3 Reminders When You’re Stuck in a Dead-End Job
Written by Mackenzie King, Australia
I’ve only spent 10 years in the workforce, but I’ve already had a few dead-end jobs. Of course, they didn’t start off that way, but the excitement I felt would gradually fizzle off once I got the hang of my job, leading me to feel like I was caught in a dead-end.
I started working in my university days, and my first job was in retail. The money was alright, but the part-time hours suited me. A few months into it, I found myself tired of standing all day, tidying stock, and telling customers which way to swipe their debit card. Don’t even get me started on customers who tried exchanging clothes they’d worn claiming, “It doesn’t suit me” (but what’s that food stain doing on the shirt?)
I moved on to work in the retail department’s windowless office as an office lady, filling out timesheets, counting change for the cashiers, and ordering office stationery. I was so bored I could barely stay awake, but my parents thought the office job would lend credence to my accounting degree (it didn’t—I hated the job and the supervisor).
My big break came when I managed to secure work with a community newspaper after graduating journalism school. I wrote on school awards, centennial birthdays, and giant vegetables—and oh boy, I was an eager beaver reporter, no story was too small or too big for me.
But you guessed it. After a couple of years, I could feel boredom wrapping itself around me. The stories that once attracted me started to lose their shine. So, I moved on to work for a bigger newspaper and eventually resigned from reporting after five years of being in the field altogether—burnt out and jaded. My last job before my current one was for an e-commerce platform, and yes, I was bored to tears by the end of my third.
Fortunately, when I was starting to question my purpose in that last role, I was offered a job with a non-profit whose values and mission aligned with mine. For the first time, I found a job that leaves me feeling fulfilled, and won’t you believe it, requires most of the experience I had gathered over my years of slaving through one dead-end job to another.
Along the way, I’ve also learned a few things that I hope will help you if the job you once really, really wanted has lost its shine, you’re stuck in a rut, and the economy isn’t looking too glamorous to be handing in your resignation.
1. Continue being faithful in the little things
High school and university had indoctrinated me into thinking that I was a big shot, destined to change the world. I imagined my name on the front pages of The New York Times, writing Pulitzer-winning stories, being awarded the best foreign news correspondent. What they failed to tell us, was that great things take time to cultivate.
I believed I was made for more than being a sales assistant (“Excuse me, I have a university degree”), or writing my umpteenth 100th birthday feature (“I’d like to have you know my journalism lecturer has said I have great potential”)—so no matter what the job was, I got bored of them really quickly, and felt like I was just plodding up the ranks.But, I wasn’t going anywhere until God was ready for me to go somewhere.
Even in the Bible, many of the familiar characters we read about had to do boring, menial jobs before they gained their super impressive status.
Take Joseph for example (Genesis 37-50). He wasn’t catapulted to Prime Minister of Egypt the moment he entered Pharaoh’s household. He first had to serve under Potiphar (Genesis 39:1), was then falsely accused of wrongdoing by Potiphar’s wife (Genesis 39:7-20), spent a few unjust years in prison interpreting the dreams of his fellow prisoners (Genesis 39 and 40), was promptly forgotten by the chief cupbearer once Pharaoh had restored him to his former position (Genesis 40:23), before finally, being elevated to prime minister status (Genesis 41:39).
But Joseph, unlike whiny me, was faithful to God as he endured wrongful allegations, was forgotten by men, and sat rotting in jail. God was with him, saw his heart, and rewarded his faithfulness (Genesis 39:21).
I couldn’t see it then, but the skills gleaned from each of them were foundational to my current role—which requires me to make new contacts (and to also build a good rapport with them), to be able to write accurately and meet certain deadlines, and to also have an understanding of the customer (or in this case, reader) journey. Short-sighted me wanted to be rewarded in the here and the now, but God was laying a foundation I needed for future roles.
If you feel like you’re a hamster running on yet another treadmill—overworked, overlooked, and underappreciated—know that God hasn’t forgotten you, and regardless of what you’re going through, all you’re called to do is to keep faithfully serving Him wherever He has placed you.
2. Don’t let work define you
Over the years and with each job change, I have wanted to be the smiliest sales assistant, the most hardworking reporter, and the most efficient e-commerce person (“You need that product to go up on our web as soon as possible? Sure thing!”). I wanted to be seen as the best, most loyal, and most reliable employee. I was craving for my bosses to sing my praises and to leave my mark as someone who left something of value behind.
But I quickly learned that these accolades and accomplishments do not last. The feel-good story on the front page news quickly gave way to the next day’s news, my front pager ended up being used as a bin-liner or wrapper for someone’s fish-and-chips takeaway. The endless meetings, sleepless nights, and sacrificed weekends to launch the perfect marketing campaign (some with a shelf life of just one-week), were quickly forgotten the moment a new product launches.
Of course I am not saying that we should just slack off at our jobs. No, but I slowly began to wonder, “What’s the point of it all?”.These dead-end jobs helped me discern that while I do value being challenged (in terms of growth), and get lots of satisfaction from giving my best at work, finding my satisfaction and identity in a job is futile.
I realised the most important praise I should be yearning for is God’s. To hear Him say at judgment day, “Well done, good and faithful servant” (Matthew 25:23). My earthly bosses will forget all of my accomplishments, or move on to another role, but God sees and watches everything and He rewards those who are faithful in the little things (Luke 16:10).
I also learned that instead of striving so hard for things we cannot control, we should simply enjoy what we do and where we are placed for now, because as the Wise Teacher’s pointed out, “there is nothing better for a person to enjoy their work, because that’s their lot. For who can bring them to see what will happen after them?” (Ecclesiastes 3:22-23).
3. Find your fulfillment in Christ
With every dead-end encounter, I also saw that while there’s nothing wrong in feeling fulfilled with our jobs, we shouldn’t see them as the be-all and end-all. I looked to each role, each rung up the ladder, or each new company to find my happiness and satisfaction. But of course, they couldn’t.
As the Wise Teacher in Ecclesiastes bemoaned: “What do people gain from all their labours at which they toil under the sun?” (Ecclesiastes 1:3).
Indeed, the various job roles I prayed unceasingly about, almost always left me drained, burned out, or plain bored. Because the thing is, the empty, nagging feeling of, “There’s got to be more to life than this” I get in the pit of my stomach, points to the bigger picture of the only person who is able to fill that void—Jesus.
It’s in Him that I find my ultimate satisfaction, for He “satisfies the thirsty, and fills the hungry with good things” (Psalm 107:9). More crucially, my job will fade away along with this passing world, and everything I have toiled for will fade into nothingness—but what I have in Christ will carry me through to eternity.
Still, I can’t wait till Kingdom to come before being productive. So, to motivate myself, I practised bringing Jesus into my dead-end jobs. I’d picture Him being at my elbow when I was serving a customer or writing a story. I’d imagine Him watching over everything, taking into account every hard work I did that went unnoticed by my managers (it was a good way of reminding myself not to slack off).
I had to resolve within myself that I was working for the Lord and not for men (Colossians 3:23-24), and as British author Rachel Jones writes in her book, Is This It?: The Difference Jesus Makes to That, hard as it is to “get up day-after-day to a job [I] don’t like”, I can choose to see that with each new day, I “have the privilege of serving Christ in [my] work. And one new day soon, God will reverse the curse of Genesis 3, and [I]’ll spend an eternity working productively, in total perfection, reflecting the image of God.”
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