The Worst Jobs Ever: A Cautionary Personal History

The Worst Jobs Ever: A Cautionary Personal History

Ah, money.

Sweet, sweet money.

It goes by many names: cash, specie, lucre (filthy or otherwise), greenbacks, dead presidents –  but what will always be consistent about it is the fact that it’s something we all need.

Unfortunately, unless you’re lucky enough to find a career you’re passionate about, earning a paycheck isn’t always pleasant. Or, to put it another way: money does grow on trees, but it sucks to be a lumberjack.

As a recent college grad, I’m intimately familiar with the idea of taking a terrible job to earn some cash. And I’m not alone. This is simply a chapter in life when you have to take what you can get when you’re looking for a job – and the state of the economy certainly hasn’t helped.

So I hope that by sharing the tales of my worst job experiences, we can all have a laugh together, because this too, shall pass.

Also, if you’re lucky and read this through to the end, I’ll share with you 5 easy ways of how to find a better job.

My First Job – The Clackamas County Softball Official’s Association

When I was fourteen years old, I made the bizarre decision to become a softball umpire.

I’m not entirely sure what drove this compulsion. It was a strange and sudden whim, taken up after seeing an advertisement on the wall in a crowded high school hallway.

I’m not exaggerating when I say this decision made absolutely no sense at all.

That same year, my PE teacher used me as an example – in front of the whole class – of how you didn’t need to be athletic to get an “A”. Fourteen-year-old me was built like Mr. Potato Head (though I would’ve been jealous of his facial hair).

I didn’t know the first thing about sports, athletics, the outdoors, or running without looking goofy.

And yet, there I was, signing up to be a girl’s softball umpire. A few training sessions, a test, an official shirt and face mask, and a pair of heather gray slacks later, I had made the transformation. I was now John Weinert: card-carrying member of the Clackamas County Softball Official’s Association, certified to officiate American Softball Association games for girls 10 and under.

Maybe I wanted to reinvent myself. Maybe I wanted to follow in my father’s footsteps – he had been an umpire, too, decades ago. I think I just liked the idea that someone who knew me would be surprised to learn about my job.

“You know John? The nerdy kid? Well, he’s actually a softball umpire.”

“Ooh, how mysterious.”

Life Throws a Curve Ball

Of course, it didn’t prove to be as glamorous as I envisioned. In fact, I was a terrible fit for the job.

I had a weak grasp of the rules, and my timid personality made it difficult to confront overcharged coaches and parents. Also, I was much too shy to talk to my parents about buying a protective cup, so I endured every game in constant fear as I squatted behind a small child who I was not terribly confident of in terms of being an effective catcher.

I relished every cancelled game.

I became very familiar with the rules concerning calling a rainout.

I eagerly anticipated each call from the game coordinator, hoping it meant a cancelled game in my future.

After a season, it finally clicked that maybe I wasn’t quite cut out to be an umpire if I didn’t want to actually officiate games. I didn’t come back the next year.

Objectively speaking, it wasn’t a bad job at all. What made it one of the worst jobs I’ve ever had was my complete lack of suitability for it. I’m pretty sure I would have had a better time toiling in an actual salt mine. At least then no one would ask me about the Home Run Rule (don’t ask me what it is. I never knew).

The takeaway here is that for you to be fulfilled in a job environment, you’ve got to actually know what you’re do, and be somewhat decent at it.

Moving on.

The Worst Job I’ve Ever Had

The real worst job I’ve ever had, though, was the position I held at Big Lots for a month in summer during college. If you’re not familiar with Big Lots, it’s an outlet store that sells the leftover junk other companies don’t want any more (I may have retained some negative bias from my time working there).

I had already been looking for a job for a month at this point. Summer was threatening to pass me by, but no one seemed to be hiring in my area – except Big Lots. So I applied.

And my nightmare began.

The only computers they had available were the registers, so for training each of us stood in front of a cash register and watched instructional videos on it’s tiny monitor. There wasn’t anywhere to sit comfortably, but if you moved the plastic bags, you could wedge yourself into their cranny in the check stand.

Training lasted six hours.

After training, I was assigned to offloading. This meant my shift ran from three to nine AM. That wasn’t very beneficial to me, as I have never functioned well in the morning. While in college, I fell asleep in an embarrassing number of classes, and those started at eight.

