Bad jobs are everywhere. You’ve had one (or three), I’ve had a handful, and we’ve all been there. They’re fully equipped miserable machines with lousy bosses, difficult coworkers, terrible customers, and poor conditions. And if it’s really bad, there’s awful coffee, too.
My first bad job was terrible, really. For starters it involved physical labour. I had to learn how to use a pallet jack and I left each day covered in a mix of sweat, pollen, and dirt. The job? Packing trees, flowers, and plants in a local greenhouse’s shipping department.
I got the job through a family member, of course. Dutch people often run greenhouses and being Dutch, I had a connection. I got hired after a five minute standing interview in the middle of the warehouse. The guy who interviewed me gave me several thorough once overs (was he assessing my figure or my resume?) and voilà, I was to start Monday. The job was $10 an hour and full time. At 18 years old, I felt like I hit the jackpot.
The job was simple: print a packing slip, locate required items in warehouse, build cardboard box, pack said items, and tape shut. What a breeze! But like anything, the allure soon ran out. Coincidentally it ran out around the same time as the big greenhouse holidays kicked into motion: Valentine’s Day, Easter, and Mother’s Day. To meet demands we’d work 10 to 14 hour days, picking, packing, and taping. My arms would be covered in scratches from rose bushes; my fair skin was turned dark, layered with dirt; my eyes itchy, red, swollen from the pollen. In this I had a reality check: this job was the pits.
I kept to it for one reason – I had an end in mind. I had booked a six week trip to Europe and without this job, this mindless, backbreaking, sweat inducing job, I wouldn’t get there. So, I did what most people would do: I changed my mind. This job was no longer the pits. It wasn’t great, certainly not ideal, and absolutely not forever, but it was part of my path. By embracing the things I couldn’t change I chose the silver lining instead and I chose to learn.
I started off with the basic requirement of handling oneself in a crummy situation – to act with pride. If I was going to be a shipper after all, I was going to be the best shipper around. This meant I needed to work my butt off day in, day out, and do it with a smile on my face. In a warehouse environment with peers who I could only describe as “lifers” around, my hard work and pep was met with some resistance. While this would deflate others, I saw the challenge in it. With consistent and genuine enthusiasm and hard work, I won them over one by one. In fact, like the Julie Andrews I wish I was, I’d get them singing together from time to time as we packed ‘till the late hours.
The curious thing is that as I adapted my behaviour to the situation, the situation wasn’t as bad as I thought. Sure, it was still the pits, but I was starting to enjoy parts of it. The sense of accomplishment in the work was incredible. No matter if the day was eight hours or 14, I could see the mountain of boxes that I packed. They’d be lined up, ready to be picked up by a truck driver, all labeled and perfect and I could say: today I accomplished all of that. I remember one instance during a particularly busy time where I managed to pack an entire one ton truck trailer by myself. Floor to ceiling. My back ached, I was drenched in sweat and covered in dirt and yet I had the biggest, most proud smile on my face. “Today, I did that!”
Jobs like this are everywhere. Perhaps they’re miserable up-close and not so bad in long view; or maybe the opposite. Maybe everything looks great on your level but outside that it’s a big ‘ol mess. Either way here’s what matters: you have got to be learning. Whether it’s learning what not to do from a crazy boss or mismanaged department or it’s learning about yourself – what energizes you, what deflates you, what makes you crazy – you have got to be progressing. Bad jobs build character and character is your substance, it’s what gives you your depth, maturity, and strength. It’s your moxie. And all of this can only be achieved with the right attitude; even bad jobs deserve to be completed with pride.
When I think about it now, this job was probably the best job I ever had. Through it I learned about team work, morale, and pride. I learned about leadership and what hard work really feels like. Today when I look around my office I see rows of 27” iMacs, a fridge full of food for staff, a foosball table, and so much more and I feel nothing but gratitude for the opportunity I had at the greenhouse. Without it I might expect my employer to provide the cappuccino machines and weekly team lunches. Instead, I’m overjoyed that they do.