6 lessons learnt from previous jobs

Whether your career journey has been a smooth ride or filled with twists and turns, chances are it’s taught you a lot. When was the last time you stopped to reflect on previous roles and what they’ve taught you? My career journey, as you’ll discover, has been a mixed bag, with dreams shifting and changing over time.

woman writing on laptop

Looking back into the depths of my work history, blowing the dust off my memories and really asking myself ‘what was the lesson there?’ has revealed a lot. Here are just some of the lessons I’ve learnt and how they may be able to serve you, wherever you are in your career. 

1. Taking pride in your work can make any job better 

Almost all of us can remember a job we took purely for the money. For me, it was when I was 18 and desperate to go to my first music festival. My friends and I couldn’t afford the tickets, so we found a summer job at a nearby factory with awful shifts but decent pay. 

After dallying with a few different machines, I found my sweet spot on the candle maker. My job was to watch candles go by on a conveyor belt and spot any with bubbles in the wax, moving them to the edge of the belt so they could get re-melted. Because the job was pretty monotonous, I was not only allowed to sit down while I worked, but I could listen to the radio too (trust me, this was a big deal). 

With a job like this, it’s easy to clock-watch and hate every second, but I made a decision to be the best damn candle watcher they’d ever seen. I filled out a form every hour, noting how many candles had bubbles and prided myself on never missing a candle that needed re-melting.

I would be lying if I said I never got bored doing this job, but taking pride in what I did, and relishing the perks of the job (ie. singing along to every song I knew) made it so much more enjoyable. By the end of the summer, I had a newfound respect for everyone working there, putting their all into the job. I had also made enough money to go to the music festival and yes, it was totally worth it. 

The takeaway: Even if you’re not currently in a job you love or see a future in, consider how you can do your very best at it right now. Taking pride in your work and learning what you can helps it feel more enjoyable and will put you in good stead when you do make your next move.


2. Working in alignment with your values is a must

After university, I had a writing degree in hand but wasn’t quite ready to leave my ‘student’ life behind. Along with several of my uni friends, I decided to stay in the city for another year and found a job as a fundraiser for a children’s charity. I was excited to do something that felt aligned with my values but was shocked at the reality.

During my training, I was taught tricks and techniques to encourage people to part ways with their money. I was told the more money I got from others, the more I would take home. Even though the charity was doing good work, something niggled at me about the methods being used.

Day one on the job was where it hit home. As I knocked on someone’s door and regurgitated the spiel I was taught to say, the stranger on the receiving end told me calmly but confidently that if they were going to give to a charity, they would do it of their own accord, not because they were bullied into it by someone on their doorstep. 

I smiled, nodded and promptly walked away from that job. I realised then that working somewhere that didn’t align with my morals and values was never going to be an option, no matter how virtuous it looked from the outside. 

The takeaway: Get to know your core values, write a list of deal-breakers when it comes to company values and use this to guide you in your career. Then, learn to trust your intuition when something feels off.


3. Boredom is where creativity thrives 

When I left the charity I found a job at a shoe shop in town which was much less compromising morally. The shop itself was tiny, with wooden displays filled with skater shoes and quirky heels that made customers feel awesome. 

I started as an assistant manager as I’d had some retail experience, and after a few months was promoted to manager. As the shop was so small and rarely busy, I often worked alone, with nothing but shoes and a blasting stereo system for company. I loved it. 

After all the tasks were done and I had nothing left to do but serve customers when they showed up, I found myself staring out the entrance, watching shoppers walk by. Armed with a pen and paper I doodled and wrote notes. Shopping lists evolved into monologues about consumerism and scrawled houses led to poems about a life I didn’t know I wanted.

I took inspiration from customers and crafted characters for short stories in my head. I’d never been more bored or more full of ideas in my life. I realised boredom and white space is essential for creativity.

