My Life

My Worst Day at Work

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In my first job out of college, I worked for a non-profit organization in Richmond, Virginia – and I was responsible for planning their annual fundraising walk.

They put their largest fundraiser in my 22-year-old-not-a-drop-of-experience-will-work-for-practically-nothing hands.

Luckily, the person before me was very organized and had created a 5-inch-thick “Walk Binder.” This was before everything was stored electronically, so this binder was my bible. It was full of timelines and spreadsheets, checklists and instructions. I couldn’t go wrong with all of her details and instructions.

Until I accidentally threw it away.

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The details of how it ended up in the trash are not all that important. (Okay – I rested it on the trashcan before leaving work one day and the cleaning people assumed it was trash.) What’s important is how I got it back…

First I cried.

Then I went and told my boss what I had done. (Let’s call her Melinda.) Melinda handled it much better than I did. In fact, she took action immediately.

She grabbed her umbrella, and we took a walk out to the dumpster together in the pouring rain. She instructed me to climb in and get the binder.

Being 22-years-old-with-not-a-drop-of-experience-who-will-work-for-practically-nothing (and afraid of losing my job), I climbed right in.

But the dumpster was empty.

Melinda didn’t even flinch. She turned around and walked back inside. I jumped down from the dumpster and dragged my (sopping wet) feet back inside. Preparing to be fired.

By the time I made it back to her office, she had the entire staff (all five women) gathered in her office.

Great – a public firing.

And she proceeded to tell us all that she had contacted the trash service, and the garbage truck that had picked up our trash that morning was now on its way to the city dump. It would be dumping its entire load in a separate part of the dump.

And we would all (except for Melinda) be spending our day at the dump digging through the contents of the garbage truck until we found the notebook.

AND – she explained that the garbage truck was holding 13 tons of compacted trash.

I started to cry again. The other five women hated me (clearly).

We all went home to change our clothes and pick up shovels, pitchforks and any other tools we thought might be helpful.

A man met us at the entrance to the dump with full-body Tyvek suits, disposable gloves and face masks. And he explained that since it had been raining for so many days the mud was very deep and to try not to fall down.

Then he loaded us into his big truck to drive us into the belly of the dump.

The driveway was level with the road, but the dump was a giant hole in the ground that was gradually being filled with trash. The “road” wound around the hole until we reached the center core.

He drove us directly to a massive pile of trash that was set aside just for us.

“Your notebook is somewhere in that pile,” he said. And he gave us a few tips…

Don’t stand still for too long – you must keep moving or else the birds will land on you. (I’d never seen so many birds in my life.)

Don’t worry if you see a mouse or rat – they’re not here for you. (Did I mention that my co-workers hated me?)

Try not to fall down in the sludge.

If you have to puke – be sure you take your mask off first! And then be sure to put it right back on when you’re done. (Did I mention the smell?)

And the best piece of advice he gave us? Search by address. Open bags one at a time and try to find something inside with an address on it. When you find addresses that are near yours, you know where to focus your search-finding efforts.

We found the notebook within two long (yet short) hours, and it only had a little Chinese food on it.

And I went on to rock that fundraising walk and raise more money than they had ever raised before. (But my coworkers still hated me).

From then on, I was offered every job I interviewed for. Because I always had the perfect answer for the question:

“Tell us about a mistake you made at work, and what you did to fix it.”

My answer? I threw away an extremely important binder at my last job. And I went to the dump and sorted through 13 tons of compacted trash to get it back.

Boom – I’m hired every time.

What was your worst day at work?

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22 Comments

  1. VenusGenetrix

    October 25, 2012 at 7:18 am

    OMG. NO WAY! :O

  2. Robin Jingjit

    October 25, 2012 at 8:36 am

    Oh my! Well that’s the perfect interview clincher and you earned it!

    Compared to all that, I haven’t had anything close to a bad day at work.

  3. Stephanie

    October 25, 2012 at 8:51 am

    Wow. That is hard core! My worst day as a gifted teacher was probably the day I discovered that a family in our community had done an interview and gotten a 3 page article in a local magazine describing how much they hated the gifted program and how much I sucked as a teacher, except, get this: I never taught their daughter. She wasn’t even in the gifted program. This family was completely willing to damage my reputation as a teacher and involve their kids in a huge lie to get their pictures in the magazine. (And BTW, I’m still pissed that the author never bothered to try to reach me for a comment) Luckily, the parents of the kids who WERE in my class were really bothered about it, so it backfired on those stupid people.

  4. Stacy

    October 25, 2012 at 9:13 am

    Holy cow, Stephanie—I was a teacher and mine wasn’t as public, but still stunk.

  5. Stacy

    October 25, 2012 at 9:18 am

    I was in my 2nd year of teaching and, as the teacher with the least amount of experience, when class sizes changed 2 days before the start of school, I was the lucky teacher who got to change grades…I went from teaching 3rd to teaching 1st. Anyone will tell you that is a big jump and with only 2 days to plan, get a room together, etc, I was in a panic. We had Meet The Teacher and the PTO president’s child was in my class. She wasn’t excited about it. She walked in and, in front of about 10 other parents, proceeded to tell me that she knew I wasn’t qualified to teach her child, that she didn’t want me as a teacher–like ever–, and that if her child so much as whispered that he didn’t like school, she would sue me for gross negligence and have my liscense taken away. As a 25 yo with only one year of teaching under my belt, I was floored. Lucky for me her kid did great in my class and I went on to earn “Teacher of the Year” for my school the next year. I’m no longer teaching and that child has since graduated college, but I still see that woman around town and want to pinch her head off all these years later.

