Am I a bad person because of my job?
February 24, 2018 8:23 PM   Subscribe

On Monday I will be starting a new job at a septic company, cleaning and servicing outhouses at construction sites, events, etc.

The job pays well (at least compared to most other jobs I’ve had since I finished college) and the company offers full benefits after three months.

But does this job make me a bad person? Ever since I was hired I have had thoughts like, “Wow, I will be cleaning crap, is this all I am good for in this world? What will other people think of me?”

I went to college and studied software development, but despite doing EVERYTHING that I feel I can do — network, attend job fairs, countless resume and cover letter changes, volunteering, internship, etc. — I haven’t been able to find a job as a programmer for more than two years.

If cleaning outhouses is the best that I can do, what does that say about me?
posted by 8LeggedFriend to Work & Money (58 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
 
That you're willing to do a hard job that many others wont. This speaks well of you, and is not a negative. Society may look down on it, but by god, if it wasn't done... society collapses.
posted by Jacen at 8:28 PM on February 24, 2018 [130 favorites]


How does this job make you a "bad" person? I actually have a lot of respect for you, because a lot of people with a college degree would (wrongly) think of working for anything outside outside of an office as "below" them, and thus make getting work experience even harder for themselves!
posted by Seeking Direction at 8:29 PM on February 24, 2018 [38 favorites]


When I read the title, I thought maybe you were working at a hedge fund or a predatory attorney's office. Or maybe something like a spam bot farmer or NRA lobbyist? Anyway, those are the sort who should struggle with their jobs making them bad people, IMO.

You're doing honest work and serving a real need. You're fine.
posted by SaltySalticid at 8:35 PM on February 24, 2018 [179 favorites]


When I read your title, I thought your job required you to do something dishonest. That would be bad. This says you’re willing to do what you need to so that you can support yourself. This says that you rise to the occasion under tough circumstances. I respect that.
posted by FencingGal at 8:36 PM on February 24, 2018 [33 favorites]


Is that what you think of other people who clean crap? I bet it's not. Or at least, I bet it's not what you want to think; you know better than to assume that.

It sounds like this is really about status. This job doesn't have the same social status as a programming job, even one that's lower-paying, and so now you're worried that your own social status will take a hit.

But that's all ... forgive me ... crap.

People aren't defined by their jobs and social attitudes toward certain kinds of work can be really stupid. You can be an interesting, intelligent person regardless of what your job is.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 8:41 PM on February 24, 2018 [16 favorites]


A "bad" person is one who does wrong, immoral things. You are providing a much needed service - imagine what would happen if no one would ever agree to do this? You are also earning a fair wage for doing difficult and unpleasant work. So, absolutely not a bad person.

Now, there are some people who would say that this job is beneath you - that someone with your education is supposed to have certain kind of job and that you failure to get that certain kind of job means you are lazy or inadequate. If this is what you are thinking, you will want to stop and question that carefully. Here are some other ways to think about it
- I want a job to earn money - I work to live not live to work. This job meets my needs better than any other job that I can find right now. I would be foolish to refuse a job that meets my needs just because I think someone else might me because it involves cleaning crap instead of typing on a keyboard
- Maybe neither this job nor the software job are your real passion but taking a decent job allows you to spend your free time doing the things you love
- Maybe you really do want the software job. Congratulations on being realist - taking a job instead of being poor and unemployed while you figure out what you need to do to get your dream job in the long run.
posted by metahawk at 8:41 PM on February 24, 2018 [8 favorites]


Quite the opposite. Without people doing the hard graft, like yourself, we wouldn’t have a society. The foundations of modern living arent built on the shoulders of doctors or programmers, it’s garbage collectors and street sweepers, farmers and manual labor that everything else hinges on. Without your job, people going to concerts, or building a structure would return home with cholera.

Do what you need to do with pride— it doesn’t make you less worthy, and doesn’t stop you from programming on the side, for fun hopefully, until an opportunity does open up.
posted by Static Vagabond at 8:42 PM on February 24, 2018 [7 favorites]


hey Make your way in life any way you need!!!
It’s an ethical job, a good job, and one that makes you money!
Celebrate it!
( ok I am drinking a little bit this evening but still...)
posted by calgirl at 8:42 PM on February 24, 2018 [3 favorites]


Count me in with the people who read the headline and thought that your job was going to involve something unethical.

