“What you do today can improve all your tomorrows.” ~Ralph Marston
Before I started my business, I spent three years at an ad agency and a little over a year at an international furnishings retailer. I also waitressed, wrote freelance articles, designed and developed a church website, and worked in an incredibly boring mailroom.
Some of those jobs (let’s be honest, most of those jobs) totally sucked.
In the mailroom, my boss was a sexist jerk with a Napoleon Complex.
In waitressing, I spent too much of my time being other people’s emotional punching bag.
And at the ad agency—the most relevant, fun, and useful of my full-time jobs—I worked myself half to death, burning out around the three-year mark and seriously contemplating a simple life spent working at Starbucks and never taking my work home with me.
Sometimes, in the middle of the day, I would walk around the block and cry my eyes out because I was so exhausted. So you won’t be surprised when I say that I don’t look back on any of those jobs and want to relive them. I don’t think back on them and feel nostalgic.
And if you told me that you hated your job or even that you loved your job but you’d burned yourself completely out, I’d say, “I hear that, sister!” And then I’d help you come up with a practical plan for quitting and doing something truly spectacular.
That said, it’s only now that I’m truly working toward what I want, doing the things that inspire me, that I can look back and realize that every single job I had, with every good, bad, and ugly thing about it, led me perfectly to the place I am today.
Waitressing taught me patience. It taught me how to work with people (even entitled, difficult, or angry people). It taught me not to take everything so damn personally.
At the furnishings retailer, I learned about account management, event planning, eStore management, and editing content across multiple countries and cultures.
At the ad agency, I learned how to run my own business.
I sat with the accountant while she explained how she balanced the books. I worked alongside the designers and developers and learned to speak their language and respect their work. I wrote and strategized content for every format you can imagine. I managed client projects. I flew across the country to present on social media in front of hundreds.
I also learned the art of the short sentence, the closely edited article. I worked closely with the Creative Director on brand slogans and ad concepts for big brands. And I learned how to sell. Sell my ideas. Sell our services. Sell my expertise.
I learned that when you’re constantly selling yourself, you start to believe in yourself more.
In other words, all the tools that made my first business successful were things I learned on the job at jobs that weren’t my dream.
All the skills I’m using now as a full-time travel writer—my long-time dream job—come from a history of difficult, sometimes heartbreaking work.
Which is why today I wanted to offer up a little encouragement:
If you’re in a totally sucky job you hate or even a job that you kinda love but that is zapping your energy and killing your creativity…
Because you never know how those skills you’re developing now might just set you up for future success.
So, while you’re in that not-so-ideal job, learn as much as you can. Hone your skills. Connect with your colleagues. Go for that award. Volunteer for a task you want to learn more about.
And in the meantime start looking for or planning for the thing you really want. That job at a company you admire. That career as a freelance creative type. That business idea that’s been coming up over and over again.
Make a change. Do what you love.
But also take advantage of what you can now. And remember that you can’t know just how much that job is doing for you until you’ve left it in the dust. The things you do today can change everything…even if you can’t see it yet.