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May 29, 2014

The Value of “Crap” Jobs

Truck stuck in mud with text: Stuck in a "Crap" Job? Make the Most of It

In my last post, I asked if “do what you love” was good career advice. We had a fantastic conversation in the comments, discussing everything from the costs of doing what you love to the danger of attaching our self-worth to our jobs.

On Twitter, Mara Pina pointed out that we can derive a lot of benefits from jobs that have nothing to do with our passions. That reminded me of a post I did a couple of years ago with advice for newbie writers, and I wanted to tie these ideas together.

Endless advice exists telling us “life is a journey; enjoy the ride” and “happiness comes from within.” On some level, we’ve probably heard that advice so much that we dismiss what it really means.

But (and here’s where I let my inner-Pollyanna shine through *smile*) that advice is true and valid. Life is what we make of it.

The Grass Isn’t Greener on the Other Side

The reason we struggle with this concept is because of simple human nature. We think “if only xyz, I’d be happy.” Or “if only I had abc job, it wouldn’t feel like work.”

In the comments of the last post, Amanda K Byrne linked to an awesome post by Discovery Channel’s Dirty Jobs host, Mike Rowe. He’s met people who work in what many would consider the worst jobs, yet he says:

“Happiness does not come from a job. It comes from knowing what you truly value, and behaving in a way that’s consistent with those beliefs.

Many people today resent the suggestion that they’re in charge of the way they feel. … Those people are mistaken. That was a big lesson from Dirty Jobs, and I learned it several hundred times before it stuck. What you do, who you’re with, and how you feel about the world around you, is completely up to you.”

In other words, it can be work to be happy, no matter our circumstances. It’s not automatic or handed to us. No wonder we’d prefer to find the shortcut, the magic job, the perfect relationship, etc.

Not to mention that mortality makes us impatient. It’s easy to feel like we’re wasting time if we’re not doing exactly what we want This. Very. Minute.

But those feelings don’t help us find healthy ways of dealing with life’s setbacks. Even in our perfect job, life wouldn’t be perfect every day.

What Makes a “Good” Job?

I’ve enjoyed plenty of jobs that weren’t connected to my passions or my degree, so that brings up the question of why. What makes a non-perfect job tolerable, or even good for us?

In a conversation with my tech guy yesterday, Jay Donovan shared his perspective on what makes a job “good.” He said: Pay, Perks, and People. He suggested that if we have two out of three of those, it’s a good job. Three out of three is golden.

  • Pay: Obviously, this refers to monetary reward. We can put up with a lot of crap if we’re paid well. *smile*
  • Perks: This one is tricky. Perks could refer to tangibles (free meals for restaurant waitstaff, insurance benefits, free T-shirts or other swag, etc.) or intangibles (public recognition, learning something new, advancement opportunities, etc.). I think what we talked about last time—loving the work itself—falls into this category as well.
  • People: This includes any work relationships, like our boss, our coworkers, our vendors/suppliers, our customers. If we like the people we’re around, we’ll put up with a lot of crap there too.

For my writing, I love the work itself and the people I’ve met have become some of my best friends. I’m still working on the Pay part. *snicker*

“Crap” Jobs Can Teach Us Just as Much, If Not More

All that got me thinking about my own work history. It took me six years after graduation to find a permanent job. During those six years, I worked part-time, often through temporary agencies, doing any kind of office-work I could.

Many would be discouraged by that experience. It’s possible I felt discouraged as well, and I’m just blocking it from my memory. *smile* But what I remember most now—years later—are the experiences.

I learned so much during that time, despite the fact that I was earning barely over minimum wage and working only part-time:

  • The temp-work aspect exposed me to multitudes of different office cultures, management styles, etc. Looking back now, I see how that exposure helped me understand real-world psychology, learn how people interact in healthy and unhealthy ways, and introduced me to countless character inspirations—er, I mean, people. *grin*
  • Temp-work is based on skills used, so I earned raises by making myself more useful. Trying to prove myself worthy of a direct hire or more hours taught me to take initiative and look for opportunities. Constant learning—constant growing—is a great way to create a mindset of pushing ourselves to do better.
  • Those opportunities turned into projects that I managed from beginning to end. Most of my long-term jobs ended up as positions where the work had never been done before. I invented the job. That was great preparation for learning to manage responsibilities and for not being intimidated by the unknowns we face in this ever-changing publishing industry.

That list isn’t even counting the fact that one of my invented projects turned into technical writing, which eventually led me to discover my love of fiction writing. So I might never have discovered what I love to do without that experience.

(Like many young people, I picked a degree that’s unrelated to what I’m doing now because I was clueless about what I enjoyed. So we might not actually love our dream job the way we think we will.)

Experiences lead to discoveries about ourselves. I wouldn’t have been as successful in my eventual permanent jobs or in my current writing path without those experiences. Any job, no matter how crappy, can become a learning experience for our life.

The Most Important Ingredient for Writing

That brings us back to my advice post for newbie writers. Writing full-time and supporting ourselves and our family might be our “dream” job in line with the “do what you love; love what you do” idea. But there’s a step we need to take before we’re ready to write.

