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Turn a Bad Job into a Good Experience

By Tim Mitchell,

Years ago I had a job that, looking back on it, was pretty miserable.  After just a short time on the job I became bored with the work, which was not terribly challenging or interesting.  The organization was overrun with unnecessary and inconsistent policies and procedures, making difficult the task of actually getting things done.  A number of key players in the leadership, while mostly well intentioned, were neither supportive nor encouraging.  As one of only a couple of IT folks, I wore a lot of hats and was constantly pulled in every direction, and became sort of a jack-of-all-trades, unable to focus exclusively on a particular discipline.  By every available yardstick, I was vastly undercompensated in both salary and benefits. 

And I wouldn't trade a minute of that experience.

In all honesty, there were times that I wanted to run screaming from the building, and I'll admit to occasionally and briefly wallowing in self pity.  But in retrospect, every struggle I had at that job has turned into a valuable career lesson for me.  Having worked for mostly small companies up to that point, I learned the quirks of a larger bureaucratic organization and, more importantly, how to "grease the wheels" to get things done faster.  Because I had a wide and disparate scope of duties, I got the opportunity to learn about subject matter to which I wouldn't have otherwise had exposure, and the education I got in hardware, networking, programming, and project management has stuck with me all these years.  The notoriously tight budget helped me to learn to get creative in terms of maximizing hardware and software resources.  The fact that my compensation was well below average at the time helped to motivate me to continue educating myself, and the drive that keeps me working hard to constantly learn was fueled by this experience.

Pick your own cliche... "Every cloud has a silver lining", or maybe "When life hands you lemons, make lemonade" - certainly we've all heard these ad nauseum. But the fact is that most any bad work situation can be molded into a learning experience.  Working for a cash-strapped company that can't afford the database monitoring software you want?  Dig in and roll your own solution, and improve your programming skills at the same time.  Underpaid?  Enlist for some contract work on the side in a technical area on which you'd like to focus, which can increase your income as well as bring the opportunity to deepen your skills.  Your company won't pay for technical conferences?  Volunteer to help out at the conference (or to work on administrative task during the year, when volunteers are often scarce) in exchange for free or reduced-cost admission, which brings a secondary benefit of raising your profile in the community.

To be blunt, some jobs suck.  The key to surviving those (hopefully) brief episodes is to avoid thinking of it as career downtime - instead, take charge and use the negatives in your favor.

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