Every Job Becomes Part of You


I’m a big city boy. I was born and raised in Toronto, the capital of Ontario and the largest urban municipality in Canada. About 2.8 million people call this place home at the moment.

So you can imagine the shock to my system when, at the ripe old age of 24, I suddenly found myself in a community of 2,000, in a summer job as a reporter at the Huron Expositor in Seaforth, about 2½ hours southwest of Toronto.

It was there that I learned some of my most important and durable life lessons.

It’s often taken as a given that older students tend to be more motivated. They’ve chosen to be where they are, rather than because they don’t really have a better alternative. Certainly that’s frequently been true of my own students.

The same is true, I would suggest, of older workers – or at least it can be.

There’s been some media coverage recently on the topic of when people start hating their jobs, and why.

Hate is an incredibly strong word, and it can do a lot of damage. I find it odd that there are studies that look at this question.

That said, I’ve had many jobs that were, let’s say, less than ideal. As I’ve moved through them, and onto other things, I’ve really come to see something important:

Every job becomes part of me. It leaves an indelible imprint on my being.

Sometimes that’s a good thing, and sometimes it’s not. Another way of thinking about it is that every experience, every job, has something to teach us. It’s our responsibility to figure out what that is, and what to do about it.

I’ve probably learned as much from the less pleasant work situations I’ve had over the years as from the stronger ones.

I’ve adopted the practices that work, modified a few, and used others as a frame of reference: this is something I choose not to do.

These last few years have given me an opportunity to explore different kinds of work than I’ve done before. In the process of this exploration, I’ve thought a lot about what my previous roles have taught me about myself and my workplace:

  • For the bulk of my career, I’ve been in communications, first as a writer and strategic planner and more recently, in various leadership roles. This is, and will always be, the core of who I am. It defines my personal story and informs everything I do.
  • After leaving the formal communications world, I spent some time doing stakeholder outreach and consultation. I discovered that I really enjoy the face-to-face component of government service, which terrifies some other people. Perhaps it’s because I come from a family of salespeople.
  • More recently I spent some time on the HR side of our business, refining and strengthening my skills in internal communications and employee engagement. What that experience taught me is that I place a real premium on working with, and for, people with a high degree of emotional intelligence.
  • Today, I’m in a role that’s focused on direct client service. I manage some highly contentious issues that affect the lives of real people every single day. Much like my stakeholder role, this one feels like a good fit because it’s so highly interactive.

Seaforth was a pivotal moment in my life and my career. It was the first time I’d ever lived away from home, and it set me on the path I continue to follow today. Although my time there was short, it had a profound influence on me, and left me with some life lessons to this day.

For one thing, because it was such a small town, I learned to take accountability for my work. In such a tight community, if I did something that people didn’t like, I was going to hear about it.

Also this, from a farmer who was struggling to make ends meet: no matter how bad things get, you never sell the tractor. Metaphorically, the tractor is your means of production, your money maker. If you sell it, it’s gone.

Even now, when I’m going through transitions of whatever kind, I still find Seaforth creeping back into my consciousness – and sometimes, my subconscious and even my dreams.

I think the lesson for me was, Hold onto what makes you who you are. Embrace it. We have these experiences for a reason.

Perhaps you’ve had your own Seaforth moment. If so, please share it in the comments.

Larry Till is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.

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