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3 things I learned while job-hopping

My first job at the age of 17, was filling popcorn buckets and pouring sodas at a theater in downtown Salinas, California.

As first jobs go, I was extremely lucky. My coworkers were friendly and the work was easy. Not to mention the theater itself was beautiful. The building was designed to match the historic downtown architecture. And every evening, thousands of bulbs in the classic cinema marquee lit up the night with glowing nostalgia.

But this is not a blog about my first job. This is a blog about the string of jobs that followed – all 13 of them. That’s right! I have had 13 jobs since I was 17.

I’ve been a barista, a meat slicer at a deli, a hospital employee, a manager at a cafe and a server at multiple restaurants. I was also a host at a steakhouse, a concierge at a hotel, a bank teller, a box office assistant and now a reporter for The Collegian.

Thirteen is probably too many jobs. But in my defense I’ve been supporting myself financially for a long time, a task that often requires creative and sometimes desperate measures. And while working in the service industry is grueling, it has given me the chance to learn so many different skills and challenged me in ways I never imagined.

So here are the top 3 lessons I’ve learned as a professional job-hopper.

1.) Customers suck, try not to take it personally

Whether it’s facing down cafe customers pre-caffeine, dealing with rich snobs at a bank or dodging unwanted advances from drunk people as a server, I have seen my fair share of difficult customers. And unfortunately they are impossible to avoid.

Working as a barista at Starbucks, or any fast-food type business is a true test of grit. There were days when I left work covered in syrup and whipped cream, utterly exhausted by the customers I had encountered that day.

Trust me, being yelled at or threatened over something so trivial as the amount of extra caramel in someone’s frappuccino is a helpless feeling. But try not to take it personally.

Unfortunately, some people choose to treat others as their own personal punching bags. Perhaps they feel like they have no power in their own lives, or they had just a bad day. Regardless, the way they treat you says more about them as a person that it does about you.

So try to remind yourself not to take any of it personally. And remember you are not obligated to accept that type of treatment. Utilize your managers especially when you feel threatened or mistreated. They are paid more to deal with difficult situations.

2.) Before you job-hop have a plan

I know what most people are thinking. Job-hopping is irresponsible and could make it difficult to get hired by future employers down the line. There is some merit to this argument, but having a plan while job-hopping ensures that you make the best out of a diverse work history.

As a rule I try to stay a minimum of 6 months at each job. Typically, if I can tell it’s not a good fit by the fourth month I start looking for other job opportunities.

I also never leave a job without having another job lined up and I always give a written two week notice. Quitting a job may seem like a good idea in the heat of a particularly tough day, or week but ultimately leaves you desperate to find a job as quickly as possible. Plus, putting in a two week notice means that you can possibly be rehired in the future by the same employer.

As a job-hopper I have had the opportunity to learn skills in a wide variety of hospitality and food service positions. In my experience, employers won’t mind if you have had a few more jobs than the average worker as long as you have learned a valuable lesson from each experience.

3.) Your sanity is more important than your salary

This is the most important lesson I have learned over the years. I used to feel guilty about leaving jobs so often, but sometimes it is more important to protect yourself than your employer.

I have left a few jobs that paid well and included benefits for lower paying jobs. For me these jobs were sometimes too good to be true and often came with a huge downside.

For example, working at a bank came with amazing benefits but the slow pace and monotony of the work often left me feeling restless and anxious. I ultimately decided I couldn’t handle it anymore and found a lower paying job after 6 months. Even though I had to adjust my lifestyle, I felt instantly happier.

You have to decide what you value most in a workplace. Are you willing to endure for a paycheck? Or can you afford to take a pay cut to save your sanity?

Personally I advocate for finding a job that works well with your personality, schedule and lifestyle regardless of pay. You know your limitations best, never feel like you have to stay employed at a “good job” that isn’t working for you because you think you should.

Truly the job market today is becoming more and more competitive, especially for young people. Be ruthless in your job choices, recognize your value as an employee and never think that your situation is set in stone.

If having 13 jobs has taught me anything, it’s that you are never stuck in a job you hate.