“What???” you might be saying to yourself. “Christa, the self-appointed evangelist for only doing work you love, is suggesting I take a crappy job?” Yes, yes I am. Under 3 big, fat conditions. It must be: 1.) temporary, 2.) lead to something you love, and 3.) possible to keep your dignity. Let me give you an example.
When I first moved to New York in 1998, I took an incredibly crappy job to follow my dream to work on Broadway shows. (This is more years ago than I really care to admit but since this story benefits you, I’m going to let that slide.) I sat on the floor of a very cramped theatre office opening mail, speaking to screaming customers, getting coffee, and doing just about any horrible job they needed done for $10 / hour.
Taking that crappy job was the best career decision I ever made because it got me inside a theatre which is exactly where I wanted to be. My boss was so appreciative of my work that I was promoted two and a half months later (on my birthday) to a slightly less crappy job managing a box office. In my new role, customers still screamed at me and I got a new boss who was completely awful (which was really unfortunate since I loved my first boss at that theatre), but now I was making $15 / hour and managed a team.
I spent 9 months “in the box” as I affectionately referred to my time there, and on my lunch break one day I ran into a college acquaintance totally by chance who put me on the trail of a job that let me go out on my first theatre tour. On tour, customers still screamed at me and I had a second really awful boss, but now I was making A LOT more money, traveling the country, and running a whole company.
Life was good, until it wasn’t, and then I quit, moved to Florida, and 6 months later got a great job with a great boss and lots of responsibility. There I learned how to be a fundraiser. Unfortunately, it only paid $13 / hour. I took it any way. That was the second best decision I ever made in my career.
My theatre career was a series of trade-offs. I worked my way from job to job gaining experience, making money, then making less money, and then taking my career in an entirely different direction. When I look back, I took those crappy jobs for all the right reasons. They were all temporary (which to be honest is true for every job eventually), they all led me to do things I love to do (working in a theatre, raising money for causes I care about, and managing a team), and I always kept my dignity. Even when customers were screaming at me, I was empowered to help them. Even when my few bad bosses were doing things like throwing staplers around the office and cursing out everyone who came near them, I learned how to stand my ground, stick up for people I cared about, and be confident in the face of great difficulty.
Most of all, those crappy jobs showed me the power of determination and the strength of my own abilities to make a rough situation much better. My presence in those jobs mattered, to the mission of the organizations and to the people around me. And that was a wonderful, beautiful thing. It still is. I’m incredibly proud of the work I did as a theatre manager and to this day I will tell anyone who will listen that it was the very best business training I’ve ever had. It taught me to take calculated risks and go after my dreams.
Your crappy job may do the same for you. If it does, I think it’s worthy of consideration. Sometimes, the very best opportunities aren’t the ones that are shiny and bright but the ones that require our efforts to make them shine.