You've got a job that pays well and offers benefits. It's fulfilling a genuine need. You're never going to come home at the end of the day and wonder if the world would be better off if you hadn't done your job, which is not something that everyone can say. You're fine. You have nothing to feel bad about.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 8:44 PM on February 24, 2018 [12 favorites]


There are two jobs at the very basis of every society: feeding people, and cleaning up behind them. If you wouldn’t be ashamed to put food on the table - as a farmer, chef, grocer - , you shouldn’t be ashamed to clean toilets. Two sides of the same coin.
posted by The Toad at 8:54 PM on February 24, 2018 [24 favorites]


You're meeting your responsibilities in an honest way. What is bad about that?
posted by praemunire at 8:55 PM on February 24, 2018 [3 favorites]


It's a fine job, serving a real need. If everybody who does this suddenly stopped, it'd be chaos! Construction workers would have no place to poop! How could they get any construction done under conditions like those? Outdoor events would have to shut down. No more concerts, sporting events, protests, etc.

If you don't like doing this, you don't have to do it forever. Think of it as a stepping stone. But don't convince yourself it's worthless. It may not be glamorous, but it's a job that helps keep society functioning.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 9:06 PM on February 24, 2018 [5 favorites]


No, this job does not make you a bad person! Not in any way. You will be doing honest work providing a service that supports one of humankind's most basic health and safety needs. This job has real value and is nothing to be ashamed of. As a software engineer myself I respect you for being resourceful and responsible in supporting yourself.
posted by 4rtemis at 9:14 PM on February 24, 2018 [3 favorites]


Who knows, you may end up learning some really useful things that will serve you later in your career. And even if the job turns out to be horrible, it will make an AMAZING anecdote later in life. Imagine if you end up doing something that really fulfills you in the future, and you get to tell your grandchildren all the strange steps it took you to get there!
posted by oxisos at 9:15 PM on February 24, 2018 [5 favorites]


It's kind of like being a pathologist--they cut up dead people to see what got them. You should be proud of making an honest living--I respect you for stepping up.
posted by 8603 at 9:18 PM on February 24, 2018 [6 favorites]


What does it say about you, you ask? That you’re willing to do a hard day’s work. That you’d rather work than wait around for the elusive dream job. That you’re not afraid to get your hands dirty.
Your question reminds me of an episode of This American Life about the extremely coveted sanitation jobs in NYC.
posted by Knowyournuts at 9:28 PM on February 24, 2018 [7 favorites]


My reaction last week when I saw that an old high school acquaintance on Facebook works for our hometown sanitation department and cleans septic tanks: wow, that’s awesome, that job has good benefits.

You’re doing great. I know a few people who work in sanitation, and I have a plumber that specializes in septic systems on speed dial - I think the general reaction is going to be gratitude for what you do, anyone who has needed that service understands its importance fully.
posted by annathea at 9:30 PM on February 24, 2018 [3 favorites]


I read Robin Nagle's book (she's in Knowyournuts's link) and I think about it a lot. I came away with so much respect for sanitation workers. I hope you take the responses in this thread to heart and don't feel like a bad person.
posted by ferret branca at 9:34 PM on February 24, 2018


You must be joking, you're doing something that is desperately needed by everyone. If you want, you can think of it as cleaning crap. Or, you can think of it as allowing cities and towns and neighborhoods to survive. Allowing events to proceed. We as a species and a civilization cannot continue without sanitation workers. You're doing some of the most important work out there, right up there with nurses and teachers, etc.
posted by gloriouslyincandescent at 9:47 PM on February 24, 2018 [15 favorites]


Just tell them urine the sanitation business.

