"You can't even make a meatloaf sandwich!" the woman yelled at me, before storming out of the store.
I looked down at what I had created. She was right, I had no idea how to make a meatloaf sandwich. It was my first day on the job in a grocery store deli in 1993. I was a freshman in college and I took the first job I could find when I moved to town over the summer before classes started.
The customer changed her mind several times about what she wanted to order. Her rudeness rattled me, and she lost it when I put several small pieces of meatloaf into sub sandwich bread instead of one large piece between two slices of bread. She worked at the Alco next door and came in for lunch several times after that. It was incredibly awkward. And I hated it.
I was grateful to have a job to earn my own money, but as a sensitive introvert, I never should have been there. Working with the general public in a grocery store was not a good match for me. It was the only job I was ever fired from, and they were right in eventually letting me go.
I learned a lot from the experience, though. I think everyone can look back on a job they weren't the best fit for at some point in their lives. And I believe there are a lot of important takeaways that come from working a job you hate:
1. It Builds Character
It isn't easy to clock in every day at a job you hate. But it's responsible to make the best of what you have until you can change your trajectory. I wasn't happy at the grocery store, but I showed up every day and did what I was supposed to do.
I did use it as an opportunity to learn something. I learned a lot about food prep and the inner workings of a grocery store. I can also make a pretty mean cheesecake now, so it wasn't all for naught.
2. It Highlights Your Strengths and Weaknesses
The jobs we hate are the jobs we hate because they don't use our strengths, and highlight our weaknesses.
I wasn't happy working in a grocery store deli because it wasn't a creative outlet for me, and it was hard to remain patient working face-to-face with the public. Especially when trying to mind "the customer is always right" attitude in situations where the customer wasn't right or justified.
It doesn't mean that I look down on people that work in grocery stores, quite the opposite in fact. I did get to meet a lot of nice people. It just wasn't my strength, and a wrong career choice for me. It put a big, fat spotlight on my weaknesses.
3. It Motivates You To Take Steps Towards Something Else
I wanted the torture of the grocery store job to end immediately. I still showed up every day and did my duties, but it really lit the fire under me to find something a little more suited to my personality.
I knew I wasn't going to land a dream job, but I explored several options, and discovered that I qualified for the Work Study program on campus. I found an office job in the graduate school that worked around my schedule just before I was fired. Thank goodness.
4. It Gives You Understanding And Appreciation For Difficult Jobs
You come away with a whole new appreciation and understanding of another's shoes if you see someone working in a job you had and didn't enjoy. I have a lot of empathy and compassion for those that work with the public in service jobs.
I really didn't mind the food prep and busy work of working in a grocery store deli. For me, working with the public was the hard part. I think there are a lot of jobs like that, and I have that perspective because I was once in those shoes.
5. It Gives You Appreciation For Your Dream Job
I certainly don't want anyone to work in a job they hate forever. Sometimes we get a job just to pay the bills until something better comes along, and before we know it, we're "celebrating" ten years.
When you do things you don't want to do, it really gives you an appreciation for what you love. It gives you fuel to rediscover your passions and the things that make you tick.
I spent time working in my weaknesses, I had jobs that were a mixture of both, and now I get to work in my strengths as a full-time writer. All of the jobs I've had before contribute to where I am now in some way.
So think of those in-between jobs as stepping stones and spring boards as you work towards what you really want. The hard things help you grow.
I'm exactly where I want to be right now and I fully appreciate it. And I know I'll certainly be a lot more patient with a young, inexperienced college freshman the next time I'm in the mood for a meatloaf sandwich.