Career Advice From an Insubordinate

05/08/2012 03:15 pm ET | Updated Jul 08, 2012

Does your work history look more like the route a school bus takes than an expressway to anywhere? Mine does.

Babysitter. Beverage girl. Grocery bagger. Bakery gal. Draftsman (I was going to say draftsperson but it sounded like something you'd put in front of a door to keep the cold air out). Construction worker. Railroad design engineer in training. Manufacturing plant manager in training. Telephone technician manager. Marketing manager. Communications account representative. Telephone operator. Tax research salesperson. Natural gas salesperson. Freelance writer. Cocktail waitress. Radio advertising salesperson. Radio news reporter in training. Classified ads representative. Radio news reporter. Mom. Freelance journalist. Book author. Motivational speaker. Talk show host. Blogger.

I used to kind of wilt when I pondered the meandering I've done, wondering if it would add up to anything. Now that I have the privilege of hosting "The Career Clinic," it makes sense. So does my preoccupation with saving stories.

Why is it that most of my favorite work memories have to do with things going, or about to go, very wrong? Take "Telephone technician manager." I type that job title and suddenly I'm fresh out of college again, in charge of a dozen or so telephone company technicians. I use the words "in charge" loosely, though not as loosely as my direct reports did. It took them, every last seasoned (read: jaded) one of them, several months to warm up to me. The in-between was, shall we say, hell.

I can still remember the first catastrophe we had in telephone companyland. I can still see the technician who barked at me as I reached for -- what? -- a box with some wires in it. "Don't you touch that thing!" he screamed. "You don't know nothin'!"

That's good advice, I've since decided, for new hires supposedly in charge of people who know what they're doing. Keep your distance until you're one of them. People who know what they're doing, that is.