What the Jobs I’ve Held Have Taught Me About Myself

I’ve held several different jobs, in different fields. Some I have liked and felt were a good fit. Others I simply tolerated but did not feel comfortable doing or enjoy. I believe my experience is pretty typical of most workers. Here I’d like to consider the reasons behind why certain jobs were “right for me” and certain jobs weren’t. I think you can learn a lot about yourself based on the kinds of jobs you do well in and those you don’t, those that inspire you and those that drain you.

I have worked as a childcare professional, as both a private babysitter and in group settings (daycare and gym kids’ club). From this line of work, I have learned that I enjoy creativity in my job. For example, I got to make up games, do crafts, and make lots of cool things with Legos with the kids. However, the chaotic, unpredictable nature of children and working in child care do not jive with my spirit but instead cause me anxiety.

I have worked as a caregiver to the elderly via a senior care agency. I enjoyed the solo nature of this work —not having any coworkers—because I worked with private clients and generally in private homes. Even when I would go to a nursing home, assisted living facility, or hospital, I worked one-on-one with the client. I also really enjoyed hearing my elderly clients’ stories and life experiences from past eras, as I love history, and it intrigues me. However, similar to child care, it caused me great anxiety to have someone’s life in my hands or to have to respond quickly and competently to unexpected scenarios arising, such as dementia-related outbursts or medical emergencies. I am not great “on my feet” and feel much more secure when I have gotten the chance to prepare. Driving these clients (in my own car, no less) was also risky and stressful.

I have worked as a retail manager. I enjoyed, once again, the solo nature of this work. I worked in a tiny gift shop owned by an individual with two other managers in charge of the store. I worked second shift and was the only employee in the shop during my shift. Not even the owner was around unless he happened to drop by for a few minutes to take care of some business. I had great responsibilities including ordering stock, money- counting, ensuring shop security, etc. As a result, I took great pride in my job and enjoyed not being micromanaged by anybody. However, it was stressful not having anybody around to help when the shop was very busy or when I had to deal with irate customers.

I have worked as an at-home transcriptionist. The work was legal transcription of a court reporter’s audio files. It required incredible attention to detail and constant focus. I enjoyed using my grammar and spelling strengths in this position, the lack of coworkers and micromanagement, and the ability to take breaks when needed. I could stop early for the day and wake up to do work in the middle of the night if I wanted, as long as I got the work done by the deadline. However, the work was incredibly tedious and mentally-draining.

I have worked as a patient observer. This job was a non-medical position in a hospital emergency room that required me to do room searches and personal searches of patients deemed to be homicidal or suicidal, in order to protect everybody’s safety. It required me never to take my eyes off the patient and to ensure they didn’t have anything they could hurt themselves or others with, such as pens, scissors, or sheets (they might hang themselves). I was constantly pitted between what my supervisors wanted me to do and what the nurses on the floor wanted to be done, and this actually caused me to feel much greater anxiety and insecurity than working with violent patients.

Several years ago, I worked in a major corporate pharmacy chain for a day before quitting. I was hired as a retail associate and was required to do many tasks, including both stocking and cashiering. The training was minimal, most on the computer (so not very practical), and the job was absolutely chaotic. I’d be sitting on the floor stocking something on the bottom shelf when I’d be yelled at by someone to check the front counter because a customer (who I wasn’t able to see from my vantage point) was waiting to check out.

Several years ago, I worked for a major residential cleaning company for a week before realizing that kind of physical labor wasn’t going to be something I could stand on any kind of a consistent basis, and the pay scheme was such that you didn’t actually know how much you’d be paid.

I have worked as a live-in personal assistant. This was another job that allowed me great freedom over when I did my work and how I did my work. I worked for a woman who was the president of a company headquartered in NYC who needed me to cook, clean, do laundry, run errands, make/answer phone calls, and chauffeur herself and her teenage son. I had tons of free time during the day and could run errands of my own in-between. I would say in a 12-hour day I generally had about 2 hours’ worth of actual work to do. However, I felt a little trapped not being able to go back to my own home every night and feeling pressured to do things with the family members outside of my work hours.

My most recent job, up until Covid, was working a desk job in a call center. Although I had lots of coworkers, I rarely interacted with them because I was constantly on the phone doing work at my own cubicle. I have been working this job from home now since April. I enjoy interacting with members over the phone better than in-person, as it is less stressful for me. I enjoy that it is only inbound calls that I make and that it doesn’t include having to make any sales. However, it can be stressful dealing with computers and computer systems that don’t always work, as well as having to learn new systems and software from time to time.

I have learned from my work experiences that I don’t want to do emotional labor. It brings up too many feelings and memories of my own and I feel too great a responsibility for the person. I don’t want to be micromanaged but I do want to have the support there when I need it. I don’t like feeling as though my supervisors think I’m stupid, but I also don’t like feeling as though everything ultimately lies on my shoulders and I don’t have a sounding board. I like knowing what’s expected of me and having those expectations remain consistent. I don’t like being told contradictory information. I want to make sure I’m doing my job well. I like challenges but do not like being set up for failure. I appreciate jobs that are relatively routine but allow me to express my creative side and use my own discretion. I like doing my job but then also having a life separate from that job when the work day has ended. I don’t want work life bleeding into my “real” life. What have you learned about yourself based on the jobs you’ve held?