As I look back on my life so far, it’s easy for me to remember times that I’ve struggled.
Back in 2011 I was unemployed for six long months after graduating from Syracuse University. I lived with my parents in the suburbs while all of my friends, with their coveted entry-level jobs, moved to Boston. With no idea of what I wanted to do, no money, and a stack of student loans staring me in the face I felt lost and hopeless.
I would post my pathetic resume to a few listings on Monster.com for an hour in the morning and then binge on HBO’s The Wire in the afternoon. I remember a lot of dark, cold winter evenings watching The Wire alone while the rest of the world worked. Back then, all I wanted was a job.
My first “breakthrough” came when a temp agency placed me into at a Boston healthcare company’s member enrollment department. I would be making minimum wage doing God-knows-what but I didn’t care. I could escape my lonely unemployed life and get to the big city. I’d be in the game.
The Temp Job
When I arrived for my first day I realized that there was a reason they needed an agency to fill these roles. No one, in their right mind, would actually want this job. For eight hours a day I was to take paper applications from new members and enter all of the data into the computer. In the morning, my manager would drop the mound of papers on my desk and then come back after lunch to pile on more.
It was one of those jobs where it didn’t matter how quickly you worked because there was always more work to do. I felt like a hamster stupidly spinning his wheel with no end in sight. The only way I could make it interesting, apart from listening to A$AP Rocky’s new album, was to find little ways to increase my efficiency over time. Within the first week I started realizing patterns that allowed me to do the work faster and with more ease. This helped me outpace the other temps and take longer breaks at lunch for me to look into other jobs. Within a month, I had become a maestro at administrative work.
I also realized during this job that, although the work was boring, just doing the work helped me to be more productive in other areas of my life. During my lunch break and on the train home from work I would apply to 3x more jobs than I had when I was home alone watching The Wire. In a way, this job activated my productivity muscles that had been dormant before.
What’s more is that my increased efficiency and data accuracy at the temp job didn’t go unnoticed. At the end of my one month stint, they offered me an extension for two more months while showing the other temps the door. This tiny victory gave me confidence for the first time ever in my career that I could be good at this work thing.
Going “Big Time”
A month later I got called in to interview at the prestigious Boston financial firm, John Hancock, for an entry-level Sales Administrative role. A lot of the skills I had learned in the temp job could be directly translated to this new role and my manager even gave me a recommendation. A week later I was offered the job and got my first ever full-time role.
In a flash, at the age of 22, I could see my whole life change. Pretty soon I’d be off my parent’s couch and into the big city. I’d be able to learn and grow at a company with huge upside. And most importantly, for the first time since graduation, I had hope.
As I look back on this event in my life and others like it, I can see now that every struggle I go through has a gift within it. If I had gotten a job handed to me out of college perhaps I would never know what it’s like to be hungry. If I hadn’t gotten that temp job, maybe I never would’ve learned discipline and resilience. These qualities, which were built during a dark time, still fuel me today.
You see, when you’re in the midst of a challenging time in your life, you may wonder ‘why can’t things be easier?’ or ‘why me?’ but in fact that very challenge is your greatest opportunity for growth. It’s within that struggle that the gifts exist. You would not be YOU without that struggle. The difficult times in your life make you who you are.
So you should not look back at the struggles in your life with a feeling of disdain, but rather a feeling of gratefulness. You need to shed light on your dark moments even if it isn’t easy to see the light at first.
Look back at all the challenging events and relationships in your life and ask yourself “what gift did I receive from this?” Within that answer you’ll begin to see reasons to be grateful. It’s in this feeling of gratitude that you’ll find happiness now.