Everyone remembers their first job—whether a high school part-time gig, a college internship, or a full-time position. Typically, first jobs are accompanied by all kinds of frustrations and hard-won lessons. In fact, one’s first foray into a professional setting often produces a medley of good fruit.
And, fortunately, the lessons continue throughout your career journey. If you think about your résumé like a roadmap, you’ll find there are always opportunities for gratitude (yes, even in the less-than-favorite stops you’ve made along the way). Perhaps now is a fitting time for a rest stop to reflect and apply a spirit of thankfulness to your career ventures.
By taking an introspective look at your past jobs, you can uncover a variety of golden nuggets. So as you work on your “things I’m thankful for” list, be sure to incorporate your work life into your reasons for gratitude.
Absorbing new skills
When you begin a new job, you’re like a sponge, soaking up every training session, every chat with your boss, every explanatory video. It can be overwhelming to learn new systems, software, and processes. Depending on the industry and job level, you might be completely out of your element, or you may be mapping previously acquired skills onto new settings.
Regardless of the industry and your position, there is a learning curve at every job—and a chance to add to your suite of skills and competencies. Look back on your past roles (or your résumé!), and pinpoint some of the proficiencies you picked up during your tenure at each position. While you could teach yourself certain skills regardless of your employment status, acquiring new skills in a nine-to-five comes with the added benefit of immediate real-world application.
Undoubtedly, you’ve also had the opportunity to sharpen the sometimes ignored, but vitally important collection of soft skills. From effective communication to emotional intelligence to managing your relationship with your supervisor, these can only be built up with practice.
Acknowledging all of the skills you’ve nurtured reframes your professional efforts in a positive light as you remember what you gained from pouring yourself into your work responsibilities.
Every job role or organization presents situations that call for a host of values. For instance, a service job or client-facing role are prime circumstances for learning the cornerstones of customer service: empathy, patience, courtesy, communication, responsiveness, etc.
Maybe a particular job has stretched your capacity for resilience and perseverance. It may have catapulted you further into a gritty growth mindset that will serve you well across multiple areas of your life. And if you had a negative experience like a toxic workplace, keep in mind that it is often our greatest challenges that give us the most space for refinement.
Adaptability is another virtue that is often demonstrated—and demanded—in the workplace. From managing last-minute fires to making order out of chaos (while staying cool under pressure), the ability to adapt is paramount across all fields and occupations. How you react when mistakes have been made or how you jump in to take care of to-the-wire pivots says a lot about your level of flexibility. Employers value effectiveness, and being able to adapt quickly to every circumstance is a key proficiency.
Of course, not all professional challenges happen in the workplace: many of us have experienced (or will experience) a season of unemployment. If you are currently unemployed, you might feel like you're muddling through a particularly difficult and anxious time. The uncertainty and frustration of a job search without a steady paycheck coming in can be extremely trying. Take heart, for you are growing—maybe in perseverance, maybe in resourcefulness, maybe in patience, or maybe in something imperceptible right now but that will become clear in retrospect.
Overcoming difficult or high-pressure hurdles can be grueling at times, but looking back, you can be grateful for the values you’ve been able to practice and exude in your work life. Make it a habit to live out the values that are most meaningful to you, no matter the role you find yourself in.
Clarifying goals and preferences
One of the best ways to distill your vision is to participate in several work settings. Only by wading into a variety of environments can you uncover what matters most to you in the workplace. Your team culture? Management’s philosophy? An office environment or remote work?
There’s a cocktail of ingredients to consider, but over time, you discover which elements to prioritize for your greatest fulfilment and happiness. Furthermore, different roles can crystallize your preferences, likes, and dislikes, both about your responsibilities, tasks, and team dynamics.
Perhaps you enjoy diving deep into a focus area, or maybe you prefer for each day to look different. Do you appreciate working on projects from beginning to ending, or do you find your skills and interests weigh heavily in one part of the process? Maybe your passions lead you straight to entrepreneurship or advanced education. It’s possible that you thrive in small businesses, or rather, are energized by the structure of large corporations.
The chance to define your ambitions, ideal workplaces, and plans for advancement is a tremendous benefit to any job—one that is worthy of gratitude.
While it’s easy to focus on negatives at work, be careful not to miss the many positives from each one of your employment experiences. As you move through the twists and turns of your career, you may lose sight of how much you’re growing, experiencing, and building while you’re in the thick of it.
After some thoughtful reflection on your past career experiences, you can move forward confidently with a renewed sense of optimism, motivation, and focus in your current job and in the ones to come.