Waking up at three in the morning to go to work was doable (if unpleasant), but it had a less than positive effect on my job performance.

Imagine the famous scene from I Love Lucy where Lucille Ball is working at a chocolate factory and, unable to keep up with the production line, begins snatching candies off the conveyer belt and stuffing them in her mouth. Working offloading was like that, except that at the end of the day, instead of being one of the most successful female comedians of all time, you’re working at Big Lots.

So here’s half-asleep clumsy Mr. Potato Head trying to stack items onto these pallets at top speed. It doesn’t go well.

I frequently have to ask someone which pallet an item goes on. Then once I figure it out, I have to stack it just right, or the whole six-foot rectangle will collapse in an avalanche of off-brand household goods.

I almost never stacked it just right.

The second half of the morning shift would always be occupied with the struggle to place everything we offloaded onto the shelves. There was frequently not enough room. One of my coworkers once told me a story: apparently, she had actually bought some merchandise herself because she couldn’t find a place for it on the shelf while stocking. I guess she didn’t see any other way to deal with it.

Abandon All Hope, Ye Who Enter Here

It’s probably from the sleep-deprivation I was suffering at the time, but my time at Big Lots seems in retrospect like a fever dream: a Kafkaesque nightmare of anxiety and alienation. We were pale shades toiling mechanically, dry split-fingered hands numbly moving boxes and bags.

Our boss on the offloading shift would constantly belittle us. He was a lightly wrinkled man of indeterminate but advanced years, he would briskly hustle about, pushing carts and towing pallet lifts as he micromanaged us condescendingly.

He was clear on his stance towards his employees: like British sailors in the age of sail, we were not to be trusted. He once berated me for transporting paper towels inefficiently.

I often wondered if anger at his own position fueled his disdain for us. He clearly thought those working under him were incompetent. Why didn’t he look for a job elsewhere?

Did it gall him that he, a man close to retirement age, was forced to wake at three in the morning so he could babysit minimum wage employees? I don’t know. I didn’t take any satisfaction in the thought. I would have preferred him to be nice than miserable.

There was something depressing about Big Lots.

It was probably the fact that no one wanted to be there. That may have been what put our boss on edge. In a field infamously difficult to work in – retail – we sat on the bottom rung, selling damaged furniture and nearly expired food. I think the place had a high turnover.

Needless to say, it was a relief to be gone when summer ended.

Looking For A Job Pays Off

Even at Fred Meyer, an all-in-one grocery store I worked at the following summer, general morale was never as low as it was at Big Lots.

In fact, Fred Meyer felt like a paradise in comparison. My managers treated their employees with respect, and nobody acted like they were trapped in limbo. I felt like I was doing something worthwhile, even if my job mostly consisted of folding crumpled Minions t-shirts.

Still, Fred Meyer wasn’t perfect. During August the store implemented a sidewalk sale to get rid of clearance clothes, so every day we had to tow racks and racks of clothing outside, and then pull them all back again a few hours later.

One employee always had to sit outside and watch them, to make sure nobody stole anything. They were ostensibly also there to provide customer service, but people hardly ever had questions, and you can only clean up the same racks of clothing so many times in a four-hour shift. It always felt to me like a waste of everyone’s time. You just sat and waited.

That’s what all terrible jobs truly are in the end, I think: waiting.

If you’re at a job you hate right now, I hope you can take some comfort in that. It’ll pass, and one day you’ll be free. If, like me, you’ve managed to leave your worst jobs in the past, then I congratulate you! Let’s hope we don’t have to go back.

And if you’re looking for a job? Don’t.


author-headshotAuthor Bio: 

John Weinert is a freelance writer from the green and rain-enshrouded land of Oregon. He graduated in 2016 from George Fox University with a degree in History and English. In his spare time he likes playing games, reading, and worrying if anything we do really matters when you think about it, ya know?

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Blog: |  Twitter: @JohnWeinert1


John Weinert

John Weinert is a freelance writer from the green and rain-enshrouded land of Oregon. He graduated in 2016 from George Fox University with a degree in History and English. In his spare time he likes playing games, reading, and worrying if anything we do really matters when you think about it, ya know?

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