5 first world career problems (and what to do about them)

Paid too much? Not making an impact? Cry me a river...

by Adam Gale
Last Updated: 24 May 2017

We’re born complainers. Literally from the moment we take our first breath, we’re moaning about something. In time, the piercing wails of infancy transform into the bar-side whinges of adulthood, while our concerns (one hopes) shift from hunger and self-soiling to relationships and work, but one thing remains: the magnitude of the problem has little bearing on the volume of the complaint.

Careers being more our purview than romance, let’s focus there for a minute. We all have our career crosses to bear, but some are substantially heavier than others. Losing your job while being accused of gross professional misconduct trumps someone sitting at your desk and messing up the height of your swivelly chair, for instance, but the moaning will be much the same.

After years of lending a sympathetic ear, MT has heard a fair few first world problems in its day. Here are some of our favourites.

I get paid too much

Well if that doesn’t bring a tear to the eye, I’m not sure what will. Over-market-rate salaries can be a problem because they trap you in roles you don’t enjoy (indeed, in a way that’s the point). The choice seems a dire one: keep enduring or take a painful pay cut.

Getting out of this situation requires you to understand your priorities. How important is the money, right now? Could you live off the salary you had maybe a few years ago, by cutting out the odd Pret, or do you have commitments that won’t budge? Is there no way of improving your experience of your current role, perhaps by talking to your manager about your concerns? In either case, remember that sometimes short-term sacrifices are required for long-term happiness and success.    

My manager just lets me do whatever I want

Everyone with a tyrannical boss wishes they’d just get off their backs, but what happens when they actually do? Too much freedom can stifle motivation and stall personal growth – if you want to improve, you need to be pushed.

You could go back to your manager and ask for more direction, but that’s setting back the case for employee empowerment a few decades. This is your opportunity to take a lead. Treat it like your own business – make sure you know what you’re aiming for, then just start trying things. The worst that can happen is you fail, but surely failure by trying is better than failure by not trying. You might just enjoy the ride a bit more too.

I’m not making an impact

This can take two forms. One is something along the lines of you’re 23 and you thought you’d have changed the world by now and you haven’t and now you’re disillusioned and wish you’d set up a social enterprise instead (ambition + impatience = disappointment). The other is where you’ve been at something a while, but just don’t feel your work matters at all.

For the first, you need to either confront your expectations or start your own business – though even then you’ll probably discover that the foundations of success take some time to set. For the more seasoned dejected worker, it’s trickier. You might be in the wrong job, or you might just not realise what impact you’re making. If your manager hasn’t told you how your efforts fit into the greater whole or doesn’t give you recognition for it, you should ask.

It takes me an hour to get to work – and I have to stand up the whole way

Being squashed nose-to-armpit into a metal cylinder and accelerated through a sooty tunnel is not a particularly pleasant daily ritual, but at least it’s not the M4. Whether you go by car, train, bus, bike or tube, you’re unlikely to enjoy your rush-hour commute. Everyone’s in the same boat (sometimes literally), though admittedly there’s a big difference between first class and steerage – the average daily commute is an hour, but for nearly four million workers it’s over two hours.

In any case, there are things you could do to alleviate the pain. Avoiding the rush hour helps, as does the odd day working remotely. Ask whether your employer will consider these. If you have no luck, you can either move jobs, move house or just grin and bear it.  

I’m not a good ‘cultural fit’

Let me get this straight. You like your work, the commute’s okay, you get paid enough, you don’t hate your boss or your colleagues, but still something doesn’t quite... feel right?

Sod off. It’s not that cultural fit isn’t a valid concept. It’s not even that you’re probably contributing more to your team precisely because you’re not a cultural fit, which can be code for everyone looks, sounds and thinks the same. It’s that you’re making excuses.

If you want to leave because you’re never satisfied or you just don’t like staying in one place for too long, just do it. That’s the attitude that got of us from gawking at fire in a damp cave to the full splendours of modern civilisation. Embrace it.

If you actually recognise you’re onto a good thing, all things considered, then quit complaining. No one’s telling you to settle, but when it comes to jobs there’s no such thing as perfect.  

Image credit: Donnie Ray Jones/Flickr (creative commons)


Next: How to pivot your career


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