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Most people have an idea of their dream job, often one they developed in childhood. Sometimes we grow out of them (like my dream of becoming an astronaut – too much math!). But one dream from my childhood never went away: I wanted to be a writer. I studied Journalism and, as I got older, my dream job turned out to be less of a dream and more of a trap.
It needed to pay a certain amount to support my family. While I was able to find a job that paid really well and allowed me to do some writing, I wasnâ€™t happy. Eventually, I quit my full-time job to work as a freelance writer. When that income became unreliable, I learned a new skill to help me continue with my plan: I trained as a ‘Lice Picker’. While I struggled with the stigma of working such a â€œmenialâ€ job, it has possibly been the best career decision I ever made.
Here are five ways itâ€™s helping me build my dream career:
1. It gave me a new perspective on why I wanted what I wanted.
My dream job used to be, very specifically, writing books and/or scripts. However, by quitting my 9-5 job and taking on freelance work as a writer, as well as more menial work in a lice clinic, I realized my definition of my dream career was too narrow. Now I define it this way: My dream job is work that allows me to be creative, have flexibility, autonomy, freedom, and fun.
Because of this new perspective, I decided to produce a documentary on a subject Iâ€™d always wanted to cover as well as another documentary to support my blog on menial work. All possible because I stopped believing I needed to tie my ability to EARN money to my dream job. Once I stopped expecting to earn money doing it, everything was possible. It would be nice to have my dream job be my sole job that pays me well. But itâ€™s a work in progress. Meanwhile, Iâ€™m much happier and more fulfilled than at any other point in my life.
2. Menial work keeps you employable.
The economy is changing. Every year, the landscape of what jobs we will need two, three, five years down the road changes. Most people know this instinctively and make sure to keep up their training. For the most part, people focus on white-collar skills. But another option is blue-collar skills.
Itâ€™s been proven that an increase in home ownership leads to higher unemployment. Basically, this is because people are unable to move to follow jobs. So if home ownership is important to you, widen the net you can cast to find employment in case you lose a job or want to supplement your income to support other career objectives.
Consider Americaâ€™s Great Dust Bowl experience. Entire states suffered through the worst man-made drought in the countryâ€™s history, which led to mass migration of people trying to find work. White-collar jobs were few and far between because whole communities and industries were wiped out. If you had other, more hands-on skills, such as carpentry or auto mechanics, you could eke out a small living and still feed your family during a time when many previously well-off families were starving.
3. My new skills as a lice professional help me give back in ways I couldnâ€™t before.
Because of my new skills, I was able to take part in an outreach trip to Guatemala to teach senior girls at an orphanage how to treat head lice, an ongoing problem at the facility. The trip was life altering and has led me to pursue other outreach efforts closer to home, in addition to giving my â€œmenialâ€ job greater meaning.
4. I use my previous white-collar skills to help develop the small business I now work for.
By working with a growing business, there is greater opportunity for me to contribute, beyond simply working as a lice picker. I help with social media, write newsletters and promotional materials, perform outreach and sales calls, and produce online videos. Some of my lice clients have even become writing clients and others are taking part in my blog. This is not only good for my â€œotherâ€ work as a freelance writer and video producer, but also adds more meaning to my â€œmenialâ€ job.
5. My â€œmenialâ€ job provides me with a steady income, which means my creative efforts donâ€™t have to.
Unlike my 9-5 career, my â€œmenialâ€ job is not mentally draining, which means I have creative energy left to work on personal projects that help me further my career goals. A job with minimal stress provides me with greater mental space to think creatively and out of the box. I often find that I come up with thrilling new ideas while steadily going through my â€œmenialâ€ work. When I get home, Iâ€™m excited and energized about putting my new ideas into action.
Thinking outside the box is important while you try to build a new career, and menial work is a great option that can keep you employable while moving in the right direction.
Reni Walker is a writer and documentary producer. She explores her experiences working a menial job at her blog, Menial to Meaningful.