How I Kept My Job at a Big Corporate and Learned to Love It — The Truth About a 9–5

There is this erroneous notion that in order to love your career, you must to quit your 9–5 and work for yourself. There is simply no other way to achieve happiness in your career than to set up shop by yourself. You could never be happy working for someone else, it’s just not possible.

  • You certainly could not find joy in the morning commute.
  • The work is definitely too mundane.
  • And you’ll absolutely never get on with your boss.

Rewind a year ago, 3 years into corporate life and I would have said you were completely right. I was pretty much over the 9–5 grind. I was fed up. I couldn’t find anything I loved, heck, I couldn’t find anything I even liked.

I would start a role, get knocked down because I wasn’t totally in love with it and fall into a spiral of feeling completely lost. After a while, I got into the routine of a new job after a new job. But somewhere along the way, I realised that the novelty of finding something new every 9 months was the only thing that was keeping me going. I needed to figure out where my ‘ick’ was coming from.

September 2016 — Graduate Scheme Life
Like many brits, after University there is one aim: to get a job. If you start to apply early in your third year, there is more choice and much more opportunity. If you procrastinate you’ll end up with 3rd-year exams to contend with and the slim pickings of the job market.

In the UK there are a considerable number of companies offering graduate schemes to the bright young minds of tomorrow. In the ten years since the recession graduate vacancies haven risen by 39%. According to the research, the ones offering the biggest payouts are those schemes in law, investment banking and consulting. To any business hiring, smart, young and ambitious grads make sense, and it’s a door us 20-somethings are happy to walk through.

These schemes are perfect for a fresh-faced 20 something with no idea what they want to do with their lives. It’s the reason I applied to a graduate scheme.

After searching far and wide for the right scheme, I managed to get an interview at a great company and after a few peps talks from my dad, I summoned up enough courage to attend the interview and somehow I got the job. One phone call, numerous floods of tears and a huge moment of relief later, I realised I was all set to fly the nest of University into the big wide world.

If only I knew what that meant.

When you’re at university you don’t really think of the real-life stuff, or at least I didn’t. I hadn’t thought about what I was going to wear on my first day, what I was going to say, what questions I was going to ask. I was just excited to be there, I was just excited that somehow, I now classed as an actual adult.

4 years on I’m still there and better that, I’m in a job I enjoy. Who would have thought it? I’m proof that you can find joy in a 9–5, you just need to work out a few things first. The good news is, if I can find happiness in work, I’m pretty sure you can too.

1. Human beings are attracted to novelty — let it wear off and then see how you feel

Have you ever bought a new phone and thought “this is the best phone ever, I can’t imagine ever wanting a new phone”? Only to find that 6 months later you are now bored with this outdated version and you find yourself searching the internet for a new one.

  • The camera isn’t good enough
  • The screen isn’t big enough
  • You don’t like the way it looks

In other words, the novelty has worn off. Novelty is attractive to human beings because it presents the opportunity to experience new things. There is an excitement about new information or experiences. One paper found that a rush of dopamine accompanies fresh experiences of any kind.

Participants were shown images of landscapes and interiors that were said to be commonplace then every now and again there was an ‘oddball’ photo throw in that was out of the ordinary and not expected. The pleasure centre of the brain was activated when the ‘oddball’ photo was shown, causing a flood of dopamine through the brain.

Science shows that the brain like things that are novel.

That’s the same for a new job. New people, new tasks and new prospects might seem exciting in the first few months. It’s overwhelming your pleasure centre. Add a new company into the mix and it’s like there’s a party going on. Your brain is getting overwhelming with the constant dopamine hit. When your brain is overwhelmed by new information, it’s not a good time to make decisions.

A better option is to not let this fool you. Don’t be fooled into thinking the constant rush of dopamine is a sign you love this job. In fact, before making any decisions about your career, you need to give it time to breathe. In other words, allow for a ‘bedding in period’. Which means you give the job a certain amount of time and promise yourself that you will not make any decisions about it. It’s enough time to let the novelty wear off so you can make a level-headed decision about how much you actually like it. Typically it’s good to wait around 3 months, however, if you are new to the role and new to the company, a good ‘bedding in period’ is more like 5 months. It’s enough time for your brain not to be constantly hit with dopamine and for you to get a good, rational view on how much you actually what you are doing day-to-day.

The lesson:

Everything is good in the beginning. Which means the beginning is never a good time to make a decision. Give the job time to breathe and give yourself time to understand it and then make a decision. Be patient and allow yourself the time to understand your own thoughts.

