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5 Good Lessons to Learn From a Bad Job

Some bad jobs are in the eye of the beholder – for whatever reason, the gig is the opposite of what you hoped you'd be doing at this particular place and time. Other bad jobs are more clearly defined: the pay is barely enough to live on, the duties don't use your skills, education or talents, or the people are just plain mean and unsupportive. Whatever the reason for your discontent, there's some good news hidden in even the worst work experience – bad jobs have a lot to teach you about building your best career, if you know how to look.

Some bad jobs are in the eye of the beholder – for whatever reason, the gig is the opposite of what you hoped you’d be doing at this particular place and time. Other bad jobs are more clearly defined: the pay is barely enough to live on, the duties don’t use your skills, education or talents, or the people are just plain mean and unsupportive. Whatever the reason for your discontent, there’s some good news hidden in even the worst work experience – bad jobs have a lot to teach you about building your best career, if you know how to look.

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(Photo Credit: Alan Cleaver/Flickr)

1. People matter.

Do You Know What You're Worth?

Ask someone who’s been working for a while to tell you about their favorite job, and you might be surprised. Bankers will talk about their college summers working as a landscaper; professional artists will wax nostalgic about the year they worked as a cater-waiter. Anecdotes are not data, but still – why do so many people look back so fondly on their time as an unskilled laborer?

Dig deep enough, and you’re likely to find out that it was the people they worked with, not just the work they did. This makes sense: if you’re going to spend the majority of your waking hours interacting with people, it’s easier on everyone if you like each other.

Corporate culture is important, and not just for hiring managers looking to woo top talent with ping-pong tournaments or unlimited PTO. As a worker, it’s in your best interests to figure out where you fit. You might even discover a whole new career, when you realize that software engineers or registered nurses, etc., share your mindset and feel like family.

2. Management is a skill, and can be learned.

“What we found is when you become a manager, you suddenly want to treat people differently, different from how you’re treated as an employee,” says Laszlo Bock, Senior Vice President of People Operations at Google. “As an employee, you want freedom, you want people to encourage you, support you, coach you, create opportunity, clear bottlenecks.”

Part of the problem is that very few organizations invest heavily in management training, so the people in charge are likely to be top performers who got shunted into leadership positions as rewards for their previous work – work that in no way, shape, or form involved management.

Bad managers can show you by example what you don’t want to become, should you step into a position of authority later in your own career. Watch carefully, and you can avoid their mistakes. You might also discover that management isn’t for you, which is a totally valid realization.

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3. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes – and own up to them.

Most people find it hard to admit when they’re wrong. Your colleagues might be perfectly nice people, but if they don’t take responsibility for fixing problems as they arise, it’s going to be tough to get anything done. This might not even be their fault: some organizations develop a culture of finger-pointing that’s hard to break.

That doesn’t mean begging for forgiveness from your whole team every time you make a misstep. But, it does mean learning to look for solutions instead of someone to blame. If your current workplace doesn’t allow that, keep it in mind as something to look for in a future employer.

4. Always be learning.

Just as it’s human nature to want to hide mistakes, it’s also normal to want to keep people from finding out when we don’t know something. The problem, of course, is that concealing gaps in our skillsets only hurts us in the end.

If your current job is awful in part because your co-workers or bosses don’t know what they’re doing, and are trying to fake it, make a mental note not to conceal your (temporary) shortcomings. Remember that no one is born knowing everything they need to know in order to excel, and take every opportunity to learn.

5. Know when to fold ’em.

The worst colleagues are the negative ones who should have left long ago, when there was still a chance for them to find employment that wouldn’t cultivate their inner Debbie Downers. Don’t let yourself become one of these cautionary tales. If you find yourself jumping to the worst possible conclusion about your schedule, co-workers, projects, or company, it’s time to start looking elsewhere – before the habit of negative thinking gets so ingrained, your job is the least of your worries.

Tell Us What You Think

What’s the worst job you’ve ever had – and did it have any redeeming features, in the end? We want to hear from you! Leave a comment or join the discussion on Twitter.

Jen Hubley Luckwaldt
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