What You Can Learn from a Lousy Job and When to Leave

By Terri Jacke, author of Is This a Lousy Job or Is It Me?: A Real-Life Guide for Achieving Success at Work.


Nearly every working adult can tell you about a lousy job they have held at some point in their careers. Their stories include a wide range of incompetent leaders, difficult coworkers, undesirable work conditions, and tedious, unfulfilling tasks. The stories make for entertaining anecdotes when shared with friends over cocktails, especially if they are memories from days gone by.


Left unaddressed, a lousy job can lead to irrational irritability toward people you care about, sleeplessness, lack of motivation, and health-related issues. And whose responsibility is it to address your lousy job? Why, it’s yours.

So, what do you do if you are in a lousy job today?


The first step is to recognize the situation for what it is. Something about your job is lousy. You may be dealing with a tyrannical boss or a conniving coworker. You may be responsible for timely completion of mind-numbing work. Whatever lousiness you are experiencing, name it. Put it into words. Identify it.


The second step is to embrace the notion that Paulo Coelho asserts in The Alchemist, “And, when you want something, all the universe conspires to help you achieve it.” You know you want something better for yourself than the lousy job you are dealing with today. So, reframe your thinking about your current job and think of it as an informative, educational experience for yourself. In step one, you chose to be honest with yourself about whatever it is that you do not like, and now you get to determine what you would prefer (which may include a variety of possibilities, not just one).


What can you do to improve your lousy job?


The third step is to claim your power. What can you do to improve your lousy job? One tool that I like to use during this step with my coaching clients is the BY FABLE model, which outlines the seven stages of character development that we all go through in the workplace. It helps you to evaluate where you are in terms of your character, or mental and moral qualities, and to map out a growth plan for yourself. Intentionally striving to advance your character may turn a lousy job into a more enjoyable work experience. Are there opportunities for you to practice new skills relative to your mental qualities of character: your ability to reason, make decisions, focus, anticipate, choose your responses, demonstrate confidence, be resilient, create, or adapt? Could you explore growth of your moral qualities of character: honesty, integrity, fairness, courage, respect for self, respect for others, fortitude, or loyalty? Identify a few qualities to focus upon.


Use your lousy job to try out new approaches to existing dynamics. Your current job is the perfect place to practice new skills or approaches to your work because you have nothing to lose. You are already unsatisfied with your job. The exciting news is that your efforts just might improve your workplace situation! If so, you will likely be able to clearly recognize the impact of your growth, which may fuel your desire for even more growth.

Take your time with step three. To the best of your ability, focus on yourself rather than the lousy elements of your job. Consider setting some personal development goals for yourself, and hold yourself accountable to genuine growth over time. You might consider seeking out a seasoned mentor – inside or outside of work – for guidance. Ideally, this person would be someone who has successfully navigated his or her own career with integrity and high ethical standards, who encourages thoughtful reflection, and who challenges you to live up to your own potential.


The fourth and final step is to assess your efforts. If you have noticed improvements in your lousy job based upon your investment into your own development, perhaps you remain at your job, using it as a platform for your ongoing character development. If you have not noticed improvements, take what you have learned from your lousy job – what you want and don’t want – to find a great new opportunity for yourself. The knowledge and growth you have gained from your lousy job will serve you well as you pursue the fulfillment and success you what you want from your work.


About the Author

Terri Jacke is the author of Is This a Lousy Job or Is It Me?: A Real-Life Guide for Achieving Success at Work and serves as the president of Inspired training Institute, Inc., an executive consulting firm she founded nearly 20 years ago.


Jacke provides executive coaching and organizational development consultation to corporate clients, including Zeytech, Inc., Prevea Health, Breakthrough, Walbec Group, Riverbridge Partners, Faith Technologies, and Hospital Sisters Health System.

Prior to forming her company, she worked at a Fortune 500 transportation company for four years as a training and development manager, creating a corporate curriculum to help with onboarding, executive mentoring, change management, and technical development. She crafted online tutorials, interactive classroom courses, and custom training for specific workgroups, including interventions, topic facilitation, performance improvement, and team-building assessment and consultation.


She earned a BA from Cameron University in Business Administration and a Masters Degree in Applied Leadership for Teaching and Learning from University of Wisconsin.


She has served as a board member and program chairperson for Northeast Wisconsin America Society for Training, a board member at Bay Area Workforce Development Board, and currently serves as an alumni advisory board member at University of Wisconsin.

She resides in Green Bay, Wisconsin with her husband, Green Bay Packers Hall of Famer Chris Jacke.



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