Jun 07

Priceless Skills I Learned at The Job I Hated


OK truth be told I didn’t hate the job, I just hated the hours.


When I finished graduate school in 2009 the job market wasn’t very good. So when I was offered a 3-11pm shift at a social service agency, that is world acclaimed as a leader in the supportive housing movement, I immediately accepted the offer.

The position was a social worker job at a homeless shelter in NYC for women diagnosed with Severe and Persistent Mental Illnesses.

As you’d probably imagine, working with 40 women in a communal living space was pretty challenging. The building itself had it’s own limitations in terms of size and space. It was a small shelter and the women had no personal space. The beds were set up dorm style, and the women didn’t even have shared rooms. They were on two completely open floors, 20 beds per floor.

Every client was diagnosed with a Severe Mental Illness, ranging from depression to schizophrenia. Many of the residents also had co-occurring physical illnesses and trauma histories. Some took psychotropic medication and were actively engaged in treatment with a psychiatrist. Others were not interested in treatment and/or were self-medicating with drugs and alcohol.

The work was really mentally and emotionally challenging. Working with 40 perfectly “healthy” women in a communal living setting would be pretty difficult in most circumstances, so multiply that by all of the factors I mentioned above, and you’ve got a fair bit of chaos and crisis on your hands. It certainly wasn’t the best job I’ve ever had, but I’m grateful for the experience, as the work taught me a lot about myself and my own resilience.

Here are some of the skills I learned on the job:

  1. Calm Under Pressure. Graduate school can’t possibly prepare you to handle actual emergencies. In fact I think they try to shelter you from the types of emergencies you may actually encounter in the “field” so you don’t run away in horror. Toilets are overflowing, someone’s having a seizure, the police are pounding at the front door all at the same time, what do you do first? Calm under pressure is something I learned quickly. It’s a skill that has served me well both in my professional career and my personal life.
  1. Delegation. Most people think they are good at delegating responsibility. But they aren’t. When I started the job, I had very limited experience being a manager. I thought I was good at delegating, but ended up taking on a lot of tasks because I thought I would do them better and/or I didn’t want to burden my staff with them. Now that I’m a little older and a lot more experienced, I’ve become much better at delegating. I.e.I’m going to call 911. You write a letter explaining what’s going on and you stay with the client until the ambulance arrives.”
  2. Drug Identification. Sounds strange, I know. But in my line of work it’s clinically important that I’m able to identify the signs and symptoms of drug use. Before I started the job I knew very little about drugs or drug use outside of what I learned in class. Now I can identify crack pipes, pushers and other drug paraphernalia. I can tell you when someone has been smoking crack and I know what to do and who to call when someone overdosed on heroin.
  3. Deescalation Strategies. Psychiatrically unstable clients who are hearing voices and have a large knife, depressed clients who want to kill themselves, clients under the influence who want to hurt others…you name it I’ve deescalated “it”. Physical fights, verbal attacks and clients who are a danger to themselves and others are all part of the work. If I had any other job I’d probably avoid these types of situations at all costs, but it’s my job and my ability to deescalate someone might save their life, or yours! (remind me again why social workers are paid so poorly?).
  4. Sacrifice. Sometimes you have to make sacrifices to advance in your career. It was obviously my choice to work 3-11pm, but during those years, I missed a lot of events, parties and get-togethers with friends. When everyone else was finished with their work day I was just getting started. It wasn’t easy, but 24 hour shelters require 24 hour staff.
  5. Dedication. While others stayed at the job a few months or a year, I stayed committed to the agency and got promoted quickly. I hated the hours, but I knew if I stuck with them and showed my dedication, I’d be moved to a daytime shift. There were many days when I wanted to quit or cry, or both, but I didn’t. I kept fighting and I got both the promotion and the daytime hours I wanted.

What are some of the priceless skills you learned at a job you hated (or liked)?

Image: Taxcredit.net



4 pings

Skip to comment form

  1. Michael @ The Student Loan Sherpa

    I think working a job that you hate and sticking with it is a great life lesson. During my high school days I worked at a McDonalds (I actually worked there a total of 5 years). It was a great lesson on the realities of the world and its made me appreciate every job I have ever had since then. I still laugh when I think about the fact that I used to go in at 5 AM because I would get an extra $1.25 for the hours worked between 5 and 8 AM.

