Better Than Nothing?

I keep some notes of ideas for potential blog posts and when I happened across the list today, this item stuck out at me – “T-shirt sweatshop interview”.  Oh yeah, I remember that event.  And maybe it stuck out to me a little harder today, since I am actively looking for a new job (shhh!).  But it also gave me some other thoughts about the current job market, and a bit about those that are unfortunate.

So here’s the story.  I had been fired from my first job after I sliced my finger open, because I didn’t follow safety protocols.  I went jobless for quite some time.  One of my friends gave me a lead for a T-shirt printing business that was looking for help.  In fact, he worked there, so I had an “in”.  So, one day, I made my way out to the company, which was located way off the beaten path, which is saying a lot when you’re already living in sticksville.  It was the kind of place where deaths go unreported.

And I showed up and said I wanted to apply for a job.  I filled out a paper application (how quaint) and then I was ready for my interview.  The “interview” was nothing involving talking or getting to know me or what my background was.  It involved taking me onto the floor, giving me about a minute of instruction of how to use a manual screen-printing machine, then seeing how productive I could be in 30 minutes.

Of course, I didn’t know any better at the time, but I’m sure no one would get away with this today, with liabilities and unpaid labor laws, and on and on.  But I was a teenager in a rural shop in the heat of summer with no AC, and I worked that machine for my 30 minutes.  At the end of my time, I was told I would hear from them soon.

Soon came and went, and I drove back out to find out what the holdup was.  The person at the office asked if I did my test.  I said I didn’t know there was a test.  So, she took me back onto the floor and showed me the screen printing machine.  Guess who got an extra 30 minutes of free labor?  Now, guess who didn’t get a job after all that?

Now, after that experience, I did eventually get a job in fast food and I went to school, and began my professional career based on some connections I had made along the way.  But, what might have happened if I did get that miserable job, sweating for hours at a job that would probably destroy my fingers from CTS?  I had a job.  Would it be good enough?  More importantly, would it keep me from being able to find something better?

To expand on that last point.  There are times I see panhandlers on the roadside, and on days when my cynicism is low, I would like to offer to take them to a restaurant for a dinner.  Most of the time, I would expect that they would just ask for money instead.  Being cynical, yeah, they just want alcohol.  But, not being cynical, what if the reason is that they can’t afford to leave for a meal because every minute they are not begging is a minute that they could miss a dollar.  Although the meal would be free for them, they could lose more in cash by taking the time to eat.

So, what if the time I was spending making a little bit of money was holding me back from being able to get a job that makes more money?  How many others are in that same trap right now?  You can’t get ahead because you’re just getting by.  That’s a reality that so many people don’t see.

I’m not exactly advocating quitting your job to focus on finding a better job, but… sometimes you have to make a drastic change to have a dramatic change happen for you.

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