I was 19 and working for a water treatment center one summer to earn extra money. I was hired by a friend of my parents and told that the work would be extremely easy. My job description fell under the vague category of “safety coordinator”. I was told to show up at the water treatment center at 6 am and to bring a lunch. I was hesitant about going, the only safety measures I knew were medical procedures I learned watching E.R- and I doubted anyone would need me to (or even let me) perform a tracheotomy with a bic pen, but they mentioned the hourly pay and although my heart said no, my bank account (and want for new J. Lo jeans) said yes.
Three hours later, I found myself knee deep in shit. Literally.
See, my official job title might have been “safety coordinator” but my actual job description had me standing in an underground tank the size of a football field, wearing a full bio hazard jumpsuit, complete with oxygen tank and mask- watching sewage treatment workers break up massive, solid blocks of cemented shit with power hoses so it would get sucked into these tanks. I was getting paid $21 an hour to stand at the bottom of the ladder, not move and watch to make sure everyone’s oxygen air tank cords didn’t get tangled.
For 8 hours a day.
Six days a week.
I’m not going to lie friends, the first day I barely could see out of my mask because I was crying so hard. Which was great because the fog caused by my tears, obscured my horrifying work environment. My friends all had jobs working at ice cream stands or clothing stores. They got to converse with people, wear pretty clothes and none of them were wearing an oxygen tank and spending 15 minutes of their lunch hour being hosed down in a bright yellow jumpsuit with a sprayer so powerful it felt like a gunshot going through their body.
So, the first day I cried. The second day I pushed through- spending my entire shift focused on three oxygen tank cords, humming Johnny Cash and re-considering my need to live for jeans with fringe.
I went home on the third day and talked to my mom. I told her that the pay was good, but that I had never been more unhappy. It wasn’t just the actual surroundings (but let’s get serious- can you think of anything LESS ideal than working in an underground tank surrounded by mountains of poop, the mountains speckled with thousands of condoms that had been flushed down the toilet? Maybe throw in some dead puppies and Avril Lavigne on a loud speaker and you have my complete definition of Hell), but it was absolutely breathtaking how lonely I was and how unhappy I had become in such a short time.
I expected my mom to tell me to stick it out, but she illustrated how cool she is by telling me that she understood and that she agreed, I should quit. That life was too short to spend your days that miserable. Of course, it would be up to me to find a different job, but that I should remember that I always, always have a choice. Being miserable at work, in a relationship, in life- is always a choice.
I’ve been keeping this in mind lately as I shut my alarm off at 6 am and stumble into the shower, the fog of my brain clearing- letting me visualize my to-do list that seems to multiply each time I cross a single item off as done. I’m not miserable, far from it- but remembering that I always have a choice, that has been a life saver as the days of September have been consumed by work and meetings and a constant struggle to catch up to other teachers and meet the unrealistically high expectations I’ve set for myself. Yes, I always have a choice. And no matter how many math pages I have to mark, no matter how many supplies I need to find for our science experiment, how late the staff meeting runs, how many parent calls at 8am, how many tattles I hear, how many early morning bus supervision shifts,- I will never find myself literally standing at the bottom of a ladder knee deep in shit.
And for that, I am thankful.
And I’m thankful that I went with the pocket less J.Lo jeans rather than the ones with the fringe.
Tell me, what was the worst job you ever had? And if it involves a bio hazard suit, we should meet for drinks and cheers our awesomeness.