Bad Jobs aren’t a Fuck Up.

I’ve had a lot of bad jobs.

And when I think back on my bad jobs, the memory seared in my brain is the medical office job where the doctor would run hours late and I sat looking out at a waiting room of people. The air in that waiting room was thick with hostility (or at least that was the story in my head). I let my brain believe that I was the reason for the doctor being late and I was on the receiving end of their glares of impatience.

If I could have checked patients in faster, the doctor wouldn’t be so behind.

If I could have told patients to come earlier, we would have had the lead time to get back on schedule.

If I could have helped out in the back office more, we’d run more smoothly.

And the internal dialogue ran on, to the point of absurdity. The if’s, could’ves, and should’ves ran into what if the doctor got in the office earlier, what if the patients were in a better mood, what if I was in a better mood.

I what-if’d myself into a cloud of self-hatred over this internal struggle that I didn’t want to be there a second longer but I felt so stuck like I’d signed up for life.

It didn’t do me any good because I was still at square one, sitting in the same doctor’s office lobby, looking out at a waiting room full of patients who I felt responsible for.

We can’t deny the truth that we become our thoughts. We become consumed by the internal dialogue and the immediate reality that seems in that moment like our forever fate.

It was in that moment that I wanted to evaporate and disappear forever. In that moment, I was living, breathing and fully believing the idea that I was forever stuck in this bad job fuck up—doomed to customer service for life.

When I was in that job I knew it was bad toward the tail end. I knew I deserved better and was worth more, but the psychology of being in a bad job haunted me. It’s a black box. I felt trapped in customer service and wanted out, but I believed that I didn’t have the skills for more and felt too depressed about my fate to attempt to get out.

So naturally, with my lack of trying and my knowledge that I wanted out but was just too stuck, things got bad. Really desperately bad. The job wasn’t bad, the people were nice. I just was not a fit in that very job. Fear kept me there, uncertainty kept me there and the scarcity mentality kept me there. It was the fear of the unknown and changing my circumstances and the uncertainty of financial security and what the next job might look like.

In Daniel Kahneman’s book, Thinking, Fast and Slow, he discusses the two different tracks in our brain for neural processing. There’s the quick, fight or flight thoughts that we can attribute our survival to, and there are the logical thoughts which are the equivalent of us thinking things out loud more leisurely. When we’re in a situation where we’re not happy and we let terms get bad and bitter, which type of thoughts do you think are abundant? The logical, how do I get myself out of this thoughts? Or panic, anxiety, red alert, we’ll cross that bridge when we get there but what’s next…Well really, it depends on whether you react or receive, and in my case, I reacted.

I let my situation get bad, to the point of walking in one morning and realizing I had to be done. I had no plans set up after. No place to go and no financial security except for the cushion of having lived at home for months and saved money on rent. In an angst-ridden state and a move of desperation to express my hunger for freedom after breaking out of that job, I booked a spontaneous ticket to California. It was great. I had fun. It wasn’t very responsible, or frugal. But it was that quick-thinking brain that wanted to throw anything on the fire to extinguish the flames. It’s the part of our brains that wished time sped up when we’re suffering and slowed down when we’re blissed out.

In retrospect, if I got a do-over, I probably still would have gone to California because I was desperately burnt out from sticking something out that had gone sour for far too long. I would have worked up the courage to start networking and changing my fate before it got sour, and I would have gotten to know myself more. I was fresh out of college, and had no clue what I wanted with life, so good and bad was this black and white thing that derailed me into believing a bad job was a fuck up and it was my bad, and it defined me.

Although the door on that job has since been closed, that and many others have been some of the greatest accidental teachers. Bad jobs are never fucks ups and should never be considered as the linchpins to our self-worth. We learn something, whether negative or positive, about who we are as a person, an employee, an entrepreneur and a citizen of our world.

I was recently at the World Domination Summit in Portland, Oregon. It was amazing, incredible, exhausting and full of fodder for another blog, but I do want to make a point out of one of the breakout sessions I went to with Lewis Howes (author of School of Greatness). He says that yes our comfort zone is cold, dark and cozy. It’s anonymous and alluring. It’s Netflix on the couch with a beer and a lack of accountability. It’s a comfort zone where we can feel like we can be unapologetically us and not worry about accusations from others and their perception of failure. But it’s too comfortable. What happens when a year from now we realize our biggest fuck up was staying comfortable and not dancing with the fear of being seen and heard?

The takeaway from this talk was deep and poignant and has helped me to better understand relationships with bad jobs in a new light, in a way that deeply strengthens my inner core and my relationship to my own thoughts, beliefs and values. His words added fuel to my hunger and passion to pursue life fiercely.

The low-paid, thankless jobs, the jobs where time feels like it’s standing still and you wish it would fast forward, and the jobs you’re dying to forget about—these are the jobs that make us brilliant, driven, capable, passionate survivors who are here to live an unapologetic life full of purpose.

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