What I learned from my crap job

What I learned from my crap job

By NellFrizzellIdeasTap 06/03/12

All creative people do crap jobs. But instead of thinking of them as a necessary evil, consider for a moment all the things you can learn from your crap job that will make you a better artist…

You show me a creative person who hasn’t, at some point, done a crap job and I’ll show you a millionaire.

Temping, factory work, cleaning, retail, waitressing, helping out on your dad’s building site – they’re all par for the course when you’re trying to establish yourself as a professional creative. 

But a good phone manner, learning how to cash up, patience, the ability to use Excel, how to network: these are all things that you will call on at some point in your creative career. And you might as well get paid to learn them on someone else’s company time. 

Here is the IdeasMag guide to the things you can learn from a crap job:


Don’t be a dick

One of the primary things working in retail or in restaurants will teach you is manners – or how to fake them. Being nice to customers (or, on the flip side, to the person serving you) makes life easier for everyone. Learning how to bite back your fury and be friendly will be useful beyond measure should you ever go in to directing, producing, curating, journalism or to work in a creative agency. Believe me.

To put it another way, in the words of George Sandison, a crap job will teach you “patience on a tectonic scale.”


How to use boring computer programmes

I hate to be the one to tell you this, but Excel isn’t just the preserve of admin assistants and accountants. If your creative work ever makes any money, or if you ever intend to pay anyone, or if you ever have to handle the details of more than about five people at once, then you will need Excel on your side. So, if your temping job offers you training on anything in the Microsoft office suite, for the love of cells, take it.

The same also applies for design programmes – learn how to use the Adobe suite on someone else’s time and you’ll be reaping the benefits for years to come.


Dealing with managers

As kelechneckoff on Twitter put it, you’ll only ever be as happy as your manager is. Learning how to handle your superiors is the fast track to promotion, getting an agent and getting commissioned as a freelancer. Suggest solutions as well as putting forward questions, do the little things that make a big difference (like making the tea and being on time), be friendly but not too informal and learn what you can from them.


Be discreet

As the journalist Sonya Barber brilliantly puts it, “People who do crap jobs are bored. So, be careful not to give them anything that could be seen as gossip (like dating someone else who works nearby) as they will hound you.” See also, Upstaged: Copping off with your co-star.


The “You never know when this might come in useful” things

Rachel Segal Hamilton learned how to count money super fast, her £1.99 times table, to tip generously and in cash, and that it's always worth haggling. Melanie Williams learned how to cut up chicken carcasses and look fierce while wearing a hair net. Cathy Thomas ‏learned how to fold men's shirts and make pretend phonecalls. Bev_Vahland ‏ learned how to wash up. I learned how to lay bricks (albeit badly) and how to flirt (slightly better).


How to quit

While crap jobs can teach you a lot – and will provide you with a lifetime of funny stories – don’t get stuck. As Lauren on Twitter put it, “My crap job taught me I could do better. It made me quit and go to university.” Or, in the words of Elaine McCann ‏ “Crap jobs can only get crappier, so go ... now ... before it's too late!”



Waitress Wanted by Curtis Gregory Perry via Flickr under a CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 license.

What’s the crappest job you’ve ever done and what did you learn? Tell us in the comments section below.

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