Hate that I Love You

I’ll never forget my first job out of college. I worked at an inner city clinic, making less than I made in college co-managing a call center. With my good grades and an-all-empowering biology degree, I felt entitled to a better life than one that barely covered my rent, SEPTA bus passes, and student loans. Sadly, the work was even less flattering than the pay. I was the “Girl Friday,” filing charts, typing letters (on a typewriter—something I hadn’t used for years), making collection calls, answering phones, and doing any work that others had risen above. Beyond disappointed, I felt failed. I was conditioned to think that life would be better with a college degree, especially a science degree, and it wasn’t! Over the years, I have reflected on those long days (taking two buses and a train to get to a job I resented) and how they shaped my career and life. The problem was not my job but, my perspective on my degree and my ability. Here are three lessons from the days I hated—but now love.

1. Know Your Limitations

Most people I know get their degrees for status, security, or self-actualization. However, the reason for my degree had nothing to do with the reason my employer hired me. The doctor I worked for, wanted to expose me to what was involved in running a practice during my gap years between college and (what we thought would be) medical school. To justify my small salary, I was assigned any and everything that other more seasoned associates did not have the time to do. I was only there for a short period and it would have done him little good to spend the time or money training me to leave. For the relationship to be mutually beneficial, he focused on my administrative abilities and not the reasons I earned my degree. I could file, type, use a phone, and do what I was told to do. Seriously, what else could I have done in a clinic? The only other biology majors there were licensed professionals with significant more education and experience. I now think of college as driver’s education and the resulting degree as the license. If I could speak to my younger self, I would say: “Kudos on receiving your license; understand you share the road with many more experienced drivers; and, know your limitations.”

2. Experience with Perseverance

I really could not stand my job. I hated the office politics. People were always trying to be the doctor’s favorite and they didn’t mind stabbing backs to assume that role. I wish it were more like school where your work would speak for itself. I longed for the day when I would walk away from that place and never look back! The wait for “better” was incredibly hard, even unbearable at times. But somehow, in the midst of the wait, I grew. I learned to keep going when everything in me wanted to quit. I started learning to accept people for who they were (even if they were backstabbers). I didn’t learn many new tasks during my first job. Instead, I developed valuable traits of persevering when the world isn’t as I expect it to be and dealing with difficult people and situations. Personally and professionally, I have used and refined those traits to become a better and more experienced person.

3. It’ll Make Sense Later

I didn’t stay at my first job long; but the lessons from the job have never left me. I have found difficult people or situations in most jobs I have held and the experience navigating through my first job has come in handy. I have also used those defined administrative abilities to manage people and places, understanding we all contribute to the teams we’re on and the status of our contribution is not as important as our faithful contribution. And, when I’ve longed to get out of difficult circumstances, I remember the words of one of my favorite bosses: “When was the last time you knew why you were going through something challenging as you were going through it?” It may be hard to see beyond the disappointment; but, understand that the reason for the difficulty will become clearer with hindsight. Keep pressing.

Written by Samantha Divine Jallah, an Attorney in the Harrisburg area and a member of the Pennsylvania’s Office of General Counsel Hiring Committee. Prior to law school, Samantha worked as an Assistant Vice President and Retail Office Manager at a community bank in Delaware. She is also the founder of Liberian Awards, Inc., a nonprofit organization that mentors college students and recognizes immigrants excelling in the Diaspora.