Wednesday, September 17, 2014

The importance of a crappy job

Everyone should have a crappy job at least once during their lifetime.

A crappy job will make you grateful. It will teach you about ambition. And most of all it will confirm all the things in life you don't want while affirming all of your non-negotiables.

I recently read a fantastic interview with LA-based designer, web developer and entrepreneur Jon Setzen in The Great Discontent. Jon's path was unconventional: in college he majored in photojournalism because he thought he wanted to be a photographer only to discover he hated the program; worked at a small radio station then dabbled in web and graphic design; got a job at the San Francisco Chronicle in interactive design; moved to New York after 9/11 and started his own company; and eventually landed in Los Angeles where he is currently creative director for a web hosting firm, founder of an artisan candle company AND co-host of a popular podcast and breakfast lecture series.

"I still feel like I don't know what I truly want to do," Setzen says about having an "Aha!" moment in his career. "But I do know what it feels like when I do something that I want to do."

Moving to a new city, having no money or job opportunities, and enduring crappy jobs like being a furniture mover in Queens taught Jon the value of hard work and resilience.  

I've had my share of shitty jobs. As a kid I spent a summer delivering advertorial pamphlets door to door to earn extra spending money. I stuffed envelopes at a radio station during a college internship. Stocked shelves and worked the cash register at a convenience store. Organized 3-foot mounds of newspaper clippings and random documents for a crazy, germ-phobic pack rat who called herself a "political activist" (that job lasted one day). And was a coffee girl for a political talk show host who absolutely loved to hear himself talk (hint: his show is still on the air!).

During these crappy jobs, there were times I hated my life and asked myself why I didn't have rich parents or why on earth I had to endure such torture. These moments of self-entitlement were usually preceded by me dropping soup cans on my foot or getting chewed out by a superior or being told to wear a hairnet because the crazy political-activist-pack-rat-lady was allergic to hair.

But it turns out I learned a lot from these crappy jobs. They gave me faith in my abilities. They taught me about gratefulness. They reminded me that kindness and goodness are always in short supply and because of that, to spread them like germs. They forced me to persevere, to delay gratification and to keep things in perspective.

In a weird way, all those crappy jobs made my life big. Because they fueled my ambition and helped me figure out what I really wanted out of a job, a career, a life.

How about you? Have you ever had a crappy job? What did you do? Did you learn anything valuable from it?

Read the full interview with Jon Setzen here. (The Great Discontent)
Illustration by Marcus Connor. (Brainless Tales)