The best/worst job you ever had

  1. Listen Your Best and Worst Jobs – MPR News

    September 7, 2015

Every 23 years or so, I like to do a talk show on MPR News just to stay sharp. Monday is the day. So let’s prepare accordingly.

I don’t have any guests lined up, except for you, assuming you’ve had a job of some sort in your life. The subject is your journey in search of your work self.

We’ve all mostly had them – the jobs that make us shake our head wondering why we ever took them. And – if we’re very lucky – the job that we never talk about using the word “job” (like this, for example).

Studs Terkel said every worker wants to point to something s(he) creates by toiling and say, “that’s me up there.”

Here’s why this subject has always fascinated me.

A few years ago, right around the time the economy was melting down and the hopelessness and fear about the future was on the rise, I spent every Wednesday on a MnSCU campus – a state or community college.

Stealing an idea from public radio legend Alex Chadwick, I brought a roll of quarters and a handmade sign that said “Conversations 50 Cents”, and I sat and waited for students to come talk to me about where their passion for what they intended to do came from – if indeed there was any passion at all.

jeff_swansonHis name was Jeff Swanson, and he was from Des Moines, Iowa, and he was a Lutheran pastor who didn’t want to be a Lutheran pastor anymore.

He wanted to get into forestry management and – if things went really well – some sort of job that involved bison. He loved bison.

He thought he was going to love being a pastor too. But he had health problems.

“I miss Sunday mornings,” he said at the time. “But I don’t miss Tuesdays through Saturdays too much,” he says.

Here’s what I wrote on NewsCut about him:

Swanson acknowledges that life at 52 isn’t what he expected at age 5, that’s when he first wanted to become a pastor. He thought he’d be a pastor of a large church, with a staff, living a comfortable life. “I’m missing the target,” he said. “My goals are different. I want to be less successful and more happy.” So far, so good, he says.

At Vermilion, he’s surrounded by students younger than him. And he’s got a message for them: “Do what makes you happy; you, not mom and dad and aunts and uncles. I became a pastor because of three blue-haired ladies in the front row at church. And I was a very good pastor but at the core of which is not what makes me happy and what makes me happy is nature, and outdoors.”

(Update) I learned after writing this post that Jeff worked for the National Forest Service and the Minnesota DNR. He’s now a pastor in Iowa. Now there’s a journey.

We make lots of compromises in our lives and sometimes with our jobs, too. Maybe they don’t fit quite right but they serve a financial purpose. We call this situation, “the golden handcuffs.”

Bob Borson, an architect, jumped to a firm that offered him a 36 percent raise, only to find that when he didn’t have a building to design, he read books to kill the time.

Well, I was sick of reading books so I went back to my prototype and continued to develop it … until the partner who told me not to spend more than 40 hours on it saw me spending more than 40 hours on it.

So she called me out – loudly – in front of the entire office to come into her office immediately! And by office, I mean 3-sided space on the other side of the wall … it was pretty much wide open for all to hear what was going on.

She chewed me out for a few minutes – maybe more than a few minutes, I don’t know … I stopped listening. When she was done, it went a little like this:

Partner: “Well? What do you have to say for yourself??”
Bob: “I quit”
Partner: [shocked looked on face] “What?”
Bob: “I quit. I am not going to work here. You have my two weeks notice as of this moment.”
Partner: “You’ve only been here for a few months … you certainly haven’t given it much time.”
Bob: “I see how this place is run … what is here for me? Partner? I don’t want your job so why would I want to stay and keep my job?”

So I turned, walked out of the partners office, and went back to my desk … with every set of eyeballs in the place boring into me. The guy I sat next to whispered over the partition “they’ll be over here in less than 5 minutes telling you to pack your things and leave.”

Five minutes came and went. The end of the day came and went. They never did ask me to leave but they didn’t ask me to do any work either. So I sat there for two weeks reading my books, basically doing nothing.

