What Was Your Worst Job and What Did You Learn?

Written exclusively for AOL Jobs

A terrible work experience can forever discolor your memories of that job. Perhaps you and one particular colleague despised each other, but you actually liked the position itself. But when you think about your time at the company, you probably won't remember the satisfaction of a hard day's work because all memories involve that annoying, gossipy co-worker you wanted to lock in the storage closet.

According to a recent CareerBuilder.com survey, 29 percent of workers will look for a new job when the economy appears more promising, and 25 percent expect to leave in the coming year. Apparently plenty of workers aren't thrilled with their current situations and would prefer to be elsewhere.

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Rather than give you fluffy advice like "be patient" and "look on the bright side," we asked professionals to tell us about their worst jobs and what they learned from them. Hopefully their frustrations and subsequent realizations will help you look beyond today's annoyances so that a bad job experience won't be a waste of your time:


You deserve better

"Probably the worst job ... was when I worked for a New York socialite who had her own boutique event planning firm. She was a complete narcissist and stress junkie. On my first week on the job she decided that she didn't like my first name and began calling me by my middle name, which she liked better. She was very wealthy and so snobbish that she took pleasure in making everyone around her feel as if they were raised in a bowling alley. She never acknowledged or seemed to notice my work, despite that there were only four people working for her.

What I learned: Just because you need the money doesn't mean you should put up with being treated badly. In the long run, you'll end up paying anyway.

On a side note: Many years later when I was trying to get a job ... she left a lengthy message on my prospective employer's voicemail telling him that I always went above and beyond the call of duty and he'd be crazy not to hire me. I never thought she noticed. So I also learned that even when it doesn't look like anyone notices, do the right thing anyway." – Marilyn Paige


Get an education

"My worst job was when I was just starting out after high school and worked as a flagger for a crop duster. This entailed walking in thigh-high rubber boots out in rice fields full of mud up to my knees for 30 paces, flagging for the low-flying, insecticide-spewing Ag-Cat crop-duster airplane overhead, lowering my head and closing my eyes while being showered in God-knows-what deformity-inducing chemicals and then walking another 30 paces and doing it all over again. What I learned: Get out of town and get an education." – Darrell W. Gurney, author of "Backdoor Job Search: Never Apply for a Job Again"

"My worst job, by far, was working for a drain opening company. It was while standing in a pool of sewage in the pouring rain, wielding an electric rooter with a badly frayed cord that I realized exactly why my father had worked so hard to send my brothers and sisters and me to college." – Barry Maher, speaker and author of "Filling the Glass"


You have options

"In high school for a summer I worked at a popular sandwich-making franchise. It wasn't the job that was so bad but the boss. He yelled at me one day in front of a customer over something stupid and I got in more trouble because I cried. I learned that there is more than one job out there in the world. I was young. I went and got another job. Sometimes you need to remember that, even in a tough economy. If you aggressively go after finding new employment, you can [find another job]. Just keep looking. – Anna M. Aquino, author


Don't be afraid of hard work

I was put to work at an early age on our nearly 4,000-acre farm. At the time I hated it and wanted to spend more time with my friends, lounging at the lake or playing video games. It wasn't until I was older did I realize all that I gained from the experience. I learned the value and reward of hard work. I always had money to spend because I worked long and hard hours on the farm. When I turned 16, I had the money from working in my savings account to buy the car I wanted, I had the freedom to waste as much gas as I wanted 'cruising with friends' and go on spring break.

I also learned what it felt like to see projects to the end. [And] like many manual labor jobs, they are tiring and require long hours that warrant working in extreme heat and shivering cold. The experience drove me to work hard in every area of my life and begin my days as early as possible." – Klint Briney, founder and CEO of BRANDed


You have a lot to learn

"A few years ago I was rather full of myself, having earned an Ivy League degree and went to work for a hotel in Boston. I was appointed Chief Steward who was in charge of all the dishwashers, utility washers and kitchen cleaners. The first day I showed up in a suit and tie. The tyrannical chef pointed out the utility (pot washer) had not been seen for a while and did not hesitate to tell me to roll up my sleeves and get to it. I was mortified. But over the next several months I gained a tremendous amount of skill when it came to human relations and how to motivate and supervise a group of men who could barely speak English. I learned that unpleasant work is not done by unpleasant people. These men had wives, children and looked forward to receiving their paychecks." – J L Jacobson Jackson


Co-workers matter

"My first job as a teen was in fast food. People were mean, the pay was bad, and I forever smelled like onions. It taught me two lessons. First, the obvious one: get educated for a better job. The job killed any ideas I had about shortcutting my education. My 15-year old reasoning: With the right kind of degree, even the bad jobs are better than this. I ended up with an engineering degree from Cornell, so it worked.

My second lesson: There is always a silver lining. I finally escaped to my next teen job, in retail. It was cleaner, the pay was better and the schedule was kinder. And yet, there was no more crowd of other 15-year-olds to joke with at work. I missed the interaction, and I have remembered since then that even in what seems like a terrible situation, there may be an element that I'll miss when I'm gone." – Ed Muzio, author of "Make Work Great"


Boring but useful

"My worst job was one summer in my twenties as a proofreader -- so boring. Now I'm a writer and, boy, has that kind of painstaking attention to each word helped me." Karen R. Koenig, author of "Nice Girls Finish Fat"


Everything is put in perspective

"My worst job was working in a hospital morgue, assisting with the autopsies. I had never seen a dead person before, and the odors were almost overwhelming.

I learned a greater appreciation for life and how the physical body is a tool for us to participate in living. I also learned how fortunate I was in terms of the opportunities I had in life. At times when a project gets annoying, I remember that summer job surrounded by several deceased people, and it helps me to get back to a proper perspective." – Ronald Kaufman, author of "Anatomy of Success"


Have pride in what you do

"I relocated during the 1990 recession and found it difficult to find a professional position. Desperate for work, I accepted a temporary position in an assisted living facility, cleaning bathrooms from 7AM - 1PM each day. This was difficult work for minimum wage and no benefits. I had to leave home at 5:45AM each morning, I had many bathrooms to clean each day, and I went home tired each afternoon. It was seven long months before I found the next position that I wanted. I am grateful for two important lessons that I learned there:

  1. All work is honorable. I came to understand how important it was to have clean bathrooms for the elderly residents, and I took pride in my work.
  2. How 'classism' functions in our country. I could see that visitors looked down on me because they were dressed in expensive clothing and I was wearing white pants and white shoes and was doing cleaning.

Joanna Lillian Brown, author of "Caring for Dying Loved Ones: A Helpful Guide for Families and Friends"

Next: Bad Bosses: Five Ways Your Boss Bugs You - And How to Respond >>


Filed under: Workplace Solutions

Anthony Balderrama

Editor

Anthony Balderrama is a writer and blogger for CareerBuilder.com and its job seeker and workplace blog, TheWorkBuzz.com. He researches and writes about job search strategy, career management, hiring trends and workplace issues. You can follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/abalderrama and view his blog posts on TheWorkBuzz.com.

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