The takeaway: If your job involves a fair amount of downtime or white space, try not to resent it. Use this time to note ideas and think creatively. If you can’t remember what boredom feels like on the other hand, try to build some white space into your week to spark creativity.


4. Being good at something doesn’t mean it has to become your career 

It turns out, I was pretty good at retail. After leaving the shoe shop and my university town, I found a new management role in a high street fashion store. This time I wanted to save money for travelling and figured I now had retail experience, so why stop?

As with all jobs, there were elements I disliked (working weekends, rude customers, being on your feet all day), but there were other elements I not only liked, but was good at. I enjoyed interacting with different people all day and thinking of creative ways to display the clothes and accessories. I liked the variety in my days and helping customers feel good about themselves. 

My managers told me I was a natural and always mentioned other opportunities in the business. I could climb the retail ladder, move to bigger stores, take on more responsibility. Even though I knew I probably could do this and be successful, deep down I knew it wasn’t the right move for me. I had a writing degree burning a hole in my pocket and a dream to chase that didn’t involve sales targets. 

The takeaway: Even if you have a natural talent for something, if it isn’t what you truly want to do, you don’t have to do it. Nothing is ever set in stone in our careers and ideally, you’ll also be good at the thing you dream about. You are multi-faceted and unique, don’t let that scare you.


5. Your ‘dream job’ can change 

After travelling and doing a lot of free work at various writing internships, I found myself about to start at what I thought was my dream job. I would be working on a fashion website in London. The dream hadn’t quite been nailed on the head (I wanted to be a fashion writer) but along with customer service duties and packing orders, any spare time I got could be spent writing blogs, attending fashion shoots and running the company’s social media accounts. 

After a couple of months, the new-job shine had worn off and I wondered what on earth I was doing. Along with some frankly awful management, I quickly realised fashion was not the right industry for me. I simply didn’t have enough passion to fuel a career here. I stuck at it for a year and a half, hoping things would change, but they only got worse and I decided to let that particular dream go.

I frantically looked for a different job closer to home (London also wasn’t the dream I thought it would be) and was relieved when I found an advert for a company that worked in the mental health and wellness industry. This, I thought… this I can work with. I’d experienced poor mental health in my teens and was always interested in ways to support others going through something similar, perhaps I could do this with my writing.

The takeaway: When we haven’t worked in our dream industry, it’s easy to see it in this way – a dream. Reality can sometimes surprise us and make us reevaluate what our dream job really is. This is OK – we evolve, learn and change over time so it’s only natural that what we want from our career changes too.


6. You can step off the ladder

When I landed at my job here at Happiful, I felt like I’d finally found what I’d been looking for. A job that aligned with my values, a job where I could use my writing skills and a job where I could support others… and, I was right. It was exactly what I was looking for. 

As time went on I climbed the ladder, becoming the manager of the content team. I thought this climb would continue, but it suddenly became shaky.

Alongside my day job, I’d been building a blog and an emerging coaching business on the side, working evenings and weekends. One day the room began to spin at work and I started experiencing anxiety symptoms. Having written about it before, I knew what it was and sought cognitive behavioural therapy to support me, but I knew something more drastic had to change.

A conversation with the director of the company led to me stepping down from my managerial position and reducing my hours.

I let go of the ladder and grabbed onto something new.

I welcomed more work-life balance and found my groove doing what I do best – writing. It’s not the career choice most would make, but it’s without a doubt been the best decision I’ve made in my career and life.

The takeaway: Your career path is not laid out in front of you. You have options and can forge new paths if you want to or turn around and start somewhere totally new. Wherever you are in your career, you have skills and lessons within you that will serve you wherever you want to go. All you need is the courage to start.

I wouldn’t have found my way in my career without speaking to a coach who helped me see that what I wanted was within my grasp. If you’re looking for support, courage or guidance within your career, use our search tool to find a coach near you. 

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Written by Kat Nicholls
Kat is a Senior Writer for Life Coach Directory and Happiful magazine.
Written by Kat Nicholls
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