Dealing with Humanity, How To

5 Ways to Get Through the Worst Day at Work

5 Ways to Get Through the Worst Day at Work

I ran over a dead bird with a lawnmower. Its spine and head flew out onto the uncut lawn, so that I had to continually run over it every time I made a pass. We had spent the day shoveling gravel, and with this “quick mow” being our last job I was looking forward to a breather. But now breathing was the last thing I wanted to do! The entire block was suffocated with the sickly sweet scent of hot rotting flesh.

Another day I was buried in a jungle of ferns. Crawling under the great leaves as they covered my head with scratchy fuzz from their stalks. I was pulling out the dead leaves, meaning that I was uprooting countless spider families. With each spider that frantically ran out I felt more and more like the Americans from Avatar as they took down that special tree. Sometimes the spiders would stop and stare at me with utter disappointment.

The prickly sensation of the sticks I was sitting on, the leaves on my head and spiders crawling across my fingers mingled with the heat of the day (and my guilt) to reach a crescendo-like the sound of crickets that is suddenly amplified when you are hot or irritated.

I sighed, and rubbed my sweaty face on my shirt sleeve. My cheek did not meet the soft fabric that I was expecting so I looked down. There on my sleeve and now my face was a cluster of my most loathed insect…earwigs.


In spite of days like those, I have enjoyed most of my jobs (landscaping being my favourite). But I am always reminded that no matter how much I love what I do, there will always be days that seem to drag on into eternity (I can remember early mornings emptying other people’s hangover toilets when I myself was hungover). So here are some guaranteed ways to get through those times…

1. Give yourself a hand job.

This is my go-to move. It takes the least amount of mental effort and can be done anywhere at any job.

The trick is to imagine that your hands were the only thing hired, and then realize what their job is (what did you think I meant!). So for example, when I am mowing lawns the only thing that my hands are hired to do is hold on to a handle. At an office job your hands are hired to push buttons (keys), and sometimes hold on to a phone.

This helped me most when working in a factory. When I could stop myself and think “Okay, what are my hands actually doing right now?”, I could always get through the feelings of dread for the hours ahead of me. Realizing that my hands were being paid to pick this up and put it over there (instead of considering it as a job where I built parts) made everything less overwhelming and almost humorous. Some people’s hands get paid tons of money to press little buttons and hold a cell phone.

So, ask yourself what are my hands actually doing right now? Try to answer in the most simple way possible. Or perhaps take this step literally and let me know how that works out too.

2. Who cares?

If work is tough because I’m feeling overwhelmed or stressed then I like to ask myself who cares, and how much do they care?

The important thing here is to define the actual pressures placed on you at this precise moment in time. What are your responsibilities right in this second?

If I am thinking as I usually do, I lump a whole project’s worth of stress into every moment instead of breaking it up into reality. For example, I could spend the whole day thinking “I have to build up that lawn with soil, plant the tree and build the rock wall. Then I have to get home and write some e-mails, clean my room, read some books, make food and go to bed on time.” Or, I could realize that in each moment of time there is actually very little pressure placed on me. Though I may be building a lawn, I can break it down into a responsibility to be able to get the shovel full of dirt from the trailer into the wheelbarrow without spilling too much. Then later my only responsibility in the whole universe (at that precise moment) would be to place the rock in an appropriate position in comparison to the other rocks.

In other jobs my immediate responsibilities could have been to carry two plates of food a couple feet and place them on a table. That was really all that my boss and job was demanding of me in that moment, and that is certainly something that I think I can handle!

Don’t think of projects as lump sums, instead break them into the different parts that they actually are. You can only do one thing at a time so only focus on the pressures of one thing at a time. That way you can handle anything.

3. Work for yourself.

Oh this one is so fun!

Imagine that you are who you are doing the job for. You are the person who is going to eat the food you have to make, you are the person who’s bed you are making. The paper work is for you, the teeth you are cleaning are yours etc.

This is really quite enjoyable with landscaping. I imagine that each of the gardens we visit are mine. If they were in fact mine then of course I would spend hours weeding! Each job fills me with a different degree of fulfilment and pride because it is as though I have done it for myself.

It clarifies the purpose of the task you are doing, and it makes the time you are spending on it seem reasonable.

I can actually trick myself into this mindset so much that I feel gratitude towards my bosses for paying me to do my own work!

So have some fun with your imagination, and imagine that you are the customer (even if their tastes are different from yours). Does that not make your job seem a little more reasonable?

4. Give me a reason!

Speaking of reasonable, let’s be it. Why are you working? Break it down to the bare bones until you can find a really concrete reason.

Most often I work so that I can get money to buy delicious, good quality food.

Your reasons can have more perspective than this, and can reach into the far future. Regardless, it is always important to remember why we do the things we do. It reminds us that we are controlling our lives and we are using that control to propel us towards the lifestyle that we want. 

If you can’t find a concrete reason as to why you are doing your job then…why are you doing your job?

5. Have a nightmare. 

This is for emergency use only! I try very hard to avoid picturing things that I don’t want (because I am worried that my mind will think too loud and make it come true). But, it can be good to do it once in a while to get some perspective.

Imagine all of the other jobs you could be working.

Maybe you have worked a job that was a nightmare in the past…aren’t you in a better situation now in this other job? Even if you think you might be at the bottom of the list, working the worst job in the history of jobs, I bet you can get creative and imagine an even worse job. Travel time, think of the chambermaids who dealt with rich people’s pee pots.

I can’t give you an example of the worst job because each person has a different nightmare. But you can realize that you are not living your nightmare. (And if you are…why are you doing your job?)

5 Ways to Get Through the Worst Day at Work



The more I break down my job into its actual components (what my hands are doing, what my present responsibilities are) the more my opinion of work changes. I start to see that most of it is just little challenges and games that we are given to fill up our ordinary days. It doesn’t matter that these little tasks are meaningless-what else would you be doing anyways? I chose to work and therefore am not an employee under the oppression of a boss, rather I am a person living my life entering different arenas of challenges where the coordinator tells me the rules of the games.

We live in such luxury that we get paid to do ridiculously simple things! Feel the humour and gratitude in that!

You work that you may keep pace with the earth and the soul of the earth.
For to be idle is to become a stranger unto the seasons,
and to step out of life’s procession, that marches in majesty and proud submission towards the infinite.
When you work you are a flute through whose heart the whispering of the hours turns to music.
Which of you would be a reed, dumb and silent, when all else sings together in unison?
Always you have been told that work is a curse and labour a misfortune.
But I say to you that when you work you fulfil a part of earth’s furthest dream, assigned to you when that dream was born,
And in keeping yourself with labour you are in truth loving life,
And to love life through labour is to be intimate with life’s inmost secret…
…Work is love made visible.
And if you cannot work with love but only with distaste, it is better that you should leave your work and sit at the gate of the temple and take alms of those who work with joy.
For if you bake bread with indifference, you bake a bitter bread that feeds but half man’s hunger.
And if you grudge the crushing of the grapes, your grudge distils a poison in the wine.
And if you sing though as angels, and love not the singing, you muffle man’s ears to the voices of the day and the voices of the night.”
-Kahlil Gibran, On Work