This is a great question to ask your 50-and-over friends: Have you ever taken a job just to force yourself to do something you were afraid to do?
I Took A Job Because I Was Afraid of Animals
I did; I took a job working with animals because never having had a pet, I was afraid of them. Try as I might, I couldn’t help but cringe in fear when someone’s dog came bounding up to me, or when a cat wiggled its butt in preparation for jumping onto my lap. So in college, I forced myself to apply when a professor of mine who I greatly admired announced she had a position to fill. The job? Caring for her research mice in – gah – a vivarium. Now I look back and I shudder. Not about what I specifically was doing, but about the underlying purpose of the work. While it was for important scientific study, well, I hate to think about it. But anyway, afraid of everything furry and four-footed, I walked into a windowless room lined with racks of shoebox-style cages, each of which scrabbled and squeaked with the wild mouse imprisoned within. I learned to lift each cage off the rack and lower into a 50-gallon trash can, lean over, lift the lid off the cage, and remove the soiled sawdust and the water bottle and then add fresh sawdust and a rinsed and refilled water container. I learned to do this while the mouse leaped crazily and darted around the trash can, trying to escape. Sometimes there would be a mouse driven mad and it would tear around the inside of the can, building up speed until it started to go up the wall, around and around, higher and higher like Evel Knievel. I had to keep working while this creature zoomed in circles around my hands, then my arms, then my head and shoulders. Once the cage was ready, I had to catch the mouse without hurting it, insert the poor struggling creature into the cage, and close the lid without catching any part of its little self as it tried with all its might to escape again. Sometimes that little guy worked faster than I did and he reached the rim of the can and leaped to the ground before I was done with his cage. Then I had to stalk him around the room, anticipating, outwitting, and outmaneuvering him until I finally could pounce on him with my gloved hands and force him back into his sad imprisonment again.
Well, I learned. I got quicker at anticipating what animals would do. I got more confident about my strength and intelligence versus theirs. I learned to sense the difference between a wild creature and a domesticated one. And now I love to meet new dogs and hold friendly cats. So I’m glad I pushed myself way back when.
Then I Took A “Challenge” Job That Didn’t Turn Out So Well
I imagine that some of these stories don’t turn out so well. For example, I once accepted a position as a communications director for a school district, doing work at which I knew I excelled, but it involved one teeny catch; I had to report every day at eight o’clock sharp. I don’t like jobs with rigid hours, and it was especially burdensome to me back then because I was still in my habitually late phase of life (a phase that lasted from early childhood until my mid-fifties, by the way). But I think I assumed that my boss would not be too much of a stickler about it, especially since I was on call to the media 24 hours a day and I often stayed at the district late, up until 11 pm, to supervise the video crew when there were Board of Education meetings or other events. But I failed to factor in the sad truth that the school superintendent, to whom I directly reported, started out as a third-grade teacher. And she was a pinhead. But that’s another story. Anyway, punctuality was a RULE and it was NOT TO BE BROKEN and she became infuriated when I came in at 8:30 after working at the district until 11:00 the night before. We got into something of an epic pissing match. Her feelings about me went very obviously from delighted to disappointed to critical to angry to downright vindictive, despite the very noteworthy gains I made in the district’s branding, messaging, media responsiveness, and community relations. Our most historically critical local newspaper even ran an editorial about 5 months into my tenure; “Finally, The School District Has an Effective Communications Director!” The article went on to laud all of the positive changes I’d brought about.
But this didn’t sit well with my boss. In fact, it pissed her off even further. (Did I say she was a pinhead? Well, let me add to that, she was terribly immature and craved attention and adulation to a very neurotic degree. Needless to say, she was jealous whenever the limelight turned on anyone else.) Anyway, her attitude was clearly, “Never mind all that crap! You, missy, were tardy today! Again!” She started making me report to her secretary when I arrived to work every day. I started displaying a childish “good girl!” calendar on the wall above my assistant’s desk outside my office, with shiny colored stars for every day that I reported in on time. It was kind of sparse. Had I not quit, I’m quite sure the superintendent would have fired me.
So that little experiment at taking a job that would “force” me to be on time every workday kind of backfired.
My Friend Jan’s Challenge Job Led to a Lucrative Career
The other day I asked my friend Jan if she’d ever taken an intentional self-challenge job. Yep, Jan long ago took a waitressing job because she was shy. The experience taught her how to interact well with strangers and she even found out that she was good at selling to them. She went on to a lucrative position in sales for a medical equipment company. She told me too about an interesting book about forcing yourself to do something you’re afraid of, Feel the Fear… and Do It Anyway, by Susan Jeffers.
What About You?
Have you ever taken a job just to make yourself do something you were afraid to do? Click the comment box below and share your story!