- Many people who took “bad” jobs, or jobs that proved unfulfilling, ultimately ended up learning what kind of role would suit them better.
- Some people say they needed the money and experience on their résumé before they could pursue their dreams.
- Even if you just need a paycheck right now, you can leverage the skills and references you get into something better.
Over the course of reporting a story on what a “good job” means today, I noticed a curious pattern among the people I interviewed. Several told me they would never have landed in their current, fulfilling role if not for a “bad” job in their past.
Sometimes that’s because the so-called bad job paid enough – in money and prestige – to allow them to think about personal fulfillment in their next role.
Annafi Wahed, for example, worked at a consulting firm for almost two years before quitting to work on Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign. Today, she’s the founder of The Flip Side, a daily news digest that summarises political analysis from conservative and liberal media.
Wahed, 28, told me explicitly that having the consulting experience on her résumé (plus the CFA degree she’d earned) “gave me the confidence to do something crazy.” She was certain that after the campaign, she’d be able to find another job – plus, recruiters thought her stint in politics was “really cool.”
“It was definitely having that safety net that allowed me to take this huge risk,” Wahed said.
For others, a bad job offered the opportunity to clarify what was important to them – and start pursuing it.
Alysa Ain, 31, worked at a top law firm in New York City before realising the work wasn’t for her. Now she’s applying to graduate programs in clinical social work; she’s ultimately hoping to open a private psychotherapy practice focusing on helping professionals who are “stressed and unhappy.”
This goal “helps me not regret the few years I spent on corporate law,” Ain told me. She has insight into how “deadening” it can be to work in that kind of environment. “I can really relate to that in a way that I wouldn’t otherwise have been able to.”
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Something similar happened to Bernadette Bielitz, who held management positions at organisations including General Electric Healthcare. A few years ago, Bielitz was simultaneously holding down a full-time job while caring for her ageing parents, a situation that proved exceedingly challenging.
Now, Bielitz told me, whenever she talks to people about that period in her life, she gets “great feedback,” in the sense that they can often relate. Bielitz is currently volunteering for AARP and looking for full-time work; she’s hoping to do something to help employers address issues around caregiving. “I’ve discovered that what I’ve done personally … I’ve never really addressed in my professional life,” she said.
Take a job that suits your current needs and see where it leads you
Perhaps the broader takeaway here is that people change – a job and a lifestyle that seem appealing now may not seem that way a few years down the road.
Knowing this, the smart move isn’t to take no job until you establish a stable set of personal and professional values (you’d be unemployed and waiting forever). Instead, it’s to take a job that suits your current needs – whether financial or otherwise – and see where it leads you. You might be surprised by what you learn about yourself; or you might just hit a point where you’re secure enough to pursue the dreams you’ve always had.
Take Nick Heller, the CEO of Fractal Labs. His brief stint in banking proved to be the launching ground for his entrepreneurial career. Heller spent nearly five years as a fixed-income trader in Canada in the late 1990s and early 2000s, and he started to think about “how technology was impacting every aspect of the business.” He left the job to start his first tech company, Degrees of Separation.
For Wahed, Ain, Bielitz, and Heller, the utility of a less-than-fulfilling job only appeared in retrospect. But often it’s necessary to be more proactive, and to accept a seemingly bad job with the goal of snagging a better one.
I spoke to Fred Goff, the CEO of Jobcase, or “LinkedIn for blue-collar workers,” and he told me that many people in the US just need a paycheck. It’s not that they don’t want the same things out of work as their higher-skilled peers, like friendly coworkers and interesting work; it’s more that they don’t have the luxury to wait for those things to materialise.
In those cases, “any job can be a good job,” Goff said. “You can still leverage that to move up,” for example by getting a reference from your current employer or gaining new skills. Instead of wallowing in misery, Goff said, “the important part is to understand it’s what you make of the job.”
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