A Series of Young Women’s Cringey Work Stories
When I was getting ready to start my first job as a gymnastics coach, I confided in my mom. I told her I was worried that I wouldn’t be good enough with the kids or knowledgeable enough about coaching techniques. She said that every first job has its challenges and lessons to be learned. Her first job was in high school, too, at a stationary company. The only thing she had to do was put a lining in an envelope, over and over and over for 8 hours. When she got home after her first day, she burst out in tears over the sheer boredom.
Watching me cringe as she told the story, she remembered to include that this horrible experience motivated her just as much as it caused her pain. She said she knew then that she would go to college and pursue a career that inspired her, and honestly, that’s kind of the point of stories like hers: cringe, laugh, get motivated.
First jobs are a right of passage, but the icky moments that sometimes come with working in entry level positions can range from stressful to scarring. These stories come from me, close friends, and Make Muse team members, so I hope they inspire you to get active (in the #MeToo movement or in progressing your own career) or simply remind you of one of your own experiences.
The Closing Shift
Sienna says that working retail makes for some late nights. Though the store closes at 10 PM, she says that the shift wouldn’t be over until 3 or 4 in the morning. Not only was she a zombie by the time she was done working but walking out into the dark, empty parking lot was super scary!
There’s no way an efficiently run store could have 5-6 hours worth of work to do nightly that would justify keeping teenagers hostage into the wee hours. If that was me, I think it would take more than a discount and a people-watching opportunity to keep me at that job.
The Student Teacher is NOT a Student
Studying to become a teacher requires hands-on preparation, and when you’re still a student, gaining respect from kids can prove a challenge. Lizzie learned that being 5 feet tall does not help with that challenge when working with middle schoolers.
Though she was excited for her first chance to be working in the classroom, a dream she had been working towards since childhood, Lizzie was soon rummaging through her mother’s closet in search of clothes that would age her as much as possible.
On the first day, a friendly young boy came up to introduce himself, excitedly asking her name. When Lizzie responded by saying she was Ms. B, he was taken aback and admitted to thinking she was a student!
At the start of her second day, one of the girls in her class came up to Lizzie to let her know that a couple of the boys thought she was cute. Needless to say, Lizzie was mortified and spent the rest of her time working at the school worrying about accidentally leading on middle schoolers.
The Clumsy Barista
Heidi worked at a cafe where she was kept busy. One shift was particularly busy, and she also happened to be extremely tired that morning. Bustling around behind the counter, she rushed to assemble four lattes for a woman who was on her way to work.
In a moment of anti-glory, she dropped all four in the hand-off to the customer. Her heart immediately sunk, and the look in the customer’s disappointed eyes didn’t help her spirits.
There’s nothing worse than making a clumsy mistake at work, when all you’re trying to do well is your job. It’s okay Heidi, we’ve all been there.
The Unwanted Lingerie Clientele
Grace says that working at Victoria’s Secret taught her that she never wants to work in retail again. In addition to the early mornings, she particularly hated that the store attracted men who would inappropriately pursue the staff.
She says that there was one particularly persistent and aggressive man who asked her repeatedly when she got off work until her manager eventually stepped in. Thankfully, her coworkers were nice enough to walk her to her car afterward to make sure she got home safely.
Personally, between the discomfort of lingerie shopping in the presence of male security guards and catching men watching the runway show on screen, I feel like a trip to VS is more likely to make me cringe than it should.
The Uncomfortable Gymnastics Coach
Elizabeth was a dedicated gymnast, and when her coaches offered her a position as a coach-in-training, she couldn’t have been more excited. She was a natural, and even at 13 she commanded authority when helping with classes and was a real help to the full staff members.
Unfortunately, not all of the staff members were able to keep recreational gymnastics classes PG. One instructor had set up his class so that each student could choose which size mat they preferred for a certain activity. When one little girl asked for the smaller mat, the instructor looked over at Elizabeth with a weird smirk and said, “Wow, girls almost always want the bigger one.”
At 14, Elizabeth was old enough to know that comment was not okay, but too young to know what to do about it. Shifting around uncomfortably, the instructor got annoyed and told her not to make the situation seem “inappropriate.” Yeah, her bad for sure.
The Unexpected Bathroom Duty (pun intended)
Anna was working as a waitress at a local restaurant. She says the drama that went on between the staff was unprecedented, and the customers only added to the excitement with their ridiculous demands.
Her cringiest story, however, was not the hostesses who got fired for hooking up at work, nor was it the customers who tried to leave without paying that she had to run after.
Essentially, she witnessed a customer sprint to the bathroom, make audible noises and smellable smells from the stall for 20 minutes, before leaving. This was a tough situation to ignore, especially in the food service business, but what was worse was the lingering stench that hung around for almost a week. Part of Anna’s shift became detective work to figure out what part of the bathroom was causing the problem. She took out the trash, cleaned the toilets, and eventually, she replaced the sanitary boxes in each stall. She was the unlucky one to find the dirty underwear of the customer from the previous week!
The Powerless Camp Counselor
Kids can sometimes be bratty little punks, as I learned when working as a camp counselor. The camp I was working at was unfortunately poorly run, but extremely expensive. This meant that many of the campers were simultaneously spoiled and neglected by their parents, which made for a pretty bratty combo.
They were usually manageable once the punishment-reward balance was effectively implemented between snacks and timeouts. This one boy, however, was the ringleader of all the trouble makers.
The counselors were organizing a game that required two teams, and the kids had split themselves up, but they were unevenly split. I asked the boy to switch teams, but he refused to. I asked him again before threatening a timeout, which he also refused. When I tried to guide him towards the other side, he shoved me and ran back to his chosen team.
I gave up and cried in the staff room over my powerlessness.
The Objectified Hostess
After my freshman year of college, I got a job hostessing at a local restaurant. I had always been distrustful of people who have overly good people skills, though I didn’t have a concrete reason for this until that summer.
One of my managers was extremely accommodating with customers. He joked around with the staff, but kept up a standard of professionalism at the office. Everything on the surface looked good, but I got creepy vibes.
He would tell the hostesses that they would make tips if they flirted with the regulars, especially the older guys, adding that “You’ve got the looks to make some money.” He would say it with a smile and return quickly to something professional, leaving no room for objection.
My aunt had helped me land the job, and one day, this manager reminded me of how highly my aunt spoke of me. He enthusiastically let me know that before I started working, my Aunt had mentioned how in shape I was and that she was right about me having such a “tight body.”
I reported him for this, but was uncomfortable every time we worked the same shift.
Some of these stories are entertaining, while others are demonstrative of serious societal issues that impact young girls in their lives and careers from a young age. It can be addicting to hear about other people’s cringiest stories, but it’s important to take away that misogyny has no place in a young woman’s place of work, and that we all deserve better than to be disrespected or objectified.
Even with the funnier stories, those experiences are the ones that shape young women and give them a better sense of what they want to do in their careers long term. The first few jobs we have are bound to have an impact, and while we hope it’s all positive, at the least, it’s always a learning experience.