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severalog

What is the worst job in life?

J. Harry Caufield

(Like the personal development class I took this past Spring, I am taking another course from which I will be mirroring writing assignments here. This course is about career options so the writing pieces will have a relevant focus. They will remain introspective.)

The worst job I can imagine is a dull one.

To be fair, when I talk about a dull job, I'm not talking excluding unpleasant jobs. It's possible that many of the jobs out there are painful, dangerous, morally questionable, or even just repulsive in a sensory way. We hear about Mike Rowe-caliber dirty jobs all the time. They run the gamut from cleaning out septic tanks to cleaning the decks of fishing boats to castrating sheep. These unquestionably difficult jobs frequently couple manual labor with personal danger. They're often smelly or require interacting with substances most reasonable people would choose to avoid.

That being said, I imagine that these kinds of jobs have been romanticized just as difficult jobs throughout history have been. Few people can genuinely say they would want to clean out septic tanks but it remains a genuinely unique occupation. Someone has to have the job - and they may not even enjoy it - but its offensive tendencies lend it notability. We could look at high-seas piracy the same way. For centuries, piracy has meant living in cramped, disease-ridden places along with murderous co-workers, all at risk of grievous personal harm. It's not an ideal job for most people but it's great for billion-dollar movie franchises.

I don't find dirty jobs attractive. Rather, I'm willing to believe that there are worse options, if only because there is clear evidence that they exist.

What's worse than cleaning sewage? Let's imagine a job with the following responsibilities: arrive at workplace, sit at desk, place headphones on ears, and listen to the sounds of human suffering for eight hours. The reason for the suffering and the reason for the listening are both unclear. Requests to management for context are met with friendly, illegible Post-it notes left by unseen managers. You may take a break (in fact, it's mandatory to do so every few hours) but it will hurt your chances of promotion. It's unclear how often promotions occur yet every employee at this company fights for them. The sounds coming over the headphones are muffled but seem to mix urgent requests for help with personal insults. The insults are surprisingly specific and include personal details you've never made public. The job is the same every day and never requires more or less effort than that required to stay awake.

I'm essentially describing a hellish variation on working in a call center, with a few admittedly hyperbolic additions. The last detail I've included is truly the most discouraging part of this fictional job. Having to repeat the same types of actions on a daily basis is bad enough, but doing so without any chance to improve a skill or address a challenge is essentially prison. An individual with this job may work for years and gain in nothing but age.

The remaining details in the job description have more to do with relationships. There are always relationships between individuals at any organization. It's a function of living in human society. Companies and organizations are founded by humans, staffed by humans, and managed by humans. Any effort which renders the experience dehumanizing is coercive and psychologically harmful. Having to perform unpleasant work (in this case, listening to suffering and insults) fits the bill and is dehumanizing because it's not clear why it's necessary or what it's all a part of. In this example, I've included instances where the company culture favors misinformation and confusion. I'd like to think that this type of culture, whether accidental or by design, may contribute the most to feelings of dehumanization. It's easy to feel less than human when you're not treated with respect and when you don't know how to earn respect.


I've never worked in a job as bad as the one I've described. I've come close and I know people who have come closer. Monotony and dehumanization will repel me from a job faster than any other offense but I've been very lucky to have avoided them when I can.