I recently published an article about what I learned while working as a temp, freelancer, and not working at all. I started thinking about all the jobs I’ve had and how each one seemed to test me in some sort of life skill I was lacking. Whether it was patience with slow software, dealing with obnoxious co-workers and clients, or how annoying it is to be the only one to replenish the plasticware, they’ve all been things that are helpful in various aspects of life. So here’s the breakdown of life lessons learned from my various jobs…
Note: No real company names were used to protect the company…and myself.
The First Job
This was not the first job I ever had, but it was the first job I got after college and stayed at for more than a few weeks. I was here for about two years and experienced the slowest server imaginable, the feeling of being chained to a desk, and some of the greatest co-workers I’ve ever had.
- Friends make work worth going to
If you find a job you love being at, then you’ve pretty much won the lottery and should never leave. But for the rest of us who drag ourselves to our desks every morning and stare at the clock, having friends (even just one) at work makes a HUGE difference. I used to look forward to going to work because I loved my lunch time group, the funny e-mails, and the occasional after-work events. The people I met there made a mind-numbing job tolerable, and sometimes even fun.
- Don’t care too much
You should care about your job, work performance, etc. but don’t drive yourself insane over teeny tiny details that no one else notices or cares about. I’ve seen people stress themselves out to the point of tears for something that wasn’t by any means a big deal. Work is important but it should never become your entire life or something that makes you miserable.
The First Big City Job
This was a temp job, but my time working in the Big City. It was in Midtown, it was in Finance, and it terrified me. I was so afraid of making a mistake that every time I made one I had to calm myself down and assure myself I would not get let go for forgetting to replenish the milk supply.
- Don’t take it personally
I was a receptionist. People are a**holes. I had to learn that it wasn’t me these people were mad at, it was other people in my company or the economy. I also learned that while my coworkers were generally nice people, they were not to be approached if they had just lost someone a ton of money. Instead of getting upset by being snubbed in the hallway, I just carried on with distributing the mail. By the end of my time there, I didn’t even care when a client told me I was incompetent.
The “I’ve Done This Before” Job
This was another temp job, but it was a job I actually had experience in. Not the industry, but the job itself, so I felt relatively confident suiting up and showing up to the big shiny skyscraper. I quickly learned that my skills only go so far in a very industry-specific field.
- Ask Questions
Just because you think you’re right doesn’t necessarily mean you are. You may not be new to your field or they type of job, but you’re new to the company. It’s appropriate to ask questions to see how the new company handles issues you may feel you’re already familiar with.
- Be confident
Once I realized I did not understand the industry at all I started to doubt myself. I was afraid to do certain things because I didn’t know if what I was doing correct. My senior counterpart reassured me that my skills were what got me the position and I should trust my own judgement.
The Nightmare Job
This was a freelance contract that almost cost me my sanity. It was unpleasant, stressful, and frustrating, but it was my first introduction to a way of working I hope to find again someday.
- Advocate for yourself.
Even if you’re working for a startup (which I was), you’re still entitled to expressing things you need to get your job done. Or just do them if you’re in an unstructured and unsupervised environment (which I also was). Know your limits and what you can tolerate from a job. No job is worth making you miserable (see below).
- Realize a bad situation
Not every job is for every person. People makes mistakes; some apply to the wrong jobs and others hire the wrong people. Having to leave a job that makes you miserable is not quitting, it’s moving on from a bad situation. Check out this article for more on that.
The Lip Biter Job
I call this one ‘The Lip Biter’ because I frequently bit my lip due to frustration. Another freelance contract, this one was with an amazing ad agency and a monstrous client.
- Go with the flow
I was not given a “schedule”. I was told “we can pay you for up to 15 hours per week”. Would that be stretched out over 5 days? 3 days? Oh god, not 1 day? I had no idea. And I had no idea for the 2 months I worked there. Every day was different. My hours and days worked were always different. And something that started as a nightmare (the lack of structure was off-putting) turned out to be something I sort of miss.
- Advocate for yourself & Don’t take it personally
Life really made sure I understood these two by dealing with an obnoxious client who shall remain nameless.
The *Sigh* Job
I started a full-time job about two months ago and it’s the first direct-hire job I’ve had since ‘The First Job.’ Ironically, this was the one job that I didn’t apply to (thank you LinkedIn), nor did I have interest in accepting, but what can you do? Freelance life is stressful and unemployment sucks (Funemployment is not a thing). So here I am. I call it ‘The Sigh’ because I find myself sighing quite frequently, as do my co-workers.
- You can’t please everyone
I, unfortunately, work for a perfectionist. I thought I was a perfectionist until I met my boss. I must have misunderstood the term. Nothing is good enough and its her way or no way (or you can spend 30 minutes arguing over the sentence structure of a two sentence paragraph until you give up and just do it her way).
- Do your best
Thats what my coworkers told me as they consoled me after overhearing multiple conversations with my boss and it’s something I’ve heard at every job I’ve ever had. No one is perfect (except my boss, apparently) so do what you can and learn from your mistakes.
My dad has always told me three things throughout my life
- Assume everyone else is a moron (this was initially taught when he was teaching me how to drive, but it stands to reason in various life situations)
- Remember the block (a Three Stooges reference)
- Always do your best
Your best will change from day-to-day and from job-to-job, but it’s one of the most valuable pieces of advice you can take with you. You may not be at your dream job just yet but wherever you are, keep doing your best and good things will come. At least thats what he told me…but I’m pretty sure he’s right.