At one point, one of the other partners came over and asked if I would model an airplane he was currently building as a hobby. I politely told him “No, but if you have some work for me, I will gladly do it.” He didn’t, so I went back to reading my book.

When I left, the new job I had accepted paid me $32,500 – $5,500 less than what I was making at “cool building” firm … but $4,500 more than I was making just 4 months earlier. I learned a lesson at that time of my life that has stuck with me for the last 16 years … two lessons actually.

You can probably guess what the lesson he learned was. Perhaps you’ve learned it too.

What we do we do for a reason. What’s yours? What’s the best job you ever had? What was the worst? What are the compromises you’ve made? What job taught you lessons, the value of which you didn’t recognize until much later?

Submit your own story below. And take a break from taking a break on Monday, starting around 11 a.m., and give us a call at 651-227-6000 or 800-242-2828.

  • Rob

    The best job I ever had was doing public relations work on behalf of Arctic Cat and Polaris. My job was schmoozing editors and reporters to ride watercraft, jetskis, snowmobiles, ATVs and motorcycles, make the tour arrangements — and then host them on the rides. Not a very environmentally correct way to make a living, but a total gas otherwise.

  • crystals

    The best job I ever had was teaching. It’s also the hardest job I ever had, but the only one where no matter how tired, grouchy, or WHATEVER I was at the beginning of the day it all melted away once I actually got to work. Teaching and learning from hilarious, complicated, smart, and sometimes infuriating middle schoolers made everything else disappear – even if it was just for a few hours at a time – and I’ve never experienced that anywhere else.

    It’s also the job where I made the least amount of money ($24K), which is one of the primary reasons why it’s not the job I have anymore.

    What time on Monday, Bob?

  • My best job was “parks maintenance” for a county. I was in high school/early college at the time. I would spend 8hrs each day with an older guy who’d lived one heck of a fun life while he taught me how to fix things well enough for them to function safely.

    The worst days were Monday and Friday since they were garbage days. Hand tossing garbage bags full of diapers, water, beer, and food into the back of the truck was never fun or clean…

  • Jim in RF

    I don’t have any special job experiences anyone would want to hear about, but I’ll be listening.

    • You’d be surprised what I’m able to pull out of people who say “I don’t have anything.” Everyone has a story, even if it’s what helped them get out of bed in the morning.

  • sgigs

    Will you be broadcasting from the fair?

    • I’m afraid not. I asked about that but I understand it’s too labor intensive to make it work technically.

      • joetron2030

        There’s a Labor Day joke or pun to be made here but it isn’t coming to me.

      • Jeff C.

        What? Who told you that? Talk to Ozzie. He could set it up in his sleep, I bet.

  • Gary F

    Summer after high school I worked at the BF Goodrich tire store/warehouse down by the west bank of the U of MN. Because I had trouble working the tire machine my first week they looked at me and said “warehouse material”. I unloaded semi-truck loads of tires, stacked and sorted them, then pulled them down to fill orders. Semi-truck tires were stacked 10 high, you couldn’t get help until numbers eight, nine and ten. Numbers 6 and 7 were tough on the back and legs near the end of the day. Just what every college freshman needs, and strong back job to steer him right.

  • BJ

    I’m 42 years old. I have worked at 1 place for 10 years and another for 2 years but I’ve had around 25 different jobs since I was in 5th – 6th grade selling Olympic greeting cards door to door. Shopping cart pushing was fun and a great workout.

  • Jeff C.

    Best job – working as a bartender in a pub in London. It was located in the financial district (“The City”) and had last call at 8pm M-F and was closed on the weekend because nobody lived in The City. Pretty sweet working as a bartender but not working late nights or weekends! Rumor had it that we took in more pounds per bartender hour than any other pub in London. We had a hoppin’ lunch-time business and a very good after-work business — the only slow time was 2-3pm M-Th. I worked with great people behind the bar and had some really fun regular customers. I turned 21 while I was there. Probably the most fun summer I ever had.

    • You have to call.

