Want to do work you love? Learn from the work you hate

When I started my data entry job in 2004, I would have never known that it would have helped me in starting businesses.

But it did.

I’ve started six different businesses, and all of them became profitable except for my first one. I’m not saying that I’m a Jeff Bezos–far from it. But I have accomplished things I’m proud of.

But, it didn’t start there.

It started with me getting fired from the only job I qualified for and then rebuilding my career starting as a temp at the largest bank in the world at that time.

After a year and a half as a temp, I got hired full time to do data entry. That’s right. Every day I took a paper account opening applications from our high net worth clients and entered each one of the letters into an archaic DOS looking database one keystroke at a time. It was an operations job at its finest. And it was mind-numbing.

Did I love it? No! Was it one of those jobs where you could learn something? Not necessarily–at least it wasn’t apparent to me at first. I had to dig deeper to learn.

So I dug. What I found was that every business has a process. And in the operational belly of a large bank process was everywhere.

After discovering that, I realized that every process could be optimized. So, I started looking for solutions that could help make the processes more efficient. When I found something worth presenting, I met with my manager and showed him what I had. It wasn’t a part of the job description. I just did it. And I learned this.

No job no matter how mind-numbing should numb your mind.

A few years later, I was starting my second business, and we were growing. We were doubling our revenue almost every year, and you would think that it’s so sexy owning a small business. But, for me, most of the work was paperwork and making sure that it was correct.

I had come full circle. I went from doing data entry for entrepreneurs to an entrepreneur who was doing data entry. Who knew that being the boss just meant more data entry?

There were legal documents to review and tweak. There were state forms that needed to be filled out. The local government also had their forms. Our accountant required bank statements and wanted to know what numbers were for what. Bank forms—oh my beloved bank forms—needed to be filled out to open accounts and get loans. Now, I’m the client, but I’m still filling out the forms that some poor schlep will need to enter into some ancient DOS system.

My time at the bank helped me exercise a mental muscle of powering through tasks that seemed so menial that you would almost be willing to have someone cut off a finger to forego that work. But that work is essential. If you didn’t get that account opened, you can’t accept funds (and asking for large sums in cash wasn’t exactly best practices in my business). If you didn’t read that contract correctly, you have legal risk. If you didn’t fill out that state document, you can’t form a business entity.

My small job helped me do my bigger one.

Here are some lessons I learned, as I reflect on this.

I’m not better than small tasks.
Gary Vanyerchuck uses the phrase, “People get fancy!” He means that people think they’re too good to do something like fill out forms or they’re too important to answer every email or to do the things they did when they started their career.

When I started my data entry job, I thought I was too good for it. I was a fool and proud. It taught me some of the most important things that I learned about business, which have helped me succeed years later.

Learning anywhere is the key to success.
I hear people tell me that they aren’t learning at their jobs. And they complain about it. And I tell them my story, and then they still look at me and say they need to find a new job so they can learn more.

You could learn more at a different job. Perhaps you should, but, before you do, consider this. Your inability to learn in your current situation might say something about you. Maybe you want to be spoon-fed and taught like you are in a classroom. Are you looking for ways to focus more on proactively gaining knowledge in your current job? If you can do that, you will equip yourself with a mindset that can help you go further than you can imagine.

I’m not saying you should stay at that job long. I was only in my data entry position for a year before I got a huge promotion. But I don’t think I would have been ready for that promotion if I didn’t have the mindset of learning wherever I was.

Attitude is fundamental.
Many of us are blinded by our attitude. If we think that we are in a terrible job, we will see it negatively. And we’ll be blind to the opportunities because our minds will be too busy complaining, seeing the negatives, and missing all of the possibilities.

And there are possibilities everywhere. Nothing is perfect, and that means you can improve it. If you can improve it, then you can add value. And if you can add value, you will be seen as valuable by your organization.

None of us are too big to do the small things well. And none of us are too small to rise to do the big things. But no matter where you are in your career, there are small things that need attention.

And no one is too big to leave them unattended.

As you do, you will find yourself rising one small step at a time.

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