42 Jobs In 42 Years — And I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For

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Sometimes I feel like I’m running out of time to experience everything life has to offer.

The human condition is complex, messy, and chaotic. Not all of us fit on the conveyor belt of life, progressing from one stage to the next like compliant Russian dolls. 

Many septuagenarians believe their best days are behind them and sit in the waiting room for death. Not my aunt. She met the love of her life in her mid-70s and lives a life of spontaneity and curiosity.

Auschwitz survivor, psychologist, and author of my favorite book, The Choice, Dr. Edith Eger, was in her early 50s when she was awarded her doctorate. Pondering her decision to progress her studies at this late-life stage, she regularly reminds us that life progresses regardless of what we do. She was going to turn 50, with or without a Ph.D. While she couldn’t control her aging process, she could control her personal development.

The thought of settling into a state of permanence leaves me feeling suffocated and claustrophobic. My aunt and Dr. Eger reassure me that life need not be linear or predictable.

In his song "Everybody’s Free To Wear Sunscreen," Baz Luhrmann says,

"The most interesting people I know didn’t know at 22 what they wanted to do with their lives, some of the most interesting 40-year-olds I know still don’t."

Thank you, Baz, for the permission to drift, double back, pivot and change. Not knowing what we want to do in life does not make us fickle.

The days of one job for life are long gone. I don’t know about you, but I’m building my CV (that’s a resume for all you Americans) on what I feel called to — not by what looks good to other people or makes me more employable.

Is this the ultimate folly or freedom?

RELATED: 8 Signs You Should Quit Your Job To Find Something That Makes You Happy

I’ve had some weird and wonderful jobs spanning three continents. Memories massage my heart, and stories tingle on my tongue. And with every job, I’ve learned something about myself and humanity.

Each job is a stepping stone, bringing me closer to where I’m supposed to be, wherever that may be — destination unknown.

Be careful of your initial assumptions; I know what you are thinking. I’m not flighty or unstable. In actual fact, I have a work ethic to rival any ant colony. I learn quickly, execute my duties to the highest caliber, am reliable, and work with initiative and efficiency.

But nothing lasts forever.

With each change, I grow and expand into a slightly adapted version of myself.

Here are 8 lessons I learned from my 42 jobs:

1. Always thank the serving staff

Between the ages of 12 and 18, I picked up several part-time and holiday jobs. I learned the value of money and the need to earn to purchase whatever I desired.

1. Cleaner for a holiday timeshare, Scotland

2. Envelope stuffing with promotional leaflets, Scotland

3. Hotel waitress, Scotland

4. Childminder, Scotland

5. Restaurant waitress and bartender, Scotland

6. Stablehand, Scotland

Hospitality is perhaps the most underappreciated line of work: high pressure and low wages. Working in restaurants and hotels taught me to prioritize and multi-task. It also taught me to spin plates with a gracious smile on my face and build a facade between my inner and outer selves.

If you want to know how your partner will treat you in later years, watch how they engage with serving staff. Eye contact, smiles, and gentle appreciation speak volumes.

Hostility or ignorance toward serving staff is a neon red flag.

2. You will bounce back from rejection — oh, and camels are awesome!

I did some weird and wonderful jobs to fund my travels and studies. The anguish of rejection still jabs at my nervous system.

7. Stablehand, Surfers Paradise, Australia

8. Shop assistant, Australia

9. Door-to-door sales, Australia

10. Camel Assistant, Australia

11. Gardener, Australia

12. Telephone market research, England

13. Bartender, England

14. Customer Service Assistant, England

Rejection is tough, but it’s an important life lesson. If we allow rejection to shrink and shrivel our souls, we will never experience the joy of acceptance.

I’m not a natural salesperson, and door-to-door sales and telephone market research gave me a peculiar feeling of pretense. My training involved manipulation and persuasion tactics; looking back, I realize it felt icky and inauthentic, like the stereotypical sleazy car salesperson.

Working with 18 camels, on the other hand, in Broome, Australia, lit up my soul. Did you know camels have the intelligence of a 4-year-old child?

