The Value Of Shitty Work

by Chris Bodenner

A reader writes:

To the people who say that the unemployed should accept menial jobs, I would say... why should I? Speaking from personal experience, I put in 4 years getting an undergraduate degree and 2 years getting a professional certification so that I wouldn't have to work in a warehouse. From an economic standpoint, does it make sense to force talented workers into dead-end jobs just to survive? Or to give them a safety net, and let them find a job more suited to their skills?

I'm with this reader:

I worked a number of jobs in college to make ends meet. My parents were able (and gracious) to help me out my freshman year, but with two more siblings following me to college in short order, I knew I had to get off the parental dole after that. I was fortunate to have an academic scholarship to pay for tuition, so all I had to cover was room, board and incidentals (including books). I worked at McDonald's and as an overnight stocker in a grocery store in the summers, and during the school year in the cafeteria and at a tutoring center. These experiences have led to my "shitty job" theory: everyone should have to work a shitty job at least once in their lives. It does two important things for you:

1) It inspires you to achieve something greater. We called the full-time year-round workers at McDonald's "McLifers". It was a future I would have done anything to avoid - I viewed it as the prison sentence it sounds like- and I worked hard to make sure when I left I wouldn't have to come back.

2) It gives you some empathy for people who have to make a living at a shitty job. I still neaten up displays at the grocery store - I won't leave things in the wrong places and when I put some thing in my cart I move the one behind it to the front of the shelf. I remember people taking out their frustration on me - a woman screaming at me about the price of a kid's drink, as if I was the one responsible for setting the price, people throwing things at you ("I asked for BBQ sauce, not Sweet-n-Sour!!!") I have my bad days too, but having been on the receiving end, I try not to inflict them on innocent bystanders, and to remember it's not the end of the world if someone puts onions on my hamburger.

After four waiting jobs, I never tip below 20%.