Pulling Positives Out of Train Wrecks!

Life is not always easy but we can make the most of our experiences!

Recent conversations with a variety of people have led me to believe that many of us take away more negatives than positives in our lifetime. Several people shared stories of absolutely horrible interviews they were subjected to, temporary jobs that could best be described as train wrecks, and very unpleasant relationships with management which led to resignations. What I rarely heard were the good things that they garnered from past experiences and this got me to thinking about my own encounters. Please bear with me as this might seem like a bunch of mindless babble, but I promise to pull it together at the end of the article!

Back in 1980, the job market for liberal arts grads was almost as impossible as it is today. I did manage to procure some interviews and received offers to sell life insurance with a very minimal guaranteed draw, work as a trainee in a small bank at minimum wage, or join the management training program of what we now call a big box retailer for a whopping $13K per year. I chose the big box retailer and was promptly tossed into one of their very ancient five and dime operations in an urban setting where most of the staff should have retired decades before. They kicked me around for a year while I unloaded trucks, schlepped merchandise from a basement storeroom up a steep flight of stairs, and chased the local shoplifters on a daily basis! After a two-year stop at a similar site, I was picked to join a team that would open a brand new location! Imagine, 25 years old and being sent to the Jersey Shore in May! I actually touched the beach three times that summer and was too tired to do anything but sleep and get a sunburn! That location involved dealing with armed shoplifters, an inside theft ring, a decrepit building which had been vacant for years, and customers who were totally incorrigible to deal with.

One year later, I was "promoted" to be the senior assistant manager at one of the firm's busiest sites. However, the general manager and co-manager will involved in a huge power struggle and the district manager told me to ignore both of them and take charge of three less-experienced assistant managers and three trainees, as well. I found out I was the third person to attempt this in a six month span. Eventually, I decided enough was enough and moved on.

I forgot to mention that back in 1980, about three months after graduation from college, I interviewed with a staffing firm, as I already was interested in the recruiting field. The owner told me he liked me but I needed to experience real world occurrences before entering the search industry. This is significant because I feel all the negatives I had to overcome from a series of train wrecks ultimately prepared me for a career in recruiting and coaching.

All the frustrating moments I endured prepared me for dealing with spending many weeks supplying a client with great candidates only to have them hire from another source. Without my past history, I would have given up on the recruiting field very quickly. My past also helped me immensely during my tenure providing career services to trade school students. The students readily threw out reasons why they either could not get a job or retain that job and I was usually able to draw upon my past to help them make the most out of a bad situation. As a coach, most people come to me to help fix their job search process or improve their current work situation. Again, the many stops I visited along my career path have prepared me to help others. Many times, I find myself recalling how I jumped out of a train wreck and found the positives inside a negative!

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Harold Levin May 22, 2012 at 10:54 AM
One afterthought, no matter how bad the situation, always pull the positives from your experiences when asked about a past job during a job interview!
gina s. May 24, 2012 at 08:06 PM
Thank you Mr. Levin for a very insightful article!
Harold Levin May 24, 2012 at 08:21 PM
Gina, My pleasure! Thanks for the positive feedback!
Michele Guttenberger May 25, 2012 at 01:27 AM
In summation what does not kill you makes you stronger. Been there during this era too with my BS degree and thought the corporate world should have rolled out the red carpet for me. Boy was I wrong! It is a dirty job climbing up the corporate ladder when you finally do others think that you were just handed the position. No one knows the stupid things you did because it helped you network, build your resume or gave you the experience that you couldn't get in a college classroom. I consider these things the boot camp time of my life. Now I can laugh about them but at the time it seemed so horrible, but I was determined that I was going to make it. I bit my tongue not telling my boss where to go and got to dream every Sunday with the Star Ledger Classified ads. I did get my college grad respectful job, because they liked that I had more than a college degree. I had real work experience and of course I bragged about all my responsibilities I had at my secretly detestable job.


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