How to plan for success while holding down a job you don’t love

When every day is a tough day for you at work, it’s easy to wallow in your feelings. But there are ways to make the most of your position by thinking of something deeper than your day-to-day work, like its meaning and your purpose.

First of all, what are meaning and purpose? While people may throw the terms around, they can be vague and hand-wavey.

But meaning can be more concrete. Morten Hansen and Dacher Keltner offer some insight on the former word in a 2012 Harvard Business Review article.

“The phrase ‘meaning at work’ refers to a person’s experience of something meaningful — something of value — that work provides. That is not the same as ‘meaningful work,’ which refers to the [value of the] task itself. Work is a social arena that provides other kinds of meaningful experiences as well,” they write.

Many of us already take that to be true: we spend a third of our lives at work — if not more — and it shapes our personalities and our priorities. Work occupies a place of privilege in our calendars, and when it doesn’t make us happy things can seem very dark.

Here’s how to get to the place you want to be when you feel down.

1. Find out what you want

One of the hardest parts of deciding how to fix your unhappiness is by deciding what will make you happy at work. To make it easier, try to write a mission statement for your career: “I am a person who connects others and ,” for instance.

Dan Pontefract wrote about making a “personal declaration of purpose” in a 2016 Harvard Business Review article.

“If you have never created a personal declaration of purpose, now is the time. The declaration is a simple statement about how you decide to live each and every day. Make it succinct, specific, jargon-free, and expressive. Your statement ought to be personal, and it should integrate your strengths, interests, and core ambitions. For example, here’s mine: ‘We’re not here to see through each other; we’re here to see each other through,'” Pontefract writes.

He adds that your should also include the three kinds of purpose, “personal, job and organization,” but University of Victoria professor A. R. Elangovan also told Pontefract that your shouldn’t fail to incorporate enough of the personal portion, which reportedly happens often. The professor thinks one should spend as much or more energy looking into personal purpose.

2. Adopt a big-picture mindset

Stacey Lastoe writes about the advice Adam Smiley Poswolsky, author of the book The Quarter-Life Break-Through, gave her in the The Muse’s NYC office in an article for the publication.

She defined “your breakthrough moment” as “that moment of opportunity and possibility when you discover why you’re doing what you’re doing and what you want to give to the world,” adding that he says it’s a continuous process, among other information he mentions.

Poswolsky said, “Don’t focus on figuring out your one why, worry less about the one answer, and more about asking the right questions: What do you care about? What gets you fired up? What injustice infuriates you? What types of people do you enjoy spending time with? What types of articles do you find yourself posting on Facebook? What challenge is worthy of your time, not for your whole life, but right now?”

3. Watch someone else do different work

Switch things up by seeing how different work is carried out to get out of your own head.

Todd Berger, president and CEO of Chicago-based Redwood Logistics, told Inc. about how gets inspired: shadowing a colleague.

“Maybe a certain process of theirs can give you an idea of how to do something differently that will make you more productive. If anything, it will spark different conversations, which will spark ideas,” Berger said.

It also doesn’t have to be a colleague. If a musician or sports star is your inspiration, examine how they work: how they manage details, how they talk to their band members or teammates, or how they present themselves. It may give you ideas for your own job.

4. When you can, surround yourself with different people

Erika Andersen writes about the power of ditching “the haters” at work in a 2013 Forbes article.

“While there’s a certain mean-spirited, self-righteous satisfaction in taking the everyone’s-a-loser-but-us approach, in the long run it will just make you more unhappy.  Hearing only the negatives about your workplace makes it hard to see the positives that may exist, and it ultimately will make you feel worse about yourself (if this place and these people are so awful, why am I still here?). Spending time with colleagues who have a more balanced view can dramatically shift your emotional response to your job,” Andersen writes.

But if your experiences at work are so stressful that you want to search for a new one, weigh your options and proceed the way you see fit. If that means looking for a new one, do as much research as possible. Just remember: you are more than your position.