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My first job out of school was a nightmare. The work was challenging and fulfilling, but the atmosphere was chaotic. Still, that experience taught me about working with difficult people, the kind of company I want to work for, self-control and producing high-quality work despite less-than-desirable working conditions. It also helped me grow up. Those three years taught me more about myself as a person and a professional than most of the positive career experiences I've had.
Career lessons are much like life lessons. Some of the best "aha!" moments come from negative or difficult situations. Whether good or bad, it is always important to look back at your experiences and think about what you learned from them.
If you find yourself with some extra time, think about your best and worst jobs, what you learned from them and how they've helped you in other work or life situations. Here, professionals share what they learned from their best and worst jobs.
Lessons from best jobs
"The best job I ever had was working at McDonald's in my town as a teenager. I learned that there are going to be people in your life that are very negative and rude and that you can't let them get to you or bring you down. This job also taught me to not take life too seriously and to have patience." -- Brian Kearney, president of Driving Force Public Relations, Rockaway, N.J.
"My current job is my best. This experience has taught me that you can actually love work. I love coming into work every day and miss seeing co-workers when we have a few days off. It has also shown me that you can have a fun environment and still be extremely efficient." -- Kelsey Meyer, vice president of Digital Talent Agents, Columbia, Mo.
"My best job was selling T-shirts to tourists in downtown Anchorage, Alaska, at 16 years old. I learned to sell, talk to people and be persuasive. I also learned how to relate and work through language barriers." -- Ron Eliot, CEO of Purple Blanky Productions, Los Angeles
"As a teen, I worked for a small specialty shop, Giovanni's Linens. They [the owner and staff] took great care in showing each customer the custom-made linens they prized, as if they were showing off their children. The Giovanni family taught me priceless lessons about customer service, quality products and tradition, all while working together and making me feel like part of the family."-- Lynn Bardowski, senior regional vice president at PartyLite, Philadelphia
"My best job was working as an account manager for a property-management company for foreclosures. This company was literally one of the crudest and most unorganized workplaces I've ever worked in, but it was the best job I ever had. The lesson I learned is that a comfortable workplace where recognition is built into the DNA of the work atmosphere can make a workplace that should be miserable one of your best jobs ever. Recognition and a happy office are key." -- Ashli Norton, co-founder of Workitywork.com, Atlanta
Lessons from worst jobs
"One of my worst jobs was working a concession stand at a golf course. I originally was the drink-cart girl and decided to pick up some shifts. While preparing food was not the most exciting thing in the world to me, and I barely lasted a summer doing it, I learned a lot about myself. I learned patience, understanding and my ability to have a conversation with anyone at any age from any background. I also learned that people really just want someone who listens, gives objective advice and is honest." -- Jessica Cudlin, account assistant at RMD Advertising, Columbus, Ohio
"My worst job was at a chip assembly line. My job was to pick out the burnt potato chips as they went down the assembly line. Every hour or so, a "Flintstones"-type whistle would blow and everyone would take a smoke break. Lesson learned? Never work a monotonous job. It'll suck out your brain." -- Julie Austin, CEO of Creative Innovation, Los Angeles
"My worst job taught me the warning signs to look for when considering a new position. I worked as a receptionist at a small law firm, and it took me a few months to recognize how unprofessional the company culture was. Since it was a family-run business, favoritism was the driving force of many executive decisions. There was also no employee handbook, which I now realize is a major red flag." -- Mimi West, CEO of My Dream Teacher, Provo, Utah
"My worst job was doing collections on business owners at the height of the recession. For all the sad conversations I had to get into, I learned something really valuable. People like to do business with people they like personally. They make emotional decisions more often than they make calculated decisions." -- Ian Greenleigh, manager of content and social strategy at Bazaarvoice, Austin, Texas
"I held my worst job position for two years, working for a small boutique chain doing sales and stock management. My employer suffered from bipolar disorder and frequently took out his angst on his employees. While I was employed there, I learned that in order to keep your job and make yourself valuable to your employer -- regardless of whether or not he is nice to you -- find something that makes you invaluable to your company. Whether it be a skill or job you can undertake, make yourself an employee that they can't afford to do without."-- Rachel Margaritas, director of public relations at ViralFashion.com, New York
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