      • Jeff C.

        Sorry, but I’ll be in far northern MN at 11am on Monday. Cell phone coverage is iffy, at best. We used to have to drive for 10 minutes to the top of a hill to get a signal, but now there is a new tower that has a signal than can sometimes reach the loft of the cabin – but not the main floor.

        I’m very curious – what about my story makes you want me to call?

        • Probably everything. young bartender in a foreign land. What’s not to like?

    • That sounds like a great time!

  • boB from WA

    Doing temp work between other two other jobs I spent one graveyard shift cleaning a potato chip factory. Never again!

  • Veronica

    It’s simultaneously been my best job and worst job, but this week marks 4 years since I opened doors on my own company, first with a business partner, now solo. There’s very little time off, very little vacation, it’s hard to even take sick days. All the accountability falls on me, and nobody else. Competition in my market is fierce and nasty some days, and there are times when I just want to quit and close up shop. And what nobody tells people who decide to go open their own businesses is that it takes 3-4 times more work than it would if you just decided to collect a paycheck as an employee somewhere else.

    BUT….there’s this awesome amount of pride that comes from shaping a company that has a heart and soul that’s all mine. I love the freedom to explore, invent, and adapt as I see fit without having to go through 20 layers of red tape. And I do get to see what a positive difference I get to make in the world.

    I’ve learned how to build a website, learned how to do marketing and advertising, figured out the ins and outs of commercial leasing, and I’m a million years better at creating publications than I ever was. All in all, the last 4 years have been worth it.

  • KTN

    Lived in Crested Butte, in southwest COlorado in the early 90’s, and for part of the year, I had the best job/career – coaching. But, during one summer there, while working construction, I had to crawl under a house, one that was built in the 70’s, by a guy who said “this thing was designed and built by people drinking wine and taking LSD – and it showed. But, it needed new footings, so under it I went, to dig by hand footing holes. Hard work (this wasn’t midwest loam, but rocky/boulders with a little dirt around them), but the bad part was that during this time there was a hunta virus outbreak in the area, this virus is transmitted by rodents, rodents that live under poorly designed houses. I escaped without getting the disease, but man that was brutal.

  • Khatti

    Be sure to get the voice in shape Bob. Drink nothing but warm water for at least an hour before showtime. I never tried the gargling with salt-water thing–but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t!

  • Rob

    Worst job I ever had was a summer job working in a gravel pit. As can be imagined, it was gritty, greasy, and dangerous. Oversize boulders would occasionally hop over the screen guard on top of the crusher, and I missed being flattened one day by a matter of seconds; I felt a huge thump, and as I turned toward the source, I saw a 500-pound boulder occupying the area I’d just walked through.

    There was no walkie-talkie or two-way radio system, so oiling the machines was occasionally a very scary undertaking. It required the oiler to go under or inside massive machines, whose belt systems were so powerful that if a piece of your clothing got caught, like as not it would suck you in and flatten you like a fajita shell. One day, an inattentive operator started a unit I was oiling, and my shirt sleeve got caught in the drive; I thought I was a goner. But my sleeve ripped off and I stayed intact, although I did need a change of underwear.

  • Anna

    Best job I ever had? Believe it or not it was in radio.

    I was a community services coordinator for a small radio station in Wisconsin. A glorified name for an inside salesperson but a fun and interesting job just the same. I sold ad packages for local festivals, Red Cross Blood drives, Breast Cancer Awareness Month, etc.

    That job truly rocked, excuse the pun. My bosses gave me almost complete control. They never pressured me to sell. Once I got over the rejection factor, I blossomed. Ellie and Rick were two of the nicest bosses I ever had. I worked on a base plus commission basis.

    My clients often asked me to do the voiceover for their ads, too. I had “regulars” all over town. I’d still be doing it if the station hadn’t been sold.

    Worst job I ever had? More than I can count and all of them were in healthcare.

    I’m doing substitute teaching now and it’s very rewarding. All of the joy with none of the headaches.