2. You need to be more specific than “I want to add value”

It’s quite typical for any millennial to start their career ambition with ‘I want to add value’. If anyone asked me two years ago what I wanted to do with my life, that’s pretty much all I could come up with. What we’re trying to say is that we want to work on something that has a purpose, that adds something of significance to society. It probably comes from the fact that every moment leading up to finding a job is purposeful. You learn stuff to be able to sit exams in order to be at a certain standard to enter the world of work.

We all know we need some form of work in order to achieve financial success to live the life we want. It, therefore, makes sense to study for exams in order to pass them.

When you get to work though, you no longer have that continuation of purposefulness. It’s the reason a lot of millennials feel lost in their careers. We spend our entire lives feeling like what we are doing is purposeful. We can see the path ahead. Then, all of a sudden, we are stood at the beginning of what feels like several million paths. We, of course, need to start walking down one of them in order to know what’s down the road, but now we’re walking down the path all the while wondering ‘yeah this is cool but am I adding value?’

Whilst having the goal of ‘adding value’ is an admirable one, it’s not a very specific one and that makes it hard to understand whether or not you’ve achieved it. ‘Adding value’ can mean a million things to a million different people, you need to get specific on what it means to you.

Does it mean:

  • Adding value to the business? Creating leads, increasing sales, increasing the top line?
  • Adding value to your peers? Teaching, helping, coaching.
  • Adding value to society? Giving back, building the community.
  • Adding value to your own life? Growing and developing.

If you want to actually ‘add value’ you need to work out what that means for you. It could mean a number of different things but you need to start to unpick what those things are. Once you have that, you can start figuring out if you are achieving the value you want to add.

The lesson:

Get specific on what ‘adding value’ means to you. If it’s vague you can’t measure it and you’ll always feel like you haven’t achieved. If you’re not sure what it means to you, stop using it as a way to describe what you want and start experimenting (see number 3).

3. Experiment with your assumptions of what you think you want from a career

You might have grand ideas of the kind of career you think you want. I know I did. The first day I stepped in my first job, I thought, I want to be the next CEO here. You might think you are the high-flying type, the one that attends all the important meetings and makes critical decisions for the business.

We often have visions of who we are which are completely at odds with what lights us up. The best way to find happiness in work, so I’ve found, is to align who you think you are with who you actually are.

The point here is we all have visions of who we think we are. Yet those visions have usually been conjured up from TV screens or overheard conversations. Sometimes (and not all the time) our assumptions about ourselves are wrong. They can be totally off the mark. You might think you’d love a job is sales until you see how cut-throat it is and you realise that actually, you are better suited to a career in marketing.

Start by writing out your assumptions about your career:

  • I think I’d be good at working in sales because I’ve got a bubbly personality
  • I think I’d be good at a role in recruitment because I love helping people
  • I think I’d love recruitment because it’s fast-paced and I’m motivated by fast-paced workplaces

Once you’ve got all your assumptions written out, you can go about testing them. Experimentation is the god of all thoughts for one simple reason. Experiments show you the truth. If you want to find out what is right and wrong, test it, the science never lies. The best way I have found to prove whether my assumptions are right or wrong is to put them to the test. You are trying on a job every day you go to work if you put the right metrics in place to test.

A good experiment:

  1. Make sure you are explicit in what you are testing — e.g. I am testing whether I like a career in sales.
  2. Good, reliable metrics — I am going to test for 5 months, I will measure my good days vs. bad days, taking score (1–10) every evening at 7 pm. I will benchmark that score against my standard score of 6 average that I achieved in my last role.
  3. Review of data and conclusion. At the end of the 5 months, I’ll calculate the average and assess the overall outcome.

The lesson:

Experiment to find the truth. Don’t rely on your assumptions because assumptions can often be wrong. Instead, seek the truth and get evidence for your assumptions by testing them.

4. Patience is your best friend use it excessively

This one is good in theory and very hard in practice. I get it, I struggled massively with having the patience to find the job I love. When you’re in a job you don’t like it’s easy to want to run. It’s easy to try and find the next thing as quickly as humanly possible in order to find increase your wellbeing.

That makes sense. But if you don’t give things enough time you will end up jumping from job to job and not giving a single job enough time. That will then mean you might end up repeating the process further down the line. It’s easy to feel like you are in a race, you feel it more than ever when you feel like you are behind. But one of the best tactics you can implement is patience.

