Opinion | Odd jobs are the best jobs

By Maggie Durwald, Assistant Opinions Editor

My approach to employment since I was 12 years old has involved my acting more like an experience junky than a smart resumé builder. I’ve had an odd assortment of jobs to say the least, all of which combine to form a bizarre, incoherent portfolio containing many skills that certainly won’t be of any use when I inevitably have to find a “real job.”

I’ve never had an internship or a job one might consider a stepping stone to a “real job,” but I feel that the menial, oftentimes horrible jobs I’ve worked have better prepared me to face life than anything else could. Below is a list of the jobs I’ve held and the invaluable life lessons they’ve taught me.

  • Soccer referee

I sought out my first job when I was 12, driven by an intense need for financial independence and responsibility that was completely unnecessary for someone my age. I played soccer, I liked to watch it and the house league I played in was looking for refs, so I signed up to take the required classes and the exam to earn my whistle. I spent a lot of time poring over the official FIFA rule book, learning every tiny rule, regulation and exception there was to know about the game.

What they don’t tell you in the training course, however, is that the hardest part isn’t knowing all the rules — it’s standing up to the grown-ass men who yell mean things at you for every call you make. I learned to grow a thick skin at this job and to stand my ground when I know I’m right, even while being heckled by adults because their children lost a lousy house league soccer game.

  • Tutor

I had various stints as a tutor throughout high school, helping students with geometry and French. It’s hard sometimes to explain concepts and ideas that you know intrinsically, but there was definitely some value in learning to approach those well-worn topics in new ways. This job tested my patience in ways it hasn’t been tested since, but it was eye-opening to work with students who thought they were dumb but were actually brilliant in so many ways.

  • Poisonous weed puller

I live across the street from a chicken farm that produces eggs. My close friend’s dad is in charge of the farm, and my friend roped me into working in the fields for a summer in high school. This job exclusively involved walking down rows and rows of soybean plants while scanning the leaves for sharp-looking jimsonweed, a member of the nightshade family that can be very toxic.

You learn a lot from walking the fields in the blazing heat of summer in Buffalo, New York. I learned the value of a good pair of sneakers and how to hydrate. I learned how to wrestle with enormous weeds and come out of it mostly intact — though I still have several scars from several particularly aggressive poisonous weeds. But most importantly, I learned to appreciate the fact that I don’t have to do the absolutely terrible and equally necessary work that goes into feeding the world. 

  • Chicken vaccinator

On sunny days, I pulled weeds. On rainy days, I vaccinated chickens. The actual egg producers on the farm lived in cages in dimly lit buildings. The buildings were so long that it was difficult sometimes to see the end of the row you were standing in through the dark and the haze of the chicken feathers that floated up with every slight change in the air. We worked in pairs, with one person pulling the chickens out of the cages, chasing them around to get a firm grip on their legs. The other person took the chicken and shot it with a vaccine gun, usually staining their gloves, skin and clothes with blue liquid. It was disconcerting to watch the blue blossoming just underneath the skin of the injection site.

I have scars from all the chickens that scratched me, too. Ditto to the lessons I mentioned above from pulling weeds, especially humility and gratitude for the fact that I don’t need to work with chickens for a living. They are demonic creatures.

  • Spanish interpreter for migrant workers

This is the third job I had on the farm the summer after I pulled weeds and wrangled chickens. None of the high schoolers who had done those jobs the year before wanted to return the next year, so the farm hired migrant workers from Mexico. I was asked to be the interpreter for these workers as they did the required paperwork and got settled into their new work and living situations.

I got to talk to and get to know the kind of people I didn’t have to be — people who did grueling work far from home in order to feed their families. This was another humbling job.

  • Hostess/waitress

Everyone should have to work in the food industry at least once in their life, in my humble opinion. There is no better place to experience the worst parts of humanity than in a restaurant. I worked for years as a hostess and then as a waitress at a Mexican restaurant by my house, where most of the employees weren’t native English speakers. Therefore, in addition to the absolutely terrible customers, I got to navigate different cultural and linguistic waters to varying degrees of success.

I feel that this job tested my very humanity, as well as my ability to juggle four glasses of water in one hand. I also have a scar from this job from the time I smashed a margarita glass against my wrist.

  • Proofreader/typist for a funeral director

My grandpa’s very good friend worked for a while as a funeral director and then in various jobs having to do with the funeral industry. He doesn’t know how to type very well, though, which is why he’s hired me over the past year to type up PowerPoints and articles that he uses to teach about death and dying. I also recently finished proofreading a textbook he wrote about funeral directing.

Not to be dramatic, but this job has forced me to contend with my own mortality and has opened up a world of options to me regarding funeral arrangements. I don’t know how this newfound knowledge of death and funerals will help me in any other job I get in the future, but I’m willing to wait it out.

  • Columnist/opinions editor at The Pitt News

I’ve worked at The Pitt News since the beginning of my first year. I was a columnist then, and for the past almost two years I’ve been an opinions editor. I don’t want to go into journalism, but I’ve enjoyed the wide variety of opinions I’ve been exposed to by the columnists who work for this desk.

I might’ve spent all these years trying to get internships that have to do with what I want to do in the future. But I truly believe that there’s a lot to be said for taking crappy jobs for the sake of doing crappy jobs. You never know who you’ll meet, what lessons you’ll learn or the physical trauma they’ll inflict on you.