Seriously, not only is your job important, but, believe it or not, it's incredibly interesting. You will be a hit at parties (just make sure to hold off on conversing about your work until dinner is over). If you're feeling defensive and insecure about what you do (and you really shouldn't be), try a little self-deprecating humor--everyone (secretly) loves a bathroom joke.
posted by filthy_prescriptivist at 10:08 PM on February 24, 2018 [7 favorites]


+1 to you’re not a bad person. And I thank you for doing this work. I have so much respect for you, and people who do the jobs that need doing, even though they’re not glamorous.
posted by greermahoney at 10:22 PM on February 24, 2018 [3 favorites]


What will other people think of me?”

the same thing you've thought about other people who do this work, all your life. Presumably these were respectful thoughts.

there is nothing to fear except the basic unpleasantness and difficulty of the job, which you don't have to do forever. Just because you have never tested yourself in this way before does not mean you are inadequate to the challenge or in any way weaker than the men and women who have cleaned for a living before you. do not let your programming background lower your self-esteem or confidence: office work is not all you're good for. you can do this. you are qualified, even if you don't feel up to it.
posted by queenofbithynia at 10:24 PM on February 24, 2018 [5 favorites]


fwiw I find myself thinking about how grateful I am for people who do the jobs that are hard and necessary, and how much I admire them on a very regular basis. It actually is something I think of a lot, particularly when someone I know who has a really high paying glamorous job complains about it. It is appreciated, good for the world, and it speaks well to your character. So short answer is no. In fact the opposite, in my opinion.
posted by pazazygeek at 11:12 PM on February 24, 2018 [10 favorites]


I'm in an analogue situation working a job that is below the training and certification I spent years getting (it sometimes even involves sewage). I won't lie, it can be disheartening at times. Not because I'm ashamed of the job, like yours it needs doing, but because I'm not where I want to be.

Worse my position has me working with many people who are just ... putting in time and aren't really interesting in doing a good job or advancing in their career. I'm afraid that if I stay here too long I'll end up settling and becoming unprofessional. So I keep looking for other positions, even managed a couple interviews and an offer that just wasn't right. Having the attitude that doing the best, most professional job I can takes the pressure off.

Finally there are always worse jobs. And what's worse is relative. One of my cousins has like 30 quarters of land in hay (or something, IDK) and loves nothing better than to jump into her tractor and drive back and forth over a field all day. I lasted a week and after the first 6 hours I was like "Just kill me now".

PS: get vaccinated for hepatitis if you haven't previously, it is a seriously no fun disease.

PPS: Mike Rowe had a TV series called Dirty Jobs which was all about people with dirty jobs and he presented it showing how interesting and rewarding those sorts of jobs can be. Might be worth checking out to get into the right mood. Several episodes profile sewage or sewage adjacent jobs.
posted by Mitheral at 11:27 PM on February 24, 2018 [17 favorites]


I agree with everyone else about what it should mean. But-- I'll be honest. Jobs affect how you feel about yourself. I say this as someone who has had a lot of jobs, a few of which made me feel gross in a subtle way that I found myself unable to shake. See how it goes for you. Hopefully the answers here have eliminated the concern, but if the seed of worry that made you ask this question starts to grow, then get working on a way out. Good luck!
posted by salvia at 11:32 PM on February 24, 2018 [2 favorites]


I wouldn't date a hedge fund manager or a lawyer who defends one. I wouldn't go out with a Wall Street dude or anyone with an MBA, or an executive who worked for big pharma or a health insurance company. But I'd absolutely unquestionably date a sanitation worker. You're actively helping people. What you do helps communities function. You're doing fine work and if someone tells you different, they're an asshole. Congrats on the new job.
posted by sockermom at 11:33 PM on February 24, 2018 [19 favorites]


Naw, man, you’re good. One step leads to the next which leads to the next....who knows where this will lead you! My uncle is a septic truck driver/clean out person and I can vouch that he’s not a bad person. He’s chosen it as a profession and his eldest son, my cousin, does septic work too. If nobody did this work, disease would be rife. We NEED sanitation workers!
Two things- You do need to get vaccinated for hepatitis as a precaution and always, always fully depressurize the tank before attempting to open the lid/plate of the vacuum truck.
posted by PorcineWithMe at 12:22 AM on February 25, 2018 [4 favorites]


If watching all of Dirty Jobs has taught me anything it's that A) Mike Rowe is great and B) I have massive respect for the hardworking people that keep our life functioning doing the jobs that others are unwilling or incapable of doing. No. It doesn't make you a "bad" person. It means the job economy is awful especially for college graduates because other people ruined it and you are lucky to find something with good pay and benefits.
posted by Crystalinne at 12:36 AM on February 25, 2018 [7 favorites]


cleaning and servicing outhouses at construction sites, events,

Dude. As someone who often spends 16-hr-plus days working said events . . . . . . .

