Could Staying in a Job You Hate Be Your Path to Freedom?
Years ago a country song came out with the title, “Take This Job and Shove It!” It seemed to get a lot of airtime – no doubt because many people held a secret fantasy of saying that very thing to their bosses and then walking triumphantly out of the workplace and into their new, wide-open life. A life of freedom. Ah, wouldn’t that feel good?
So it would seem. And in fact, it might actually feel good for a while. Yet if true peace of mind and a sense of freedom are what we want, walking rebelliously away from an undesirable work situation probably won’t give us access to that. And not just because we may have burned a bridge or two by speaking rudely and failing to give proper notice. I’m not talking about the need to extend professional courtesy so that people will still like us enough to refrain from passing along bad references. I’m talking about reclaiming a deep inner sense of our freedom to choose.
Now that’s freedom.
You might be thinking something along the lines of, “But that’s what the guy in the song did – he chose to leave that crummy old job!” And yes, on the surface he did execute his right to choose: he chose to leave. He physically walked out the door. But as the saying goes, “Wherever you go, there you are.” You can change physical location without changing your internal experience of life and “how the world works.” If you walk away from something still harboring resentment toward it for making you miserable, you’re taking that resentment with you. Not to mention the tendency toward resentment, period.
Which isn’t exactly freeing.
A long time ago I heard the phrase, “You can’t really leave something until you love it.” It was just illogical and jarring enough to get my attention. Even though it didn’t make sense to my analytical mind, it somehow made sense to a deeper part of me that recognized it as true without fully understanding it. Since then I’ve had plenty of opportunity to explore it in depth. (And I expect I’ll have plenty more). Here is the crib notes version of what I’ve learned:
The “love” referred to in the phrase isn’t the gooey, sentimental love we associate with, say, Valentine’s Day. Nor is it the protective love a mother feels for her child. It isn’t even the kind regard we may have for a favorite teacher, or the preference we have for milk chocolate rather than dark chocolate. The love spoken of us here is, in a word, acceptance. You cannot leave something until you accept it. (And by the way, you don’t have to like it. You just need to release your attachment to not liking it.)
I like to think of this in terms of energy. Consider the energy of blame, judgment and resentment. Pause and really contemplate how they feel in your body and in your mind. It doesn’t take long to recognize that the energy of judgment and blame is constrictive; it literally tenses us up and closes us down, preventing a full flow of energy in and through our body-mind system. This is the opposite of free. When we are holding judgment we are holding ourselves apart from the creative life force that opens us to the solutions and experiences we are seeking. Which I’ve learned not only from my training and education, but from personal experience.
I remember when I was in the corporate world, I often felt resentment toward the senior executives for making what I felt were truly dreadful decisions. From my perspective they were myopically focused on the bottom line, and the share price, to the detriment of virtually every constituent in the business. I could probably convince you that my point of view was valid; I could offer evidence of their greed and short-sightedness and preoccupation with their annual bonuses. My ego would delight in convincing you of my rightness, and together we could rail against the gross distortions that a relentless pursuit of profit has, not only on our economy, but on our planet’s very ability to sustain life. I certainly wouldn’t be the first to make that point.
But here’s the point I want to make now: railing against something doesn’t actually change it. It only changes us, making us bitter and angry and resigned. In my own experience, it wasn’t until I stopped criticizing senior management and started realizing that this is how things are, that my attention was freed to look more deeply into myself. Instead of thinking, “It shouldn’t be this way!” I could ask, “Given that things are this way right now, what is mine to do?”
In looking inward rather than outward, I rediscovered a deep desire to heal and to teach. And while I tinkered with the idea of bringing healing, in some form, to corporate America, I ultimately chose to honor my heartfelt desire to work directly with women who were struggling, as I had struggled, to find my authentic path. Another person, after giving herself permission to take a time-out from complaining and seek a deeper truth, might discover a real passion for transforming the world of work. Rather than leaving, as I did, she may find a renewed commitment to staying for the purpose of leading real, positive change.
By pausing to step back from our judgments and complaints, we create space. We open ourselves to fresh insights and deeper truths. I’m not saying that what we’re observing, which gives rise to our resentment, isn’t true at a certain level; it’s just that dwelling in resentment itself prevents us from seeing the whole of the situation, our part in it – and our path forward. Acceptance is the only way to access that path.
So where does that leave you, if you dread getting out of bed each morning and count the minutes until Friday at 5:00 p.m.? Am I suggesting that you find a way to like where you are and get over yourself, already? Not at all. But I am suggesting that, before you leave as an act of desperation or revenge – or perhaps even worse, before you resign yourself to a lifeless career devoid of soul nourishment – stop. Take a nice, deep breath. And another. And another.
Set an intention to reach a place of acceptance (not resignation) with the job as it is right now. Get out a piece of paper and write down everything you hate about it. Let yourself feel what you feel without fanning the flames of criticism and resentment. Allow your emotional reaction to wash over you like the tide. And when it recedes, rewrite what you wrote in the language of neutrality: state what is without excessive value judgments. Here are a few examples:
Original complaint: “My boss is an ego-manic!”
Neutral observation: “My boss consistently makes choices based on how they will further her career, without seeming to consider their impact on others.”
Original complaint: “My boss micro-manages everything and it’s driving me crazy. She doesn’t trust me to do things right.”
Neutral observation: “My boss involves herself in virtually everything I do, giving me detailed instructions. She rarely accepts my ideas for doing things differently.”
Original complaint: “This company treats its employees like children!”
Neutral observation: “This company has policies and procedures for so many things, there is almost no room for creativity.”
I think you get the idea. Do your best to strip away character judgments and assumptions about the other person’s intentions; focus on what you can observe. And yes, your observations may include valid intuitive perceptions about underlying motivations – especially those that don’t align with your values. But suspend any tendency to make other people “wrong” or “bad” for acting in what you consider such a misguided way. Be as truthful as you can; don’t exaggerate the company’s ineptitude or your own angelic qualities.
When you’re finished, pause. Let things settle. Then ask yourself, “Given that this is so, what is mine to do?” Don’t rush to find an immediate answer. Give yourself time to meditate, to contemplate , to journal. Ask yourself, “How has this job served me? What qualities is it helping me cultivate? What is it showing me about myself that I most need to see and understand?” Again, don’t answer these questions the way you would check items off your to-do list. Really go deep within yourself, to your heart of hearts, and listen for the answers.
If you do this with sincerity, something will shift within you. It may not be huge, but it will be an opening into which new life can breathe. And then expand. Keep holding the intention for acceptance, until you can say with peaceful certainty, “Now is the time to leave,” or “I choose to stay here for now.”
And just notice how free you feel inside.