Work's a Bitch... and Then You Make It Work

Former Goldman Sachs executive Greg Smith has re-kindled the pilot light of resentment, frustration, and disgust flickering in the hearts of millions of workers across the country. Smith's resignation letter, published in the New York Times on March 14, cited Goldman Sachs' "toxic and destructive" corporate culture as the chief reason for leaving his high-paying corporate gig.

Smith is not alone in his desire for a kinder, gentler workplace where customers are valued and employees respected. Could it be that the plethora of customer service books is an indicator that there are plenty of arrogant organizations who refer to their customers in derisive terms behind their backs? Could it be that the abundance of books on "how to work for a jerk" tells us that there are legions of tyrants, bullies, and sociopaths making the lives of their employees miserable? Could it be that the Occupy protesters and the 99% folks are canaries in the coalmine, indicating that something is rotten in Corporate America?

According to research by job-placement firm Manpower, 84 percent of working individuals spent last year trying to find a new job -- a whopping 24 percent increase over the previous year. As a refugee from the bureaucratic, stultifying, soul-numbing, crazy-making, corporate world myself, I can empathize. For the last year of my management job I was on heart medication -- at the ripe old age of 40 -- and my cardiologist told me, "You're not handling your stress very well." I replied, "Tell that to my bosses."

I have no doubt that Manpower's research is accurate, but I wonder: Where are all these millions of people planning to find new jobs? Do they really think the grass is greener in someone else's cubicle? How can you be sure that you're not just trading one dysfunctional organization for another? Your boss may be a jerk -- or worse -- but how can you be sure that a new boss would be any better? Isn't the devil you know better than the devil you don't know?

If 84 percent of the American workforce miraculously did manage to change jobs, might they not just be playing a massive game of career musical chairs? You sit down in your cool, new Aeron chair, only to have your heart sink when you hear that same old crappy corporate tune as the music starts again. Welcome to perpetual Job Hell, where no matter how often you change jobs, you find yourself feeling disillusioned and powerless. Or as Lily Tomlin said, "The problem with the rat race is that even if you win, you're still a rat."

As I was thinking about Greg Smith, Goldman Sachs, and all the working folks who long for the Promised Land of Perpetual Job Satisfaction, I remembered a book that had been sitting on my desk for awhile. Today that book's title seems more pertinent than ever -- Work's a Bitch and Then You Make It Work -- so I picked it up and began to read.

Author Andrea Kay refers to herself as a Career Whisperer. Her book reminds me of my favorite Tolstoy quote: "Everyone thinks of changing the world but no one thinks of changing himself." It is so easy to sit back, point fingers, and complain about what a terrible organization we work in. (If I had a nickel for every career coaching client who has complained to me about their toxic bosses, a-hole coworkers, and dysfunctional corporate cultures, I'd be a millionaire.) It's easy to play the blame game. It's harder to take responsibility for your own happiness and take charge of your own attitude and your own career, no matter what madness may be going on around you.

In her book, Andrea Kay outlines "Six Steps to Go from Pissed Off to Powerful."

1. Take Your Pick: Disillusionment or Naked Truth
2. Enough Already: Lay Down Your Cell Phones and Blackberries
3. Have a Brush with Greatness (even if no one notices)
4. Prepare for Hurricanes, Sinkholes, and Manana
5. Develop a Sixth Sense
6. Go Twist and Shout and Shake Things Up

Based on case histories from thousands of unhappy workers, Kay's advice is no-nonsense and practical. She knows that it is possible to have a meaningful, rewarding career despite the myriad of things wrong with your workplace. Utilizing thought-provoking exercises, Kay counsels you to aim high and be fearless in presenting new ideas; to be prepared for and ready to cope with the unpredictable; to read the clues that reveal whether or not a company is a good fit for you; to define and get up the nerve to ask for the kind of work arrangement you want; and to take concrete and positive steps that will improve both your career and your life. Who knows? After reading this book, you may find you don't need to change jobs after all -- you've changed yourself instead.