DO YOU HAVE ANY IDEA HOW IMPORTANT YOUR JOB IS ????!!!!1!!????

*ahem* Sorry, got a little carried away there, but seriously, I have nothing but mad respect for guys who do what you do. People would, quite literally, shit in the middle of a goddamn field if there weren't Port-O-Potties around. You know you're dealing with a noob event organizer when you look around and go, "Where's the fucking outhouses?" If I'm gonna spend 12 hours with 15000 people in the middle of a damn parking lot for a rib cook-off, you better believe I want outhouses, and plenty of them.

You're earning every bit of that good pay and benefits, enjoy the fruits of your labor (and your job stability - I remember some of your past questions, and IIRC you've had a rough time of it for a few years), and if anyone looks down on you for it, fuck 'em.
posted by soundguy99 at 12:46 AM on February 25, 2018 [19 favorites]


One of the people I've known who was most interesting about, and proud of, his job, was a guy who worked in industrial and heavy duty cleaning for decades. He was proud of his specialist skills, of his ability to adapt, of his willingness to do work that other people would run away from. He was clever, dedicated and ultimately very successful in a field he really cared about. I haven't seen him for years, but I think of him whenever I read about something which must have required specialist or intensive cleaning, and wonder how he would have explained to me the skills involved.

Cleaning and maintenance are not just vital. They're not just respectable because they're such important work. They're also fields with their own interest, challenges and rewards. This may or may not ultimately be a career for you, but it's a worthwhile thing to do for as long as you choose to do it.
posted by howfar at 12:49 AM on February 25, 2018 [12 favorites]


Hey mister, you are the bee’s knees and a real catch because you are a hard-working realist. I know someone who won’t take any job he considers beneath him because of his level of education. As a result, he lives in poverty and is miserable from the stress and genuine hardship that has resulted. You, on the other hand, looked around and realized that life is not going to give you the job that you want, at least not now, and you have found a job that has benefits after three months. That is a fucking big deal. Congratulations! Of course you should keep looking for other work if you try this out and it’s not something you want to do long-term. But if it is something you want to do long term, that’s OK too. I wasted a big chunk of my life thinking that work had to be self-actualizing or creative and fulfilling and that’s actually not true. For most of us, we are lucky simply to have a job that allows us to be self-supporting. And then we use our nonwork hours to do the things that feed our souls. Some people are exceptions and that is wonderful. But that doesn’t mean any of us should feel horrible if we are not one of those exceptions. There’s a huge chunk of jobs that would only make the world better if they disappeared, including hedge-fund manager, weapon support specialist, and pretty much all the jobs at Facebook and Twitter. This is not one of those jobs.

You will get pushback from some people. Some people will look down on you because they will look down on your job. Don’t do that to yourself. Love yourself, respect the importance of what you will be doing for a living, and don’t forget to cultivate the other things that make life worth living to you. The music or sports or maker spaces or all of the above that make you, you. You may be wrestling with that peculiar American notion that we are what we do for a living. That is a super helpful myth for the capitalist system to reinforce, but it is bullshit and not embraced in Europe, for example. Here, work is just work. It’s not a death sentence, it’s not your personality, it’s not the meaning of life. It is how you pay your bills. And it is enjoyable to greater or lesser degrees, but it is not you. So drop any friends who give you shit about this on an ongoing basis (initial jokes are unavoidable because shit happens) and love the hell out of yourself. You are doing a fine job of taking care of yourself. That is not easy to do. You are killing it!
posted by Bella Donna at 12:53 AM on February 25, 2018 [9 favorites]


There's practically a cliche and a whole genre of jokes about people leaving prestigious jobs (traditionally medicine, these days hitech) for low-status jobs and laughing all the way to the bank. Classic example: A customer calls a plumber over and when the long, dirty job is done is handed the bill. The customer exclaims, “This is ridiculous! I don’t even make that much as a doctor!” The plumber smiles and says, “Neither did I when I was a doctor.”

