Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.
— Thomas Edison

We're in full swing kicking off a new year. For people in college, this time of year has the potential to be stressful. You could be close to graduating and scrambling for internships, wondering how you're going to pay bills when you exit in May. 

Or you graduated this past December and are still looking for your first post-college job. I remember that experience vividly.  

My initial Post-College Experience

Either way, it's a stressful time. I'm pretty laid back but I know I was stressed the month prior to my graduation. I had just signed a lease for an apartment in Chicago without any job lined up outside of waiting tables down at the Bubba Gump Shrimp Company at Navy Pier. It was just enough of an income to keep me off the street. 

I wanted to move to Chicago from Kentucky because I felt my odds were better in a bigger city. The jobs economy was garbage at the time and most people graduating with me were looking for work in the Louisville or Nashville markets. If I was ever going to leave an area that was familiar with me, that was my chance. 

I moved  there the month following graduation with pretty lofty expectations and a lot of confidence. My college resume wasn't half bad.

  • Started the online advertising sales program at the College Heights Herald
  • Worked at Imagewest and had real client-facing advertising agency experience (with a portfolio to go with it)
  • Great GPA; President's Scholar most every semester
  • A Division I athlete;  I had the "knows how to prioritize my time" angle down in interviews
  • Bathed regularly

I envisioned myself going up there, getting a job in an office in a skyscraper in The Loop. I saw myself taking walks around Millennium Park on my lunch break. I'd be working as an account executive at an agency somewhere and be living the life. But that's not exactly how it turned out. 

I worked full time at Bubba Gump's as a waiter for a few weeks to get some cash flow coming in. A week after moving into Chicago, I was offered a marketing job at Hinda Incentives. It was an incentives marketing firm on the south side of town. If you have read the news at all about Chicago, it's not the nicest area of town. It was a one-story building that lacked the pristine views I had built up in my mind. Plus, I knew nothing about B2B marketing and had to ask in my interview what the company actually did

But I got the job. At that time, just having a marketing job was a huge win. So I decided to take whatever I could get.

After all, I needed health insurance and to be able to continue paying rent. 

My first week there, I was stuffing brochures into envelopes. The next week I was sending excel files to field sales people. The following month I spent two days in a convention center handing out fruitcake to people walking by. It was a few months before I could do anything social media related.

It was far from the Don Draper-esque lifestyle  

Doing the small things well helped me do more fun things

I didn't limit myself to a job description at Hinda. I had a great boss who gave me some creative freedom on social. I was able to take the small tasks that I was given and make the most I could with them. I spent time outside of work reading, networking and blogging to try and build some additional credibility outside of 9-5. My work and learning outside the 9-5 actually helped me be better in my day job and get notice from other employers. 

The attitude I had doing my best work with what opportunities I was given helped open doors. 

Doing my job well, even the parts of my job that I didn't find particularly appealing, helped me learn and grow. Showing progress in the mundane helped build trust and open doors to doing really fun work. 

You'll probably have to do work you don't like

You're resume could be awesome. Coming out of college, you could be the perfect candidate. That's great. It'll help you stand out among those you're competing with for jobs. 

I was talking with one person not too long ago who was looking at graduating soon. He wanted to do anything he could to avoid entry-level work. Sure, he had an impressive resume coming out of school, but he wasn't going to be getting a director level role soon. I told him to go for whatever role he really wanted - the worst you'll hear is no (and learning to hear "no" is actually great career experience)! But I also told him to not be surprised if he had to do some mundane stuff for a season to get his foot in the door at something more ideal.

I know that wasn't the answer he was looking for. But it's not the worst thing in the world. 

I had un-sexy tasks my first job out of school. So did my wife, who also works in marketing. 

Megan spent a year at a large, distinguished ad agency not doing much more than reviewing an emailing excel sheets for digital media traffic. She learned as much as she could with whatever opportunity presented itself. Her job put a great name on her resume and helped open up other doors a year later. Just four years later, she's doing more of the type of work she loves at another great marketing agency - something more in line with what she had in mind coming out of school.

It just took Megan four years for that kind of role. In the grand scheme of the total amount of years we all spend working, that's not long at all. 

Things just takes time - There is no "overnight success"

It's easy to forget that we're all going to be working for a really long time. We don't have to be captains of industry by 25 to be successful. The process is the most rewarding part. It's hard to be patient but there's always way more to learn. 

It took a few years of working for me to realize that I wasn't as smart as I thought I was. I actually had a lot more to learn (I still do). Some of the tasks that weren't fun or sexy actually taught me a lot and helped me down the road. 

There's something worth learning from any situation

Waiting tables at Bubba Gump, I learned how to deal with the public, which helped me work at trade shows, lead presentations and handle myself in client meetings later on. 

Hinda taught me how B2B marketing works, and ultimately gave me Salesforce CRM experience. 

That experience, plus work done outside my 9-5, helped me get a job at Enguage. My work at Engauge helped me at DeMoss. My work building up the digital capabilities at DeMoss helped prep me for my current job at North Highland. Now, the skills I learned at my first job (Hinda) are coming full circle in this current B2B-focused marketing role. The work I put in now will likely come in handy for something unforeseen later on.

So even if you aren't living the dream from day one, be patient. Keep working. Keep a positive attitude and do the best with what you have. You'll never know what might pay off down the road.

There is no such thing as a job that is "beneath us"

I never thought I would be quoting Ashton Kutcher in my adult life, but here I am. His acceptance speech at the 2013 Teen Choice Awards greatly summarizes the approach we all have to have towards work - all types of work - in order to succeed: 


Opportunities for growth and development will come to us over the course of our lives. Lots of times those opportunities are right in front of us.

We just have to be willing to be open to them.