    • Smaller market radio with a commitment to local service is just the greatest. Except for the lack of money, of course. But it’s all the fun you can stand. I miss (most) of those days.

      I lasted in radio sales for 2 weeks and I still break out in a cold sweat thinking about it.

  • Jeffrey

    A teacher in high school told the class that if you like your job 50% of the time, you are probably in the right position. As the years have unfolded I have been struck time and again at the wisdom of that statement. I have had jobs that I hated 80-90% of the time. Currently I do like my job probably at little more than 50% of the time, so I guess I am in the right position. I work in quality improvement in health care.

  • Kurt O

    My worst job was the summer I worked in a small factory that made riding lawnmowers. Besides being pinned against a wall by a forklift and crushing a fingertip with a hoist, the other 6 guys in the production area were awful. The worst of the lot was Ed, a chain smoking alcoholic with 2 teeth. Most nights he drove back to work (drunk, of course) and he slept in his truck so somebody could wake him up for work. Bathing was not a priority for Ed, and every few days they’d send him home to shower and change clothes. He was considered to be a “good” employee compared to some of the others.

  • dschille

    Best job I ever had was Godiva Chocolates at the MOA. I had it from 16-18. I worked part-time, everyone else I worked with was great and I got to take home as much free outstanding chocolate as I wanted.

    Worst job was Evergreen Industries. I was 14 and making minimum wage. At the time I think that was 3.75 or 4 an hour. My job was to put the pine cones on the wreaths that cub scouts sell every year. It was the most mind numbingly dull thing I have ever done for money.

  • Jim G

    Worst jobs…after five years as a public school teacher my
    wife and I had finally saved the down payment on a house. The problem was we did
    not have enough dough left over to buy a washer and dryer. With the summer
    break coming on and no summer school positions available for this newbie; I
    decided the solution to our shortage was signing up at the State Employment
    Office, making myself available for day labor jobs.

    Job #1 was filling iron filtration tanks with gravel. The gravel came in bags varying in weight from 60-100 lbs. Boss unloaded the bags from a pallet and placed them on a conveyor belt. I snatched up the bag from the conveyor, tossed it onto my shoulder, and quickly walked it 50 feet down the walkway, lifted the bag up onto the top on the tank, and then ran back to pick up another bag which was only too quickly rising up the conveyor. This went on repeatedly. With each cycle, my strength decreased. Finally, with my energy exhausted, I noticed the electric plug to the conveyor was plugged into an outlet on my level. I kicked out the plug and the infernal machine clanked to a stop. Boss just looked at me, smiled, and said, “A little too fast for ya?”

    Job #2 was cutting down elm trees and loading them onto dump
    trucks, and driving to the dumps to unload. The person that I replaced had
    dropped a log through the windshield of a dump truck. I practiced with the PTO
    for an entire afternoon until I had it mastered. We worked 12-14 hours with
    heavy equipment, big chain saws, and winches that would sing like a violin’s E
    string. It was the scariest job I have ever had. After another particularly long day in
    Orono, Boss pulled out his marijuana and offered it to us workers. The next day
    I told Boss that he had until the end of the week to find a replacement for me.
    He immediately took me off the front-loader and on the first tree dropped a log
    through the windshield.

    There was just enough time in summer break for my best job;
    roofing my first house. The seller bought the materials and I supplied the
    labor. Therefore, the worst jobs provided the funds for our washer and dryer.
    The best job provided a roof over our home.

  • Kevin Tesch

    The best job I have ever had was being a paid part time Firefight/EMT with the city of Cottage Grove. I did it for nearly 18 years before Arthritis made me retire. Being part of the community and helping the citizens in their time of need made the job a great experience.
    The worst job I had, immediately after my discharge from the Air Force was spot welding wire tomato baskets in a hot warehouse during the hot summer months.