As author and writing teacher Holly Lisle said:

“If you have never lived, how are you going to write characters that live?”

In other words, in order to reach our dream job, we often must go through these other experiences. “Crap” jobs aren’t a waste if we’re still finding ways to learn and grow and experience.

This attitude of looking at life as one big learning experience is a choice, just like happiness. If we have a boring job, we could do the minimum and go through the motions each day, or we could choose a different attitude.

We could look for opportunities to do more and earn trust (potentially leading to more Pay), learn new things or improve processes to make the work itself more enjoyable (Perks), or make new contacts and explore friendships with those we work with (People).

Improvements in any of those areas will help us like our job more. If we like what we do, our foray into the writing world comes with less pressure for sales numbers that allow us to quit the day job. And if nothing else, we can make note of the things we don’t like about our job for future story fodder and character ideas. *smile*

Have you held “crap” jobs? If you found value in them, what made them worthwhile? Did those experiences help you as a writer? What do you think of Jay’s “Pay, Perks, People” idea? Do you agree that happiness and our attitude are choices? Do you try to look at life as one big learning experience?

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28 Comments on "The Value of “Crap” Jobs"

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Sharon

If I ever stop learning, I pray it is because I’m DEAD. Seriously. I’m guessing I’ll still be learning in Heaven. One sign something is alive is that it grows and changes (and weight gain doesn’t count in my book!)
Another great post. Yes, Jay is spot-on. Right now I’m earning nothing with my writing and most of the time I’m not around people either (although I’ve met some fascinating, inspiring and helpful writers), so I’m sailing on the perks alone. After months of editing, I’m beginning to question my sanity (but not my path toward becoming a published author).
Thanks for being one of my inspirations, Jami.

Amy Keeley

I’ve held a lot of jobs. My favorite was housekeeping. The agency I worked for usually cleaned these big, gorgeous houses, and as I cleaned I realized I was setting romances in them a lot of the time.

It’s difficult to think about life as one big learning experience, but I’m learning it’s necessary.

Serena Yung
Serena Yung
Oh I totally agree that happiness is what you make of it. In fact, I always thought that that was common sense, lol. In our psych class, this researcher named Daniel Gilbert (he does research on happiness!) says that the problem is not “we don’t get what we want”, but “we don’t want what we get.” 🙁 About the grass is greener on the other side, it’s funny because I usually think the grass is YELLOWER on the other side. XD In other words, my attitude is usually “mine is the best” 😉 I love my friends, I love my life, I think I’m one of the luckiest people in the world, etc., haha. People outside might not think my life is THAT amazing, but hey, it’s MY perspective on my life that determines how happy I am, right? 😉 I also completely agree that each experience, good or bad or unpleasant in life, teaches us stuff. Learning is a wonderful and valuable thing. 😀 Haha I agree as well with the point that by getting to know more different types of people in our “crap” jobs, we get to know different types of people and ways of interactions, so that helps us with our character development in our stories and stuff. I can’t live without interacting with people, lol. Social interactions are just as important as actually writing to me. And yes, definitely, I also prefer being a part-time writer rather than a full-time one because I feel like… Read more »
Tamara LeBlanc
Tamara LeBlanc
I’ve been very fortunate most of my life…when I was a kid in the 80’s I worked as a life guard at a pool where only swim teams swam. It was a GREAT job for a teenager. I made a lot of money and sat in a chair getting a tan. It was awesome. Then when I went to college I didn’t work because I swam on scholarship. Out of college I married and my husband supported our family for nearly 20 years. I stayed home with the kids (another GREAT job!) But when Dusty got sick and couldn’t work anymore I had to take charge…but I never finished college…so the only jobs I could get were “crap”. I worked at Starbucks in a Kroger (I couldn’t stand it. The people I worked with, and the work itself were both… hmm…umm crap. And let’s not mention the pay) Then I got a job with Gwinnett County schools in the cafeteria (YIKES!!!! I’m not afraid of hard work, mind you, but not only was working there hard, hot, and VERY stressful, but the pay was…”CRAP”! I have a lot of respect for the women that are still employed at the school cafeterias (they’re very sweet and I really liked them all, but they work SOOO hard for very little pay.) So, yes, I’ve had a few crap jobs, but like you, I learned from them and gained experience I didn’t otherwise have. Now I work for a church. I got so… Read more »
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[…] First, is a post by Jami Gold about “crap jobs” and how they can play into our writing: The Value of “Crap” Jobs. […]

Nicole Grabner

Jami, excellent post! I can understand and empathize with others who have ever put time into a career that they knew wasn’t their calling or passion. Maybe it’s a part of paying your dues, like a rough river you have to navigate to get to the pot of gold at the end. (Yes, metaphor crazy there.) Either way, great read! 🙂

