I’ve had a lot of bad jobs. A few have been down-right soul crushing.

Now, I’m not talking about a crappy summer job or the retail job I had shortly after graduating college. I’m talking about my professional career history. The jobs where I’ve engaged what I had learned in college in an attempt to make a living.

When I was younger, I felt like I had to do the grunt work in order to move up the corporate ladder. While there is truth to that, a young person should be learning through the grunt work not just doing grunt work for the sake of it.

Now, I bet you thought I was going to tell some horror stories of a past job. But, you would be wrong. Instead, what I offer to you dear reader is what I’ve learned, and maybe a silver lining for you, from some of these “worst” jobs.

  1. Many Different Hats
    Very often people that are unhappy in their job are asked to constantly do more (with less compensation). And while we bitch and moan about it, we often do it. Perhaps we’re asked to deal directly with vendors and get estimates (over and over again), create an itemized list for project completion (isn’t that an AE’s job?), or start creating content for a project (I’m just a designer, not a copywriter!). You may feel that these tasks are outside of your job description, and you may be correct. However, when you do these, you will often be learning something new. Taking a first stab at copywriting will often open your eyes to how you should design a website or brochure. Talking with vendors may be time consuming, but you will have a more direct connection with your project from beginning to end and be more concerned with some of what may have been considered “trivial” pieces to the puzzle. Creating an itemized list of tasks for a project will help give you a broader view of all the different steps needed to complete a project on time. Basically, once you start seeing and involving yourself in the larger picture, you will remove yourself as “just the designer” and be on your way to becoming a great designer.
  2. People are Strange
    Let’s face it, there are a lot of crappy bosses and even crappier coworkers. If it is as simple as a coworker that really likes two and a half men, or more complex where your boss will literally contradict him/herself from one moment to the next, we work with some very difficult people.In order to work with and coexist with these difficult people, we develop coping mechanisms. Sometimes they can be destructive. Other times they can be effective means for handling various symptoms of egomania. We also need to learn how to work alongside with these difficult people in order to complete projects, ship, or create widgets. Sometimes you have to bite your tongue. Sometimes you need to speak your mind. Sometimes you need to rationalize your argument. Sometimes you may realize that you are a weird and difficult person to them.I’m sorry to burst your bubble Virginia, but there is no perfect job. Every job will have difficult people. If it is a coworker, boss or even a client. Learning effective coping mechanisms is imperative to being a professional. After dealing with your boss Jerky Jerkson for one year at Widget Zone Inc., your new boss may have some similar tendencies, but is a walk in the park in comparison. Basically, you learn how to read people, how to deal with the ones you like and don’t like, and be a little humble by removing yourself or your ego from situations.
  3. The Golden Rule
    Learning what not to do is still learning If your boss treated you like a doormat, you will hopefully be less likely to treat others that way. You may have witness your production person belittle and trash printers and other vendors to their faces. Should it ever be your turn to contact and maintain vendor relationships, keep these experiences in mind and treat your vendors the way you want to be treated from your clients.You wouldn’t be rude to your waiter or waitress, would you? We’ve all seen Waiting and we know what can happen when we’re rude to people to have a direct link to a final product that we are very involved with.In short, treat people the way you’d want to be treated.
  4. The R-word
    Responsibility. A five year old may think it’s a dirty word that belongs only to grown-ups, but that is, alas, what we are…grown-up. Along with all our hats, we learn to complete our projects despite all other distractions. Despite of looming egomaniacs, deadlines and project task lists, we learn to finish our work. Not only do we learn to finish our work, but we learn to finish it along with all of our other tasks. What we should learn from this is that due to these various tangential tasks, we become responsible for areas outside of our pre-defined narrow scope. Welcome to the world of Creative Direction! It is very rare that we get to just design. It is more often the case that design is one part of a whole. And having the responsibility to see, work on, and account for those other pieces makes you a bigger asset for your next company.
  5. Back that Thang Up
    Picture yourself in a situation where your boss wants the color of the sign-up button to be red and you think it should be green. Perhaps your boss argues with you on a lot of points. In fact, your boss second-guesses almost everything you do.Back to the red v green scenario, maybe you’ve read an article or two on why green would be a better choice. Hopefully, you would not just give in, but eventually learn to counter his subjective “want” with a more rational argument like “well, I’ve read a few articles on Online Marketing Today and The Online Businessman and their research shows that red implies danger and causes hesitation from a user. Green, on the other hand, elicits a friendlier response and symbolizes “Go” to the viewer. We want the viewer to to feel confident, with little hesitation, in clicking on the sign-up button, don’t we?”
    You’ve just positioned yourself with a valid argument that solidifies your color decision. We must presuppose that you already read or have read Online Marketing Today or The Online Businessman. Being a part of the industry is not just doing the work, but following analytics, trends, thought-analysis etc.
    Giving a client, boss or coworker valid and real reasons for the choices you make will often make  a huge impact on what you do and how you present your ideas. If you can’t present your ideas clearly and back up your choices, then you are not a designer.
  6. CYA
    Cover Your Ass. How often does a coworker, boss or client change throw undeserved blame on to you? How often does the blame game occur in your office? Does a client go through the process and by the 95% completion point change their mind and decide that it is all your fault?Well, my friends, we quickly learn to cover our asses. Save emails, send follow-up mails and memo’s after meetings summarizing the content and various tasks and those responsible for it. Do not hesitate to bring these back up at a point where there is disagreement. You follow procedure, keep a record of it and be ready to go back and reference it at any point. It will make you more organized, more aware and more on-track for the duration of the project.It seems simple and it actually is. It can be as simple as organizing your inbox. Many people have inboxes that are just out of hand and never utilize folders or smart folders or even know how to search properly. Additionally, always remember to follow up. Take the responsibility to make sure everyone knows their part in the project and make sure you CC your boss. Bring a print-out of that email to your next meeting and follow up with everyone on that list.Don’t forget to respond to voicemails as well. It can be tough to record a phone call or remember a voicemail, but if you respond with a follow up phone call, followed by an email summarizing the phone call, you will be on record.

