Stuck

Why we can't (or won't) move on from bad jobs, bad relationships, and bad habits, and how we can all move ahead.

Take This Job and ...

Will the economic crisis make us stop hating our jobs?
Job-changing fantasies are escape fantasies. Feeling stuck at work, feeling underpaid, underutilized, unappreciated and unsatisfied, we imagine singing "Take this job and shove it, I ain't workin' here no more" as we strut toward the door and our coworkers break into wild applause. We picture walking out that door, dreaming of new starts and feeling so free.

Job dissatisfaction is a national sport. And that dissatisfaction is fueled by our ideas about what we "should" and "should not" be doing for a living -- by dreams of higher salaries, higher levels of happiness. But will this change now that record numbers of us are losing our jobs? Will those take-this-job-and-shove-it fantasies lose their power and appeal as employment, any employment, grows ever more precious and as we clamor after jobs that, two years ago, we would have shunned without a second thought?

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A 2007 report issued by the Conference Board, a business-research nonprofit, indicated that less than half of Americans were satisfied with their jobs. That figure had plummeted in the twenty years since a 1987 Conference Board survey. Back in '87, well over half -- 61 percent -- of those surveyed were satisfied with their jobs. 

When we're stuck in a perpetual state of job dissatisfaction, often it's because we're stuck in a perpetual state of dissatisfaction about everything. This is a major by-product of growing up in a consumer society, because perpetual dissatisfaction is the state in which advertisers strive to keep us. The more restless and dissatisfied we are, the more money we'll spend searching for happiness. The persistent goal of those with things to sell is to make us want something different, something new and/or something more.

But in a materialistic society, money burns holes in our pockets. Trying to escape debt, we're forever scrambling to earn more than we spend. Being stuck in a perpetual state of financial anxiety further fuels a perpetual state of job dissatisfaction. In the classic human-behavior model, as soon as our wages increase, so does our discretionary spending -- and on that fiscal treadmill, no job can ever pay "enough."

But will the current economic crisis transform our emotions around employment? Will we become so grateful for whatever we have that we seriously reduce our second-guessing and speculating about work-related would-have-beens and should-have-beens? 

Anneli Rufus is the author of many books, including Party of One: The Loners' Manifesto and Stuck: Why We Can't (or Won't) Move On.

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