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Six Tips For Surviving A Survival Job

You’ve been laid off. Your job has gone away but the bills keep coming. The job market sucks, and so you take a survival job to help make ends meet.

A "survival job" is a job that's below your skill level and (you hope) is only a short-term, part-time gig to keep you afloat until the economy get better. The job's main purpose is to bring in a paycheck but the job itself – perhaps even the company – feels like a dead end to you. The only place this job is taking you is to the happy place inside your own head, where you're getting paid big bucks to hold down your dream job and you can eat all the cake and doughnuts you want without gaining any weight.

But who said life is fair? Put down the cruller and cue the groovy Soul II Soul song, because it's back to life, back to reality. Back to the here and…now do you want me to mop the floor since the messy diners at table four have finally left the restaurant? At this point in your life, you never thought you'd be counting paperclips for inventory purposes, talking down angry Beanie Babies customers or uttering the phrase "are you still working on that?" to someone "working" on a plateful of food, but here you are just another misunderstood and underemployed workplace misanthrope waiting for quitting time. Why is it only five minutes later than the last time I looked at the clock? Aaaaaahhhhhhh!

I wrote a workplace column years ago about managing employees who feel like they're stuck in survival jobs. With the U.S. underemployment rate stubbornly high, however, employees could use a little bit of advice, too. How on earth do you stay motivated in a job that's "good enough for now" and is supposed to be a temporary rest stop on your way back to Careertown? Here are my six tips:

Find something about the job to like. Every job, no matter how dreary or boring, has some part to it that is sort of enjoyable or allows you to use your well-honed skills in a very small way. Maybe it’s using your customer service skills, helping with logistics or working up spreadsheets. Maybe it’s volunteering to create a break room poster that lets you dust off your graphic artist skills. Whatever it is, find something to look forward to and if you're able, try to do a little more of it.

Stop the back-to-work blues. When you've had a few days off, you can spend the night before feeling like you’re going back to the gulag in the morning. Try to get out of this mental rut by thinking about the good things that happened last week (let's hope there was at least one highlight), a co-worker or customer who is fun to work with, or the three-mile run you're planning after work. Whatever works for you to feel more motivated about going back to work.

Pack yourself a prize. Bring a little something to work that makes you smile. It can be as simple as a homemade cookie in your lunch sack, getting outside to see the sun, or buying yourself a latte. Whatever it is, aim for something that brings a smile to your face and offers you a small reward for showing up and working hard. And you're working hard, right? Right?

See things from the employer’s perspective.
Speaking of working hard, it can be easy to slack off in a survival job but try to see things from the employer's perspective. It's running a business, and it hired you to help make it work. That's kind of cool. Sure, the employer has a few (okay, many) idiosyncrasies that make you want to roll your eyes, but the company saw something good in you and rolled the dice on your job application. So don't let the employer down. Strive to be a good, helpful employee even if you would rather not put the job on your resume. Busy hands are happy hands, and busy work makes the time go a lot faster. Always do a good job and treat the work with respect.

Envision milestones in a positive way. Instead of thinking, "Oh man, I've been here for six long, soul-sucking months" get into the mindset of thinking, "Wow, it's been six months and I'm learning a few things and meeting new people." Yes, it can be hard to think this way with certain jobs, but try to do it. Never act like the work is beneath you (even though it might bore you out of your gourd), and keep your moaning to yourself. In this job market, there are many people who would gladly take your place.

Don’t get angry.
Yes, this isn't where you planned to be but life doesn't always go as planned, does it? My Dad, who was a teenager during the Great Depression, always used to say, "You gotta go where the work is." This is exactly what you’re doing right now. It's not the job of your dreams but it's a job nonetheless and your job is to do a good job while you're there. Life has a funny way of working out in the long term, and who knows where this job might lead you or who you might meet along the way. As anyone of a "certain age" will tell you, the things that seem like the worst things that could happen in the short term are often the best things that could happen in the long term.

I know you've got to leave for work to punch in on time, so I won’t keep you any longer. Now go make some lemonade out of those lemons. I'll take mine with extra ice!


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