  6. Stephanie

    October 25, 2012 at 9:20 am

    Parents can be so ridiculous. I think that might have to be my next blog post. 🙂

  7. Leah

    October 25, 2012 at 9:48 am

    WOW. this is so completely horrible and awesome all at once!

  8. Amy

    October 25, 2012 at 10:31 am

    My hand was clamped over my mouth from the moment you climbed in the dumpster. What a story! Once, when I was a retail store manager for a very large clothing company, there was a coffee spill at the register counter. It was a busy Saturday, so I grabbed a handful of paper towels and fought my way through the crowd to mop it up. Only when the paper towel was about to touch the spill did I realize it wasn’t coffee. It was diarrhea. Some poor little preschooler had an accident while shopping with his dad. The dad panicked and bolted, and I only got the story because a customer saw it all happen. Obviously, this was going to take more than paper towels, so I had someone get me our haz mat kit, I donned gloves, mask, and paper booties, and cleaned up a river of poop while about 300 customers and 15 employees watched. It was disgusting, but I earned tons of goodwill from my staff. It should be noted: This was before I had kids. Now it would still be gross, but not as horrifying.

  9. Janine Huldie

    October 25, 2012 at 10:43 am

    Wow, your worst day totally tops any bad day I did have when I worked full-time. Thankfully all was well that ended well, but Kelly I truly felt for you as I you relayed this story.

  10. GinaE

    October 25, 2012 at 11:00 am

    Have you told that story to Miles??? He would think it was his BEST day at work!
    Still laughing at the “don’t stand still too long or the birds will land on you” part.

  11. Paige Kellerman

    October 25, 2012 at 11:13 am

    Holy crap ….that’s possibly the best story I’ve ever heard, Anna.

  12. Laurie

    October 25, 2012 at 4:00 pm

    I know for sure that not any of my bad days at work could top that! You’re a better person than me. I’m pretty sure I would have lied about what happened to that binder. Probably would have said it was on my desk when I left, someone must have taken it. You always make me laugh………that’s why I keep coming back. 🙂

  13. Mom

    October 25, 2012 at 8:23 pm

    Anna – You left out the part about calling me crying and telling me you were going to be fired and would have to move back home….probably without your new husband as he had a job and wouldn’t leave…..(of course you hadn’t told him yet)

    I never thought about Miles loving this story – GinaE is right!!

  14. imklvr

    October 25, 2012 at 9:36 pm

    Amen to that. Twenty seven years with special ed…..sometimes the parents should have been the students!

  15. imklvr

    October 25, 2012 at 9:41 pm

    You know, if I had heard this story from anyone else, I wouldn’t believe it. But somehow, from you, it sounds totally possible! No it doesn’t. It’s STILL unbelievable! This HAS to go in the book! And I agree with Gina and Mom…tell Miles!!! Then let us know how he liked it!

    You are awesome, know it?

  16. The Dose of Reality

    October 25, 2012 at 9:58 pm

    I can’t believe you didn’t flee when told not to worry about the rats. I’m not sure I would have had the fortitude to continue. Oh, man!!!

    It all evens out because BEST INTERVIEW ANSWER EVER.

  17. Katie

    October 26, 2012 at 9:11 am

    Did you or any of your coworkers puke? – I can’t imagine they hated you – what a once in a lifetime opportunity!

  18. "Lucy"

    October 27, 2012 at 11:06 am

    OMG! This read right out of a sci-fi novel!

    “A man met us at the entrance to the dump with full-body Tyvek suits, disposable gloves and face masks. And he explained that since it had been raining for so many days the mud was very deep and to try not to fall down.

    Then he loaded us into his big truck to drive us into the belly of the dump.

    The driveway was level with the road, but the dump was a giant hole in the ground that was gradually being filled with trash. The “road” wound around the hole until we reached the center core.

    He drove us directly to a massive pile of trash that was set aside just for us.

    “Your notebook is somewhere in that pile,” he said. And he gave us a few tips…

    Don’t stand still for too long – you must keep moving or else the birds will land on you. (I’d never seen so many birds in my life.)

    Don’t worry if you see a mouse or rat – they’re not here for you. (Did I mention that my co-workers hated me?)

    Try not to fall down in the sludge.

    If you have to puke – be sure you take your mask off first! And then be sure to put it right back on when you’re done. (Did I mention the smell?)”

  19. sparkling74

    October 27, 2012 at 5:21 pm

    I am so amazed that your coworkers actually did this with you. It totally sounds like an episode from a sitcom. I can’t believe you found it!!!

    One of our teachers accidentally threw away a major paper she had written for a grad class and the custodian helped her go through the dumpster to find it.

    I honestly think that in this situation, I would just start from scratch!!

  20. cyndy

    October 27, 2012 at 8:32 pm

    Now that is dedication!! I love the warnings the guy gave you. Wow.

  21. Becky

    October 30, 2012 at 8:31 pm

    Hands down best work story I have EVER heard. And as someone who worked for a non-profit and ran the walk events, I can totally understand how important that binder was. LOVE IT!!!

  22. Pingback: It's a Bird, It's a Tomato... It's Anna at her first job? | My Life and KidsMy Life and Kids

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