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10 Unexpected Things I Learned From The Year I Spent “Not Having A Real Job”


1. All work experience is relevant, even if your first job doesn’t involve business cards identifying you as an entry-level “coordinator.” One of the first jobs I had out of college was working in a winery, and it was a combination of hospitality (working in the tasting room) and running social media and PR initiatives. Every job I’ve had since that one has involved some component of social media, and recently I realized why I do well running social channels for different companies: all the time I spent doing something I didn’t thing would be valuable, I was gaining experience that made me a more well-rounded professional.

2. You can make a job as “real” or as useless as you want, regardless of the gig. A job you hate, where you do only the bare minimum and spend the hours counting down until five o’clock is so much less “real” than a job you actually care about, and want to succeed at. I used to always downplay my serving experience when I interviewed for entry-level jobs, because I thought it wasn’t relevant to the interview, and didn’t want them to count it as “not real.” I learned that it was typically worth mentioning because nothing bonds two people like the shared understanding of how hard you have to work when you have six full tables during the Friday night dinner rush and the Micros computer system stops working. Also, I used to work in a client-facing role, and my serving experience really did help prepare me to interact well with clients.

3. I learned that it’s important to pursue hobbies, and do things your passionate about, when you have the time. While I was working several jobs after college, none of them were a 9-to-5, so it gave me the opportunity to craft my own schedule. I used to take on two (fairly long) volunteer shifts per week at a local cancer resource center just because I could. I had the time. I lived in a city without traffic, and didn’t have to be attached to my computer, or worried about deadlines. While I’m happy with my life now, and I definitely could make a volunteer shift work here or there, I can’t consistently devote 15 hours/week to it, like I once did. I’m glad I worked hard for a non-profit organization at a time when I could give it my undivided attention.

4. Your parents concern doesn’t mean they’re disappointed in you. I think when your direction isn’t apparent, and you’re not working the 9-to-5 grind, parents often facilitate conversation about professional goals. In my case, those conversations really helped, and they were necessary. But I think my first instinct was to worry that I was doing something wrong, or that I was a disappointing post-grad, which I now know wasn’t the case at all.

5. You sometimes do better creative work if you’re not working on other creative projects all day. When you are writing at a job all day, trying to launch a writing career on the side is incredibly challenging because you’re exercising the same work muscle for 12 hours straight. When I was working a full-time job that involved writing (for PR), and social media, and I was trying to write on the side to start getting paid, it was honestly exhausting (and worth it). However, when I worked several different jobs, like serving, or pouring wine, and then had to come home to write cover letters, it perhaps wasn’t fun, but it was much more manageable.

6. Not every opportunity has a clear end game, but that can be okay, if it’s still pushing you in the right direction. I am very concerned about having a plan. I want to know what next steps are. I want direction. But something I learned while working three so-called “not real” jobs, seven days per week, is that just because I didn’t necessarily have a future at any of the places I worked, doesn’t mean they weren’t furthering me as a person, and helping me decide what direction I wanted to go in. And the experience I gained was valuable, because I could go back to serving, if I needed to, at any time.

7. Not moving to a big city immediately after college will save you a lot of money. And when I stayed in my college town as a post-grad, the fact that my location matched my income was more of a financially stable choice than I even realized. When I was working and side hustling like crazy, I was also living in a college town where the rent was no more than $500/month. So, even though I was making less than I was at my first entry-level job, I saved more because my expenses were much lower.

8. Being busy doesn’t always mean you’re doing good work. You can be “swamped” at your job — however real or not real one may call it — and still not be doing very much work. I learned the value of quality work, and giving a task my full attention, even if the task seemed menial at the time. I think we sometimes almost enjoy sharing how busy we are at work, as if it’s something to brag about — which I have definitely done before. But having multiple jobs and managing my own schedule, taught me that being present and giving my work everything I had when I was clocked in, was more valuable than only being half-focused on something for double the amount of time.

9. All the time I spent waiting for the day I would have my moment in the Facebook spotlight to announce my new “real” job could’ve been better spent doing absolutely anything else. I swear I had dreams about crafting that beautiful, pithy, excited-but-not-too-braggy status. You know what? I don’t remember if I posted it, or if there was a picture to accompany it, or how many likes it got. Because it doesn’t matter.

10. I learned how little I could live off of. When I was living in the mindset that I didn’t have a “real job,” I was also living in the mindset that whatever I was making wasn’t enough. As it turns out, what I was making was fine, and was a similar hourly wage to some entry-level jobs in any major city. But because I was so worried that I should be doing better, financially, I was very frugal. I learned how little I could live off (and saved well as a result).

Maya Kachroo-Levine is a writer and editorial assistant at The Financial Diet. Send her an email at or follow her on Twitter.

Image via Pixabay

  • This is a really great and insightful post, and I love all the points you made. Those are really valuable lessons.

    I can relate to the feeling of needing direction, and wanting to have a clear path. But as you point out, every experience is valuable when you learn something from it.

  • Summer

    Probably my favorite (and by favorite I definitely mean least favorite) assumption society-at-large makes about ~OfFiCe JoBs~ is that as long as you are within the confines of your designated workspace, you’re working. Being productive. Spending your time wisely. Doing REAL things that give purpose and drive the economy. That as long as you’re wearing grown-up clothes and reporting to a grown-up office each day, you’re on the right track, even if you really can’t identify what that track is.
    This amuses me so greatly because I know that I personally have spent copious hours over the years doing nothing productive while at my “real” job. And so has just about everyone else, whether they’re willing to admit it or not. How many people actually get up and seek out additional tasks the very instant they finish their existing queue? How many people truly spend zero time on social media, or news websites, or online shopping venues while on the clock? Who hasn’t planned at least a portion of their most recent vacation while at work? Who hasn’t had an errant spreadsheet open so they can quickly switch tabs away from their personal project when a coworker walks up? Who hasn’t stared at the ceiling whilst thinking about the dozen other things they could be doing with their downtime if they weren’t obligated to remain in the office until 5:30 (and subsequently feeling a slight sense of dread for the impending evening because they know it’s going to be filled with the tasks they couldn’t take care of while stuck at work)?
    Which is why it is so baffling to me why people default to thinking that working from home or working a job with flexible hours isn’t a real job. “I bet you sit around in sweatpants all day now, lol,” or “so how late did you sleep in on Tuesday since you don’t have to work?” as if the flexibility to work remotely or not have to start a shift until 6pm suddenly thrusts a person into the depths of total slothdom, rendering them lazy and unproductive should they do the unthinkable and begin a load of laundry at 11am. Or, god forbid, work only four hours on a Friday because they know they can finish their project on Sunday afternoon without compromising any deadlines.
    There’s no question we slip into a complacency when it comes to office jobs. We show up, we sit there all day, we get paid. As long as our work is done in a timely fashion and with an appropriate level of quality, no one knows the difference if we’re sitting there reading Buzzfeed or skimming Amazon between tasks. So why are we judged if we use that time to exercise or clean up the house or run an errand instead? Why does an unconventional schedule or a remote job make us look like we’re doing LESS when we’re, in all likelihood, doing a lot more? It is really such a gift to have command of your own schedule. Working in an office doesn’t mean you’re using your time constructively just because you came in that day.