  • lindblomeagles

    Sadly Bob I’m one of those individuals that listened to family members and friends when it came to jobs. Worse, I never made much money or received a raise or promotion at any of my former jobs. The last job I had that looked like I would be, well, like my family and friends, fired me six months into the job. Thinking back to my childhood, I really loved watching and drawing wild animals, building model trucks, and announcing baseball and football games that I created on my bedroom floor with army men and blocks. About 8 years ago, I started announcing boy basketball games for a local area high school. Purely a volunteer position, I loved it so much that first season, that I volunteered to do it for a second season, then a third, and a fourth. Eight straight seasons later, I’m still doing it; loving it just as much as the first season, and just as much as I did when I was a kid. I’ve also added the girls’ basketball team and the football team to my repertoire. I’m also back in school taking a history course. History was my strongest subject in high school and college. I probably won’t make any money in my life, but if I’m not going to make any money, I want to enjoy the work I’m doing and get really good at doing it.

  • Not that I’m exactly proud of it, but I’ve had a lot of jobs over the years. Which might explain my bank account (ha). My worst job was as a TV writer. I nabbed a job while I was still in college as a writer’s assistant on a very short-lived CBS comedy called “Co-Ed Fever.” It was a knock-off of “Animal House” and everyone on the show was miserable. And as the person on the bottom of the rung, it all rained down on me. I kept telling myself to tough it out, because it was my break into the business. The show was then literally canceled between the East and West coast airings the first night. So much for breaks.

    I’ve had lots of bests, and I suppose my restlessness now is because I’m not convinced I’ll find another one. My favorite was probably working for a syndicated talk show network based in Arizona. I did seven hours of radio a day, spread over three different shows. Crazy hours, insane workload and not so much money. But I’ve never been happier. Even if I think at our peak we were only on 35-40 stations nationwide.

  • Rich in Duluth

    I’ve had only 5 jobs in my lifetime:

    1. Door to door doughnut sales-boy, two afternoons a week, when I was in 6th grade.
    2. Car wash grunt, after school, during high school.
    3. Draftsman working for a major power company, in another state, for the first seven years after high school.
    4. Warehouse worker for a retail store, for two weeks, when we first moved to Duluth.
    5. Survey crewman/sewer rat/inspector/draftsman/engineering technician for a private civil engineering firm for the last 40 years of my work life.

    I was lucky. None of my jobs were too difficult or jobs I considered “bad”, although, surveying when it’s 10 below or taking measurements in sewer manholes can be challenging. All of these jobs were good, character and skill building experiences. The first two gave me pocket money, when pocket money was important, and the last three jobs paid enough to raise two kids, buy a house, and put food on the table, which, as former hunter/gatherers, is really why we work. I learned that perseverance and taking ownership of your job pays, not only monetarily, but in pride for your work and some job security. This is important, because it makes the day to day experience of work more than tolerable, it makes it enjoyable.

  • dgrrl

    Best job – Working in an privately owned drug store, chatting with the patrons about their ailments, filling orders, managing the post office. On slow evenings, the owner and I would get out the Farmer’s Almanac and compare days based on people’s moods. It was a sad day when the big box drug stores took over the market, I helped manage the ledger, and year-over-year noticed the financial decline. Worst job – compromising for a 5 minute commute with an ad agency that encompassed every evil stereotype, everything I had ever learned to avoid or dreaded about the industry – it all came true, one day at a time. One day, I was annoyed that they could not get their electricity to work, so I left and went to a coffee shop to work. When I returned, they called me into a meeting and fired me for “angrily-leaving-the-office-without-telling-anyone-with-your-computer”. I packed my box and left.

