What Crappy Jobs Can Teach You About Excelling Later in Your Career

If life’s a marathon, I was 10X slower than your average runner.

I’ve got my first real job at the age of thirty. Before that, I was an artist. My Patreon was my mother — she used to send me 400$ a month. This would cover food, cigarettes, and booze.

In the meantime, I’ve got a degree in journalism. I earned a couple of bucks by marketing myself as this cool DJ, musician, radio host, writer, columnist, newspaper editor, journalist, actor, director, screenwriter, camera operator, editor, creative director… The list goes on. I sucked at all of these careers. It was a pose from an insecure hillbilly who became a maniac trying to fit into the big-city picture he saw on television.

I sucked at writing because I sounded like an elderly academic feminist lady. Some people bought it, but it wasn’t me. Then, my mother called me on my thirtieth birthday to tell me she ran out of the money to finance my pink bubble. It was time to step into the wilderness of the real world.

This was one of the best things that ever happened to me. I started to look for a job.

I put my brave face on and went where few thirty-year-old men have gone before. My first gig was a summer job in a corporate-led restaurant. Most of the crew were five to ten years younger than me. They thought I was using some funny drugs. To tell you the truth, I didn’t know how to handle those cups and saucers, so I had to do 3X extra miles on foot because I couldn’t carry more than two drinks.

My boss told me he doesn’t care what I did before. All he expects is to see me showing effort and learning as I go. And so I did. On the third day, I got a panic attack while taking orders from seven tables all by myself. I had to deal with a PTSD guy who waited to get his drink for an entire hour. It made so scared that a bartender gave me a pint of draft beer to calm myself down. And this meant risking his own job if the manager caught him. I’ve learned more about life in those four months than in my entire thirty-year span before.

I met and got to hang out with my first male mentor. This guy built a 7-figure wine business from scratch and continued to work as a part-time waiter. He can’t live without the rush hour. Also, it provides a side budget for his fancy drinks and cigarettes.

I survived, got better, and earned my first significant amount of money. In the end, I even got acknowledged by my employers. This was the first big boost to my confidence. From then on, I’ve become a serial shitty job holder and met all kinds of fucked-up people out there. My mindset was about to change.

1. A beach job where the managers made me collect money from overweight guests

These customers were already paying top dollars for their drinks, and the lounge chairs were cheap and crappy. If they broke a chair, I had to charge them $40.

I didn’t want to do it. I prayed to God to make our visitors aware of the danger from those chairs. But it was my job, and I had to do it. I got anxious. I spied on people and started calculating their weight.

Luckily, my girlfriend is pure gold, and she gave me the advice I needed. Treat your managers like your employees, she said. Imagine they work for you, and that thing with the chairs is their greatest performance.

The next day, a big guy from Brazil had a few piña coladas and broke a chair. I prepared a speech before approaching him.

“Look, man, this chair is dead. It’s OK. It can happen to anyone. But here’s the deal. I can do two things. One, you can cover the cost of a new chair. Two, I will take the bullet. You see, I’m the manager, and the company rules are pretty strict. I will invest my daily fee in a new chair. I can’t punish my employees over there. Look at them, they’re older people. They are saving for their grandchildren’s Christmas presents. And they were the only ones we could find over here.”

It was an inversion of the truth, but it worked. The guy gave me the money and he wasn’t even mad. We’re working for ourselves at the end of the day, no matter where we work or who our boss is.

If my boss is an asshole, I don’t have to be an asshole. How we do anything is how we do everything. Inversion of roles is a powerful weapon in shitty businesses. It can make you feel a glimpse of leadership.

2. I was a volunteer gardener to an elderly lady who humiliated me

I did a paid job for her and added more value to the table by offering to help with the garden. Of course, I didn’t have a clue about gardening, but I was willing to learn something new.

Pretty soon, I did learn the basics to keep the garden alive and growing — but not from her. The only advice on gardening I ever got from her was to listen to the plants. I didn’t understand what the hell she was talking about, so I asked the guy who had years of practice.

She treated me like a dormant. And I was a hypocrite and a coward to admit so, until one day I finally realized: I don’t have to take this shit. I don’t have to prove anything to her. I know I’m doing my best and offering even more.

When people humiliate you, it’s time to create some borders. Take over the command, or even sail away from their sights. I’ve quit volunteering and restricted our communication only to WhatsApp. I haven’t seen the lady again, and I never will.

How we treat ourselves is how others will treat us.

