6 Lessons Learned at Work

Like most middle class Americans, I started working as a teenager – age 16 to be exact. My first job was as a file clerk in a business office. It was cushy by most first job standards –no manual labor or french fry oil involved. The only downside was working in a thick cloud of cigarette smoke, since staff members preferred smoking indoors at their desks (it was the 80’s). On their breaks they went outside for some fresh air. Seriously.

Since then, I’ve had a wide variety of jobs. I’ve been hired as a manicurist, grocery store clerk, snack bar operator, social worker, life skills teacher, grant manager, and senior center director – just to name a few. I can’t say that I’ve loved – or even liked – all the jobs I’ve had. Like the old saying goes: there’s a reason they call it work. But I’ve learned some important lessons. Here’s the top six:

  1. Look for work where people value your opinion and effort. Money isn’t as important as feeling respected and being allowed to contribute. I found this through years of personal experience – who wants to work where their opinions don’t matter? Gallup found the same thing in their research on employee engagement (find it at http://www.gallup.com/businessjournal/106912/turning-around-your-turnover-problem.aspx). When no one cares what you think, you will quit. It’s just a matter of time.
  2. A bad manager is worse than no manager at all. I once worked for a manager who was absolutely no help to me at all. He rarely came to work, and when he did, he taught me nothing. He expected me to figure out everything on my own; even when I begged for advice, he would say, “I’m sure you’ll figure it out.” Finally, I got fed up and took another job within the agency with a new manager. The new manager was bad, bad, bad. And yes, she deserves three “bads.” She demanded attention, set unreachable goals, ignored my advice, and withheld important project information. Then screamed at me when things went wrong. Oh, how I missed the guy who just didn’t show up.
  3. Work friends are real friends. The people that you work with really do like you. If you take time to forge genuinely trusting relationships, those relationships endure. Next week I am having lunch with a friend I met at work way back in 1990-something. I can’t wait to catch up!
  4. When you hate your job, it shows. Even if you dread getting up and going in to work every morning, do your best to fake happiness and put some positive energy toward your present situation. You’ll feel better and so will your co-workers.
  5. QTIP. This is an acronym borrowed from counselor/consultant Robin Rose (www.robinrose.com). It stands for Quit Taking It Personally. Says Robin: When people communicate, it’s about their wants and needs – not yours. Don’t make it personal because it’s not about you. I’ve found this to be true, but hard to remember in the heat of the moment.
  6. It’s okay to craft an eclectic, varied career. Moving from job to job isn’t a bad thing, and it doesn’t mean you are unreliable or unskilled. The days are over when someone took one job and remained there until retirement – not that there’s anything wrong with that. Some people thrive on getting a depth of experience in a particular subject. For me, that would be unbearably boring. I love learning new things – and the result of having a varied career has been a breadth of knowledge that I couldn’t have imagined, much less planned out, when I was younger.

One last piece of advice. No job is perfect. The sooner you stop expecting it to be exactly what you want, the better off you will be. Some experiences are just springboards for the next thing. So even if you don’t love your job – learn something from it. Even if all you learn is what to avoid in the next job, you’ve gained something.

Now go be you – learn your strengths and find a happy place to use them, whether that means job jumping or staying put. Whatever you do, it’ll be great!



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