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How to survive in an imperfect work environment

Every job has its downsides. Perhaps it's too many hours, or an annoying co-worker, or a nit-picky manager, or something else that just annoys you. The grass always looks greener on the other side, but it isn't always.

The reality is, all of us work in an imperfect work environment. The trick is making it work for you. (Now, if your job isn't merely imperfect, but causing you mental or physical health problems, you should focus on finding a new job so you can get out.) Here are some ideas for surviving:

Look for the positive. What is it that you like about your job? One friend who had a boss who was a screamer was also extremely well paid. She explained to me that she could shrug off the screaming because she knew that when annual increase time came around, she'd get a good bump in salary. I once had an extremely nit-picky boss that could find a problem with anything, but I could set my own hours. There was definitely a trade off.

Navigate the politics. Look, office politics exist. They just do. You can pretend they don't at your own peril. Navigating the politics doesn't mean being a brown noser, but it does mean keeping your eye out for whoever has the power, and not doing things that antagonize that person. It also means identifying who the rising stars are and working to win their favor. Sometimes the politics are obvious -- the senior VP always gets what the senior VP wants -- but sometimes, the balance of power is weird behind the scenes. It may be the senior VP's admin that wields power over what goes on the agenda and therefore what projects get priority. Figure it out as soon as possible.

Don't expect perfection. People often use the term "dream job" to describe the job description they found at LinkedIn. This is the perfect set up for disappointment. In fact, when you're in a job interview, ask the hiring manager, "what are the biggest challenges in this job?" and listen very carefully. If you're lucky, the hiring manager will be honest about not only the work load challenges, but the cultural challenges as well.

Do your best. While sometimes it seems like the slacker in the next cube gets the promotion while the hard worker gets overlooked, most often there is a correlation between quality of work and recognition. If you're undeniably good at what you do, you'll find your work life a lot more pleasant. And if you're not undeniably good at it, work harder, and make sure you achieve that.

Don't gossip. Gossipy workplaces are like junior high with paychecks. Stay out of it.

Find your friends. Unless your workplace is super small, it's likely that you'll find like minded people working there, who can commiserate and help you out. Make sure you return the favor as well. When you can help someone out, do that! Don't exclude people from your group, though, as that will lead you back into the whole junior high mindset.

Identify your enemies. Sometimes it's not just paranoia and someone really is out to get you. If you know who that person is, you can better navigate the politics around the situation. If someone is setting out to undermine you, document all your interactions. When you have a live discussion, take notes and send a follow up email to your enemy: "Jane, thanks for meeting with me today. This email is to confirm that we decided to do A then B, and follow up with C next week. If I've gotten anything incorrect, please email me immediately so that we can all be clear."

Have a life outside of work. Work hard to make friends outside of work. Join a club, get active in your church, throw a neighborhood party, or do anything that will make life worth living, even if the boss is a jerk. If you rely too much on your job for your happiness, you'll end up disappointed.

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