How I Found Value in a Bad Job

A professional photo of snowy mountains
Okay, my job didn’t take place on a treacherous snowy mountain top, but it FELT like it did. Stock photo taken by ZivotNaCestach.cz via PicJumbo.

The snow was piled as high as a small dog and the wind roared so ferociously that the temperature dropped almost forty degrees below zero. I stood outside, on a street corner, with a security shirt pulled over my puffy winter jacket. This was one of my first jobs: acting as “security” for a weekend-long outdoor winter festival.

After that weekend, I—understandably—caught a cold and developed a phobia of snowmen and red and green sweaters.

A picture of the app, Forest: there's a timer set to thirty minutes and a count down of thirty minutes happening around a picture of a pine tree

Adventures in Time Management: Finding Time For My Career

A picture of the app, Forest: there's a timer set to thirty minutes and a count down of thirty minutes happening around a picture of a pine tree
Setting up Forest before tackling one of my essays

One of my goals this year—as a Career Centre blogger and as an undergraduate student—is to focus more on my career through exploring different jobs, networking, and building my skills and resume. However, as midterms and essays and extracurricular activities started to pile up during October, I realized I wasn’t contributing as much time to developing my career as I would like.

In university, I think it’s just as important to strengthen your employability as it is to get an education. An undergraduate degree is usually just four years. After that, you’re in the work force for most of your adult life. Thinking about this partly motivates me even more to prepare for life after graduation, and partly sends me into a panic.

Since October was not as balanced as I would have liked, I decided to try out Forest, a productivity and time management app. It didn’t go quite as well as I thought it would, but it did yield some career insights.

The Butterfly Effect and Your Career

A picture of a butterfly pin in front of a white backdrop
It’s a butterfly… get it?

Whenever something good comes out of an unrelated event, I’m filled with amazement and unease.

I’m amazed at the way unexpected conclusions and positive outcomes can be reaped from seemingly random events in an otherwise chaotic world. Often times, situations just fizzle out in predicable and direct ways. For example, you attend class, sit where you usually do, and then leave. But it’s always amazing when you attend class, sit in a different seat than usual, and end up becoming friends with someone you otherwise wouldn’t have had you not sat in that seat. This has happened to me four times since entering U of T. It’s the butterfly effect in action, you guys.

But I’m also filled with unease. What would have happened had I not taken that seat? Would something infinitely better have happened, or something tragically worse? There are so many possibilities and different outcomes—why did this one happen to transpire?

Anyway, I’m done waxing poetic. Two unexpected events happened recently, which really got me thinking about planned happenstance again, and the ways unrelated events can spur career opportunities.

Learning Self-Care Through Parrots

When I learned I had to write my blog about self-care for Self-Care Week, I wasn’t sure what to do. I don’t think I’ve ever deliberately set time apart to recharge before. Sure, I’ve procrastinated and goofed off when I should have been doing work, but I always felt guilty about it afterward. So, for Self-Care Week, I decided to get out a jungle-themed colouring book for “mindfulness” and destressing that had been sitting on my shelf for a while, and set aside some time in my schedule for self-care for what was, probably, the first time in my undergraduate career.

A picture of the cover of a colouring book with designs of the Amazon Jungle. There are partially coloured insects, birds, and vegetation
Who knew a colouring book would lead to an epiphany?

Planning for Uncertainty

A picture of different ice cream flavours: strawberry, mango, bubble gum, cotton candy
I didn’t plan to have ice cream today. But sometimes uncertainty can be a good thing.

When I signed up for the Career Centre’s Planning Your Career workshop, I was ready to plan. And planning I did. I plotted out my career goals for the next three years with the help of a nifty linear diagram. My plan even had a pretty good end goal: landing my dream job after university.

This was all fine and dandy (I’ve been making colourful five year plans for the past ten years), until I remembered an underlying theme of the Planning Your Career workshop: it’s almost impossible to see the end goal of your career, since a lot of jobs are found through chance. In other words, plans are a good way to explore your career options and help develop your goals, but they don’t factor in all the unpredictable elements that go along with actually landing a job.

Lessons in Career Exploration

A picture of a clipboard with a piece of lined paper on top, in the foreground of an empty room filled with chairs
Calm before the storm: getting ready for b2B

I recently attended one of the Faculty of Arts & Science’s Backpack to Briefcase events, Humanities/Languages Speed Networking. University of Toronto alumni were invited to talk to students about their career pathways, and how they managed to navigate the workplace after graduation. The first half of the event consisted of discussions with a pair of alumni in small groups, and the other half involved an informal mingling period with peers and alumni. We got to ask alumni about their experiences and main takeaways from their time at U of T, their career pathways, and what relevant skills and experiences they needed to get their jobs. From listening to the various stories and opinions of the alumni, I managed to pick up these four lessons about career exploration.

Navigating My Skills with Navigating the Workplace

A picture of steps leading to a door

When I signed up for Navigating the Workplace, a workshop offered by the Career Centre, I didn’t know what to expect. This was the first Career Centre event I had ever attended, and the event description only vaguely spoke about building goals, understanding workplace expectations, and learning effective communication skills. However, at the end of the event, I gained insight into how to effectively communicate my qualities, and about the different ways to approach career exploration.

Getting to Know Myself from My First (Failed) Job Interview

A black notebook with a piece of lined paper on top of it that has "Failure?" written on it
Was my first job interview a failure, or an opportunity for career exploration?

When I was legally allowed to work and ready to become a contributing member of society, I applied to be camp counselor for a kids’ summer camp. Although I was practically a child myself and the only knowledge I had of summer camps came from an old Scooby Doo episode about a haunted campsite, I was offered an interview.

When I stepped into the interviewer’s office, he jumped up from his chair and pointed at me. “Is it really you?” he asked, in awe. “Are you the genius who put down Microsoft Word as her special skill? I’ve never met anyone so qualified and so accomplished. You are now the CEO of the summer camp. Wait, scratch that. I now dub you CEO of summer itself.”

Needless to say, my first interview for that summer camp job did not go quite as smoothly as this scenario (I never heard back from the interviewer), but it did teach me a few lessons about myself and my career aspirations, as well as the surprising benefits of failure. Of course, my experience also taught me about the dos and don’ts of interviewing (come prepared, know about the company, rehearse questions beforehand, etcetera—you’ve heard these all before), but the most valuable lessons I took away from the experience were about myself and my career explorations.

Why I’m Setting Career Goals This Year

An arrangement of shrubs and flowers partially cover front campus and University College
Front campus, in all its glory

It was my first day of classes at the University of Toronto, and I stepped onto the trampled turf of front campus with a pair of juvenile—and, admittedly, cliché—Converse and a backpack-sized collection of goals for the incoming year. I was brimming with a plethora of productive emotions, such as anxiousness, homesickness, and—probably the most helpful one—fear.

Luckily, I made it out first year alive, and with zero regrets. Zero regrets, that is, except for one.