I graduated from university when I was 20, so obviously I knew everything.
I knew that graduating young was a huge plus, that it gave me an extra couple years to get a leg up in the professional world. I also knew that taking the highest paying job possible was the best thing to do
and would look hella good to the people around me. I knew that the tea-making company internship sounded interesting and right up my alley, but it was just that–an internship.
And I knew an unpaid internship wasn’t for me. I wanted to earn.
A lot of thoughts went into this ramrod-straight path I set myself on and, looking back, most of them were firmly rooted in fear. But it wouldn’t have helped to tell me that. It wouldn’t have helped to tell me that I had time, that if I was going to explore my options, it should be now. I hadn’t listened when people dared to quizzically ask, “What if you graduate, I don’t know, on time? And do a semester abroad?” I hadn’t even listened to my own heart, junior year, when I realized that I had pursued a major I could get done, not one I loved. So, I wouldn’t have listened to your kind advice to take a beat.
I applied like mad. I interviewed. I took the first high-paying job that took me. I bought professional clothes. I spent hours trying to sell a component that goes into every electronic device that receives a frequency. For months, I woke up at 5:30a most days, at 3a on more than I’d care to recall, all so I could talk to purchasers in Germany. I now understand what it’s like to be up so early that your brain thinks you must have just taken a nap. It’s an otherworldly, out of body experience. I hope you never know it.
And, get this, I never sold a single thing.
To no one’s surprise but my own, I burnt out. I was depressed, unhealthy, unbalanced and jokingly contemplated crashing into the I-5 southbound median some mornings. My colleagues were phenomenal and hilarious (read: salesmen)–a welcoming, gritty bunch. I honestly have no idea how I got so lucky to have them. It wasn’t the people, and it wasn’t my boss. Simply put, it was a job I had no business doing.
I shouldn’t have taken it. Yet I don’t regret doing so.
Over the last few years, I’ve read a lot about never taking a job you hate, about only doing what gets you out of bed like Christmas morning, and shouting “no” to the corporate chains that presently keep the world spinning. Counterarguments often sound like dreary versions of, “But that’s the way it is,” or “Kids these days.” And a disillusioned generation shouts back: “Just because it is, doesn’t mean it should be!!” Our parents and grandparents shake their heads and decide to let us figure it out. I don’t blame either side. And I have no interest in convincing you to take a job you hate.
But I will say that the crucible of having such a job *actually taught me* about myself. At 20, I knew things. At 26, I know more deeply.
I learned how to cold call, when all I wanted was to crawl into a hole. I learned how to pick up the phone, get through gate-keepers and convince someone that I might have something to offer. I learned how to keep up with current customers and to enjoy developing databases. I learned to laugh at colleagues’ jokes, even when I thought I would get fired. After driving almost 60 miles a day, I knew that I wanted a job close to home and that I would take a pay cut to get it. I learned how to leave a job. I learned to have compassion for telemarketers. I did something hard, every day, for a solid period of time. That job peeled back the false, sitcom version of professional life–where baristas can afford to rattle around like peas in glamorous studio apartments–and revealed the exquisite, sacrificial, bittersweet reality of adults who have families to support and can’t leave, even if they want to.
It was real life. It took me to the edge of my abilities and beyond them. I got that leg up, just not in the way I was expecting.
The real clincher?
I now use a ton of what I learned from that job, in a position I have *begun* to thoroughly enjoy yet would never have been able to do, without the other one. There were times I felt very differently–at 21, I was bitter, frustrated, wounded and hopeless. And, if you’re there, I’m not going to tell you not to feel those things or stuff them. Let it in! Grieving decisions and wishing you could go back are important parts of the growth process, and an important part of making better decisions in the future.
But I do want to encourage you. You never know what strengths you are gaining *even now* from something that defers your hope and makes your heart ache. Whether it’s how to deal with difficult co-workers, do things that aren’t natural to your personality, spend a ton of time driving, get better at time management, learn to let go, identify what makes you tick, admit what vanities led you here or discover a trust in your own ability to figure things out, it will be something.
If you let it in, a job you hate can change you for the better.
Thanks for reading,