The saying "you've made your bed, and now you have to lie in it," is just as true at work as in the rest of life. The difference at work is that there is a long list of people and circumstances readily available to blame before yourself. You might have a terrible boss, a crappy, needless project, a dead-end role, a ridiculously long commute ... the potential points of misery go on and on.

What do you do? Quietly complain.

This incredibly common behavior is both fascinating and depressing. When miserable circumstances sprout around us at work, we just complain. We complain to sympathetic colleagues and form cliques of misery. We complain to our spouses and friends and therapists. And what's most confusing is that we work hard to hide our complaining from anyone who might actually be able to help--like a manager or supervisor. We do this out of fear that we might somehow get in trouble for the thing we're complaining about. We do this because we don't think anything is going to change--or at least, not because we ask for it to.

And that's precisely where I want to focus. You have more power to change your miserable circumstances than you think, and so do I. We all have more power at work then we ever use.

So, if things aren't right at work, what should you do instead? Use your power to do just one thing: take control.

You always have three options. I suggest you start with the first and progress through the others until your situation significantly improves.

  1. Talk to your boss (or whoever's in charge). Request time, state the facts and how they're impacting your work, make a specific request for change, listen to their response, and go from there. Ideally, your boss hears you the first time. If not, make at least three sincere and solid attempts to get through to them. Take ownership of your part of the problem, bring some potential solutions, and offer to do anything you can to help. Persist. If after three tries, you're not getting anywhere, proceed to option number two.
  2. Escalate to your boss's boss or HR (if you have one). The process is the same. Request time, state your issue and its impact, and make a specific request. Your boss's boss will want to know everything you've done to date to solve this problem yourself. Be ready with a good answer. If this elevated path doesn't lead anywhere, then you proceed to number three.
  3. Leave. I know it's easier said than done, but if you're working in a toxic place, you must leave. You can't stay miserable forever, and because you've gone through steps number one and two, you've made a real attempt to change your situation and you can exit with the peace of mind that you tried. Leaving might not be an immediate solution. It might take as much as a year to put the pieces in place, but start building that path brick by brick now by getting your resume updated and circulated, increasing your networking activities, keeping your eyes peeled for other opportunities, and so on.

If you have a dozen issues at the office, know you don't have to tackle all of them at once. In fact, doing so will probably overwhelm you and whoever you talk to about them.

These three simple (but admittedly not easy) steps put you in control. They leverage the power you have to change your worklife--Which is crucial, because work is too much of our days and our lives to be miserable the whole time.

Published on: May 30, 2018
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.