I think a lot of programmers know people who have left the profession and gone into far less prestigious ones, whether for money or for quality of life or because they got sick of jobs where they killed themselves working on widgets that don't actually contribute anything to the world except to make somebody else wealthier. I don't know whether the new job will satisfy your requirements, but it's certainly not something to be embarrassed about.

That said, you might observe less appreciation in people's eyes than you did when you told them you were studying software, say. It might help you to know you'd be getting that expression if you went from software to any profession perceived as being less profitable, such as teaching or nursing or social work. I say this from personal experience, having made that switch. It's annoying, but whatever.
posted by trig at 1:19 AM on February 25, 2018 [12 favorites]


My granddad cleaned toilets for a living through the depression leading up to WW2. He was a proud man and understood that all honest labour was worthy of respect and pride. He was a passionate musician, was a line manager during WW2 at a manufacturer producing bombers and later in life became a tax accountant. It was never the nature of the the work, it was the pride you put into it.

So yeah, I'm the grandchild of a sanitation worker. Makes me feel good.
posted by michswiss at 4:04 AM on February 25, 2018 [9 favorites]


Years ago I saw the mockumentary Kenny (which premiered at Poowong, ha!) and like the rest of the audience, absolutely adored the main character for his openness, honesty and humour. I don't remember the details of what he did for a living, just his wonderful attitude to life and his love for his son.

Will anyone think less of you for doing an interesting job at a good salary with benefits when you haven't yet found the right fit in software development? Possibly, but I think that says a heck of a lot more about what's wrong with them than what's right with you.
posted by humph at 5:00 AM on February 25, 2018 [2 favorites]


Just want to add one more vote for "It says that you have a work ethic and you know how to step up and take care of business and do an honest day's work for an honest day's pay." I am impressed, and anyone who isn't is not worth your concern.
posted by mccxxiii at 5:05 AM on February 25, 2018 [2 favorites]


You'll be the person making sure we don't have cholera and typhoid epidemics to worry about. It's good and crucial work.

Do a great job, get to know everyone, make friends, get a good reputation, get promoted. I imagine there are great career paths there in construction management, municipal services, and related industries which will ultimately be a lot more geographically flexible than software would have been.
posted by fingersandtoes at 5:31 AM on February 25, 2018 [10 favorites]


Yep, when I read the title, I thought it was a pun for doing something like working in the septic tank that is contemporary politics. Nope! Instead, you're doing a job that pays a good salary and helps people maintain a first-world standard of living. I think that's great! A bad person, in my book, is someone that does something amoral or cruel, which is definitely not what you'll be doing. Congrats on the job and for having your head and heart on straight!
posted by stillmoving at 6:38 AM on February 25, 2018 [1 favorite]


First I would like to say that I agree with every other answer you got, 1000 percent, and what follows is in no way meant to be a counter argument.

That being said, I think I understand a little about how you feel. I grew up swimming in middle class snobbery when it came to careers. If I had told my parents when I was a kid that I wanted to have a job like yours, they would have been horrified, and would have said that I "could do better." My father very specifically wanted me to go to grad school because my undergrad degree was in English and he figured I'd end up as nothing better than a secretary, how horrible. There was definitely a pressure to have the "right" kind of career.

When I was in grad school (in English, ha ha ha Dad), I had a part-time job in a bookstore, and one day my high school English teacher came in, and while we were talking he said, "So, did you ever go to college?" He was clearly making a judgment about someone who was "only" working in retail. My friend the Art major had a similar experience while working as a drive-through bank teller. This stuff happens, and it may well happen to you. There are awful people out there who have nothing better to do than to scorecard other people's lives. God, I know this woman who ACTUALLY BELIEVES that if you didn't go to an Ivy League school, you're not very smart and not worth her time. So, you may get your feelings hurt, and I think we need to acknowledge that.

But, you know, letting yourself wallow in feeling bad because you're "not good enough to do anything besides cleaning toilets" is not going to help. You can find ways to break out of that ingrained snobbery and see your job the way everyone else here is seeing it -- as doing what you need to do to get by, and performing a service that hell yeah we all need.

