THE NIGHTMARE JOBS OF YOUTH – Marilyn Armstrong

I complain about getting old, but occasionally, I remember being young wasn’t exactly perfect, either. Mostly, it was work. Men were one problem (especially the men AT work), but work itself and some of the monsters who ran the companies for which I worked … well … they were a special breed. I hear it’s worse now. 

I find that hard to believe. How much worse can it be? Between the sleazy offers of sex behind the office door and the micromanagement, not to mention the realization that the harder you worked, the more work you’d be given to do — and realizing that as a woman, you’d probably never get a raise or even a high five — how bad can it get?


As a retiree, I had more than 40 years of work full-time work. Of the 40 years of work, 30 of them involved working for bad-tempered, sleazy, mean-spirited bosses.

Were they born that way or did they grow into their positions?

There was the job for which I was paid exceptionally well. I was being paid to do absolutely nothing. I was assigned to sit all day in front of a computer and look busy. I was not allowed to fall asleep or read a book. I could not play a game or write a personal letter.

I had to sit there and stare at the screen. Worse, I had to “work” overtime. A standard 8-hour day was not enough. I had to continue the farce for 9 or 10 hours. Because the contract agency that put me in the job had to prove we were “necessary” by forcing us to do overtime … or an extra hour or two of doing nothing.

I am told there are people who crave such jobs. For me, it was torture. I couldn’t wait to move on.

There was the job where I was paid top dollar, had a gorgeous office. And nobody cared what I did. They only hired me because one big contract needed a manual. My job was to write it.

No one read it. Not only didn’t they read it, they also didn’t edit it or check to make sure it was accurate. I could have filled it with nursery rhymes or doodles. All they wanted to know was “Is it big and heavy?” and “Does it look impressive?” People wonder why manuals aren’t as good as they should be!

Working under a micro-manager is a special experience, especially for a writer. I had a few of them.

These are the bosses who stand behind you. You can hear them breathe, feel their hot air breath on your neck. Yuk. They watch with eagle-eyes to make sure you are doing Your Job and Nothing But Your Job. For me, that means I can’t do my job.

I’m a writer. I can’t write with someone watching over my shoulder. The micro-managers also stands by the door in the morning hoping to bag any worker who has the temerity to show up a millisecond late. I was once called on the carpet — really tore me a new one — for being three minutes late.

The good part? When I made a serious mistake and forgot to insert a full-page color advertisement in the middle of the magazine — just omitted it entirely which no doubt cost the company serious money — it wasn’t any worse than the dressing down than I’d gotten for being three minutes late. It’s like when you yell at your kids or dogs all the time and you realize, they aren’t listening.

If you yell at your employees for everything, after a while, they become numb and nothing you do or say has any effect. To quote Teddy Roosevelt, “Speak softly and carry a big stick.” That works better, though it didn’t get him re-elected.

I had a truly stupid job at college. Briefly. The work was easy. I was the receptionist. Some annoying women came in and asked me my name. I told her. She said, “I don’t like that name. Do you mind if I call you Jane?”

I looked at her, “Yes, I mind. My name is Marilyn. Mrs. Armstrong to you.” I got fired. I didn’t mind. It was a horrible job anyhow.

This is not the time or place to discuss the wonderful jobs, the terrific bosses, or the great work I’ve had the honor to do. The awful jobs — mostly — didn’t last long. The good ones (mostly) made up for the bad ones.

Retirement is the payback for professional suffering. I love retirement. It’s the bestest job of all.

18 thoughts on “THE NIGHTMARE JOBS OF YOUTH – Marilyn Armstrong

  1. The horror stories of past jobs and encounters and nasty bosses is endless and truly sad. I agree with Marilyn, how can it get worse? Yet it seems on man levels it has. I feel we’ve ended up going backwards in time on every front whether it be the treatment of women, children, or umpteen other levels equally abhorrent such as well, you already know, no point in ranting.

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  2. I had plenty of great jobs…. AND some exceptionally well paid ones too. So, either I was very lucky or looked for exactly the right ones. ONE job I had to let go after one year because the boss was horrible. Not even with me but a co-worker with less skills and a dreamy attitude. She also was paid WAY less than the other two employees. And we got controlled beyond belief. He called from NYC in his middle of the night to control whether we were back at work after our pause ….. Then, when we were connected, he said: Now, that I have you on the line, can you pls hold on, I have to brush my teeth first, I can’t talk to you like that….. Seriously! And we heard the money ticking away on the long distance line…. click click click for every second he brushed his teeth. He also sent said employee to his home with ridiculous tasks. I spoke to him and he was not happy that I dared. He then gave our very diligent friend the ‘fired letter’.
    I went in a day later with my resignation letter in my hand and dumped it on his desk, after we had another heated discussion over ‘his behaviour’. He said: I’m not gonna accept this resignation, or I’m going to fire all three of you. All three of us left…. After 12 months I was again in his area and rang the bell to get into the heavily protected offices. He had SIX Asian women working for him. I had, of course, no date with him and was heavily advised to come back after having made a rendez-vous another time. I said: No, you’ll see, it’s OK, knocked on his door and went into his office….. He was all sweetness and smiles but couldn’t get over the fact that I was there at all, with all his gatekeepers. I hastened to add that they were absolutely not guilty of not obeying him, that it was just me who really wanted to see him that very moment etc. and he said: You see, Mrs …, NOW I have employees who do exactly what I tell them to do and they never disagree with anything.
    Poor man! Still makes me laugh to see his face of irritation, false friendliness and foul words. It was also my probably best paid, if short lived, job.

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  3. I would have made a joke at that woman’s request to call me by another name, because she clearly was a joke herself! But tell me, fellow writer, do you believe that adverbs weaken writing? I’ve heard this advice before and just read it again in Stephen King’s new book, “Stephen King on Writing.”

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    • No. I think overuse of adverbs AND adjectives are bad for writing. Lean and mean. Everyone gets too involved in endless descriptions and after a while, we all forget what is supposed to be going on!

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