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What you’re getting out of your menial job (besides a paycheck)


Maybe you dream of a position in upper management or you strive to own your own business someday. Perhaps your goal is to become a Leslie Knope-esque public servant or to write and publish a successful screenplay. Whatever shape your career goals take, if you’re like most twenty-somethings (especially college students and recent graduates), your job likely has very little to do with the career you’re dreaming of. If you aren’t in this category, consider yourself one of the lucky ones!

For those of you whose jobs fall under the “menial” category (a.k.a., you have little to no responsibility and few skills are needed to get the job done), you are not alone, nor are you wasting your time. Even if you don’t think you’re getting anything out of your job besides a barely-there paycheck, you should take a closer look! You are gaining more than you think.

It might be a cliche, but nearly all jobs come with a little training in the area of “people skills.” Especially if you work in customer service, you are learning to work with a diverse community of people and are gaining the skills necessary to deal with difficult or sensitive situations. If you don’t work in customer service, you are probably still learning interpersonal skills from working with a group and collaborating on projects with coworkers. Next time a customer or coworker frustrates you and you are ready to throw in the towel, think about how this difficult situation might help you become a stronger person in the long-run.

Another important lesson that comes from sweating it out at a menial job? R-E-S-P-E-C-T. If you work in a thankless role, receiving little to no recognition from customers or management, it can be a very draining experience that takes a toll on your mental health. But this experience helps you understand the perspective of people you will encounter throughout your life. Having worked in a thankless, soul-crushing role, you will always remember to treat everyone you encounter with respect because you know how it feels to receive none. You will be the kind of business owner who knows the name of every maintenance person.  You will be the attorney who takes the time to ask the barista about his day.  You will be the type of person who makes other people feel good, which is the type of person who goes far.

Lastly, menial work can help you learn how to make the best out of any situation. The hours may be long and you may smell like fried food at the end of the night, but no doubt, you always find a few moments to laugh with your coworkers or build rapport with regular customers. This skill comes in handy throughout life, because you will frequently encounter difficult situations or have a hard day at work. Whether you’re flipping burgers for minimum wage or starting your own business, it’s important to know how to see the glass half full. Your ability to stay upbeat and energetic during a double shift at Olive Garden will come in handy when you’re a surgeon working overnight.

When you clock in for another shift at work, you might feel like you’re wasting time on a job that doesn’t take advantage of your passion, skills, or your degree.  But no matter what job is currently putting food on your table, you are learning a lot more than how to clean up in aisle four.  You’re learning people skills, to treat others with respect, and how to stay positive and persevere when all you want to really do is quit.

About the Author

Natalee Desotell

Natalee graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 2013 with a triple major in Political Science, International Politics & Economics, Languages & Cultures of Asia, and a minor in Global Public Health. After a couple years in the working world, she recently returned to her alma mater to study Cartography and Geographical Information Systems. A self-proclaimed public health nerd, her dream job is to communicate epidemiological information visually through beautiful interactive maps and graphics. She enjoys iced black coffee, punk rock music, and surprising people.