RELATED: 5 Ways Highly Confident, Strong People Handle Rejection With Grace

3. Embrace the culture around you

Experiencing life in different countries is a privilege and an insight.

Until this era, I didn’t realize you could buy pizza by the slice or purchase possum nipple warmers (poor possums!).

15. Lifeguard, America

16. Waitress, New Zealand

17. PR rep, New Zealand

18. Telephone market research, New Zealand

19. Fruit picker, New Zealand

20. Security desk for the QE2, New Zealand

4. Your job does not define you; if others judge you, it’s their issue

Post-university and traveling, I lost myself in the real world. Life became all work and no play; I sleepwalked through my days lamenting my youth while working several low-wage jobs to pay off student debt.

Finally, I found my first salaried graduate position with a brand-spanking new company car.

21. Office Administrator, England

22. Quality Assessment Officer, England

23. Cinema Customer Service Adviser, England

24. Area Marketing Manager, England

5. Listen to what your heart yearns for

The company car and attractive salary soon lost its dazzle. I glazed over, listening to a colleague bragging about his Jimmy Choo shoes and fancy suits. Materialism repels me; I yearn for reality and humanity, to help others, and to do a job that matters.

The police beckoned me, and within the role of a police officer, I undertook numerous jobs.

25. Uniformed Police Officer, Scotland

26. Community Police Officer, Scotland

27. Detective in the Criminal Investigation Department, Scotland

28. Detective in the Sexual Offences Investigation Department, Scotland

29. Detective in the Violence Reduction Unit, Scotland

30. Detective in several squads investigating serious organized crime, murders and serious sexual offenses, Scotland

31. Security runner in the Commonwealth Games 2014 baton relay, Scotland

32. Acting Detective Sergeant investigating large-scale violent football disorder, Scotland

33. Detective in the Offender Management Unit, Scotland

RELATED: 10 Negative Beliefs That Keep You Stuck In A Career You Don’t Love

6. If you have an idea, see it through to fruition

Setting up a small business gave me the steepest learning curve I’ve ever experienced. Those who know, know. Small business owners must master all trades: marketing, finance, advertising, social media…

34. Director of my own small company, Scotland

35. Chairperson of a voluntary running organisation, Scotland

36. Volunteer for a children’s charity, Scotland

7. Don’t be afraid to start afresh

I packed up my life, including my police career, friends, and small business, and moved house and country.

Dazed by the enormity of opportunity and reinvention within the confined restrictions of a global pandemic, I endured the painful journey of facing the demons I had outrun for years.

New starts are scary and also rejuvenating. I know firsthand how they can goad our egos. Life is not linear, as I discuss in "How to Calm the Ego When Life Takes Us Backwards".

37. Supermarket cashier, Ireland

38. Volunteer for a dog charity

39. Running coach, Global

40. Writer, Global

41. Business Support, Global

42. Public speaker, England

8. Change is growth, and growth is happiness

I’m sitting here at my writing desk in Ireland, a far cry from the person who once worked with camels in Australia or investigated serious crime in Scotland.

But I still carry that person inside of me. My mind and body hold remnants from my diverse experiences, all enmeshed together to help springboard me toward my calling — whatever that may be.

Many of us fear change, myself included. Uncertainty feels unsafe, so we cling to the familiarity of our suffering because, despite the discontent, it feels more comfortable than the great unknown.

Your journey is long; fill it with what ignites your heart, mind, and soul.

Jump into the abyss and be a shapeshifter of your own life.

Life is not a dress rehearsal. Change is growth, and growth is happiness.

RELATED: Why People Fear Change — And How To Take Action Even When You're Afraid

Ali Hall is a writer, reader, runner, thinker, and conversation starter. She is a former police detective with a degree in psychology with sports science and an advocate of destigmatizing the childfree choice. You can find her work on Medium or through the Abnormally Normal newsletter on Substack. 

This article was originally published at Medium. Reprinted with permission from the author.