And if it's still bugging you, well, you're not at work 24/7 are you? You'll have quite a bit of time left in the day -- what are you doing with those hours? There are lots of good things you could be doing in those hours -- volunteer work, for example -- that would go a long way in helping your self-esteem. I'm pretty sure any judgmental snobs you run across aren't doing anything like that -- they're too caught up in keeping their boring shallow scorecards.
posted by JanetLand at 6:53 AM on February 25, 2018 [5 favorites]


NB: I'm a software developer and have been a hiring manager and if I saw a resume that said you'd studied software development and gone to work in sanitation, I'd probably congratulate you. I'd still call you in, though, because to me that says you'll take a hard, thankless job and do it, and frankly, far too much of working in software is doing things nobody else wants to do and many people think (incorrectly) is "beneath" them.

The people who respect that kind of work are the best people to work for and/or with. Just ask any chef about his or her dishwasher. Ask the world-famous chef who made his dishwasher a partner in one of the best restaurants in the world.
posted by fedward at 7:44 AM on February 25, 2018 [3 favorites]


I do web dev and IT project management. I look for exactly this sort of experience on resumes: necessary, thankless work in settings where you interact with many different kinds of people. Waitressing, cleaning, landscaping. These are down to earth people who aren't afraid to work and can communicate effectively. I've seen one too many developers who cannot respect or communicate effectively with non-developers and just can't work if they don't find the work sufficiently challenging, and some of them are brilliant but they're just such a pain in the ass to manage, because work, even software development, is often repetitive and boring and involves human beings, not just fun puzzles. You sound like an adult. Good for you. Thanks for your work keeping the world running.
posted by xylothek at 8:25 AM on February 25, 2018 [6 favorites]


Just as an aside, if you find that you like it enough to stick with the sanitation industry, these jobs also exist in the National Park Service (and other public land entities). You could take your skills performing this crucial service to some of the coolest places in the US, and be the kind of park ranger who generally deals less with the shittier (hmm) members of the public (sorry, interp rangers). At my park, the sanitation guys had business cards with the park superintendent's contact they would hand out to people stopping to ask them about whatever, lol.

Also, you'll get to work outside! With benefits!! Fuck offices!
posted by Drosera at 8:41 AM on February 25, 2018 [7 favorites]


there's honor in work whether you're out there researching malaria or weaving carpets - earning your pay through honest labor is kickass and don't let anyone tell you different.
posted by speakeasy at 8:52 AM on February 25, 2018 [2 favorites]


I don't even know you and I'm proud of you.
posted by essexjan at 11:14 AM on February 25, 2018 [5 favorites]


It sounds like good, honest, and useful work, unlike the vast majority of software or corporate jobs.

Not sure why anyone would consider you a "bad person" for doing it. Quite the contrary.
posted by splitpeasoup at 12:14 PM on February 25, 2018 [1 favorite]


My neighbor had his own septic cleaning company. Cool dude. Retired early and now travels a lot. Tells the funniest stories. I would never think of disrespecting him and the job he did.

He always joked that, unlike his early corporate job, he never had to take shit home at night.
posted by BlueHorse at 1:05 PM on February 25, 2018 [7 favorites]


It's menial and can be tedious and for some people it's the sort of work that will make you lesser in their eyes. As a rule, those are the kind of people you would find unpleasant to deal with even if you were programming, they would just find another way to be garbage humans.

It can be physically taxing, but odds are if it's a job with benefits, you will also have a regular schedule that can allow you to pursue freelance or part-time programming opportunities and keep up your skills while having a steady paycheque. As others have said it can positively stand out on a resume. There is a stigma to the work, but that can be an advantage in that it impresses some people who feel it indicates character/legitmacy. Also, your education and previous experience can be a huge asset if there is room for advancement with your current employer. You can encounter people from all walks of life and there can be networking opportunities you never expected.

Your frustration is completely understandable, this is not what you planned to be doing. But it is honest, ethical work you can make a living at, and it doesn't mean you'll have to go through life with a brown S pinned to your shirt. I've been doing janitorial work for over half of my adult life. I've been very fortunate/privileged, and it sounds like you are too, to get work that is in the top 10% of menial labour: solid pay, benefits, mechanized, a level of personal autonomy. I can't say I haven't felt a twinge of insecurity when I run into someone I went to school with and we do the "So, what are you doing?" but I can pay my mortgage and my family is happy and healthy, and there are intrinsic aspects to the work I find enjoyable. Humans are ridiculously adaptable, and if you stick with the job long enough, you'll be surprised at how you'll find small quirky parts of the job satisfying and engaging.

