The View from a Drawbridge

The random musings of a bridgetender with entirely too much time on her hands.

I was the morning of the third day of my dream job, and I was so excited. My life was changing for the better, It’s a rare gift when you can have a job that you love.

I fell in love with Dental Laboratory Technology as a student. I sold my house, left a 16 year relationship, and even commuted 3 ½ hours each way for a semester and a half until the house was sold and I could relocate, just so I could achieve the degree. I then moved down to a town where I knew no one to complete my studies, and I graduated with honors.

After three long years of study, applying for work at 198 other orthodontic labs, and having doors slammed in my face on a regular basis, I had finally got my big toe, at least, in the door of a lab. And I loved it. Every single second of it.

I’d been a nervous wreck at first because as I had explained to them, I hadn’t been in a lab in a year and a half, so I felt as wobbly as a newborn deer. But I showed them the work I’d done in school, So they knew what they were getting, but they also knew my potential.

My boyfriend, who has hired many an employee, gave me a pep talk before I started the job. He told me that I had the qualities that every employer wants but rarely sees. Enthusiasm. The desire to do well. The willingness to learn and work hard. He said you are lucky to find that in one out of every hundred employees, so I’d be an asset from the moment I walked in the door.

I had already learned so much in my first two days, and I was anxious to learn more. I’d spent long hours reviewing all my notes from school, at least getting back up to speed on my book knowledge, and as soon as I had decent tools to work with I planned to practice wire bending every waking moment, because I am enthralled by everything about orthodontic appliances. I love the variety. I love solving problems with the positions of teeth. I feel like a dental Sherlock Holmes.

I found myself humming as I got ready. I could see my future rolling out ahead of me, and it was so bright and shiny and full of happiness. I drove the 15 miles through rush hour, anticipating the day ahead, thinking of ways I could increase my productivity and efficiency and help them make money. It felt like being madly in love. I couldn’t wait to get there.

I walked in, smiled, said an enthusiastic good morning, and was about to jump into my newly established routine when I was greeted with, “Barb, we need to talk.” Suddenly I felt sick to my stomach. I stood there and let their words wash over me. “You’re just not good enough.” My ears started ringing.

No one expects the Spanish Inquisition. We are taught in America that if you work hard and apply yourself, your dreams will come true. But statistically speaking, sometimes the light at the end of the tunnel really is going to be an oncoming train. Statistics have no empathy or compassion. They just are. Lightning doesn’t care where it strikes. It just strikes. And here I was, apparently standing under a tall tree in an open field.

Could this really be happening? Was I being fired for the first time at age 48? Indeed I was. Tools. Must gather all my lab tools. There’s food in the fridge. Get that too. What are they saying? My ears are ringing. Humiliation. Must get out of here. Don’t say anything. There’s nothing to say. They’ve already made up their minds. Just leave. Leave with what little dignity you have left.

They’re handing me a check. Explaining it’s a dollar less per hour since they haven’t processed my paperwork and are paying me under the table. There’s something wrong with that. There’s something wrong with all of this. Just leave.

“Good luck,” they say.

Just not good enough. I wailed, I howled all the way home. My dream was dying right in front of me and there was nothing I could do to stop it. I don’t even remember the drive. I just remember my chest heaving and my boyfriend telling me over the phone to pull over and try to calm down, and me saying no, I want to go home. I just want to go home…

It brings back the horrible experience of driving 600 miles to Raleigh to interview for a job at another lab only to be told that he was afraid I’d just learn from him and leave and become his competition, and later discovering that that was the very thing he had done to his former employer 25 years previously. So, to get that job, I’d have had to appear incompetent and unambitious. If only I had been told in advance.

This, coupled with 198 other rejections…maybe I should get the message. This industry hates me.

An even crueler cut because I have made friends along the way who have successful labs and have shown me what my life could be, could have been, like. It’s like seeing a happy marriage but being deprived of one yourself. It’s painful.

I’m still in shock as I write this, but I’m no longer sad. I’m just monumentally pissed off. First of all, they told me that I was the only one who applied for the job with any experience at all. I cannot believe that my work sucked so badly that they’d prefer to hire someone who does not know what they’re doing. There’s more to this story. There has to be. Which means they lied. They lied, and I’ll never know the truth.

All I get is two days? Why? Why? Something about me slowing them down. I told them that I was rusty. Two days? That’s all I get? Two days? And half of those two days I spent making deliveries. I didn’t wreck their car. I didn’t set fire to the lab. I didn’t do anything other than try to cut my thumb off by accident. I bled for you people!