    1. KK

      I totally agree, good for you for sticking with McD’s. I would have worked the 5am for the extra $1.25 too :-)

  2. Holly@ClubThrifty

    That actually sounds kind’ve scary.

    Most of the things I’ve learned from jobs I’ve hated is that I never want to be stuck working in a job I hate. I’ve had a lot of jobs – many of them awful. That has definitely influenced me to work harder.

    1. KK

      I think for most people it would be scary. I knew what I was “getting myself into” when I “signed up”. I sort of compare it to MDs who work in the ER. There’s a certain type of person who can do it, but the burn out is pretty high.

      Looking back I’m not sure I would have stayed as long as I did in that particular place, but it’s definitely taught me I don’t want to work in transitional housing again.

  3. Michelle

    Wow that sounds like a very challenging job! And I’m with Holly, I’m learning to not feel like I am stuck. I am terrified to tell my work that I am quitting, but it has to be done.

    1. KK

      I think I’d be a little terrified, but really excited. Not feeling stuck is really important. somehow knowing you can leave just makes the job so much easier to deal with when things feel bad.

  4. Jordann @ My Alternate Life

    Wow that sounds like a very high stress job!

    The job I’m currently in, isn’t perfect. The management leaves a lot to be desired (as in, there basically isn’t any). For my first, probably 8 months on the job, this was a huge issue for me. I was brand new and I didn’t know what I was doing, and I had no one there to help me figure it out. Then I had a bit of a light bulb moment, and I’ve turned this drawback into a positive. I can pick my own projects, drive my own budget, and develop the skills that interest me.

    Projects that terrified me when I was brand new, I’m now seizing control of and running with. It was definitely a learning curve, and I’d still rather have a manager that was more present, but it’s caused me to master skills I otherwise wouldn’t have developed.

    1. KK

      Good for you for turning a “bad” situation into a good one. It’s hard to feel unsupported especially when you’re at a new job. Sounds like you’ve really taken control and learned a lot in the process. Probably a really valuable learning experience and a good reminder of how important it is to be a good manager too.

  5. eemusings

    I hated the hours at my last job, too, but it gave me valuable experience that would be hard to get during the day shift. Covering the quiet times allowed me to step up and take on more responsibility :)

    1. KK

      I think doing evening hours for me gave me valuable experience because it was so crazy. Daytime at shelters is quiet because everyone is sleeping or out of the building. At night everybody wakes up and are home. I hope if I work another night job it’s quiet.

  6. Brian @ Luke1428

    What in incredible situation. Kudos to you for working with those ladies who were in real need. The best skill I’ve learned in my career is how to deal with people that are different.

    1. KK

      My mom always says “it takes all kinds” and I think that’s true. Working in any field is hard because you’re dealing with everybody’s personalities (good and bad) and drama.

  7. Mrs PoP @Planting Our Pennies

    I’ve learned to be more assertive about my time outside of the office and set boundaries. My previous job required all nighters and I’d often put in 80+ hour workweeks. That wasn’t what I wanted with this job, so I was pretty clear on what time the latest in the evening I would take work calls.

    1. KK

      Smart to be clear on the boundaries. I’m on call 24-7, 365 days a year. That’s just part of the job. Would I take a job like that again? Probably not, unless they paid me for the work I do on weekends. Live and learn.

  8. krantcents

    I keep learning no matter what I am doing! Some of my crummy jobs taught me how to handle crummy jobs. It is a valuable skill you may overlook as you only get to do the the things you enjoy. It is the best circumstances to only do what you like to do, but it may not always be possible. Teaching in high school teaches me how important their world is and how it influences success or failure.

    1. KK

      My mom’s a teacher (elementary school). High school is a whole different ball game. It takes a special kind of person to look past all the high school hormones and attitudes to help kids get the foundation they need to go to college or be productive in the work force. Cliche, but you’re literally molding the future generations. Pretty awesome!

