The Sucky Job Survival Guide

My Ideal Career sweet sheet

One of my clients just scored the job interview of a lifetime. We both went a little crazy with excitement when she got the good news (woo hoo!).

My client–let’s call her Anne–is in a terrible job right now; one that stresses her out to the point where she’s been feeling ill for weeks. Not that her manager or coworkers care.

She’s been carrying the workload of 2 (sometimes 3) employees, and every day she dreads getting out of bed and going into the office.

Anne has a sucky job, but things are looking up now that she’s making real progress toward a fulfilling, life-affirming career. I wish I could say that her awful work situation is rare, but I hear people complain about their sucky jobs ALL. THE. TIME.

I know how bad it can be. At one of my old corporate jobs, a group of women turned against me and constantly berated me, took credit for my work, and generally made my life hell.

Sadly, this high-school-type behavior doesn’t remain in high school. But just because your job sucks doesn’t mean you need to resort to cattiness or fight your way to the top.

And no, you don’t have to quit in a huff either. Heaving your laptop through a window and punching your boss is also a no-no.

You just need a Sucky Job Survival Guide. Here are some tips to help you hang onto your sanity.

Define Your Ideal Career

I’m sure you can list hundreds of ways your job sucks: the pay, your coworkers, the crummy facility, the long hours, etc.

But have you ever listed all the things that would be present in your ideal career? What would your dream job look like?

In my newest ebook, How to Stay Sweet in a Sour World, there’s a whole chapter about finding happiness when you’re stuck in a job that makes you anything but happy.

Also included is “My Ideal Career” sweet sheet to help you define your career preferences and goals. This worksheet also helps you figure out what you want in a job and things you won’t accept.

Clarity is the first step when making a change. You need to define where you want to go before you can get there.

Visualize Your Best Work Day

One of my favorite (and free!) tricks I use when I need to turn around a bad situation is a mental dress rehearsal.

Instead of grumbling about what a crappy day you’re going to have before you even get to the office, take 5 minutes to visualize the best possible work day you could have where you are now.

I don’t mean dreaming about the building burning down or your manager getting a stomach virus!

Imagine having a peaceful day in which the office bully leaves you alone. Think about your boss praising you for your stellar presentation. Consider little things too: plenty of soap in the bathroom or a fresh pot of coffee waiting for you when you arrive.

Visualizing your ideal work day will help ease the stress you’re feeling. And when you expect good things, they’ll start to show up.

Fill Your Day With Happiness Boosters

Many jobs veer into the sucky job territory when there aren’t enough things to make you happy from 9 to 5.

Here are some ways you can add happiness boosters to your work day.

  • Listen to music, a fun audiobook, or ambient noise while you work. Jess Lively recently clued me in to Coffitivity, which mimics the sound of working in a coffee shop (love it!). Make sure to wear headphones to block out any annoying coworkers.
  • Put a framed photo of your family, pet, or past vacation on your desk.
  • Paint your nails a fabulously bright color—typing up expense reports was never this fun before!
  • Buy and use a really good pen that never skips or bleeds.
  • Take a 20-minute walk outside during your lunch break or call that friend who always makes you laugh.
  • Buy yourself a pretty bouquet of flowers for or green plant your desk.

Actively Pursue Your Dream Job

After you’ve gotten clear about what your ideal career looks like and taken steps to make your current position more bearable, it’s time to put yourself out there and go for your dream job.

Make time in your schedule for searching and applying to jobs. Update your LinkedIn profile. Consider creating a website to act as your virtual resume.

Expect HR departments and potential employers to Google you before bringing you in for an interview. Clean up your online presence to put your best foot forward (no pictures of you passed out in a puddle of vodka).

Give yourself a quota of jobs to apply for every week, perhaps 5 or so. Yes, I want you to apply to jobs that sound interesting and play to your strengths. But when you know you have to meet a quota, your searches will be more focused, and you’ll pursue positions that stretch you out of your safe comfort zone.

And how cool would that be if you got hired for that higher up, more interesting job?

Odds are you’ll wind up in a sucky job at some point in your life, but that doesn’t mean you need to rot there forever.

How do you stay positive at your job? Share your tips in the comments below.

3 Simple Steps to Become a Productivity Superstar

Dump your excuses, transform your habits, and become the most productive person you know.


  1. Emily on March 27, 2013 at 3:56 pm

    Very timely advice for me, Sage. I’ve realized my biggest hang up when trying to apply for jobs is just not knowing what I want. I could really use some clarity in this area! Thanks for all the resources in this post, there’s a lot of good ideas here I need to digest.

    • Sage Grayson on March 28, 2013 at 5:49 am

      Thanks, Emily. Take some time to write down what you do want in a job and the things you absolutely don’t want. What are your responsibilities? What are your day-to-day tasks? Think about what the environment will look like. Do you want your own office? Five people in your department or 100? Is there a cafeteria or just a break room?

      Once you’re clear about what your ideal job looks like, you’ll be able to locate it in your job search more easily.

  2. Sandee on March 21, 2013 at 6:28 pm

    This is great advice! I’m sure Anne’s pretty grateful to have a coach like you to help her figure out how to survive that horrible job. I love Coffitivity; I’ll definitely be using it tomorrow to block out some of the noise in my office. Thanks for the tips!

    • Sage Grayson on March 21, 2013 at 6:55 pm

      Aw, thanks Sandee. 🙂 I’ve been looking for ambient cafe sounds for a while now, and I was so happy to find Coffitivity. It really does make me more productive.

  3. Sarah @ This Is What I Eat on March 21, 2013 at 4:18 pm

    This is definitely great advice. While my work environment has improved it is far from being my dream job. I have been trying to figure out what my dream job would be but I just don’t know what it is that will truly make me happy. Definitely going to keep exploring though! And good music definitely helps make the days go quicker. When I am working alone I listen to my inappropriate podcasts and I love every minute of it 😉

    • Sage Grayson on March 21, 2013 at 7:04 pm

      Inappropriate podcasts are the best kind. 🙂 Well, if you can’t figure out what your dream job is…then you should design it yourself! Having a personal business on the side might help you get clearer about what you want to do.

  4. Molly on March 21, 2013 at 1:57 pm

    Great advice, Sage. I know too well what a horrible job can do to a person and am very lucky that I have a pretty decent one. While it’s not perfect, I’m very thankful for it. Putting a picture up on my desk has helped a lot on those “off” days, too. I get to look at all of my girls (as well as go to talk to Mike, if needed, since we work in the same building) when I’m having a bad day. 🙂

    • Sage Grayson on March 21, 2013 at 7:05 pm

      That’s so convenient that you both work in the same building. Chris works close enough to our home that he can come home and see me and Skyla during his lunch break, which is really nice.