  • Mudger

    Well it wasn’t the best job at the time but now that i look back it was a great job. I framed houses for a small contractor. We had many builders for clients, And no matter the house or the location or time of year one was working, you always got 3 things. a free work out ( we used to tease those with gym memberships working on the site). A oneness with mother nature that only comes from working outside everyday regardless if it is -24 or 101. And the satisfaction that with every completion comes a home for a family. After years of reflection and different jobs in the construction field i can say that was by far the most rewarding

  • Liz

    The best job I ever had was at Eagle Ridge Academy, a charter school in Eden Prairie, where the students were polite and interested in learning. Two years later I discovered that their Employee Handbook states the admin. can alter, delete, rescind any thing within their policies at any time at their whim including sick time, bereavement time away and procedure to terminate anyone’s teaching contract without any cause..
    Their Employee Handbook uses the word “may” not “shall” when enforcing their own rules and policies.
    The teacher’s one page contract only states the school year, salary and accrued sick leave hours. Without a union type of contract all staff are at the mercy of administration’s whims, requiring only a 2 week notice by either party.
    I wonder how they would operate if 90% of teachers chose to willy nilly resign in mid Septemebr leaving the students without a school?
    Now I fully get why we have Union contracts…to prevent the arrogance and personal whims of bad adminstrators. If all admins were ethical, teachers would not need unions.
    My next job will be to advocate for union contracts in MN charter schools because if they can terminate with out any stated cause after a spotless career record, they can do it to anyone.

    • Anna

      It is said that employees don’t leave companies—they leave managers. Definitely seems to be the case in your situation.

  • wiskota

    Public Service Paramedic. No pay high risk of permanent injury or death but you are caring for humanity on their worst day. almost 40 years!

  • Chris

    Of the many many jobs that I have had here are some of the worst: rock picking (or most farm jobs for that matter as I have done them all), shingling, fast food, any type of manufacturing involving doing or making the same thing over and over again for weeks at a time…a couple jobs really stand out; the first was working at a trailer home factory. Imagine every person it takes to build a house all crammed into one spot and no ones happy to do it. The second was driving truck. My parent had a trucking company that focused delivering mail in bulk for the usps. My father and I shared two routes that covered about 425 miles a day six days a week, I did three days and he did the other. I would basically drive and sleep. It was like an odd version of solitary confinement. Best yet hardest job has been working on cars out of my garage. For the past five years I have been fixing others cars out of a rickety one car garage. It’s so small I can’t even get a car in it. It’s more like a big tool box. The driveway is dirt. It’s hard because of the physical and mental demands it requires. I describe it to people by having them imagine trying to write an email but instead of sitting at your desk you are bent over the front of it your computer is on the floor under your desk and you have to use a long stick held by your mouth to type each letter individually while cans of pencils jab into your sides. I think it is akin to being a surgeon in terms of the physical and mental precision it requires. I also have four year degree in graphic design I’ve done commercial photography and other forms of art such as hand drawn portraiture and sculpture (the best being installation art). I’m the neighborhood fixit guy. I service bikes and have been a bike mechanic. I have a slew of business ideas and am currently working on starting my own cleaning business cleaning office buildings as I have been working part time for an outfit for the last fourteen years….sheesh what don’t I do!! Oh and I have been a stay at home father for the last two years!

    • My boss, good guy and SD farm boy, also told me rock picking was the worst . I’d never heard of such a thing.

  • Deanna

    Enjoyed the show today very much while driving to Owatonna.

  • ☭¯_(ツ)_/¯☭ ✯The Wickerman✯

    Unsurprisingly for Wisconsin, the worst job I ever had was for a home/building supply company that’s a huge contributor to Scott Walker and starts with an “M”.
    I built roof trusses for pole buildings in Eau Claire. We worked in, of course, pole barns. There was no running water, no sinks, nowhere to wash up. There were two hideously fly-infested and disgusting outhouses for about 50 people to use. We worked 10-hour days, 6 days per week. Two 15-minute breaks, one half-hour lunch.
    Once in a while the owner would fly in with his helicopter, spewing dust all over us and the filthy lot. They would fire you on the spot if you were caught smoking pot, and of course everyone there was high all the time, working with dangerous machinery, because the job was horribly tedious, the pay was poor, no benefits.

    Walker’s dream of what good jobs are, I understand. Thanks, and Save Big Money!