Addicted to bad jobs

We all have our unhealthy little addictions. I am here to say to you today, “My name is Amanda and I am addicted to Bad Jobs.” I remember the time I first heard the term ‘McJob’: I was in 8th grade and my teacher had one of her former students come to school to speak to us about how dropping out of the enriched classes in high school (the horror, the horror!) would doom us to a life of blue collar slavery. In spite of finishing high school with honors, this Alternative Learning Program elitist scholar decided to apply the deductive reasoning and pre-calculus skills she had learned in school to the art of hamburger making, and joined the ranks of the McArmy at 16. When you are 16 and have no job experience, there aren’t too many places that will hire you. Ronald McDonald, on the other hand, is all to happy to get his greasy fingers on you while you are still malleable. That crazy clown.

My summer job soon became an after school job, which quickly metamorphosed into a full-time job, then a full-time overnight job, and school eventually fell by the wayside. I will not deny the fact that for a good part of my time there, I actually loved my job. I have yet to experience anywhere else the level of camaraderie that I felt with my fellow crew members at McDonald’s. The truth is that hardship is a great catalyst to forming close friendships, and it often seems that the worse the job, the greater the sense of teamwork will be. We were all young and energetic, and at that point in time, $7/hr felt like a fortune. But my semester off school somehow turned into five years, and my earnestness was replaced with ambivalence and even occasional hatred for my employer.

Even today, my heart truly bleeds for the minimum wage workers in our country. Fast food employees do not make a living wage, and even while working 40 hours a week in cruel and often humiliating circumstances, ends simply do not meet. It is modern-day slavery: The North American equivalent of a sweatshop. Full-time fast food employees right here in our own country barely make $1000 per month, are not guaranteed full time hours, are threatened with the closure of their workplace if they attempt to form a union, and are often not afforded the basic dignity which one would grant a dog. Some men and women even support families on this paltry salary. A couple of months ago, I was speaking with a man who had been hired from Pakistan to become an Assistant McManager. To my shock and horror, I found out that he had been a doctor in his homeland, and since coming to Canada had been working over 60 hours per week for $20 000/yr.

But, I digress. After struggling with the decision for many months, I finally left McDonald’s. I felt a deep ambivalence about my decision, which quickly turned into frantic panic. I enlisted the help of a job placement agency, and soon found a job doing administrative work for an industrial company. When you are 21 and have been making minimum wage for your entire working life, being offered a position where you get to sit down and rake in $12/hr is huge. So what did I do? I turned it down for another position: I am ashamed to admit that I then became the employee of a different McDonald’s franchise, where I was forced to re-start my McCareer at the bottom of the McHierarchy. This meant that I was taking orders from power-crazed 15-year-olds who had been working for McDonald’s for a fraction of the time I had been there, and through some sick twist of fate wound up becoming my bosses like a horrifying realization of Lord of the Flies (or Lord of the Fries, if you will).

No matter how uncomfortable this situation made me, my fear won out and I stayed at McDonald’s. I was terrified of change, and nothing made me as anxious as the prospect of trying out a new job. I had come to look at McDonald’s as a career path, and had gotten to the point where I couldn’t imagine myself doing anything else for the rest of my life. I had settled into a rut of apathetic and anxious complacency, and dreaming had become a thing of the past. Comfort and familiarity had won out over hope. The thought of not working at McDonald’s had terrified me, and I had gotten to the point where I wasn’t even sure I would be myself anymore if I got a new job. My entire social life, my time and energy, and of course my working hours, were centered around McLife: It had surpassed being a source of income and had become a lifestyle. And I think this is where a lot of people become trapped: This misguided sense of security and comfort that comes with the familiar. And, I will not lie, a lot of people love the power too. After all, is it not sometimes better to be the big fish in a small pond than the small fish in a big pond? Where else is someone with a high school education going to have the opportunity to control and assert her power over hundreds of employees, many of whom are much smarter and better educated than herself?

And, I suppose that was part of the hold McDonald’s held on me: I knew that I was good at my job, and deep inside myself, I had doubts that I could be competent at another job. In a way, it was better to aim low than to reach for the stars and fall. I also loved the social aspect of my life at McDonald’s: There was always someone to talk with, a new employee to train, something to bitch about!

Unfortunately, over the next couple of years I was to quit and return to McDonald’s two more times. It was a sad example of falling off the wagon too many times (or maybe just a bad case of Mad Cow disease from eating too many burgers?). Finally, I decided to return to school with the goal of being accepted into the McGill Social Work program. This spring I was accepted into the B.S.W. and I am finally on my way to achieving my dream. Which goes to show that dreams do come true.

Last summer, I returned to McDonald’s for the last time, as an assistant manager. I did not last long. Within an hour of my first shift, the owner had already rudely insulted me to my face. It did not take long for me to decide that I did not need that kind of treatment and I simply could not allow myself to put up with that poison at this point in my life. Not this girl, not any more!

There is still part of me that gets tempted every time I read a job advertisement for McDonald’s. I miss the good times, I miss being young, I miss the friendships and the thrill of a first job. But I can’t go back. Scouring the job ads today, I saw an advertisement for an overnight manager at a McDonald’s not too far from here. I felt that familiar tug somewhere deep inside. I even seriously considered applying for a brief moment. I still have nightmares that I am working at McDonald’s, and I wake up in a panic. Every time I go by the place I used to work, I still feel a deeply rooted pang of betrayal. It is so strange, because it seems as though I have an addiction to being treated like shit at work.

Amanda, you cannot change the past.

I am thankful I have learned once again to reach for the stars.

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2 Responses so far »

  1. 1

    antiSWer said,

    Thanks for commenting on my blog. I always like to hear new voices in the SW blogging realm.

    Anyways, interesting post. If you’re addicted to being mistreated in your work, you certainly fit in as a social worker! 😉

    As for the commentary on minimum wage work, I recommend the book Nickel and Dimed by Barbara Ehrenreich. It’s a fun read and provides great commentary on what it’s like to work for minimum wage.

  2. 2

    kiwiofknowledge said,

    Haha, I guess I have a whole career of being mistreated to look forward to 😉 I’ll check out the book, seems like a good read. Thanks for stopping by!


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