Everyone has a story about the worst job they’ve ever had.
Working customer service at a call center. Housekeeping for a motel. Counting inventory for a big-box retailer. Sometimes these jobs are necessary for a start. Other times it’s for survival.
When I reflect on the worst job experiences in my life, the common theme isn’t menial or humiliating labor. It isn’t tied to paying the bills…it’s identity. They were the jobs that I felt proud of, that I poured my entire being into until something changed. It certainly never had to do with wages or titles. For me, the worst jobs were the ones that I broke my heart.
In that regard, the worst jobs are like the worst relationships: there was enough in the beginning to develop infatuation and commitment. I allowed myself to fall in love with the work but would eventually feel trapped, dependent, and taken advantage of. Where everyone around me would see how awful I was feeling each day and encourage me to move on even though I’d hang onto hope that things would get better.
Those “worst jobs” there would usually be an easy solution: a change in management, looser reigns for more autonomy, acknowledgement from leadership. But these things rarely happen because of fear. Fear of change, fear of accountability. Often, fear is also what would keep me in those positions despite how dehumanizing it would feel each day to be there.
I wish my “worst jobs” wouldn’t be tied so deeply with the things I care deeply about. I would rather clean toilets, bus tables, load inventory into delivery trucks, work in customer service, or sell cutlery door to door than work with those worst offenders ever again (those were all odd jobs I’ve had before and to be honest, they weren’t that bad).
Thankfully, I’m in a different place now where I create my own kind of mission-driven work environment. I can remind myself of those worst job experiences and strive to never inflict that kind of pain own my employees. I can do what I wish every awful manager I ever had would do: be the kind of leader I wish to have in my own life and to always view others in their fullest potential. So that if/when they move, they reflect back on our time together and think, “That was the best job I ever had.”