Some Lessons You Can Only Learn Firsthand

When my sister was about to finish her bar exam and looking for her first job, my parents and I gave her all the usual advice. “Don’t take the first offer you get!” “Don’t settle for too little pay!” “You’ve studied for seven years, what’s a few months more to make sure you find a good gig?”

What happened next? My sister took the first offer. She took it even before her grades came back. And the guy lowballed her on the salary. But you know what? I totally get it. Some lessons you can only learn firsthand. The most vivid retelling and best advice are nothing compared to your own experience.

In fact, if I had been in her shoes, I’d likely have done the same thing. She knew the place. She knew the people. They really wanted her to work there. And even a below-average salary was about to quadruple her monthly income. After more than half a decade of studying and low-budget living, most college students only want one thing: to get out there, start doing real work, and make some money. That’s why many people take their first job offer, and who can blame them?

Far fewer people, however, do what my sister did next: She quit that job two weeks in. The work wasn’t right. The hours were out of control. And the conditions outside of the salary also weren’t ideal. So my sister realized her mistake — and she quit. No harm, no foul. As it turns out, most errors are reversible, and so was this one. When I visited her, we had a good laugh about it. “Yeah, in hindsight, after talking to some friends, I definitely should have asked for more.” Thankfully, that’s what second attempts are for.

Today, my sister has a nice role at a state bank. She works 35 hours a week, yet she still gets more money than before. They even have a nice, subsidized canteen, generous work-from-home conditions, and a lot of other benefits. Without that first disappointment, however, none of the second gig’s fruits would taste as sweet. That’s the magic of learning from experience. Often, it’s the only magic that works.

Sometimes, the hard way is the only way, and whether we are the star or the audience, all we can do is let it play out and wait for the lesson to kick in.