Of all the advice and counsel I’ve received from well-meaning authority figures over the years, I wish “stop doing work you hate” had been at the top of the list. I think back to years of saying yes to projects and commitments because of a whole pile of justifiable rationale that any societal jury would have approved of including money, expectations, or fear to name a few.
Being in the business of coaching people to stop doing things they hate and move their lives in alignment with their deeper wisdom, I still get gobsmacked by the power of seeing those words strung together. A client recently told me that once she stopped doing things she hates, her life changed dramatically. It led to a release of commitments and work that no longer served her as well as a cross-country move to be closer to family. And she now evangelizes the idea to everyone she meets.
There is an infinite number of things you can be doing on this life journey that don’t include things you hate. Hate is the operative word here. I know few people who can avoid annoying or mundane tasks, and few who are privileged enough to have the freedom to walk away from something they just aren’t in the mood for. But hate is another level. And while justifications abound, there is a better option than getting up in the morning to immerse yourself in work you hate doing.
Psychologist Dr. John Sklare calls hate a destructive state of mind that wreaks havoc with physical health and emotional well-being. He says it carries a “mental venom that can pollute your spirit, poison your soul and seep into all of the relationships that surround you.” You’re hurting more than just yourself by continuing activities you detest because of the energetic field it creates around you and those with whom you come in contact.
Listen to your inner voice
Internal narratives in support of doing, accepting, or continuing with work you hate might include:
“Everyone has to do things they hate.” This is an indoctrinated belief for many. But what if it’s wrong? While life can present challenges and demand things we don’t ask for, doing something you hate because you believe it’s just the way things are is a myopic view that serves nothing and no one.
“I’ll be homeless if I don’t.” Is that really true? I’d wager there are several steps (and missteps) between stopping doing work you hate and homelessness.
“I don’t want to let people down.” This might be one of the hardest ones to counter—particularly if you’re a people pleaser. Telling people what they want to hear in the moment is often easier than temporarily disappointing them. But when the moment of not letting someone down passes, you’ll often find yourself holding the bag of something you don’t want.
“I spent so much money on my education, I need to get my ROI.” Sometimes the wisest thing to do is cut your losses. It’s an act that says “enough is enough.” When you’re in a hole, the way out is not to keep digging.
“I don’t know how to do anything else.” Is that true? That belief is worth challenging. I’ve never met anyone who could only do one thing. Strangely, most of us tend to be passable, even excellent, at things we love. Keep digging.
“Life is hard.” That is the story many of us our told. It’s a systemic belief. Male initiation rites often include some version of the acceptance that life is hard. It is a perspective you are welcome to adopt if it motivates you. But if accepting it means moving through your days with gritted teeth and white knuckles and a sense that true joy is only for children, reconsider.
“Look how much pretty stuff I can buy.” When you add up the sum total of the pretty stuff in terms of dollars plus hours spent in misery, what is their real cost? Do they still look as pretty?
A friend once defined wealth as “the ability to spend your time how you want.” And while enough money does allow you to spend some of your time the way you want, this statement shoots holes in the definition of wealth as having stockpiles of money.
Isn’t that why “retirement” is so alluring? Because you can stop doing work you hate, and with the time and body you have left, do what you love? Maybe. But that can be a long way off for many people. The idea of retirement in the traditional sense is going to become obsolete before too long for a plethora of reasons including longer life spans, longer health spans, and the fact that many people won’t be able to save enough over three to four decades of work if they end up living until 90 or 100. Which is why I also hold the perspective that work doesn’t have to be a dirty word.
Take baby steps
So how do you stop doing work (or anything) you hate without going cold turkey, putting your nervous system into shock, or being a flake to your commitments? Baby steps. You don’t have to sell the farm. But you can look at the thing you hate and break it into components.
- What are the stand-alone pieces?
- Of those stand-alone pieces are there some you actually like?
Keep those. Some that are tolerable but not desirable? Highlight them for further consideration to pass to someone else or migrate away from.
And the ones you truly hate? Try stopping one or more and see what happens. Make it a priority to extricate yourself from them and open up the possibility that if they’re important, someone else will come along who is suited to handle them. Knowing what sparks you and what drains you is a key component to feeling alive and living with meaning and flow.
Refraining from doing things you hate also reintroduces a sense of agency where it has gone missing. Even the slightest refrain has enormous benefits. Think of one thing on your plate that you really don’t want to do, small if necessary. Give yourself permission to not do it, delegate it, or de-commit from it. Then do that. How do you feel now? I’d wager at least five pounds lighter.
By freeing up precious time and energy from odious pursuits, you can, in the words of author and entrepreneur Jonathan Fields, “Do the thing you’re here to do, in the way you’re here to do it. If anyone tells you that’s not right, know that what they’re really saying is ‘I would do it differently.’ Fine, let them. You do you.”
Kristin Brownstone is a certified professional coach.