Carradee
In other words, it can be work to be happy, no matter our circumstances. It’s not automatic or handed to us. As I told my mother perhaps a year ago, happiness can be a choice. You can choose to not be negative. (I got called naïve for it, but oh, well.) I’ve been forcing myself to, well, overshare a bit about some of the negatives with my family because I keep convincing myself they’re not that bad, that I’m overreacting. Peoples’ owl-eyed expressions about crap that doesn’t even bother me helps me remember that yes, it’s actually worse than I’m aware of. (Re: family, I want to believe it unintentional, but they’re making it increasingly difficult to convince myself of that, because they’re not stupid. Perhaps the most common argumentative technique they employ is actually a form of psychological torture which can be used in interrogations for brainwashing. I wish that were hyperbole.) I’ve never worked with a temp agency, but I have had a lot of different types of jobs, with different work environments, including one with an emotionally abusive boss, where I lasted for two full years because he was an amateur compared to what I put up with at home. That one was educational about differences in “poor” culture: black vs white, rely-on-government-assistance vs. work-your-butt-off-to-get-out-of-it. I had two jobs (one office receptionist, one as a caller in a market research firm) where I used my Spanish regularly and learned my voice tends to bring out folks’ “Oh,… Read more »
Kira

This is exactly what I’m going through right now. My attitude towards job was, you need to have two kinds of job, the job that you’re really love,and job that you’re solely did for money, so here I am spending five days a week, 9 to 5, sitting at Notary’s office, facing the computer and making contracts, whenever I had a time off, I will open my phone and try to write my novel, same thing happens after 5 pm at home, I will open my computer, it happen a few weeks til my eyes burning up. I realize I cannot be like this. The reason I pick this job is if I had to work, this is the best job for me, and I’m quite enjoy doing it. Sure I love to write my novel, writing is my passion, but until I publish something, I will keep this job, and maybe I will keep this job even when I’m a published author, so thankyou Jami for a very useful and inspiring article. I just need to manage my ‘writing’ time that doesn’t suffers my current job and my eyes.

Melinda
Melinda
Hi Jami, I’ve never looked at my crap jobs this wway, but you’re right. I’ve had some crap jobs and some wonderful ones. Before I got my BA, I counted the crap jobs as paying my dues. While in college, I worked 3 jobs one summer to buy myself a car. Fortunately, I only really counted one of those three as a crap job. I worked part-time at a library, part-time at a home improvement stor, and a few weekends as a campus guide at my college. Can you guess which one was the crap job? *smiles* I was fortunate to find the job I loved right out of college. At 22, I was the director of a very small local library. I think the whole library was as big as my living room. Very small library. It had 2 of the three perks, the pay wasn’t that great, but the perks (being around books and bookish people all day, watching kids learn to love reading, eetc) and the people were fabulous. I wish I could work in a library again, but my blindness prevents it. But I still think like a librarian! Sometimes it drives my family nuts. My current job, stay-at-home Mom is by far the most rewarding job I have. And it leaves me plenty of time to work on my writing. But I’ve found that the more time I have, the more procrastination I do. Have to figure that one out yet. Sorry for rambling. Great… Read more »
Kim Handysides

Great post Jami! My best ‘crap’ job was maintenance crew for a City Works department. Put myself through university with that job. When it was sunny, we’d cut the grass and paint playgrounds (win), and when it was rainy we’d clean out arenas. (you cannot imagine how dirty those men’s locker rooms get) Great grist for the word mill.
xo (old WANA grad)

Taurean Watkins
I wish I felt differently but I don’t and I can’t make myself do so. I’ve tried and all I do is alienate the people around me and make myself miserable. I don’t want to sound a whiny brat, but sometimes you just feel broken, not because you want to, but because you are. Jami, not everything is a “choice” sometimes we just feel bad and no amount of positive self-talk makes it go away. We can’t be pragmatic about everything at all times or we’d be robots! I can’t just flip a switch and no longer feel envy, frustration, and anger, so maybe I don’t share the same views about “Choice” you have. No amount of saying “it could be worse” to oneself means what you’re going through is always just some minor bump in the road. I had a lot to say, but it will just be seen as whining from someone who does not have a “day job” that provides income, everything seems to be a long road approach in my world and it’s getting harder to live with the older I get. I guess these conversations just bring out the parts of me I’m not proud of, and I feel some of the comments to this and the previous just stopped my heart cold. Have I just been lying to myself? I know you can’t answer that, just musing… This might simply go back to your previous posts about sacrifice and how that has always had… Read more »
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[…] The Value of “Crap” Jobs by Jami Gold. Great advice on attitude and that no job, no matter how crappy, is entirely wasted. Woot! […]

Jennifer Rose

Great blog post. It’s definitely helpful to be aware that there will be challenges in whatever work you do – whether it is your current job, or your ‘dream’ job. The difficulties will just be different. Because, essentially, YOU are still the same person -just with different surroundings and experiences.

There is great power in realizing there is ultimately a choice in what you do with your thoughts. This is never an overnight experience and there are plenty of books to study on the subject to help one down their path to inner peace, but the PURE AWARENESS that the choice is out there is very powerful.

For sure, this is a short existence as a human and I aim to make the most of it! 🙂

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