Blessing In Disguise: 9 Successful Women Talk About Lessons Learned From Their Worst Jobs

February 18, 2013  |  
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Ever have a job your despised? Well, even in the worst workplace situations there are lessons that can be learned. Nine women who have excelled in their fields tell us about their worst job but the best lessons they learned.

A Dream Journey: Evita Turquoise Robinson, founder and host of the Nomadness Travel series and president of Nomadness LLC.

Within weeks of graduating with her B.A. in Television and Film Production from Iona College, Robinson, in 2006, went off to Paris to study Digital Filmmaking at La Femis through a New York Film Academy program. During this time, the seed for Nomadness LLC was planted.

By 21, she had traveled to 12 countries, on three continents, and has since lived in New York, Paris, Japan, and Thailand. She videotaped her travels on the NomadnessTV Web series, and in 2011 created the Nomadness Travel Tribe, an online social community for travelers all around the world. In 2012, she launched Nomadness LLC, which includes the online community, merchandise line, travel series, and group trips.

“My worst job was working as a paid intern at IBM during my summers, the first two years of college. Working there stifled my creativity, and the person I was inside. The 9-to-5 never spoke to the entrepreneur in me, and I began having panic attacks about simply going into work. IBM taught me one of the most crucial lessons of my life, at 19 years old. Finding out what you don’t want to do, is as important as finding out what you do want to do.”

Putting Ego Aside: Media maven Amy Andrieux is founder and editorial director of Stark, a progressive digital cultural guide. Andrieux, who also worked at The Source and Trace, is also editorial director of MTV World at MTV Networks. She founded Aimstar media in 2009.

“Being my most optimistic self today, a horrible job is bad is you allow it to be in your mind, in your emotions, in your spirit… I remember having to teach myself the fine art of pulling back, and not always having to check somebody (still learning this one, lol). But if I really had to pick one [bad job situation], I would choose the job I had during college as a temporary telemarketer when I was home on break. My job was to call my assigned list of clients to see if they were interested in renewing their insurance, or note any updates or changes in policy. I was hung up on a trillion times. So how was I expected to do my job (and like it!) when customers were most often rude and disrespectful as hell? How was my 18-year-old self supposed to take to an environment filled with people who were just as clueless as I was at best, and at worst, washed up and on their last leg?

“Still I had to find a way to: 1) meet my quota of calls for the day 2) actually get people to renew their contracts 3) disregard the negativity 4) keep myself passionate about what I was doing and not be bored and 5) keep my job (for gas money, of course). Sadly, number five didn’t work out so well. It was the only job I was ever fired from and why? Because I was talking on the phone! I got caught making a personal call to my college boyfriend. I mean, I understood why they let me go on the surface, but it wasn’t until years later that I realized I missed out on an opportunity to dig deeper. That job, however horrific, could have been my foundation in learning to hustle, being open to what might be going on in the lives of others, losing my judgmental approach, and working through the marsh of difficult and boring to see a fatter check. But no, I got fired because I was way to caught up in myself. And that was the biggest lesson and blessing I ever received.”

Beyond Materialism: Cheryl Flowers Briggs has been manager for singer Faith Evans since 1995. She also spent 17 years with the legendary Apollo Theatre in Harlem, NY.

“At 15, I worked in a sneaker store for one week. I thought that by working at this store I would be able to get all the different type of sneakers out and use my discount. By the end of the week, I hated that job, running back and forth, up and down. The best lesson I learned from working at this job was really how many pair of sneakers did I need. I buy in moderation ever since I quit that job.”

Pushing Beyond Your Situation: Dr. Pamela D. Reed is a tenured associate professor of English and Africana Literature at Virginia State University. Dr. Reed is also a widely published cultural critic and public intellectual. Her blog “Cultural Currents,” on Diverse: Issues in Higher Education, discusses America’s ever-changing cultural landscape.

“My least favorite job was my first job: Chopping cotton in the fields of rural Northeast Louisiana. But in many ways, I enjoyed it immensely: the camaraderie and the trash talking. I was only about 10 or 11 years old when I began. It taught me the value of hard work. And it also taught me that I wanted much more out of life.  I grew up during the ’70s. So, truth be told, we were still living in the Jim Crow South.”

The Ah-ha Moment: Cecily Habimana has always had entrepreneurial dreams. She is founder of Simply Cecily, a women’s apparel company that she launched in 1998 while still in high school by making clothes for friends, family, and clientele. In college she showcased her custom-made designs in fashion shows and sold them to boutiques in Chicago and Washington, DC. After receiving her MBA from George Washington University in 2009, she spent a year in Senegal teaching and immersing herself in the culture. Today, Simply Cecily fuses traditionally West African women’s style with the contemporary American design.

“My worst job was probably my first job as a lifeguard at 57th Street Beach in Chicago. I remember it being a really hot summer. I was a ‘rookie,’ and I had the worst schedule and typically worked more hours than more seasoned guards.

“I remember one day, while on duty, I started thinking about what I wanted to do as a career and the first thing that came to mind is becoming my own boss. That was the moment that put me on the path of entrepreneurship. I was 16 at the time but it’s one of the most important moments that keep me motivated each day. Around the same year, I started designing and making clothes and selling them to friends and family. That was the beginning of Simply Cecily. I ended up leaving Chicago and studying business at Howard University and then obtaining my MBA from George Washington University, all the while continuing to sell my clothing. Last year, my husband and I decided to manufacture our first line (previously I did all the sewing) for Spring 2013.”

