What I’ve Learned From 13 Jobs in 13 Years

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There’s a lot I have yet to figure out about life but here’s one thing I know with absolute certainty: having as many varied experiences as you possibly can is a major and direct contributor to personal and professional growth. It is so much of what¬†determines how quickly (or conversely, how slowly) one¬†develops.

Many¬†of the jobs I’ve held seem, at least on the surface, rather unremarkable. Others truly put the¬†“odd” in “odd jobs.” Each¬†– while diverse¬†in the skill-set required – has impacted me in a¬†pretty¬†profound way. First,¬†the super quick rundown:

Skipping the years I spent baby-sitting, my first “big kid” job was as a¬†cashier for Piggly “Shop the Pig!” Wiggly. (I can still recite a handful of PLUs. Bananas: #4011) In high school and early college, I also was a waitress at a few different restaurants. (And subsequently, was quickly made aware of how sucky my multitasking skills were.) Then my dad, who worked at Oscar Mayer for 13 years scored¬†me a stint¬†as an assembly line worker¬†in the factory’s ham slice department. He told me this job would teach me to stay in college. He was right. That same summer, I also worked the p.m. shift as a retail associate at Hollister at West Towne Mall. (Not sure which environment I hated more: 40 degree, smoked ham-smelling basement vs. the “So Cal” cologne-infused teen dungeon.)

Later, my lifelong obsession with gymnastics would draw¬†me to a kids center near my hometown where I worked as a gymnastics assistant. On campus at UW-Oshkosh I worked as a journalism assistant as well as a phonathon caller, where yes, I called and convinced alumni to fork over some cash. (i.e. “I totally understand $50 won’t do but how bout a tax-deductible $5 gift to the UWO annual fund? Every dollar counts!”) And then there was the summer I was an¬†MMA Ring Girl. (It wasn’t as interesting as it sounds but…$$$) I was also a bartender at a couple different golf courses as well as a bar in downtown Oshkosh. And then post-college, came all my recent stuff AKA¬†social media consultant, marketing strategist, TV host and producer, etc.

And now for the analysis.

The thing is, in my early 20s, I was pretty insecure about how many jobs I had already held for my age. I had to defend my ADD-inducing resume at almost every interview I had. Working consistently at the same place¬†for multiple years seemed to be the idyllic¬†route¬†– decided by my peers, my employers and by society. There is something to admire about that, for sure, but as you’ve probably guessed, I’m here to tout the opposite¬†ūüôā

For starters, working this many various¬†jobs throws you head first into a lot of weird, wacky, frustrating, challenging, stressful, exhausting and rewarding situations. You’ve gotta buckle up, adapt quickly and brush off the stress¬†when you show up for your waitressing shift, and the¬†only two other scheduled¬†waitresses called in that day and it’s Mother’s Day and you have the ginormous¬†patio all by yourself and oh my God, you just spilt the entire pitcher of ice cold water on THE MOM and it’s MOTHER’S DAY. Shit. She’ll give you a good tip though because she pities you. Not all is lost.

When you work a lot of jobs, you’re never anywhere for too long. This means you’re always the new girl in a foreign land, which is translation for:¬†learn how to have thick skin, especially when the veteran lady line workers¬†at Oscar Mayer gave you¬†major side eye when you stack up 3 feet of ham because sweet jesus, the bubble packages on the line MOVE SO DAMN FAST. Next thing you know, they’re shutting down the entire line because “COLLEGE GIRL CAN’T KEEP UP.” And because you’ve learned how to adapt well in previous roles, you’re able to shamelessly retort, “My dad is the maintenance guy here…just FYI” any time¬†those nasty ol’ ladies get real out of line. Works like a charm!

Working this many jobs as a teen and through my 20s, also helped me weed through what I was looking for in a career¬†and in the team I wanted to surround myself with. I mean, let’s be honest, you don’t have to hold a lot of jobs to know that terrible bosses¬†are a dime a dozen. I’ve certainly got a real vivid depiction of “Manager I Don’t Ever Wanna Be” but unlike a lot of other professionals (so it seems) I’ve also had the good fortune of working for some amazing people. And as much as I learned from the bad eggs, I also¬†eagerly consumed every ounce of leadership lore that I could from¬†the really great ones.

And these¬†are just paid gigs¬†we’re talking about. If job-jumping has you feeling uneasy, there¬†are umpteen other ways to take in a variety of experiences like volunteering, travel and classes,¬†just to name a few.¬†However you decide to weave in and out of your own lane, I think these experiences will make you¬†more sophic, open-minded and perceptive of the big picture.

Speaking of the big picture, here it is: The more people, places and positions you experience, the better you’ll be for it.

Agree? Disagree? Let me know what you think below.