Even people who have gone on to great heights in their careers started out with some less-than-inspiring jobs.
Actor Ashton Kutcher talked about this in his acceptance speech at this year’s Teen Choice Awards, saying: “I believe that opportunity looks a lot like work. I never had a job in my life that I was better than. I was always just lucky to have a job. Every job I had was a stepping stone to my next job, and I never quit my job before I had my next job.”
Kutcher’s career path to TV and movie stardom included helping his dad carry shingles, washing dishes at a restaurant, working in a grocery store deli and sweeping in a factory.
Carol Brendler can relate. In her new novel RADIO GIRL, set in the 1930s, teenage Cece desperately wants to be a radio star. She even gets a secret job at a radio station. But, will it be the best job ever? Or the worst? And what will happen when Cece’s secret job collides with Orson Welles’ infamous, and very public, “War of the Worlds” broadcast?
Just for fun, we asked each of our EMU’s Debuts bloggers to share their worst job ever. None involved alien invasions, but they were all memorable for other reasons.
Take it away, folks!
Tara Dairman’s incompetent embassy
“When I was 21 and living abroad in Ireland, I stumbled into a summer clerical job at another country’s embassy. I won’t say which country; all I’ll say is that Ireland was clearly not where this country sent its diplomatic A-team. The ambassador was most frequently found asleep at his desk, and his underling, who interviewed me, barely spoke English. But worst of all was my direct boss, who had a penchant for screaming and half of whose office looked like a storage center for a brand of unfiltered cigarettes from his home country, which he smoked right through our meetings. Ireland had workplace smoking laws at the time, but technically, in the embassy, we were on his home country’s soil, so I guess he was able to do whatever he wanted (much to my lungs’ displeasure). I lasted three weeks, and my payment in the end was a blank envelope full of cash euros. I’m pretty sure there is no official record of my ever having worked for this country’s government!”
Adi Rule’s substitute woes
“Now, some people enjoy substitute teaching. (Some people also enjoy hooking a car battery up to their nostrils.) And I will say that I had some wonderful experiences and met some really awesome teachers and students. But there are a lot of reasons why substitute teaching is terrible, the worst of which, for me, was the fact that almost everyone automatically thinks you’re dumb as a post. They will trust you to hit “play” on the VCR, but can’t imagine you’re capable of making six photocopies without five of them being of your butt. This was made clear to me one day when I was in for an English teacher. (It was a class I’d been in previously, where I’d told the students that when they were done with their busywork — ahem, assignment — they could read, write, or draw. One girl said, “Write? Write what?” I said, “Whatever you want.” She was totally confused. How sad is that, America?) So this particular day, they were going to learn about adjectives. There was a clear lesson plan drawn up. I was at the board, 30 seconds in, when a disheveled teacher rushes in and apologize for the HUGE MIX-UP. You see, they didn’t realize the lesson would involve TEACHING, something that would clearly cause the barely sparking neurons of a substitute teacher to short circuit and explode! So she was there to save the day and teach about adjectives! YAY! And she must have done her job well, because that day, twiddling my thumbs at the teacher’s desk, I managed to come up with quite a few substitute teaching-related adjectives.”
Mylisa Larson’s early morning cadavers
“Well, I’ve had some winners in my checkered early employment history (swatting flies for my mom at a penny a fly was my first paying job followed by hoeing endless rows of corn for ten cents a row), but the worst job would have to be that I put myself through part of college by getting up at 4 AM and cleaning the cadaver lab in the biology building.”
Joshua McCune’s telephone hell
“The worst job for me was a telemarketing gig I took my first summer of college. Non-profit stuff (American Heart Association, etc.), so I didn’t feel like a complete scuzzball. Didn’t matter. I’m the antithesis of a salesperson … if somebody says no thanks, I say thanks for your time and goodbye. WTF is a rebuttal? Yeah, I sucked. Days were only six hours long and I only did it for six weeks, but it was pure, monotonous misery. Positive note: My experience there provided some background for a critical scene in TALKER 25. Side note: The meanest people in the country (at least in terms of hanging up on you and snappishness) seemed to conglomerate in the Pacific Northwest.”
Laurie Ann Thompson’s injury-riddled deli stint
“It could be the time I worked for an insurance salesman, cold-calling clients — during dinnertime, of course — trying to convince them to buy an annuity, but I’m going to have to go with the grocery store deli I worked at in college. They specifically instructed us to disregard all safety precautions so we could get things done “more efficiently.” Every night we were supposed to wipe down the deep fryers with hot oil still in them (yup, 3rd-degree burns and a trip to the ER) and clean and disinfect the meat slicer while it was running and all the safeties were removed (yep, sliced off the very tip of one of my fingers). Fortunately, neither job lasted very long before I found something better!”
Amy Finnegan’s cheesy fundraiser
“During my sophomore year of high school, my dance team was invited to a competition in Hawaii. Everyone wanted to go, but the trip was going to be crazy expensive. We worked for months doing the typical fundraisers — car washes, rummage sales, coupon books — but still came short. Then came the opportunity for the team to work a designated amount of hours at a cold storage facility … unwrapping single slices of frozen American cheese. Not so bad, right? WRONG. The cheese turned out to be moldy and disgusting! All of it! We were unwrapping it so it could be sold to a dog food factory, and I felt bad for those poor little dogs. After weeks of this nauseating fundraising effort, more than 20 years later, I still can’t look at a slice of American cheese without gagging. And now you won’t be able to either. (But it was a great trip to Hawaii!)”
And MY worst job? That would have to be a secretarial post I took right out of college. It’s true I might have thought I was a tad overqualified for the spot, and that feeling didn’t change when the company CEO gave me a hand-scrawled sheet of paper to transcribe. His writing was terrible, and I did the best I could, but I obviously missed some finer points. He was yelling at me for getting it wrong, when I said, “But, I thought …” and he responded in full Dolby surround-sound: “I don’t pay you to think! I pay you to type!” Yeah. That was my clue that we would not have a long and happy partnership.
But all those jobs are long gone. See, we’re all just like Ashton (although maybe not as famous or well-groomed or quite as handy with a camera). Our worst jobs led us to successful, fulfilling careers as new or soon-to-be authors. Could we have done it without those early struggles? Who knows? Perhaps they built character if nothing else.
Anyway, what was your worst job ever? Leave a comment and tell us. You’ll be entered into a drawing for a free copy of RADIO GIRL.