Some people are lucky to work in a career or a specific role that they find fulfilling, challenging, and even inspiring. But many of us — maybe the majority of us — are working in jobs that are…not that. To a greater or lesser degree, every job has its boring or frustrating moments, but if you find yourself consistently bored and frustrated, with very little to do and little interaction with peers or even your own manager, it’s time to ask yourself: Do you have a Bullshit Job?
As defined by anthropologist and author David Graeber, a bullshit job is “paid work that is so meaningless, superfluous, or harmful that even the people who have the job cannot explain its existence.” It’s pointless, you yourself are hard-pressed to justify your salary, but you also have to work pretty hard to pretend your job matters because you don’t want to get fired. Bullshit jobs make people miserable, because you’re conscious of wasting your time and energy.
But if you have one of these jobs that require the minimum amount of your attention, maybe you shouldn’t automatically quit and get a new one. Maybe you should consider making your Bullshit Job work for you.
How to make your bullshit job work for you
Redirect your efforts
While all Bullshit Jobs are useless, they’re not all the same. Just because a job is bullshit doesn’t mean it isn’t time-consuming. Many Bullshit Jobs come with constant anxiety because you have to scramble to keep up the illusion of your necessity to the organisation. As a result, many of these positions can be quite busy as you do a lot of meaningless work to keep up the appearance of industry.
But if you have one of those Bullshit Jobs that actually doesn’t require much from you (this can be especially true if you’re working remotely), you might be wasting the most incredible resource of all: Your time. If you can say in good conscience that you’re doing the work you’re paid for, no matter how meaningless it is, you can make this job work for you by using the time for other goals. Maybe you could get a second full-time job and double your income. Or maybe you could spend most of your work hours working on a passion project, like writing a novel.
More practically, you could use the time to upskill or reskill. Many people working Bullshit Jobs feel like they’re falling behind because they’re not being challenged, and rotting away at one for too long could leave you with a flimsy resume and a rusty skill set. If your company offers training programs or reimbursement for certifications and degrees, take advantage. Lacking that, look for a mentor at your current job who can help you freshen your skills instead of letting them rot away while you do nothing.
You should also think about how all the BS you’re doing will look on a resume. Sure, you know your job is filled with meaningless tasks and make-work, but no one else knows that. Describing your job the right way can make it seem a lot more legitimate and important, so as you go through the soul-hollowing misery of your empty days, take notes and think about how you can make it all sound like the sort of person who’s experienced, competent, and underpaid.
One key to making a Bullshit Job work for you is to get out from under constant surveillance. As anyone with a pointless job knows, pretending to be busy is more exhausting than working diligently, and much of the spiritual misery of a Bullshit Job is the anxiety associated with being “found out.” Getting permission to work remotely can make automating your few duties a lot easier and eliminate a lot of the performance of working, as long as you’re not forced to work with a lot of remote monitoring (though you still have some options if you do).
Change the game
Most Bullshit Jobs get that way in large part due to a failure of management. Sometimes a manager is let go and some of the positions under them get sort of lost in the shuffle, and sometimes managers have too many direct reports and can’t effectively supervise you. And not all managers are good at confrontation — yours might be perfectly aware that you spend most of your day doing nothing of importance, but they have no idea what to do about it.
But a Bullshit Job could be an opportunity to make the job you want. Look into offering to help out other departments, or volunteer to help with projects that seem exciting or interesting.
If your particular flavour of Bullshit Job doesn’t actually afford you a lot of free time because it’s flooded with meaningless tasks and make-work projects, you can either lie down and accept that you’ll be doing this stuff for the foreseeable future, or you can try to change things from the inside out by suggesting tasks that could be eliminated, made more efficient, or handled in different ways. This is, in a way, an opportunity to reshape the position to suit you better and give you a higher sense of accomplishment and achievement. Essentially, making your job tolerable becomes your creative outlet and number one goal. If you’re largely unsupervised, you can do this privately just to make your life easier, or you can do it with the end goal of presenting your ideas to your boss in order to codify your bullshit-reduction ideas.
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