I’d heard an interesting quote once that said something like:

“Just put your head down for the next 5 years, don’t look up for 5 years” — Annoymous

‘looking up’ in this context is about constantly asking questions and trying to figure out life. It’s searching for the answers in blogs or YouTube videos or podcasts. Whilst there is good to come from listening to other people’s stories and getting their advice, you can also overindulge and end up doing more harm than good. Reading an article like this might fool you into thinking that it took me 4 hours to work out what career is right for me.

It didn’t — it took me 4 years. 4 years.

The likelihood is that it will take you a similar amount of time. Unless you are lucky and know exactly what you want to do with your life, the likelihood is that it will take you a while to figure it out. And that’s fine by the way, that’s part of the fun.

If you want to increase your patience, don’t view this ‘figuring it out stage’ as a waste of time. View it as a fun journey you’re going on to work out what you want to do with your life and getting paid for the pleasure of it. It doesn’t matter how long it takes, as long as you’ve got a roof over your head and you’re eating a warm meal every night, who cares if you haven’t worked it out yet?

The lesson:

Learn to practice deep patience. It’s going to take a while to experiment with different careers, master self-awareness and work out which job you love. There will be tears, happiness and everything in between. That’s part of the fun.

5. Setting the bar of reality

It is important to say something about the reality of the world and life in general. To understand what the bar is in terms of ‘loving your job’ it’s important to give some context to what qualifies ‘loving’ your job. I grappled with this for a long time. I would hear a few people say ‘I love my job’ and I would assume that meant every day they went skipping to work. I thought meant they would tell every person they met about their job and how much they loved it.

When people said they hated their job, I thought that they meant every night they’d dreaded the next day and would make every excuse under the sun to not make it to work.

The reality is that people’s definitions of love and hate are very different. One person’s love is closer to someone else’s hate. Ever heard the term ‘one man’s ceiling is another’s floor’? Well, that applies here. You need to work out your own ceiling.

For context, I think it’s perhaps unrealistic to think that someone ‘loving’ their job is going racing to work every morning with a big smile on their face. But equally, it’s very realistic to feel good about going to work, to be excited to work on projects and to enjoy what you do. It’s realistic to think that you can have a job where you don’t dread Sunday nights. But at the same time, it’s realistic to love something and find that some days, it bores you. That’s just life.

Much like life, there are days that things just don’t go your way. Those days when you don’t feel like getting up, where you try everything possible but just can’t seem to get motivated and those days where you want to give up. That’s not to say you hate life, it’s just to say you had a bad day. You can love your job and have a few bad days. That’s totally normal.

It’s about working out your standard. How happy do you want to be most days out of ten? Upon first glance at that question, you might think ‘well ten, obviously’, but it’s worth thinking about. To feel 10/10 most days is a pretty tough gig. No matter what job you have, 10/10 is most likely impossible.

The Lesson:

There is a sense of realism that comes with any job. When trying to find happiness in a job, it’s important to remember that the standard you set is important. If you are aiming for 9/10 every single day, you’ve got a hard task ahead of you. If you are aiming for 7–8/10 it takes the pressure off and leaves room for some bad days that we all have.

In conclusion

Finding work that fulfils you is hard but it’s not impossible. You don’t need to quit your job immediately and create a startup in order to feel fulfilled. The ‘cubicle’ and the ‘9–5’ life can be enjoyed contrary to what most articles tell you. It’s true that a lot of people feel unfulfilled by their jobs, the stat that is quoted very often is the Gallup poll which found that 85% feel unhappy with their jobs. That figure is staggering and quite frankly, scary. But it shouldn’t leave you feeling that there is no hope.

Finding what you love, in the corporate world or otherwise is all about knowing yourself and what you want. It’s about being honest with yourself and what brings you joy or at least that’s part of the puzzle. The other part is about testing ideas and trying new things, not getting overwhelmed with the novelty and working hard at figuring out which job is right for you.

It takes time but most good things do. Think of it as a journey of exploration to understand who you are and what you like to spend your time doing. Being patient with your process but don’t settle for less than the standard you set. Rewind a few years ago, I thought there was no way I would find something I genuinely enjoy doing but it’s funny how life happens.

If I can find a job I enjoy, trust me, with some patient, a sprinkle of self-awareness and a little bit of perspective, you can too.

This article was originally posted on Medium.com and was written by Eve Arnold. Read the blog here.

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