Tell me, what are your feelings towards the cubicle?

A month or two ago, I was talking with a family friend who is in his mid-50′s. I was particularly interested in one comment he made about the work ethic of people in their twenties:

“Kids these days”, he said, are entitled, were not willing to work hard, and were more eager to complain than they were to work hard.

“But these days, there’s no loyalty. People should be grateful for their jobs; to even have a job in the first place!”

This isn’t the first time I’ve heard someone say that we should “just be grateful for our jobs”.  The majority of Americans are dissatisfied with—or downright angry with—their jobs(1).

Clearly, we would all be unquestionably grateful for our jobs if we were all having a blast. So it’s likely that the people who feel the need to remind those who don’t like their job to “be grateful for your job” are actually just other people who don’t like their jobs either.

How can someone hate their job, but turn around and tell you to be grateful to have one in the first place?

Clearly, there’s a disconnect here.

If being “grateful for you job” only referred to keeping a positive attitude and not being bogged down with negativity, I would agree, and would have nothing to write about.

But from my observations, people talking about “being grateful for their job” usually mean it in the context of not liking their job, but coming up with “reasons” to be happy about it anyway.

Reasons I have read for “being grateful for your job”.

An article I found on the blog Smart Path to Happiness called “Your Job is a Gift—Act Accordingly”
(http://www.smartpathtohappiness.com/2009/06/your-job-is-a-gift-act-accordingly/) excellently describes common wisdom around this topic, such as (and I quote from the article):

“I hate to think about it, but we are all replaceable”

“…unfortunately [your company's] job is not to make you rich…”

“It stinks to know that you may provide your company with $60,000 in value but you’ll only get $40,000. It seems unfair but that’s why we have companies in the first place…”

“Above all, remember that if entrepreneurs didn’t take chances to stat companies then we would never have job opportunities in the first place. Working hard is how we tell the owners of our company, ‘thank you for putting your money, time and future on the line to start your company so I can have a consistent income to feed my family”

To me, this sounds like saying “I recognize that there is a problem, but I’m not going to do anything about it.”

Are these really the reasons that would motivate you to be grateful for your job?

“Being grateful for your job”, in the manner described above, is completely misguided.

This manner of thinking encourages you to believe that:

  1. You job “happens to you”.

    That is, that you really don’t have any choice about where you work or what you do to make money; so since you must be there, you should try to keep a positive attitude.

  2. You’re worthless.

    And as such, you can be replaced easily.

  3. The only way to make money is through your current job.

    In other words, you could not possibly be successful or make money were it not for your current job.

  4. It is acceptable to be compensated less than you are worth.
  5. Most importantly (and for the reasons above), you are powerless to change your situation.

    Feeling that a problem is beyond your ability to rectify will likely cause you to not try to better your situation.

In other words:

Being “grateful” for a job you don’t like is pure rationalization, and simply a mechanism to excuse complacency.

How could it not be? If you truly believe “things happen to me”, “I’m worthless”, “I don’t get paid enough”, or “there’s nothing I can do”, would you ever try?

It goes back to the entire premise of my blog: mindset inspires action. If you truly believe that you should be “grateful for your job”, rather than actively looking for ways to make things better for yourself, know that you are causing your own problems, not someone else. It’s your fault!

In my own life, all of the things I have had success with–my radio show, my blog, and my endeavors with startup companies, to name a few—have been entirely of my own making, and a result of my strong mindset against doing things I don’t want to do.

Had I taken advice from the aforementioned article by “conceding” worthlessness, I likely would not have tried any of these things, and just “accepted” my lot in life as an accountant, destined to spend the rest of my life working for a public accounting firm.

But if you believe that you deserve better, you will naturally seek out ways to get better. Your mindset will inspire your action.

What it should really mean to be “grateful” for your job.

  1. What you should do about a job you don’t like is up to you.

Come to your own conclusions. Are you willing to take some risks or do something exciting in order to get a better job? It’s up to you, not someone else.

