to have energy for all the things that DO matter to me.

      I don’t believe that “be an awesome employee” and “follow your dreams” are mutually exclusive, in other words. I guess that’s what it all boils down to. 🙂

  10. Anonymous

    I have had a few jobs that were so horrible that I didn’t stay in those positions long. However those types of jobs, where harassment and other legally unsatisfactory conditions abound, are truly few and far between.

    Most less-than-awesome jobs are actually stepping stones to better jobs; they are lower level positions that don’t often require a significant expertise, experience or training. They are great opportunities to network, train, gain experience and boost your career potential!

    Let’s face it, you can’t always have everything you want exactly the way you want it. So why mope and complain about all the things that aren’t going your way when you can make the best of the things that are going your way? If you choose to see it, even your run of the mill less-than-awesome job has benefits.

    I recently wrote an article with a very similar theme, “It’s your career- love what you do!” After all, if you can’t have the job you love, love the one you’re with!

    • Cordelia

      “Let’s face it, you can’t always have everything you want exactly the way you want it. So why mope and complain about all the things that aren’t going your way when you can make the best of the things that are going your way?”

      That is my philosophy exactly. I’ve said it so many times: If you’re unhappy with something, change it if you can, or find a way to live with it if you can’t. Moping, complaining, and resenting gets you nowhere but miserable.

      Your post is actually a fantastic sister post for this one. I recently subscribed to your blog, incidentally, and am thoroughly enjoying it. 🙂

  11. Edward - Entry Level Dilemma

    Uh, I am totally there. I started a new job last week and didn’t like it within hours of starting. I knew it would be bad, but I’m bored out of my mind. But I believe that nothing, especially your level of happiness, should ever get in the way of doing the best job you know how to do. Meanwhile, I’m keeping an eye out for a better job and another eye on my goal for this one, saving money to go back to school and fix the gaps in my education that are preventing me from getting the kind of job I’m looking for.

    • Cordelia

      It sounds like your philosophy and outlook are spot on. The secret to happiness is in making the most of your circumstances while continually trying to better yourself. I have a feeling you’ll be out of there and onto bigger and better things very soon!

  12. SMencher

    Awesome, I couldn’t have written it better myself. I’m in exactly this situation and I’ve been able to shift from a woe-is-me attitude to a positive, my-life-is-going somewhere attitude, and doors have begun to open for me! I’m working on my hobby in my non-work hours and I know for sure it’s going to take me to where I want to be, eventually.Thanks!

    • Cordelia

      It’s so great that you’ve the lesson of keeping a positive attitude. It really does transform your day to day life and open up new opportunities for you.

      I was in the same “woe-is-me” mindset for a looong time, so I completely understand where you’re coming from. The instant you decide to take control of your *perception* of your life, your actual *experience* of life changes dramatically. It really is all about how frame things.

      I actually wrote a post on just this topic a while back, if you want to check it out. I think you will definitely relate:

  13. Alex Dogliotti

    Hey Kelly, great article. Taking pride in doing your job well is important, even if your job sucks. And it’s important because having negative emotions about it will just narrow down your job-hunt! You may want to check (maybe you know it already) Barbara Fredrickson’s paper on negative emotions (you can find it online easily, that’s how I got it). I often think about the impact of positive/negative emotions on job-hunting.

    • Cordelia

      I haven’t heard of that paper before, and I am definitely going to check it out now. It sounds like it would be right up my alley. Thanks for the recommend!

  14. Rufus

    I have a perfect job but I still want more. If you can finish things quuicker than they expect that gives you time to help other people at the office and so change your job into the one you want. Make your own perfect job whilst doing the bits they require in your spare time and make them happy about it.

    • Cordelia

      It’s all about giving your all and creating the opportunities you want with the circumstances you have. I love your positive outlook and ambition!

  15. eamathe

    Spot on advice! Thank you!

  16. oilandgarlic

    I like your attitude. So often we come across “escape your cubicle” posts that don’t address what to do while you’re still “stuck” at your job. I’ve written about this, too, but from an older person’s perspective — actually I’m not that old and may be the same generation as Penelope but I’m fairly happy and fortunate in my job situations so I like to give advice! My main take is that you have A LOT of power to avoid being that bitter old person in the corner cubicle.

    I think your advice is really helpful. One thing I would add is that in addition to doing your best at your job, try to focus your energies on areas that improve your skill, are visible, and important to your boss.

    • Cordelia

      “You have A LOT of power to avoid being that bitter old person in the corner cubicle.”

      Exactly! Just as in any part of life, it isn’t the circumstances we find ourselves in, but what we do with those circumstances and how we choose to react to them. And I like your advice about advancing your skill and appeal as an employee. As long as you’re in that job, you may as well stand out as a valuable employee!

  17. Mary Foley

    What a Great Post! Sometimes the best way out of that bad job is a promotion! IN order to get on you have to perform in your existing job. There’s no way around it. Outstanding performance helps you get noticed and conveys confidence that you can do more. Would you promote someone who isn’t already performing well in their current position?

    • Cordelia

      You are so right. Regardless of whether you’re in the place you want to be, you owe it to yourself to do the best job you can. Not only could it open up the doors for better, other opportunities, but it will just plain make you happier on a day to day basis.

  18. Jodine Ibeme

    I done just that I stayed with one crappy job because I wanted to learn everything about the job and make it sucessful for me. I stayed with this company for 10 years.

    Now I am looking for that same kind of opportunity. My last employer never gave me a chance to flourish and make contributions. I could never satisfy the employer. I was almost forced to quit the 1st 2 weeks. But I stayed on until the very end until they terminated. I didn’t do anything wrong. But they made me feel like I did.

    • Cordelia

      It can be really tough sticking around in a job that makes you unhappy, especially if they’re treating you unfairly. The best you can do is try to be the bigger person while actively looking for a way to get out. I wish you all the luck in the world!

  19. Sherkarbo

    A friend of mine visited me for one night last year. She had traveled across the U.S., had no money, a borrowed car, a camera and the best damn attitude about pursuing her dream of a photographer I have ever seen. She reminded me that even when the tides are low you can still be happy and optimistic and follow your dreams. Since then I have gone into my stepping stone, depressing, boss targets me job and put a smile on my face and made an attempt to be “happy” at work. One year later, I am enrolled full-time getting my second degree from a local university, I am making less mistakes at work and my boss is off my back! I can actually hold a conversation with him now! Thank you to my friend who is such an awesome inspiration to me.

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