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Keeping Going Until You Can Go

Strategies for coping when your job is unbearable and you're searching for a new one

Dear Liz,

I am in a very unfortunate job situation, and I have just gotten the big signal from the universe that it's time to start looking for something else. I knew that I was unhappy, but I didn't know that my boss was also unhappy with my performance until the very serious sit-down we had this week. Basically, he told me that he doesn't appreciate my attitude—I don't quake in my boots around him like most of the beaten-down staff members do. I will be very happy to move away from my difficult and controlling boss. But in the meantime I need some advice on keeping my cool until I can give notice. I'm not in a position to quit before I have another job.



Dear Alex,

Any time we can't control the duration on an unpleasant situation—whether it's having to stay at a job you hate, enduring an over-long visit from a demanding relative, or a bad roommate situation that isn't going to be resolved quickly—it's easy to despair. You wonder, how long can I take this? Your days feel like a prison sentence. My advice is to sit back and say to yourself, "My job search will take three to six months, realistically. What can I accomplish in that time that will help me down the road?" (It could be a lot shorter than that because the job market is heating up. But let's be conservative so that you don't set yourself up for disappointment.)

You need to devise a secret plan that should accomplish two things: give you some take-away benefits from the time that you're going to have to continue at this job, and make your remaining weeks there more bearable.

You might decide, for instance, to really dig into a particular project so that you can add a juicy bullet point to your résumé. Spending your energy on earning that bullet point makes a lot more sense than trying to make your boss less difficult. The former is possible; the latter is very probably impossible, and at the very least is very difficult.

A possible goal: winning your boss over enough to become a reference for you down the road (not in this job search, of course). Doing that would mean paying your boss lots of extra attention, even including bowing and scraping, things you couldn't do if it weren't for your having such a good, immediate cause. But remember that you can do almost anything when there's a you-focused goal attached to it. You're more in control of the situation now that you've decided to leave. So jump into that job search at night and on the weekends, and every morning, hit your desk with a deep breath and the commitment to let nothing faze you.

It becomes so much easier to bear even the most difficult people when you know that most of your psychic energy is going into shedding them. Living well, as you know, is the best revenge. All you need to do now is get out that door without losing your cool—and leave Mr. Evil in the dust.



Liz Ryan writes her "Career Insight" column and answers readers' questions every week at She is an expert on the new-millennium workplace and a former Fortune 500 HR executive.

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