Foot to the Fire: Tonia R. Grady is CEO of Gradygirl Productions, Inc., a full-service professional television, film and video production company. Founded in 1997 by Grady, an award-winning former CNN producer, Gradygirl specializes in viral video, commercials, event coverage, red carpet celebrity interviews, tailored news pieces, corporate videos, show development and production of original  non-scripted and programming. In 2009, she directed and produced her first documentary, Man Up: The Exploration of a Fatherless Nation,  which went on to garner several awards.

“Landing my job as an associate producer for CNN Financial News was one of the best days of my life… I should’ve known that the devil would be waiting for me around the corner.

“After moving up to the coveted field producer position, I was approached by CNN’s newsroom director to come work as an associate producer.  I had never experienced anything like the newsroom before. You had to be on your Ps and Qs at every turn, absorb information at light speed, make split second editorial judgment calls, run, jump, yell and scream all just to get your one-hour show on the air live. And just when you thought it was safe to breathe again, you could bet your sweet a$$ that all hell was going to break loose during your live show.  And then the real work begins, as the control room erupts into sheer pandemonium as the producing team scrambles to bring the breaking news to the world first.

“Then the unthinkable happened…9/11. My life as I knew it was forever changed. The craziness that I had become accustomed to was now on steroids combined with an indescribable stench of depression and heartache. After surviving CNN, I was certain that I was ready for whatever was ahead.  So my worst job turned out to teach me the best lesson of all: what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”

Put Here to Serve: Shannon Mouton is a multi-tasker. She is director of marketing and digital media for McKinney & Associates, a strategic communications firm in Washington, DC. She also serves on the board of directors for the In Series, a performing arts organization. And Mouton is a regular contributor to Women Grow Business and Discover Exceptionalism. She has her own blog, Shannon Sez So. On top of all of this, Mouton is the founder of Topaz Consulting, a marketing consultancy.

“My worst job was also one where I had a lot of fun. I worked in a fast food restaurant for a number of months in 1997.

“I had finished two grueling years as the state political director for a failed U.S. Senate campaign and I was exhausted. I didn’t know if I wanted to stay in politics, go to grad school or join a circus. I was ‘‘twixt & ‘tween’ my grandmother used to say. To keep from starving, I began working at the restaurant and it was wonderful, frustrating, inspiring, and hard work. I learned more about customer service, brand loyalty and the value of personal relationships in those six long months than I had in my eight years of politics. Working in the service industry takes a level of patience that few have, including yours truly… [But] I knew it wasn’t for me, though I realized over time [that I] always will be in the client service industry.”

Money Isn’t Everything: Tanya Kersey has built the kind of Hollywood connections most in the entertainment business would envy. She is founder and executive director of the Hollywood Black Film Festival, an annual six-day celebration of black cinema attracting established filmmakers, film and TV stars, writers, directors, industry executives, emerging artists. She also runs The Kersey Group, a boutique consultancy and advisory firm that provides film, media and entertainment business development services. It offers specialized expertise on the urban and multicultural markets in the U.S. and overseas. Kersey is also the CEO of,, and produces and hosts the popular Internet radio show “Inside Urban Hollywood” on BlogTalkRadio. And, she is a National Physique Committee bikini competitor.

“My worst job was as a long-term temp technical writer for a large aerospace manufacturer and defense contractor in the early years while I was building my company.

“I was hired to do technical writing for a new government-sponsored project. But I was bored stiff because the project was so disorganized, there was literally nothing for me to write… So I just sat at a desk literally doing nothing.  It was crazy! I was so bored even though I was making lots of money and stressed out because I felt almost ashamed to be sitting there doing nothing all day while people around me were working. I finally went out on stress leave. The lesson I learned was that all money is not good money because even though I was getting paid well, I wasn’t using my skills, I wasn’t being challenged, and that was damaging to my psyche and emotionally well-being.”

Life-Defining Experience: When she was just 22 years old and newly graduated, April Walker started her first urban apparel brand “Walker Wear.” Out of the box it was a hit. Walker Wear landed accounts with major outlets like Macy’s, Footlocker, Spiegel, Dayton’s, and Dillard’s.  And celebrities, especially hip hop artists like RUN-DMC, the late Tupac Shakur, and Notorious B.I.G., have loved the line, wearing pieces in music videos, photo shoots, and at awards shows. Walker also worked as a VP at Phat Farm and consulted for brands such as Ecko, Champion, and Russell Athletics. Walker has revamped her collection and relaunched Walker Wear.

“Working at American Express wasn’t my dream job. I worked as a customer service representative in the billing department for a while in college. I remember the experience was defining because it helped me realize that I needed to go after my dreams and follow the entrepreneurial path.

“I wasn’t fond of the job because it was monotonous, very corporate, and didn’t allow me to utilize my creative talents. It did allow me to learn about company structure, implementing systems, having a company mantra and how necessary implementing these elements were to fostering growth in any environment.

“My biggest take away was learning that one must have extreme patience with customers. It was here that I learned that ‘the customer is always right’ in any service experience. I was fortunate enough to learn this lesson early and model it into my future entrepreneurial ventures.”

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