10 minute read.
I’ve worked in all sorts of jobs, from a farmer, restaurant worker, cookware salesman, teaching assistant, house manager, convenience store clerk, and ice cream truck driver, to a Counselor, Technical Writer, Marketing Specialist, and Web Designer.
I started out in the job market with I was 16.
Growing up on a farm, I’d been doing manual labor on and off since I was 7. But my first “real” job was working at McDonalds. I just wanted to have some fun and earn a little extra spending cash. It was not a career move.
My managers and supervisors hated me. They were drill sergeants and slave drivers. I didn’t know anything about being a good worker in a fast food restaurant. I grew up on a farm, and farms didn’t have strict rules.
I kept forgetting details on how to flip burgers and salt fries properly according to their standards because I didn’t really care about my job. So they had me sweep floors and wipe tables most of the time. Definitely not a career.
I had the pleasure of working on Friday and Saturday nights because no one else wanted to. So I was teased and degraded by teens who smoked and drank, and had muscle cars, pickup trucks, and skanky girlfriends. They were small town assholes.
I hated my job so bad. I wanted to quit every day.
But I liked having the spending money, so I would happily cash my check every other Friday, and spend it on frivolous stuff like music, junk food, arcade games, and electronic gadgets. (I was an 80’s teenager living in a small town. What else was there to do?)
I can still hear them tout their familiar quote “If ya got time to lean, ya got time to clean.” Which really means “Stop standing around like an idiot and get to work, punk!” This was “management” to them, micromanaging slackers like me and blessing their many minions with McDonald-esque wisdom.
I lasted for 5 months before I walked out of there. I actually gave 2 weeks notice, but have no idea why. It was the courteous thing to do, so I heard. But thinking back on it today, what I really wanted to do was tell off the managers in royal fashion with a big old “F.U.” and then storm out. They were mean and deserved it. But I didn’t have the guts to follow through.
That was not my dream job.
Fast forward several jobs and 10 years later.
After I graduated from University with a Psychology degree, I got a job as a House Manager
at a halfway house for recovering drug and alcohol addicted teens. I was basically a glorified babysitter. Also not a career move. Here we go again with the degradation, except I was much older this time, and the tactics they used were much more subtle.
These kids were so messed up with their thinking. They were masters of manipulation, and me being the nice and helpful guy that I am, I was no match for their mind games.
They would try anything and say anything, just to get a rise out of me or challenge my authority in any way possible (I had none). The Head Counselor had all the authority, but he was only there on week days 9-5. That was his career.
I got to spend all my time keeping them busy with homework and meals during evenings and weekends, as well as monitor their free time and make sure they weren’t trying to burn the house down or something fun like that.
The kids messed up so much and so often, they could have turned THAT into a career for themselves. I’m sure a lot of them ended up as career criminals later in life.
The job didn’t pay well at all, but in addition to getting paid during daytime hours, I stayed overnight and got paid to sleep, so that was something different. 48 hour shifts were very interesting. It wasn’t like doing presentations or public speaking. That’s for sure.
There were some fun moments while I worked there. I got to take all the teenagers skiing twice a week, which meant I got to ski for free, and took my girlfriend along on the ski trips.
Most of the kids were terrible at skiing and ended up staying in the lodge most of the time trying to pick up girls. But one kid in particular I remember seeing out at the top of a steep hill, and then attempting to ski down. That didn’t last very long as he tripped and went down fast and hard. I watched him tumble head over heels all the way down the slope. It was like nothing I’d ever seen before.
I thought for sure I’d have to scoop up his lifeless broken body and drop it into a grave after witnessing a self proclaimed massacre like that. But as he landed at the bottom of the hill, he lay there just for moment and then slowly pulled himself onto his skis again, and hobbled away. It was almost as if he WANTED to feel all the pain and cold of that God awful ugly train wreck. I’ll never know.
I worked there for 3 years and have many interesting stories about those kids.
A few years later, I became sick of working with messed up people in human service and counseling jobs that got me nowhere. I knew it was not going to be lasting career.
I decided to take a total departure from what I went to school for and got a job driving a truck and selling frozen food door to door.
Still not my dream job, and definitely not a career move.
That was fun for about 3 months until it started getting really cold outside. Funny thing about Wisconsin winters, you never know when they will hit or how much snow you’ll get until you get dumped on, usually sometime in November. And the winters last for about 6 months. In fact, I have driven in blizzards as late as May.
Getting in and out of a refrigerated truck over and over again for more than 100 times a day was not my favorite thing in the world to do. I did this for 12-14 hours a day, 5 days a week. The weeks were really long, but I got tough and strong.
I’ve also been bitten and chased by overly protective guard dogs several times.
Oh, by the way, I didn’t get a base salary for driving and delivering products. It was purely on commission. So, if I didn’t sell anything that day, I didn’t get paid. They allowed me to use the truck and fuel, but that was it. Now, that’s real motivation for selling.
One thing about that, I am a terrible salesman. I had all kinds of customers, some nice and some not so nice. The ones who bought from me regularly probably felt sorry for me because they knew I couldn’t sell worth a shit. I lasted 1 year and 10 months on that job, and was absolutely miserable before I quit.
