What better way to acknowledge Labor Day than to discuss jobs. Specifically, rotten jobs.
Vocational rottenness can be caused by many factors. Some jobs are difficult, some demanding, some disgusting. It may be the nature of the job, or the working conditions, or the boss.
Yet rotten jobs also have some commonalities. They are necessary, they provide a paycheck and perhaps most importantly, they can be invaluable for the lessons they contain.
I’ve maintained that everyone should have at least one rotten job, preferably early on in their working life. There is nothing better for teaching what you want and don’t want in a job, what you are able to endure and what you won’t put up with. You learn the difference between a good or bad boss, a positive or negative working environment and a difficult or impossible job.
The biggest payback of a rotten job is appreciation. Later in your working life, you’ll know that whatever the challenges of your current job, it’s still better than that rotten job you once had.
A job doesn’t have to be completely rotten to have value. The worst job I ever had was ferrying rental cars from one location to another. Much of the work was between airport lots, but sometimes (and this was a relative treat) to drive cars to or from the airport from other locations around the Twin Cities.
“What’s so rotten about driving cars?” you may well ask. Fair enough: driving a car is not grueling or physically demanding. But there were a few additional factors that made it rotten (for me.)
First, I was working during January and February in Minnesota, and work started at 5 am. Facing me was a lot full of rental cars that had been parked outside through a Minnesota winter night. There was snow to be removed, windows to be scraped and frozen doors to be pried open. About half the cars wouldn’t turn over, so they had to be jump-started. None of these things were in and of themselves challenging. But when done on dark, bitterly cold winter mornings, they were brutal.
Second, the pay was miserable. Minimum wage, and no guarantee of hours. Often I would show up at 5 am, only to be sent home because I wasn’t needed. It was rare that I got at least 6 hours in one day, so my dream of financial security was not being advanced.
Third, after graduating from college and expecting multiple job offers in my chosen field to come rolling in, I was driving rental cars. Frozen rental cars. I had planned to be working in television, and instead I was struggling to start a frozen Plymouth Volaré.
As rotten as it was, there were a couple of benefits: I got really good at starting frozen cars, and I met Gerald York.
Gerald was my de facto supervisor. I doubt he had that title, and may not have even been paid more than the rest of us. But we were all in our twenties, and Gerald was in his forties. He had the wisdom of a man who had worked hard for years, and was not shy in sharing it.
Occasionally we would have to drive to another location to return cars to the airport. We would pile into a car, with Gerald always in the shotgun position. With one arm over the seat, he would pass along important life lessons to the captive audience in the back seat. Every ride with Gerald was a learning experience, and made a rotten job a little less so.
Driving rental cars was Gerald’s second job. He worked at the St. Paul Water Department, putting in a full shift after leaving the rental car job. Something he would remind us of whenever we complained about the work. He also had the ability to speak truth to power, albeit not always in the most respectful way.
My favorite: one day the manager came into the garage where we were all preparing to start work, and announced that it was his birthday. To which Gerald replied, “We were gonna get you a card, but we couldn’t find one that said, “Up yours.” A memorable moment in Labor/Management relations.
I soon left that job, but I’ve never forgotten it. Especially when I’m in the midst of a challenging day. Whatever I am doing, I am always grateful that I am working inside and not freezing my butt on a frozen vinyl seat.
So kids, here’s the lesson: make sure you have at least one rotten job along the way. It will make every future job a little easier.
And much less rotten.
Today’s Fact Cetera
About 25,000 workers died building the Panama Canal.