Many of us are no stranger to one of the most soul-snatching, obnoxiously annoying, end-of-the-world chambers of career hell: the survival job.
Signs of a struggle job include it being totally out of the realm of your calling, beneath you intellectually and financially, or just a total bore.
When I first set off to freelance and consult full-time, I had on rose-colored glasses, especially since---after just one month on my own---I'd landed a project that covered my everyday living expenses, and another gig that took me to Africa. I thought I was set.
Then I hit a wall: things began to dry up.
I had to downsize and I found myself with barely enough cash to maintain my used car and keep my Wifi and cell phone on. Add to that a medical issue that was a major financial kill-joy, putting my footloose and fancy-free freelance adventures on indefinite standby.
To offset my freelance endeavors being on hold indefinitely, I decided to take an entry-level job in customer service. It was one that had flexible hours, was quite monotonous, and afforded me the awesome opportunity to get cussed out by angry grannies at least four times a week.
It paid a whopping $10 an hour for using my amazing communications skills I'd honed as a journalist interviewing the who's who of Hollywood and business, to master the art of repeating, "Thank you for calling..." or "I'm so sorry that happened. How may I assist you?" at least 50 times a day. I hadn't made less than $30 an hour since high school, and for a college-educated chick who started out freelancing in NYC for $50 an hour, I felt like a total failure.
I knew I had to boss up no matter the circumstance or the pay, and that my mental health and career advancement depended on it, so I put the tears and anger away and did the following:
I visualized where I wanted to be instead of focusing on where I was.
Goal-setting is super-liberating. I set how long I'd do the job, how much I wanted to save, and when I'd (respectfully) chuck my supervisor the deuces. I focused so much on the bigger picture that even when an angry customer called in berating me as if I'd murdered their mama or dog, I'd think about why I took the job in the first place, remind myself that it wasn't the end-all-be-all, and respond with compassion.
I related and became more present with others I worked with.
To be honest, I had a Moses-tablet-sized chip on my shoulder that read, "This job is beneath me. I'm a college-educated, accomplished journalist, not a robot who answers calls all day."
The arrogance was toxic and isolating. I began to open up and chat with fellow coworkers, many of whom were just like me, simply trying to supplement their incomes to reach a goal. There was a single mom who knew how to finesse several part-time jobs, juggle her home obligations, and handle payroll and tax issues. There was a savvy law student who was quick on his feet and great on the phones even after having issues with his hoopty or studying all night for an exam. I also met others who loved customer service and retail and had made great long-term careers out of being stellar problem-solvers, mentors, trainers, and financial systems experts.
I wrote down what I learned and applied those lessons to advance my freelance and client work.
Hey, it takes a level-headed, intuitive, and resourceful person to successfully resolve customer service issues in a timely fashion---especially when customers are calling from all over country, have a variety of issues, and very little patience. Having that job was like getting free anger-management therapy. Keeping my cool with someone who's quite pissed off about a delayed wedding or birthday gift, a duplicate or fraudulent credit card charge, or a massive account debt was a requirement in keeping said job and getting great quality scoring.
I got better in my interactions with prospective clients and current editors, and I was also able to learn more about how credit cards are processed and approved and how to resolve issues related to payment plans, debt, and fraud---very vital skills for a budding businesswoman.
A survival job, whatever that means for you, should be the stepping stone to where you want to be.
I had to pull up my big-girl panties and remind myself to treat all experiences in my career journey with compassion, humility, and shrewd, focused intention.
If you have a boss mentality, your time is valuable. Maximize it and make that survival job work for you. Not the other way around.
Featured image by Getty Images