    It is an unfortunate fact of life that trust is a thing to be earned and that people are underhanded and will sell you out to save their own asses. If you want to insure yourself against such scoundrels, you must take precautions and cover your ass. If you don’t want to be accountable, or don’t feel like organizing, go to kinkos and be a designer-monkey there and call yourself a desktop publisher.

  7. Get Up, Stand Up
    This is sort of a culmination of some of the points above. Learning to be responsible, learning to back up your choices with real reasons and covering your ass will result in you being able to not back down. We’re not talking about pushing your elitist agenda, but rather, we are talking about standing up for your work and for yourself and your choices. You may be ruled against in the court of design, but it is better to stand up for yourself than than to slink back into your office chair and grumble to yourself and hate what you do.Being vocal and standing up for yourself will establish pride in yourself and your work. Being more vocal will let others see you in that way as well, and may start treating you accordingly. You must act like the person you want to be until you are the person you want to be. As they say, fake it ’til you make it. No one wants to be Milton from Office Space.
  8. Foresight
    A wonderful result of working at a really crappy job is that you will most likely not work for the same type of crappy job once you leave. After gaining some further insight into what makes your job so crappy, you will see the headlights further away at your next interview. Remember all the lies they told you during your interview, well, how will you make sure the next company you work for keeps to your job description and the issues you were hired for?
    Remember the way your current boss sounded when you had the interview and the types of thing he or she said? You will recognize those things immediately next time.Remember, everyone has crappy jobs. It is part of being an adult and working. What we must all keep in mind that we learn from experiences good and bad. If you have a bad job, or had a bad one, talk about what you learned rather than what what was terrible about it. You will come across as a professional, a better designer and one that others would want to work with.

Good luck with your crappy job!

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