Just because your job is shitty, it doesn't mean you are too.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 2:02 PM on February 25, 2018 [10 favorites]


Oh, you're not working in an absolutely toxic brocamp in a tech cluster that drives up housing costs, squeezes out working class residents, builds a bullshit product that makes the world infinitely more image obsessed, and getting partly compensated in over-valued vaporware stock options? You're instead doing a job actual humans need at a fundamental level, for real money?

Yes, terrible.
posted by DarlingBri at 3:26 PM on February 25, 2018 [1 favorite]


I immediately thought of two recent Metafilter posts in which sanitation workers have been crucial: the fatbergs in London (and similar things exist in other cities) and the fact that three US presidents were made severely ill, probably either by the raw sewage that flowed onto public land near the White House or the fact that their drinking water came 7 blocks downstream of a "night soil" depository. One of them, William Henry Harrison, died.

I know it feels like a low-status job, and not what you studied to do. But I will add my voice to the chorus of respect here - the job you're doing is incredibly important and saves lives just as much as any doctor. You make an immediate, practical and material difference to people. This is arguably more important than writing code for software or products people might not even want or need. If cleaning outhouses is the best you can do, it is pretty damn great and far from being a bad person for doing it, you are bad-ass. No pun intended.
posted by Athanassiel at 4:46 PM on February 25, 2018 [4 favorites]


I'm a janitor, so I understand having thoughts like you do. I've been janitor for ten years now. There definitely isn't prestige. It isn't exciting. Nobody asks you about your work. Sometimes, when I'm watching a toilet overflow onto the floor, or following that trail of vomit from carpeting to tile to the sink, I'll find myself saying, "what am I even doing with my life?" So, I have to remind myself what I'm doing with my life.

I'm learning to cook. I'm watching basketball. I'm going to game nights at my friends' houses and seeing people that I haven't seen for months or even years. I'm figuring out how to read and enjoy poetry. I'm laughing at Youtube with my fiance. I'm visiting my grandpa in the hospital. I'm making wedding plans. That was this past week.

A job is just a job. It's a thing that needs done, so I do it. You don't have to worry about it more than that.
posted by Regal Ox Inigo at 7:22 PM on February 25, 2018 [18 favorites]


This is reminding me of a quote from my friend's last ex boss at Starbucks: "Let's have the one with the master's degree clean the toilets."

This is how our world goes these days. It could be worse. (As many others thought, I thought you were talking about a political job.) At least you're employed and not homeless. You gotta do what you gotta do to survive. There's no shame in that.
posted by jenfullmoon at 8:25 PM on February 25, 2018


When you ask if this makes you a "bad person," I think what you're really asking is if you're a failure. And nobody actually fails until they stop trying. If your dream is to work in software, you'll get there eventually as long as you keep trying. You haven't failed anything yet.

Bear in mind that your software expertise could be a valuable asset to this company. EVERY business needs people who are good with computers. Volunteer to help in that area, and it's possible you won't be cleaning outhouses there for long.

If it helps your pride, just use some fancy, technical-sounding name to describe the job to people. I'd imagine there's a much classier name for the trade than "cleaning outhouses." Something with "engineer" or "technician" is always good.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 8:40 PM on February 25, 2018 [1 favorite]


Just the other day, noticing my grandkid was feeling embarrassed about needing to poop, I had to tell them if they couldn't poop they'd be so ill they'd probably die. It's funny we (humans) seem to have an ingrained unrealistic bias against the role of poop in our lives! I've lived in places where tenements housing multiple families are built without toilets if you can believe that. The knock on effects for public health, safety and emotional wellbeing are awful.

Dealing with poop is a hard and crucial job. There is a stigma against it, and I've seen people deal in different ways. Some sanitation workers have an all-out bawdy humour about it. I've seen someone else come to a toilet cleaning job extremely smartly dressed and with a huge air of efficiency, looking super professional. There's a reason your new job is well paid with good benefits: workers should be well rewarded for doing important work. I hope your co-workers are down-to-earth hardworking people with a great sense of camaraderie and that you enjoy their company; I hope that turns out to be one of the perks of the job for you.

