For the past five years, I’ve worked in some sort of health-related job. From healthcare IT, to employee wellness, to college health. But now, I’m a full-time freelancer, focusing on writing, editing, and career coaching.
It’d be easy to think that the past five years were a waste. Instead of spending my time bopping around the health field, I could’ve built a more solid freelance career. But while that’s probably true, I don’t believe any job I’ve had was a waste of time.
Other than the fact that I actually am passionate about health (so those moves made sense), I also strongly believe they all served a unique purpose. And I’m pretty confident in saying the same for the jobs you’ve had. If you don’t agree, perhaps at least one of these three reasons will change your mind that there’s nothing wrong with a little career exploration.
1. You Learned What You Like and Don’t Like
Right after grad school, I worked as a project coordinator at a healthcare IT startup. One thing became apparent to me very quickly: I hated chasing my co-workers around to see if they’d met their deadlines. Sending countless emails asking for a status update on a PowerPoint deck actually made my skin crawl. I left that position in just 11 months and started avoiding project management roles.
Despite all that, though, I loved the company culture. We had loads of vacation time, could work from wherever we wanted, and were allowed to take extra time off to volunteer. Knowing a work environment like that existed helped me create guidelines for the type of companies I’ll work for. Sure, it narrows down my options a bit, but it also gives me a better shot at being happy.
Bottom line: Even if you hate a job, even if it’s so far off from your end goal, it provides you with invaluable intel about the next steps you should take. Seek each nugget of information out—it’ll help make your path forward a little bit clearer.
2. You’ve Probably Gained a Transferable Skill
I may not have liked project management, but learning the basics and becoming adept at the software we used has been pretty helpful.
When interviewing for my employee wellness position, for instance, the hiring manager told me my project management experience was a huge plus. And, just a few weeks ago, a woman I was chatting with about a contract opportunity said the same thing. While project management wouldn’t have been my main responsibility, those skills indicated that I’d approach my work in an organized and methodical manner, something their prior consultants lacked.
Think hard about each and every role you’ve had. I guarantee you’ll find something there that you still use today or can in the future. For example, did you schedule meetings for a bunch of executives?
That may not seem like much to you, but the organization and patience that takes are skills most managers want their employees to have, no matter what the role.
3. You Expanded Your Network
When I decided to leave my university job in order to move, my friend Catherine referred me to a company she’d consulted for previously. They were looking for new contractors, and she thought I’d be a great fit. Thankfully, they thought so, too. This position helped me feel more financially secure as I ventured into the freelance world, and it also gave me amazing new experience and professional contacts. I would’ve had no idea it existed without Catherine. And do you know where I met her? My first job. You know, the one I left in less than a year.
I’m lucky—Catherine became a part of my professional network, but she’s a good friend of mine now, too. In fact, for the past three years, we met up for an early morning coffee date almost every week. (And then I ruined that by moving 10 hours away.)
Every single individual you’ve worked with, whether they were a co-worker, a client, or a vendor, becomes part of your network, with the potential to open up a ton of new doors for you. It doesn’t matter if that job has nothing to do with what you do now or what you want to do. After all, you never know who or what someone else knows.
None of your jobs—full-time, part-time, temporary, or volunteer—was a waste of time. As I said earlier, career exploration is important if you want to be happy! In my case, each role served some type of purpose. So, go on. Find it. When it comes to making a case for yourself, whether it’s for a promotion, an internal transfer, or during an interview, you want to be able to tell your whole story.