I’ll never forget the coworker who sat behind me nearly thirty years ago in the regional credit center for a national department store. Fresh out of college, John resented the job he had accepted.

“I have a college degree,” he said. “I’m not going to work hard at this entry-level job; they don’t deserve me.”

I sometimes wonder what happened to his career. If I could remember his last name, I’d look for him on LinkedIn and find out. I might even try to contact him and ask a Dr. Phil question: “How’s that working for you, John?”

Having dropped out of college after one semester, I didn’t match his education level but with a decade of call center experience, I was a whole lot more valuable to the company. More important, I was highly motivated to excel at whatever job I accepted. That’s not to say I didn’t aspire to bigger things but I knew it would take time to get there.

Eventually, I finished college and grad school, holding an eclectic array of jobs along the way. Although some of my positions appear unrelated on a resume, each contributed in some way to my personal and professional development.

There are many reasons for feeling a job is beneath us but there is no good reason for not doing your best anyway. Aside from the personal satisfaction of knowing you’ve done a good job, the overarching strength that will take you where you want to go is integrity. Workers at every level need people who will speak highly of their work and attitude in order to be promoted or hired by another company. If you can’t excel at an entry-level job, why on Earth would anyone promote you?

Over the years I’ve read and heard many stories of refugees who fled their country during a war and lost their career as a doctor or other highly skilled professional. Upon arriving in America, they might have to take an entry-level job because they aren’t licensed for their profession in the U.S. or maybe don’t speak English.

As an American, I’ve never had to seriously consider such a scenario for myself but I have wondered about it anyway. If our country was torn apart due to civil war or invaded by another country, what would I do? I decided I would do my best at whatever job I took, even, as they say, scrubbing toilets. At the same time, I built skills in many areas, in case my career crisis turned out to be a crowded field of applicants instead of a war.

I probably should’ve seen the actual crisis coming. Escalating mobility issues resulting from my phocomelia, (deformed arms and missing fingers caused by my mother taking thalidomide during pregnancy) prevent me from working full time at the career I loved: marketing communications. I thought I could persevere through the pain for another decade but finally had to succumb to my limitations. Now my writing and speaking are a hobby and my job is taking care of pets.

Walking dogs and caring for cats in their owners’ absence helps me stay active without taxing my joints and nerves. I love the animals and do my best in caring for them. Unfortunately, society often has little respect for the work I do and low expectations of someone who performs an entry-level job like this. My boss and I constantly have to explain the situations that arise and the level of critical thinking needed when you are trusted to enter people’s homes and lovingly care for their beloved pets. Of course, our clients appreciate our professionalism. They are lucky not to get a person who feels the work is beneath them and has no intention of doing a good job.

Is your job beneath you? If so, what’s your plan for advancing to what you really want to do? And how are you building your integrity in the job you have today?

4 Comments

  1. Denise Brenteson

    Very nice article Carolyn. Addressing this topic should be very helpful for those who have lost jobs and looking to get back into the market … one has to start somewhere; even if it is a job that may be “beneath” one’s level. Thanks.

    Reply
  2. Joy

    I have a degree, yet made a career out of entry level Inventory Control & Quality Control positions. I tried to bring my best to those jobs. I thought they had challenges & I often had management who appreciated the level of professionalism I brought to it.
    What ever I do I want to do it as best I can.

    Reply

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