What Do You Do When Your Job is a “Just a Job?”

Let’s face it; sometimes it’s about the glory, or god – sometimes, though, it’s just about the money.

My lunch with a friend I’ll call “Julie” last week is one such case. Smart and hard working, she jumped from a burning ship to a role she thought would be a great way to spend the next ten years or so of her corporate career.

She got hired for all the right reasons; the new place needed change in the areas in which she brought expertise, and when she was recruited the new place said she brought the skills to make the changes they knew they needed to make.

They did – until the new exec team in which she’s a part of realized that they would need to make some changes themselves.

While no man (or woman) is an island, no function (think HR, finance and accounting, corporate communications, legal, etc.) is an island as well. A change in one of those areas generally means that folks across the enterprise will need to make changes  too.

Facing entrenched not-likely-to-change polite obstruction – and with no prospect of change in sight – the new job has become a “just a job.”

And let’s face facts; either we’ve had one (or more) of those jobs or secretly know we’ll have one (or more) in the future. The “just a job” job lets you pay bills, provides cover over your head, and keep you out of the ranks of the unemployed.

All good things, by the way, so the least you can do is work hard, and give a fair effort.

But these “just a job” jobs – whenever they happen – while feeding your stomach and paying the rent are not likely to feed your soul, nor excite any career passion. You’ve entered into what Dr. Seuss would call the “waiting place.” Unlike a character in Dr. Seuss’s work, though, there are things you can do.

So what are those things you can do if you’re stuck in a “just a job” job?
Here are 5 ideas:
  1. Call a spade a spade. Putting lipstick on pig and referring to it as Madonna fools no one. Tell yourself it’s a paying job at a time when you needed and wanted a paying job. Be polite; remember it’s keeping you fed.
  2. Do a good job and have appropriate expectations. Perhaps it’s old fashioned but you could believe there is worth in any job. As Elanor Roosevelt suggests, “No one can make you feel inferior without your permission.”
  3. Miss being highly engaged with your work? Think of the “just a job” as taking a time-out; there are tons of volunteer opportunities that you can pour yourself into that will pay nothing but give you the same, sometimes even more, satisfaction than work. A “just a job” can be time to spend with your family; a silver lining in the career pause.
  4. Use the time to button down skills set you’re missing, or better yet, work on skills and training that will (further) differentiate you from your professional peers. I know one person who is studying to take her CPA exam, even though it’s something that’s not critical for success; her “just a job” gives her time outside of work that many all consuming jobs wouldn’t to do thing like coursework.
  5. Use the less than highly engaging time at your “just a job” to plot your next move; it can be a chance to keep up your career network, serve on professional committees, and otherwise remain visible.

Work life is not always roses. When it’s not, figure out – rather than lament – what you can do about it.

Author J. Mike Smith is a business leadership, career and team coach, devoted dad and recovering Foursquare addict, J. Mike’s pragmatic optimism around life is infectious. You can view his other articles here, and learn more about him here.

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