The Worst Mistake I Ever Made on a Job

This story is one I spent a month writing and revising for a contest that I missed entering by a day. The theme of the contest was writing about the worst thing that ever happened to you on a job. While in 16 years I’d had many things go awry, because after all I’m only human, I decided to approach the contest from another angle. Read on.


The worst mistake I ever made in a job was taking the job. I should have waited for a better offer, one where I would do something different, reach for the stars, learn new skills. Other times, when I’d quit jobs out of boredom, I’d crossed an imaginary line, and find myself ensconced in new territory. In 42 years of working, I’ve traveled from a lowly clerical position in medical records to conferring with doctors over the care of a chronically ill patient. When I grew tired of hospital settings, I took a job as a proofreader in a law firm. I taught myself how to use a big ass floor computer – a monstrosity made by Exxon, using a floppy disk. From there, I was promoted to manager of the word processing department.  After five years of demanding and temperamental lawyers, I took 3 months off to have a baby, and then I literally walked over another imaginary line to seek a job as an editor in graphic art for a Fortune 400 company. What the heck was graphic art and who needed it? Everyone needed it, apparently, especially in events and fundraising. Each time I jumped to a new vocation, my resume grew longer and longer. I was sought, needed, wanted and knowledgeable in skills that some people attended college to learn, whereas I learned them on the job. Zoom ahead to the year 2010, when my employer let me go because I was making too much money. Even though I was only 58. I don’t think during the recession in 2010, any company was untouched by job layoffs. By then I was in education, an administrative assistant, where I’d been for 12.5 years. I was friends with 54 faculty, 250 students, working in collaboration with admissions, college counseling, and lower and middle schools. My job, though, was more than a 9 to 5 gig. It was my passion, 40-50 hours of every week nearly 365 days a year.
Losing a job is similar to losing a limb. Something you’ve relied on for years and years, and suddenly it’s gone. Think of a real important discussion you’re having and the meeting ends before you’ve had your say. That’s how I felt. I was an unfinished sentence, unfinished book, last piece of moldy bread in the bag.  I’d never had trouble finding a job, but suddenly I was a pariah in the job market. I scored 1-2 interviews each week, but never a job offer. I had bills to pay, my husband was laid off to, and a heavy load of panic weighed down my shoulders. Which is why, 8 months later, I took the first job offered. Back in an educational institution, the dead opposite place I should have gone.
While in the beginning of my working career, I’d jumped professions and landed on both feet, no problem. this time careers ceased to exist, and decent paying jobs were evasive. I had to find a job that paid more than unemployment, $700 a month, or a temporary one that would turn into a full time position. Contractual jobs paid well, but I risked losing not only UE, but also the contractual job after a year.
But I knew about schools, private ones to be exact, parents complaining endlessly, and students bullying each other. I knew about college through my college age son. I understood helicopter parents, though they were every administrator’s headache. I knew that the customer was always right. I worked in Blackbaud that produced data, report cards and attendance, and picked up StarRez in a week, producing more data, rooms that needed filling, students that came from abroad. In my new position, I had 12 bosses and was responsible for recruiting, hiring and training 35 work study students a semester,including summer. I’d walked into the SOS of Hell, and it was two long years before I clawed my way out by purposely getting fired. It was either that mode of separation, or, quite literally, suicide.
It’s been 2 years since I left that institution, two years of realizing that all my “mistakes” were works of revenge created to see me fail by the inner administration there. I believe they hired me simply because no one else would take the job and I was a willing experiment. They knew the stress would be too much for me to take, and dumped as much on me as they could. Afraid of being unemployed again, I tried to be everything and more that they’d hired. 12 bosses compared to 54 faculties would be easy, I thought. I was an emotional wreck on the first day, and worse on the last. Within the first month of my employ, the other secretary stopped working, leaving me to handle all incoming calls, and the entire office on both Mondays and Fridays, which she took off every week. I never had a job description, so I changed beds, recruited, trained and hired 35 work study students per semester, offered extended stay housing for students beyond vacation, organized a Christmas party for the entire department, set up interviews, was in charge of 3500 room keys and ordering new ones when they were lost, cleaned out closets, ran flatbeds filled with arts and crafts all over campus, greeted visitors and made them feel at home, answered a nonstop ringing phone, invoiced, and as if that weren’t enough, ran all over town selling ads for a key packet, cold calling all the way. Never in my life had I sold an ad. But the first year, I sold $15,000 worth! Charging students for damages to their rooms was a big moneymaker for the school. I helped set up hiring meetings, Skype calls, and collected money for fundraisers.
After 3 months on the job, I saw that Student Life was nothing but a revolving door. The secretary before me had been “urged to quit” upon being diagnosed with Cancer. The other secretary did only what was required of her, and when she threatened to quit, got promoted. People stayed in their jobs at the shortest, 6 months, and at the longest 3 years before leaving for other campuses in other cities. I’d no sooner strike up a working relationship with a boss, than he’d be gone and a new person was taking his place. I went through 4 new supervisors in 1 year. That’s 4 new styles of supervision, and micromanaging versus almost no managing.
Unsupervised, I made mistakes. Small ones at first, then ones which cost the department money. Whenever my students made an error, I took the blame. If they rekeyed twice, it was my fault. Supervisors were never available to answer questions. I had to wing most of the job. I wanted to leave, but I’d be denied unemployment benefits if I did. Bullying came from my last supervisor, a Latino who told me I was not to hire any more white people for work study students.  Was that a racial threat?  Yes, coming from this supervisor, everything became a threat.  I’d answer a phone call on the first ring, and she’d admonish me for not letting a student ge t it.  On the 4th unanswered ring, she’d admonish me for not pulling my weight by answering the phone. I was offered the school’s prestigious McGuire full tuition award for staff and faculty, which the director signed off on, allowing me to attend classes during the work day, and yet every time I had a class, my superviser would call a meeting.  In the end, the worst thing about being let go was the loss of income. The best thing about being let go, was, simply, being let go.

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