‘Now I’m retired I can look back on the lousy jobs I’ve had with glee’

Oct 09, 2021
Mary remembers one of the worst jobs she ever had was as a sewist in a factory. Source: Getty Images

Now that I’m happily retired, I can look back at some of my lousy jobs with glee. I wasn’t very good at most of them, probably because I had ADD (attention deficit disorder) and I didn’t know it. I was also dismal at following directions, which made it difficult for me to fit into corporate life.

Yet it’s fun to look back at my formative years and realise that despite all of my work fiascoes, I managed to retire well, and now I have the freedom to write about this time in my life. Here’s one crummy job that is still fresh in my mind.

The Leather Factory: Santa Barbara, California, circa 1975

Working in a factory is something everyone should do. Along with cleaning houses, it’s probably one of the best ways to build your character, since there are few jobs more demeaning than this. Any career beyond factory work is usually a step up, unless it’s collecting garbage, a vocation that eluded me.

After graduating from UCSB (University of California, Santa Barbara), my roommate got me a job working in a leather factory. She was already working there and since I was unemployed, she thought this would be a great opportunity for me.

This place manufactured very stylish wallets, purses and belts. But let’s face it: it was still a factory. It didn’t matter what they made. The grind was the same — rows and rows of people humming along doing repetitive work for hours on end. I thought because the factory was in Santa Barbara, California, we would get to go surfing during our lunch break, but this was not the case.

I didn’t have a car at the time, so I had to ride my bike to work for the evening shift. Cycling for 5 miles (8 kilometres) in the dark is dangerous enough, but imagine 30 angry sewing machines staring at you as you came sweating through the door. I’m sure they wanted revenge upon me for the endless stitching they endured from unhappy workers all day long. I was their scapegoat the moment I entered the room.

I’d never worked in a factory before, so this was new to me. It was my first regular job after graduating with a degree in psychology. I expected a whirlwind of intellectual stimulation, where I could finally utilise my scholastic training.

On my second hour of failing to master the industrial sewing machine, I though I would I try flexing my counselling skills on full-time workers who were making purses on the piece-rate system. For some reason they didn’t want to stop sewing to tell me their troubles. Maybe I had a poor sewing-side manner?

Truthfully, I wasn’t very good at factory work, except for making the rejects. Every day I would try and stitch the wallets, purses and straps, but most of these items needed to be repaired the following day.

For some reason, my pile of rejects never got smaller. At first there were eight wallets that needed to be redone. Then there were 15. Soon the batch was so tall, I couldn’t see any of the workers behind them. A wall of wallets was closing in on me. What’s a gal to do?

To cope with this, I would chew seven pieces of Bazooka bubble gum at a time. I hoped this would help me concentrate, but blowing bubbles only hindered my vision further. Once, a big bubble popped just as I was making the turn on a very expensive purse. The gum exploded all over my face and I couldn’t see anything. The purse soon had a row of zigzags resembling a bad surgeon’s job, and had to be redone the next day.

I realised I wasn’t very good at sewing, so I asked to go into management, thinking my counselling skills would be better served trying to motivate the workers. I couldn’t understand why they didn’t promote me. Instead, they suggested that I look for another career opportunity.

Thankfully, they gave me the 32 wallets I had already botched and ushered me to the exit door. I tried to pawn them off on my family for Christmas, but nobody likes wallets with holes.

I laugh at this experience now, but at the time, I was devastated, wondering what type of work I could actually do. I eventually found my way into the advertising business where my creativity was appreciated. Thankfully, no sewing was involved.

Life has a funny way of working out.


Do you remember the worst job you ever had? Tell us about it.

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