Work Experience: What's the Best Thing You've Learned?

When we think about our work experience, it's easy to default to titles, skills, or tasks. Just the facts. Here, we want to add a qualitative filter on what you have done in your career.

Humans are designed to remember negative things first. That way, we will notice and avoid scary and painful things. This is very useful in avoiding becoming lion lunch. It's not always so useful in our relatively lion-free existence.

Many things we perceive as scary, painful, or bad may not be and often aren't. Take lobster, for example. Who pulled a cockroach looking creature with giant claws off the floor of the ocean and thought, I bet this is delicious? I'm glad they did.

It's the same with our past experiences. We give more weight to bad experiences and less weight to good ones. We often take the good in our life for granted and focus on avoiding bad. The problem is that this approach keeps us focused on what we don't want instead of what we do.

It's possible to have a career based on process of elimination where you move from job to job based on what you want to avoid. Most of us start out that way because we also have to try some things and get work experience to know both what works and what doesn't.

As you create your experience map by listing your work experience, ask yourself what the best thing you learned there.

The best thing I've learned lately is about nudibranchs, which are amazing sea slugs. The best work thing I've learned is how to ask for, accept, and appreciate editing help. For a long time, when someone changed something, it felt like they were telling me I screwed up.

Now, I see it as taking my writing to the spa where someone exfoliates, smooths, and makes everything feel better to read. Two brains are better than one. And communicating clearly is what matters most to me.

If figuring out the best things you've learned along the way seems too abstract, then back into it with information that's easy.

Create a timeline with major life events, where you lived, who you lived with, where you worked, how you travelled to work. Often pulling in some context helps put you there and makes it easier to remember what was important at the time.

Next, decide whether those best things are still important.

Many of the best things we learned in the past we take for granted now. It was a big deal when I finally figured out how to get the formatting right in Word, but I don't even think about it now.

This exercise helps uncover those skills, insights, and lessons from the past that we don't even notice today.

Then some of the best things you've learned through work experience won't be relevant to what you've been doing and want to do next. My bartending skills probably won't help me write children's books.

But my time as a Montessori teacher will. When you come to something you really enjoyed or that you can see how it is related to something you are interested in, go into more detail to fill out the context of that time and work. Remember what you loved learning and why you enjoyed it.

Also look at your learning and work experience from where you are now. How have you grown and changed?

Are there patterns or threads that you recognize? Are there things you've never realized. Someone told me recently that it's important for me to be out in nature. I don't think of myself as an outdoorsy person, but she was absolutely right. Knowing that has helped me take more walks and it makes me happy.

What are the best things you've learned? Look for the things you can do, that you love, and that light you up. Then find out how you can have more of them in your next role.

Read on for more ways to make your job search a success: Work Location: Relocate Smarter with these Tips

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