Over the course of your career, you’re bound to have a few jobs that are less than inspiring. That’s OK: not every position needs to be your dream job in order to get you closer to your professional goals.
But what about your worst job — the one that makes you watch clocks and dread Monday mornings? Even these jobs have something to teach you. Your bad boss, obnoxious coworkers and horrible culture fit may be tough to cope with now, but in the long run, they could help you find your way to something much, much better.
Here’s what you can learn from a bad job:
1. What You Don’t Want to Do at Work
What makes your bad job the worst job ever? No, seriously: it’s worth thinking about this question in detail. Make a list. Do some soul-searching.
You might uncover some useful guidelines to keep in mind the next time you’re looking for a new job. For instance, maybe you’ve discovered that you need a lot of autonomy to do your best work, or that you prefer to work as part of a collaborative team. Maybe you need to work from home, or in a results-driven environment that’s less focused on things like official work hours.
Working at a job that provides next to none of what you need can teach you what’s most important to you in your career.
2. What Kind of Boss Not to Be
Do you want to go into management someday? If so, pay close attention to what your awful boss does right now. They might be teaching you valuable lessons about what makes a manager a good leader.
Sure, you’d rather learn from a positive example. But since you’re stuck with this particular micromanager, bully or disengaged leader, you might as well learn what not to do when you’re in charge.
Do you want to go into management someday? If so, pay close attention to what your awful boss does right now.
Every career experiences setbacks; it’s what you do afterward that matters most.
Bad work situations can teach you this kind of resiliency. Learn what’s within your control (your attitude, for example, or the decision to look for a new job or to stay put) and what isn’t (your teammates’ behavior, company policy, etc.).
Even if your job is genuinely a nightmare, it’s worth considering how you might be contributing to your problem. The point isn’t to blame yourself for a bad situation, but to practice looking for opportunities to make change.
People with an internal locus of control believe that they can affect outcomes with their behavior, while people with an external locus of control do not. One guess as to who tends to be more successful.
Learn to see your own part in good and bad situations at work, and you’ll be able to take advantage of opportunities more quickly — or make your own.
5. Your Limits
Finally, the biggest thing a bad job can teach you is exactly how much you can stand. Maybe long hours don’t phase you, but constant undermining does. Maybe you’re not too concerned with other people’s opinions of you, but you can’t stand a day that’s jam-packed with meetings.
When you find these limits, respect them. Don’t beat yourself up for not being able to deal with some aspect of work that your coworkers seem to enjoy. A successful career is all about fit. You know that you’ve got a bad one right now. But with the knowledge you’ve gained about yourself and your needs, you can go forth and find a better fit somewhere else.
Tell Us What You Think
What lessons have you learned from your worst jobs? We want to hear from you. Share your story in the comments or join the conversation on Twitter.
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