And then the pay thing. Not only is it illegal, but it sucks. They weren’t doing me any favors. They were saving themselves money. Profiting off my mortification. Much classier to say we promised you this amount per hour. We’re paying you under the table, but here’s the amount we promised. At least you’ll be getting a little more in exchange for the fact that we just shoved a wooden stake through your heart and made you question your abilities for the rest of your life.

And then today I woke up out of a sound sleep KNOWING what happened. I mentioned another job in town that I applied for. A lab that makes you do assembly line work, just one tiny task all day long, so you don’t get the experience to become competition, and on top of that they only pay 7 dollars per hour. I’m an idiot. I’m sure the next morning they waited in that lab’s parking lot, and hired someone for 9 dollars an hour, less than they were paying me, and with more lab experience. It’s the only thing that makes sense.

One mistake I make over and over again in life is assuming people will behave decently. I actually thought that once they hired me I’d be given a chance. So I’m not incompetent after all! I’m stupid! Yay me.

Quite the reflection on their integrity. They also showed an appalling lack of concern about Hepatitis B and Silicosis, two things that you have to watch out for in a lab, and two things they could easily prevent but choose not to. I’m probably better off.

Not only have they shown themselves to be unethical and short sighted, but they have taught me an excellent lesson on how I will not behave if I’m ever in the position to hire someone.

First of all, I’ll give someone more than 2 days to settle in, for the love of God. Second, before I even consider hiring someone, I’ll realize that their livelihood and their hopes and dreams and aspirations are riding upon the choices I make, so I’ll take it very seriously. And third, before firing someone I’ll make them aware of the red flags I’m seeing and give them the opportunity to rectify them. And finally, if I feel the need to fire someone, I won’t make them get up, drive all the way across town in rush hour traffic just so they can stand there and be mortified.

Another thing I’ve learned is that this is a cruel and unforgiving and impatient industry, and if by some miracle I manage to achieve my dream, I’m clearly not going to get help from anyone other than myself.

That spells a bleak future for an industry whose schools are disappearing right, left, and center and whose industry projections show 40 percent of their current people retiring in the next decade. If no one is given a chance for on-the-job training and if there are no people willing to hire out of the rapidly disappearing schools, then there will be a whole lot of teenagers out there with no retainers in the near future.

Would I recommend this field to anyone else? Good God, no. I’ve yet to see even an ounce of humanity in it. I just wish I had realized what a cruel mistress it was before I fell in love with it.

Wounded Heart w inscription

One of my fractals. Wounded Heart.

13 thoughts on “Having Your Heart Broken by a Career Choice

  1. Wait… you expect people to behave decently??? Well, that is your problem right there… but I am sorry…

    1. Yeah, that is my problem exactly. But thanks.

      1. Well it should, I suppose.

  2. Carole says:

    Is there no recourse? Can you not file a grievence with the State and mention the “under the table” comment? Or since you took the payment, are you liable? You should consider yourself lucky, treatment would only get worse. Still the sting will stick for a very long time. Although I only allow myself to self-pity for three days. This one may take longer. Cry it out!

    Love your Fractal.

    1. Well, the recourse, if there is any, wouldn’t get me what I want, which is a fair opportunity to work in this industry. And yeah, this will take longer than 3 days.

      Glad you like the fractal. I get a lot of sales of it around valentines day, ironically enough.

  3. Carole says:

    Well, the critics of FB can be brutal. And, the world of business and ethics has changed greatly in the last 44 years, and even in the last 10. There used to be a training period of 90 days. Or in speciality jobs, they would hire an apprentice and bring them to level of expertise where they could work independently but contribute to the company. There may be a few employers or companies like this still around but I doubt their employees would ever leave them providing an opening to fill. I can only say that I Know You to be dedicated, brillient, and talented in everything you undertake. You will succede. Without any doubt in my mind. But in the meantime, Gather all the wisdome thrown your way, digest and continue on.

    1. They have been brutal, but they are giving me some good ideas. I’m looking at things in this industry in a completely different way in the past few days. It’s a lot to digest, indeed.

      1. Carole says:

        I know there are many women in this industry, Why no comments from them? I don’t mind critics, but attacking someone only knowing surface facts, is unecessary. Now that they have you attention and focus, they will give you great information, and perhaps when something or moves, you may still realize that dream. It is like newspapers and television.. no one moves for the longest time, but when a position opens there is a tidel wave of movement. Rock the waves.

      2. Pretty much done with the concept of working for someone else. I’m going to have to go it alone.

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