You Need a “Bad” Job

“You need to work at least one job you really don’t like. It will build character.”

A college professor doled out that piece of advice my senior year of college. I thought it was crazy. I remember thinking, “I’ve busted my tail end off to work at a job I don’t like? Are you kidding me?” I was convinced that I would graduate from college and land the dream job. It would be my career until the day I retired. (It’s OK, you can laugh.)

I enjoyed those first few weeks after graduation—I slept in, ate frozen pizza and cereal, and watched a lot of daytime TV. But after those first few weeks, I found myself unemployed and broke. I started applying for every writing and editing job I could find. I didn’t realize it then, but I was applying for jobs way above my experience level and requesting a bit too much money on those “desired salary” blanks. (Obviously I should make $60K right out of college … not.)

No phone calls. No interviews. Nothing. I was stuck.

555758_3545170397162_149651070_nI finally “settled” for a job in retail. I scored a job at Vera Bradley, which was opening in Opry Mills Mall. It wasn’t what I wanted, but it came with a paycheck and a lot of free purses. At least I could pay my rent (and carry a cute purse).

I hated the inconsistent schedule. Disgruntled customers annoyed me. Floor sets until the wee hours of the early morning were the death of me. I got home at 3 a.m. some nights and had to be back at 10 a.m. the next morning. I was tired and frustrated and upset with the way things had turned out for me.

One night, however, I was driving home from work late at night and my professor’s words popped into my head. “You need to work at least one job you really don’t like. It will build character.”

I kept at it and I worked hard. There were many days that I did not want to get up and go to work, but I still dragged myself out of bed and went in. I would fall into bed still wearing my uniform after a long shift. I cried after working 10+ hours on Black Friday.

But there were also moments when I got to make a little girl’s day by giving her a purse for free. There were days when I would stand in the corner with a customer and listen to them tell me about what brought them to Nashville—for instance, one grandmother tearfully told me that the family was at Vanderbilt for her granddaughter’s cancer treatment and she came to the store to buy a gift for her. There were the customers who knew me by name and I knew them by name.

To this day—two jobs later—I still think back to those days at Vera Bradley. I learned the importance of a smiling face, a willing attitude, a servant’s heart and a quirky sense of humor. I learned how to treat people with respect even when they don’t deserve it. How to handle being treated poorly. How to deal with confrontation. I learned it’s OK to have bad days (or weeks) at work—it makes you appreciate the good days that much more.

If you’re stuck in a job you hate, embrace it. Respect yourself enough to give your best—110 percent—to your work, no matter what your daily tasks are. It will build character. (Or, at least, that’s what my professor says!)

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