Lessons Learned On The Job, Ctd

Andrew Sullivan —  Jul 15 2011 @ 3:23pm


by Zoë Pollock

A reader shares her horror stories:

My first high school summer job was as one of those girls who give out free samples. Incidentally, we're not doing it out of the kindness of our hearts or to raise awareness of our product or something. We're sales girls disguised in company t-shirts. And, yes, it taught me the value of hard work and all that, but it also taught me something else: when you're trying to get hired as a laborer, you're selling your skills, but when you're trying for a service position, you're selling your soul.

I don't mean that in a "deal with the devil" sort of way, but service positions, and particularly sales positions, demand a part of your personality. Whether I felt extroverted and happy or not, I'd better act that way for 6 hours at a time. I like to think that I'm a nice person, but when I got off that shift, I spent at least 20 minutes being utterly bitchy because all the kindness and generosity had been systematically drained out of me in service of a fruity soda. I must have written tomes in my head excoriating the creepy men who waited for me at the end of the day as I was walking to the parking lot, all because I gave them a free sample of overpriced soda and an underpriced smile, as if a salesgirl was a second-class citizen who would accept all comers after her shift, just because she had to smile and do so during the workday. What a cruel dictum, "the customer is always right."

That wasn't too long ago–it was a high school job, and I'm a rising senior at university–so I have none of the nostalgia your other readers do. But I don't think I'll ever look back fondly at that job. It taught me the value of hard work: working hard enough that I'd never have to get that kind of job again. Of course, in this economy, that job's about the best a college graduate can hope for.

And there's no pity for the umpire:

I had played baseball for several years before taking up umpiring at the age of 13. Somehow the unmitigated hatred spewed from a sweet, blue haired grandmother and a flask swilling father on opposite sides of the field directed towards the umpire had escaped my attention while actually playing the game. I was just having fun! Who could get angry over a game? It turns out, everyone but the players attend little league games as a way to transfer anger and self-pity onto umpires, in the form of spittle and incoherent arguments about obscure passages in a rule book which no one read. More than a decade later and it is clear that the lessons I learned the hard way in conflict management, maintaining a calm demeanor and letting your own mistakes go, have allowed me to become moderately successful in another high stress job: Public Relations. Turns out, everyone still hates me for showing up at work. But I love both jobs, and still volunteer at baseball games in the DC area.

And this reader wins the award for best illicit payment:

This may be an “only in San Francisco” story, but here goes: back when I was thirteen, my first job was delivering the morning paper with a couple school chums of mine, a pair of brothers who dealt marijuana on the side and paid me a lid per month instead of cash to help them on the route. I’d get up at 3:00am and bike over to the corner where the distributor dumped the papers, and then we’d sit around inserting adverts, folding and loading them into a canvas shoulder bag while smoking dope, and hit the pavement by 4:00 or so. After a while the brothers got tired of it and I took over the route as a sort of sub-contractor, still working for marijuana. I really enjoyed this job; I liked the deserted streets, the cool morning air, the walking around, and of course, the dope smoking.

Of course I'm a sucker for the old crotchety Jewish guy:

After I got out of college with a degree in French literature I had a number of hard, ill-paid and unpleasant jobs that all taught me important lessons about the work place and working people– but I was unhappy. One day I went down to the corner store in our neighborhood and I was talking with the storekeeper, a little Russian-Jewish guy named Harry. Harry lived upstairs over his little store with its few loaves of bread, some cold cuts and canned goods, and sad glass cases containing dusty penny candy. When he died it turned out he owned many properties in town nicer than the building he lived and worked in. Anyhow, Harry, in his thick accent would ask "you makin' hundred dollars?" meaning, are you at least making a hundred dollars a week. I was complaining about how I had a college degree, nobody appreciated my talents, I was unhappy, etc. Harry laughed at me and said: "diamond cutter who cuts meat is a MEAT CUTTER! You want a job cutting diamonds? GO GET ONE." I stopped complaining and got myself into a profession where I have worked for 40 years. Thank you Harry.

Earlier stories in the thread here, here, here and here.

(Photo: Matt Stopera explains: "This is how you become a fast food LEGEND. FYI, Adam is the name of shift manager who denied the worker the Fourth of July off after he worked 22 days straight, despite allowing others to have the day off.")