The other thing is, waste management is an interesting and complex discipline that touches on public health, city planning, engineering, ecology, recycling and emerging green solutions. Depending on promotion opportunities this job has the potential to take you in some very interesting directions. Best of luck, you're doing a good thing.

Here are two etchings from 1631 (warning: explicit) by Rembrandt of people who needed a bathroom where there were no bathrooms! Just look at the fear on that woman's face. Millions of people still live like this. Honestly, the job you're about to do has been a bigger saver of human lives that any amount of heroic medicine and medical advances.
posted by glasseyes at 3:49 AM on February 26, 2018 [1 favorite]


People who do sanitation work are so important that the movie about Woodstock devoted an entire segment to the guy who was cleaning the porta-potties.

I understand the kind of mindset that is making you question your path, but that is a mindset that is coming from a different generation of people who were growing up in a different economy and were themselves raised by different people with different priorities and a still different economy. But all of them valued the same core belief: that success meant finding honest work that paid you well and in a sufficient amount to take care of yourself and your family. In another economy, "finding honest work that paid you well" is something that came from a high-class degree. In this economy, the rules are different.

You are doing honest work and being paid well. The fact that you are doing this work for a septic company is totally and completely irrelevant.

Also: technically, "septic work" is what my grandfather was doing during World War II; he was the sargeant of a unit of the Seabees on Guam, and plumbing was his specialty. And nevertheless, people thought he was important enough that a representative of the military showed up at his funeral to make sure that his coffin was draped with a flag through the service, which he then folded up and presented to my father with a short speech about the country being grateful for my grandfather's service. If that isn't a sign of respect, I don't know what is.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:34 AM on February 26, 2018 [5 favorites]


Have you ever been to a festival and seen the truck with the toilet vaccuum thing come around to teh porta potties, seen the workers, and thought "what kind of loser does that job?" IF you have then maybe you need to check your own prejudices. Good people see those workers pull up and understand they are doing good work that needs to be done.

As a counterexample, i did work a job that was "beneath" my education and made me feel like a bad person. I did telemarketing and making quota basically came down to conning elderly people out of their money. I quit after a few days. Would have rather cleaned toilets. Soul would have been cleaner.
posted by WeekendJen at 11:29 AM on February 26, 2018 [1 favorite]


Sanitation is the basis of civilization. It’s a good job.
posted by DangerIsMyMiddleName at 10:53 PM on February 26, 2018 [2 favorites]


Last month I was working from home on the day the septic tank was to be emptied. When the truck arrived, I was in a call so I opened the gate remotely and watched through the window as the guy, a younger one I hadn't seen before, connected the pipes and ran the pump. When I went to the door to pay him, his overalls looked freshly washed even though it was a Thursday and he smelled of nothing at all. He shook my hand and looked me steadily in the eye. I went back to my work feeling vaguely impressed.

That evening, I asked my partner if this guy had emptied our tank before. It turned out he had and they'd talked - he had a degree but had decided to go into the family business. He was, quite rightly, proud of his work and, importantly, he dressed and acted like he was. I suggest you do the same.
posted by Busy Old Fool at 1:46 AM on February 27, 2018 [2 favorites]


In case y'all missed it on the blue: Meet Mr. Toilet
Good luck with the new gig!
posted by yeahlikethat at 7:28 AM on February 27, 2018


I'm sorry I was not the first person to comment on this loudly and clearly. The other commentators have stepped up. But let me add to this in all caps. (A big chunk of my day to day is janitorial including dealing with dumpsters and garbage compactors.)

JANITORS AND WASTE SERVICERS ARE NECESSARY FOR CIVILIZATION. You cannot have cities without sewers. You cannot have towers without dumpsters. You can't have a good crap indoors without some version of a toilet. In human civilization (as a thing separate from wild nature) nothing becomes "clean" on its own. Everything "clean" has been made so by human effort, nothing more and nothing less.

You are doing, not God's work, but humanity's work.
posted by panhopticon at 10:16 PM on February 28, 2018 [1 favorite]


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