Spend Some Time in the Wrong Job
At some point in your career, you might end up in a job that seems like the wrong fit. That job might be the best thing that ever happened to you.
A few weeks into my summer copywriting internship at Viget, I came to a sinking realization: I didn’t want to be a professional copywriter. The job was perfect in every way — I had great coworkers, a supportive mentor, even free snacks — but I wasn’t passionate about the work.
I had come to the crossroads that almost everyone discovers at some point during their career — I don’t know what I’m supposed to be doing, but it’s definitely not this. I felt confused and disappointed. Not to mention that standing back at square one, graduation suddenly looked a lot closer than it had a month ago.
What I didn’t know yet is that working the wrong job would teach me more than my dream job ever could have. In fact, it forced me to learn skills that I otherwise wouldn’t have — making me a better professional and human *cue inspirational music*.
It forced me to be completely honest with my mentor.
Telling my mentor Elyse that I didn’t want to be a copywriter was pretty high on my list of Conversations I Never Wanted to Have. While it was a bit awkward in the moment, the honesty we built by having that conversation improved our communication throughout the remainder of the summer.
What I hadn’t realized was that by acting as if I had everything under control, I was holding Elyse back from mentoring effectively. When I was honest, she was able to identify potential problems and troubleshoot in advance. She might begin a particularly tricky assignment by walking me through extra examples, or reach out preemptively to give me the space to ask questions.
Being honest also unlocked an invaluable resource — the opportunity to get real-time career advice from my mentor. Even though I still didn’t love all of my assignments, Elyse and I were able to talk through why they were difficult, and what that might mean about my work style. She was also able to give an outsider’s perspective and suggest other potential careers. By pushing me to be honest, copywriting gave me the opportunity to get tailored professional advice.
It helped me define my learning style.
If you immediately love your job, you might never take the time to stop and consider why you love it. What about your job makes it uniquely suited to your strengths? When I found copywriting challenging, it forced me to disaggregate the skill set needed to be a good copywriter. What parts of the job felt like they didn’t click?
When I dug a little deeper, I quickly saw a pattern in the tasks I found challenging. I thrive when things progress in a structured way from beginning to end. Put simply? A blank whiteboard freaks me out. In order to create anything, I have to see how tasks like brainstorming play into a larger project timeline. Otherwise, I just get stuck.
Preferring structure is just a part of my learning style. When I look back, it seems crystal-clear that I work best when there’s a meticulously outlined path to the finished product. I had just never learned to articulate that about myself. When I uncovered more about my own learning style, it not only helped me to adapt within the internship — adding structure to my tasks made the job feel more manageable — it also taught me what to look for in my future career.
It taught me the value of sticking it out.
Copywriting wasn’t meant to be my One True Love, but before I dismissed altogether, I had to stop and challenge myself: What makes this work valuable, even if I’m not passionate about it? The truth is that copywriting and brand strategy both teach one of the most underrated skills: how to distill large amounts of information down to a few core truths.
It’s true: the job is tough. But knowing how difficult the work was at the beginning made it that much sweeter when I saw myself improving. Not to mention that learning to distill big ideas is a skill that would benefit any professional. If I had given up, simply because I knew the job wasn’t forever, I would have missed out on the things that it could teach me, things that mattered a lot.
It gave me the freedom to fail.
Undoubtedly, one of my professional (and personal, if I’m being honest) weaknesses is perfectionism. Not the cool kind that makes you look good in interviews either — the I-Hate-Doing-Work-That-Isn’t-Immediately-Good kind of perfectionism.
I had never done brand strategy work before. Forget doing good work immediately — I could barely tell the difference between a first and eleventh draft. In fact, part of the reason that I thought brand strategy wasn’t the career for me was because I felt like such a fish out of water. But maybe brand strategy wasn’t the issue — maybe the issue was me not allowing myself the time to learn.
I was putting so much pressure on myself to turn in perfect work that edits felt crushing. Luckily, my mentor finally sat me down and broke the news of this cold, hard, writing world: there is no such thing as a perfect first draft. I had to shift my mindset: that the value of the work lay not in how “perfect” it was, but in how much I had learned in the process. Surprise, surprise – not only do you learn more that way, but work becomes more enjoyable.
It made me talk to my coworkers.
As a summer intern, my instinct was to keep my head down, stay professional, and hope I never did anything to annoy full-time Vigets. This, dear reader, was a very, very dumb instinct. While it’s true that Viget full-timers are Busy Professionals and Doing Important Work, they are still kind, engaging people with lots of wisdom to share.
It took struggling with the internship to open my eyes to the fountain of career journey knowledge sitting at desks all around me. To my surprise, I found out that most Vigets worked multiple jobs, sometimes even in different industries, before they found something that felt like a great fit. And guess what? They were more than willing to share their advice and wisdom over warm coffee (or a Google Hangout) and provide a sounding board for my existential fears.
Talking to them not only gave me perspective, it helped me get to know the people around me — people with a lot of wisdom to share. People I might never have gotten to know if I didn’t already feel out of my comfort zone.
I chose the wrong career. Or maybe I didn’t — maybe in 25 years, I’ll come back to read this blog post on my holographic laptop, enjoying my successful copywriting career and contemplating the impending doom of climate change. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from this summer, it’s that I don’t have everything figured out — which is okay.
Learning is tough sometimes. It can feel disheartening. Sometimes, it might even feel like you’ve picked the wrong thing to learn about. I guess I just don’t believe that feeling anymore. Along the way, you just might find that the lessons you really needed to learn ended up in your pocket anyway.