“What am I doing here?” my mind raced.
In an overheated cubicle with five other underemployed attorneys, frustration and disillusionment vied for supremacy. As my co-workers and I labored through the mind-numbing document review, sighs, grunts, and biting comments pierced the silence. Laboring in this dead-end job, a sense of despair wafted through the stuffy cubicle. I wanted to quit. But only after I shrieked in frustration.
“Isn’t this why all of us went to law school?” I cracked. And, yes, groused. My co-workers grunted in agreement.
Imbued with idealism, I anticipated a rewarding legal career — not one marooned in a desultory office representing a predatory insurance company. Just like my coworkers, however, the Great Recession derailed those hopeful plans. But as I fretted about my job prospects — or lack thereof, an epiphany dawned on me: How many overqualified professionals — like me — were toiling away in dead-end positions?
According to The Atlantic, roughly 44% of recent college graduates are underemployed. From the Bay Area to Boston, there are skilled professionals masquerading as glorified paper shufflers. That Starbucks barista? He graduated magna cum laude.
As you shuffle into the office on a dreary weekday morning, I understand the gnawing frustration. Probably all too well. Here are strategies to manage — or at least temper — that mounting dissatisfaction:
Sullenly stepping on the evening bus, I vowed to find another job. Another day coding legal documents sounded unbearable. For those overworked baristas or waiters or administrative assistants, translate your justified frustration into (job) fruition.
Frustration can be a great motivator. Editing the latest resume or writing sample, there is a renewed sense of urgency. My cover letters are sharper; writing samples more precise. When you are determined to find a more satisfying position, anger does beget action.
Your position is humiliating, harrowing, even hellish. But as you seethe, take a deep breath before you let your spittle fly. In the most dreary of positions, there are redeeming qualities. As I contemplated storming out today, I thought about my good-natured co-workers. Grudgingly, I conceded that the job did have a couple positives. I am able to browse my favorite news and sports sites. And I do like strolling through downtown Seattle on my lunch break. While the Office Space references are justified, there is — thankfully — no trolling Lundbergh. Or Milton.
Find meaning outside work
If work is trivial, don’t trivialize your time away from the proverbial salt mine. For me, travel and writing provide direction and distraction from a soul-sucking job. For others, it may be a particular cause or volunteer organization. Instead of wallowing over their jobs’ tediousness, my beloved aunts have devoted their free time to raising pancreatic cancer awareness and donations. Purpose, as my aunts can attest, is greater than your profession
Stuck in a dreary job? Considering the floundering economy, that’s understandable. Wallowing in a pool of frustration and resentment? That’s less understandable. Yes, work is a four-letter word. But so is life. Don’t let the former destroy the latter.