3. I worked as a waiter in a fine dining restaurant where the local mob hung out

This was my shittiest experience ever.

The first mistake was to take the job out of fear, and because it seemed like easy money. But it wasn’t easy at all.

The place looked all shiny from the outside, but it was rotten from the inside. Every day I served wannabe gangsters, low life criminals, and alcoholics. But I learned one of the most important things about myself while working there., long before I read it on Medium: I’m the result of the environment.

Environment shapes me. I suck it up like a sponge and start to give out what I’ve inserted. I almost started to treat cocaine like an antidepressant while working there. I met a guy who was, allegedly, a hitman. He had a glass eye.

The irony is, he was one of the rare people out there who said thank you when they’re served. I was stuck for months there out of fear of being broke and not being able to pay rent for me and my girlfriend.

Again, she was the one who pulled me away. And, she was the one who suffered the most because of me being there. I decided I’ll never take a job only because of the money. It turns out bad. It can destroy precious relationships. Later on, I started to use my brain a bit.

If I can become a bum in a shitty environment, then I can become the person of any environment I choose. The thing they say about us being the average of people we hang out with is one of the ultimate truths out there.

I learned to pick my company wisely.

4. I worked as a producer in a film company, and our only stream of income came from an outsourced granny who made mascot costumes

This was shameful.

We were a completely depressed team and we smoked pot every day during office hours. Our clients were rural schools who needed silly mascots. The granny… well, she was old, sick and slow.

She would miss the deadline and got us to figure out a bunch of crazy ways to deliver the lion heads on time. Our boss didn’t want to hear about hiring someone younger. They were too expensive, he used to say.

Next, this company didn’t receive a bunch of payments for the work they’ve done before me working there. I treated the debt situation Warren Buffet -style. I’ve never had to ask for the money before because I always had it.

So I’ve developed a strategy called Bee Nice: I would call people who owed us money three times a week. I was very polite, asked them how they are, how’s the business, and how their daughter’s college application is going. First, I would listen to their excuse for not paying on time. Then, I would tell them I will continue to call them and buzz around until I see the money in our account.

This, of course, didn’t work.

I told my co-workers they need to start making video games because that’s their passion. Beside smoking weed. Then I got fired, and went back to carry trays. As I learned it by now — there are times for the CEO thing. And then there are times when it’s better to wash the dishes for a living.

Being able to accept the harsh reality makes us more confident in the long run.

5. I applied for what I thought was a PR job

During the trial period, I found out that the company sent people out to trick the elderly, unhappy and poor.

They persuaded them to change their mobile operator. It was an unfavorable deal. I’ve never quit anything before giving it a try. Also, I needed the money yesterday. However, when I figured out what this company does for a living, I couldn’t do it.

These people were so fucked up they actually got a bit happy when someone knocked on their door. Some of them even offered us to sit for a cake and coffee. I didn’t have the stomach for taking their last drop of money. Then, I felt embarrassed in front of my “instructor” to speak the truth or walk away.

It took me a whole hour to get my act together and find the courage to open my mouth. Then I said it.

“Look, I’m sure you tell yourself a pretty good story about why you do this job. I get it. But for me…I don’t have what it takes for this kind of thing. This is disgusting. I’m gonna go now.”

It felt right. My lungs were able to take a deep breath again. I quit my first job. In a matter of weeks, things unfolded and I found another shitty job that at least felt like honest work. Don’t become another scam in this world, and karma will watch your back.

Offer your service, add value and your luck will find you elsewhere. Don’t be afraid to quit the job that doesn’t resonate with your core values. Shitty jobs can transform you into a piece of shit.

The Takeaway

Working these jobs made me let go of my preconceived and fake identities.

Losing my former sense of fake self is both one of the most difficult and most rewarding shifts I’ve experienced. It’s was a rough road, but it made me see other guy in me.

The one who can step up, provide and take care of himself.

The one who doesn’t think he is above any person or any job.

The one who focuses to do the best he can, no matter what’s the task.

The one who’s not afraid to turn his back and never look back.

Nobody in the real world gives a shit about your degree or how you appeared on the big stage. They treat you like dirt until you prove them different. Be the cleaning lady and be proud of your work.

Understand the cleaning lady’s role and importance like you’re the CEO. Don’t make a fuss about working one of those shitty jobs — everybody out there had them at some point.

While there, use them to learn how to do your best. When you feel ready, move on to the next challenge. The world is a safe place, for those who dare.

A version of this post was previously published on Medium and is republished here with permission from the author.

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