  9. Nick @ ayoungpro.com

    What a very interesting and sometimes scary job! Power to you for being able to do it! I think that all of those are great lessons, and transferable to other areas as well. I definitely think working a few “bad” jobs helps you even appreciate the good jobs more. :)

    1. KK

      Absolutely. I’ll never complain in future jobs about certain things. I’m glad I had that experience so young in my career, because I feel like every future job will only be easier. Maybe more academically challenging-which is great-but not more emotionally and psychologically challenging.

  10. Rachel@Mobilligy

    I found myself nodding my head through this entire post! I applaud you for sticking it out in such a high stress job!

    Before this job, I worked in healthcare as a sonographer. Doing ultrasound exams came with a lot of stress – working long hours, being on-call, the mental and physical exhaustion, delivering bad news… it was really hard. I think more than anything, it forced me to evaluate my life and realize I wasn’t happy doing it. Leaving ultrasound in pursuit of something more creative has been an amazing transition for me, but I don’t think I ever would have had the courage to follow my dreams had I ended up in a job that was “fine”.

    1. KK

      Oh wow, that does sound really terrible (giving people the news that something is wrong with their baby-ugg). Sometimes we really do learn more about ourselves and what we want doing a job that we don’t like. Some jobs seem fine on paper but once you get started they are a nightmare. Kudos for figuring out what you didn’t want, and following your dreams.

  11. Debt Blag

    I’ve had a few different jobs where the days routinely went over 12 hours, and saw 18+ hours on a far from infrequent basis. Besides teaching me to budget and prioritize my time, they constantly reminded me of the importance of the human aspect of getting things done. Sure, it’s always easier for me to send off an email and hope something happens, but heading across town and having a quick sit-down — even when there’s a lot going on — can work wonders.

    1. KK

      18 hour days sounds pretty miserable, even if you love what you’re doing. Human interaction is so important. I think we forget sometimes because we spend so much time in front of our computers.

  12. Karen Halls

    I must say this is a great article i enjoyed reading it keep the good work :)

    1. KK

      Thanks Karen!

  13. Mike@WeOnlyDoThisOnce

    I had a similar experience. Awfully mind-numbing work, but taught me the importance of finding a job that I love!

  14. Jana @ Daily Money Shot

    I worked in social services for a long time. My first job was as a reintegration worker for adjudicated kids returning home from a court ordered RTC. I totally understand where you’re coming from.

    From that job, I learned patience. Tremendous amounts of patience. I learned how to work with outdated equipment (and minimal technology), I learned major people skills, and, most importantly, I learned how to parallel park. That is a life skill I totally needed. But I didn’t hate the job, even with the incredibly low pay and the weird politics of working for an archdiocese affiliated nonprofit. I actually really enjoyed it and left for a similar job (juvenile probation officer) closer to home.

    I’ve talked about the one job I really, really hated on my site a little bit. It might be time to revisit that topic.

  15. DC @ Young Adult Money

    Sounds like a very tough work environment. I know you said you hated it, but it seems like you did work that is MUCH needed today and I applaud you for that.

    I don’t think I’ve ever really hated any of my jobs, just disliked at various levels haha. I learned a ton working at Pizza Hut (my first job) including the fact that even if you bust your ass you still might miss out on a bonus or raise (my manager got screwed on a raise despite turning a bottom performing store to a Million Dollar store….). I think it has definitely influenced my perception of job vs. small biz owner and why I may never be fully content as an employee.

  1. 5 Best Homeless Shelter Donations » Student Debt Survivor

    […] My first job after graduate school was at a homeless shelter for women diagnosed with severe and persistent mental illness. I worked the evening shift there for 3-years before transitioning into permanent supportive housing. Over the course of those 3-years I learned a lot about myself and others, but that’s a story for another day. […]

  2. Updates: June 1 – 8 | The Outlier Model

    […] Debt Survivor learned some priceless skills at jobs she hated, over the […]

  3. 7 Reasons I’d Keep Working a Job I Hate • Cash Cow Couple

    […] one point or another, I suspect most of us have worked a job that we hated (or at least really disliked). Over the past 15 years or so, I’ve worked my fair share of full […]

  4. Good things come to people who work hard » Student Debt Survivor

    […] working in the social services arena. My first post-masters job was working the 3-11pm shift at a homeless shelter for women diagnosed with mental illnesses. I hated the hours, but I worked hard and got promoted […]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>