  1. If you consciously decide to stay at a job you don’t like, I would recommend being “grateful” for it.

Recognizing that your job and your reaction to it is a decision made entirely by you, you have a choice to do something about it…or to not do something about it.

If you decide not to do something about it, why not look for reasons to be happy about it? If you fall into this category, I would recommend taking advice such as from the quoted article above.

2. Recognize a job for what it is- an economic transaction wherein you sell your time in exchange for money.

In my article The True Nature of Jobs (well, soon-to-be article), I write that a job is simply an economic transaction: you sell time, you receive money. Jobs are paraded by society as being a “defining” element of our personalities and worth. To that I say: who cares?

The only thing that really matters—as far as having money to support ourselves—is receiving money. I recommend focusing your professional efforts in a broader manner: on producing value, rather than the narrow manner of selling time. Read my article on the True Nature of Jobs for more insight.

3. Jobs don’t exist for the sake of providing you with fun: that’s up to you.

Given that a job is simply an economic transaction, it is only natural that it exists without consideration for your happiness. Sure, big companies talk about benefits, “work-life balance” and “working at 80% of normal schedule” after having a kid.

But think about it: when you order food at a restaurant, what’s your number one concern: the quality of the food (the value you receive), or worrying about the happiness and lives of the cooks? Clearly, your concern is how good the food tastes.

The same goes for employers: their concern is providing value to their customers, and their customers, in turn, are focused solely on the value they receive.

So why would a job be tailor-made for your happiness, if the goal of your job is to provide value for someone else?

In short: looking to a company to “give” you a job that makes you happy is inherently makes no sense. So, the only way to find a job that makes you happy is to make that happen on your own.

If none of that convinces you, just be glad your job isn’t like this!


Citations: (1) (http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2010/01/05/national/main6056611.shtml)

  • Warren

    With regards to being grateful for your job , why should you??? Its an exchange!! You give up 50 plus hours a week and they pay you. In fact it is often a better deal for the employer than the employee!!! Years ago workers may have been more loyal to their place of work but only because that loyalty was equal on both parts. 50 years ago most people would have jobs for life. These days , good employees are dropped like a sack of hot coal. If you are too grateful for a job then you are picked on and seen as weak. Stand up and be strong!!

    • Jomama

      Sure, hope that strength carries you through when you’re on unemployment or on the street.

  • Christopher Burns

    When I wrote the article you mentioned on the Smart Path to Happiness,  I never meant it to be taken that way.  I was frustrated by my coworkers who would show up late, take a long lunch, leave early and spend the time inbetween chatting on IM.  I remember hearing comments like, “well if they paid me more I’d work harder”.  We all know that money is only a motivator for a short period of time and I was just trying to convey, that if they worked harder (first) they’d get paid more (later).  I never wanted to say that their only option was to keep working in a job.  Those who know me will tell you that I’m a huge advocate of using your day job to pay your bills and use your free time to build something that can replace your day job.  That being said, I do respect your interpretation. 

    • rcthornton

      Huh, I appreciate your note here Chris.  And what you say makes sense.  I hadn’t intended to misrepresent what you wrote.  My goal was just to point out a body of thought that was essentially the antithesis of my viewpoint and to engage that body of thought in a meaningful way.  But I’m grateful for your note here, and I hadn’t meant this in a way that could be constituted as anything more than an intellectual disagreement.

  • OlderWorker

    The writer asks “How can someone hate their job, but turn around and tell you to be grateful to have one in the first place?

    Simple.  When you’re over 50, you are painfully aware that the job market is not on your side. Age discriminaton abounds, and maybe you’ve seen many people get laid off. People who are smarter than you!  So,  yes,  you tell yourself every day how ‘grateful’ you are to have a job even if it’s one you hate or is unfufilling. Young people have time and arrogance on their side, they can afford to say f-you and land on their feet. Older workers can’t.  So the names of the game becomes “dance as fast as you can” and “fake it till you make it…or simply can no longer take it.”  At 51, that’ s my plan because I have no desire to wind up homeless and living under a bridge someplace!