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Misery at Work: An Inevitable Experience or An Unnecessary Sacrifice?

We all experience misery at some point, but what steps, if any, are we taking to overcome it?

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Welcome to our new section, Thrive on Campus, devoted to covering the urgent issue of mental health among college and university students from all angles. If you are a college student, we invite you to apply to be an Editor-at-Large, or to simply contribute (please tag your pieces ThriveOnCampus.) We welcome faculty, clinicians, and graduates to contribute as well. Read more here.

“We need to do a better job of putting ourselves higher on our own ‘to do’ list.”

Michelle Obama

I fell into a new job to begin my second year after college graduation. It seemed like a good opportunity — increase in pay, intriguing industry, bustling work culture — an exciting next step that just made sense. Well, it became clear very quickly that I had jumped into a role that wasn’t the right fit for me, and I decided to leave with no other job opportunity in sight.

So, how does this relate to you and what can I share in the hopes that you can learn from my experience?

I would like to first acknowledge that I’m typically the type of person who follows the adage “quitting is not an option,” so my decision was one that felt very scary and risky. What will my friends think? Will future employers view me as a quitter? Will I be hired without a current employer? Will I ever figure out what I want to do? I left the job without any answers and lots of uncertainty.

Most of us can’t help but live into a future based on our past circumstances. We wait for the right time — the “someday” — to accomplish something we’ve always dreamt of, when in reality, someday never truly exists. We question everything until we either choose to live with our declining spirits or make a hard left or right turn in a more promising, happy direction — I chose the happy route.

Now, I want to preface this by saying that I have the good fortune of being 23, living with my parents, and being surrounded by family that supports me in realizing my goals. For these reasons, I recognize how blessed I am to have had the option to make this decision. So, whether you’re also in a similar circumstance, can relate in some way, or can’t identify at all, I suggest that you apply this following statement to something in your life where you see fit: When you’re in your 20s, have limited responsibility, and all opportunities in front of you — do NOT choose misery. Take a risk instead.

For most people, your chances of choosing an enriching and exciting career path may resemble a mountain. There are many mountains to climb — some short or tall, thin or wide, graded or steep. I find that the world often encourages us to climb the tallest and steepest mountains in order to achieve a particular kind of success (e.g. money, job title, company status). Some climb with ease, enjoying the thrill of accomplishing their dreams and society’s expectations of reaching the highest peaks. However, others find themselves on their hands and knees climbing in pain, looking halfway down the mountain, regretting the trek in the first place, feeling lost, displaced, and miserable.

If I hadn’t taken a risk, I would have only continued to climb a mountain that wasn’t right for me, which would have lead to a constant battle of “what ifs,” “can I’s,” and “should I’s” — a pointless game paving the road to unhappiness.

The 20s are a unique time to choose which mountains to climb. I feel as though most of us in the middle of our trek don’t even take the time to consider which mountains are worth the climb to experience a satisfying, exciting, and happy career. We believe it requires too much effort and/or we simply don’t want to address it and face reality. In fact, if we choose the former, we experience even more exhaustion, frustration, and fear. Although most don’t realize it, choosing misery at work represents a lack of respect for one’s self-worth, because it denies us of the opportunity to fulfill our hopes, dreams, and goals — ultimately leading to further misery.

I had the choice to either remain at the job and choose misery, an easy, oddly tempting, and inevitable experience for many, or embark on a new journey that would allow me to regain respect for myself. I found it best for my career, my self-worth, and my ultimate happiness to recognize that I was making an unnecessary sacrifice by remaining at a job that did not reflect my goals and life pursuits.

We owe it to ourselves to take a moment to stop the sprint and take an ample amount of time to consider which mountains we want to climb. Take risks, be bold, and most importantly, take the time to figure out what you want to do. Even if you don’t have the answers at first, doing something to change your circumstances for the better is the only way to gain a sense of peace. Get out of your comfort zone and take actions to choose happiness — we all know the present is as good a time as any.

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More on Mental Health on Campus:

What Campus Mental Health Centers Are Doing to Keep Up With Student Need

If You’re a Student Who’s Struggling With Mental Health, These 7 Tips Will Help

The Hidden Stress of RAs in the Student Mental Health Crisis

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People look for retreats for themselves, in the country, by the coast, or in the hills . . . There is nowhere that a person can find a more peaceful and trouble-free retreat than in his own mind. . . . So constantly give yourself this retreat, and renew yourself.

- MARCUS AURELIUS

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