Something new came along at that point that changed my entire life. Information Technology.
I had always been interested in art and graphic design, but never had an opportunity to see what I could really do. I taught myself how to do print and web design in Adobe Photoshop, but it was only for fun.
In college, I loved doing Psychology research. I excelled at statistics and psychological measurement, and loved writing about it.
I saw an ad in the newspaper on day for a Technical Writer at a small Technology company, so I thought “What the hell. I’ll give it a shot.” To my surprise, they loved that I had research experience and a background in Psychology. So they hired me and a snowball effect happened like nothing I’d ever experienced before.
During my years there as a Technical Writer, I developed a massive number of online help systems, learning modules, tutorials, how to guides, step by step instructions, and elaborate manuals.
I took graphic design, web design, and web development classes and seminars in my spare time. When a marketing job opened up, I got a new person to take over in technical writing and filled the position of Marketing Specialist.
This is where I explored everything I could absorb about Adobe InDesign, Illustrator, Flash, and Photoshop. I also learned how to develop narrated screen cam videos and published multimedia projects for sales and trade shows. I did voice overs, scripts, interviews, storyboards, posters, fliers, slides, newsletters, sales sheets, print and web collateral, and music layovers.
When the small technology company was swallowed up by a large acquisition company in 2007, it was only a matter of time before everything fell apart within a year. Products were either rebranded, reformatted and absorbed into a new platform or discontinued altogether. People were downsized or had to reapply for their jobs. It was a huge mess and there were a lot of hard feelings and resentment in the wake.
Working for a small company has it’s problems, but it also has plenty of perks.
Most of the problems are with protocol, procedure, and policy. In a small company, there is a lot of hoarding personal versions of documents, because everyone has their own style and way of doing things in their job.
It is really difficult to change those behaviors and enforce policies when everyone likes to do their own thing, and the boss doesn’t see a problem with it. He even does it himself because it’s comfortable and acceptable to him. Eventually, it becomes unmanageable and out of control, especially for a Technical Writer!
But my employers were nice to me, and they appreciated my hard work and dedication. They also paid me well, and gave me generous raises when I deserved them.
That was about as close to a dream job as I ever got. It was a good career move.
What I remember most about that job was that it was more than just a job. I made life long friendships there, and I occasionally run into people that I used to work with, and talk about old times with a smile on my face. We had a relationship. An understanding.
These are the people with whom I shared good times over many a beer in a bar room, and sometimes laughed so hard about stuff, I thought I’d bust a gut. They threw parties and personally thanked people for their loyalty to the company.
My employers and co-workers cared about me and my family. They asked how I was doing, and wanted to know how things were going in my life. They were extremely frustrated at times, as many small company owners are. But they cared, and they understood that we all have personal lives outside of work.
My life in the employment sector thus far is a mix of “That was hard”, “That was fun”, “This is rewarding”, and “What the hell did I do that for???” We all have to start somewhere if we want to build a good life and fulfilling career.
I’ve been playing this game for over 30 years, and I have about 15 left.
You get molded and shaped, sometimes by the most unlikely people. You look back on those experiences sometimes with pain, but also with fond memories and rich vivid details. It was a career that made me proud. It wasn’t perfect, but it had a lot of great qualities.
Sometimes, your work environments and people you work with are toxic and bring you down. You may get bullied or guilted into staying if you try to leave.
Feeling trapped in a job is no fun, and I’ve been there plenty of times. A friend told me one day when I was feeling particularly low: “There is life outside of your current job. You won’t stay there forever. You are young and you have a whole life and career ahead of you yet. Have some fun. There is hope.”
I was 23 and feeling trapped in a restaurant job! She was absolutely right. It wasn’t my career. But I couldn’t see it at the time. Sometimes you think there is nothing better out there for you, so you stay and end up being miserable.
I have news for you. Work is not a death sentence.
It’s not about sticking it out, or competing for raises, or trying to impress the boss.
Remember these 5 things, and you’ll be fine:
1. You don’t drift into your life.
You choose your life. If you don’t like your life or your job or career, you can change it. The world won’t come to a grinding halt.
2. Change is difficult, especially when you get to a point where people in your life are depending on your income.
But it is never too late to change and do something you love. You have to change for the right reasons, and no one can decide that except you.
3. When you are old and gray and ready to die, how do you want people to remember you?
Do you want to be remembered as the guy who hated his job and stayed in too long just because it was “stable” and had a decent dental plan? Or do you want to be remembered as someone who loved his career and really made a difference by taking action every day, and helping his team be the best they could be?
4. Don’t ever let your job define you, but rather, let it be a reflection of you.
Your potential for greatness is limited only by your imagination and ambition.
5. You have a choice between fear and love.
That’s all it’s ever been about, and always will be. It’s about making a choice to either stay stuck in fear or be brave, and let go and change.
Here’s to moving forward!
Tell me about your employment stories in the comments. Do you have any crazy stories about things that happened to you at your job? What was the worst job you ever had? What was the best job? I read all comments.
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