You Don’t Understand My Job

it's not like this

“Today” [last week, but I saw it today] The Atlantic has a multi-authored feature entitled ‘What People Don’t Get About My Job.” With one job per letter of the alphabet, readers are introduced to the true tragedies and toils of waiting tables, clerking in movie theaters, playing bass, fashion modeling, designing graphically, being in the army, working for the IRS and teaching kindergarten, amongst other occupations.

You will find this especially fulfilling if your present or past jobs are included on this list.

For example, from the excellent section on being a “VIDEO PRODUCER”:

“Ok, you can shoot a video about your hilarious cat on your cellphone and get a million YouTube views. But constructing beautiful images and compelling narratives is actually incredibly difficult.”

“Video is not Fast. Video is not fast. Video is slooooooooooooooooooow… To cut two hours of footage down to five minutes, I start by watching two hours of footage. Good, now I’m ready to begin editing. Every new cut, I watch again, and again, and again, ironing out kinks, masking mistakes, cutting out the thousands of “ums,” “uhs,” “likes,” and dead pauses, just so that my interview subject doesn’t sound like an idiot. But then, magically, after hours, days, or weeks, the story runs quickly and smoothly and my interview subjects sounds like a genius.”

From the excellent section on being a “WAITER”:

“I make $3 and some change an hour. My paychecks end up being around $20 for two weeks, after taxes are taken out… I have to “tip out” other employees. Three percent of my total sales goes to the bartender and the hosts. Even if a table doesn’t order an alcoholic drink, I still have to pay the bartender. If you come in and don’t leave me a tip, I have to pay to serve you.”

So true. No really, go find your truth.

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Riese is the 41-year-old Co-Founder of as well as an award-winning writer, video-maker, LGBTQ+ Marketing consultant and aspiring cyber-performance artist who grew up in Michigan, lost her mind in New York and now lives in Los Angeles. Her work has appeared in nine books, magazines including Marie Claire and Curve, and all over the web including Nylon, Queerty, Nerve, Bitch, Emily Books and Jezebel. She had a very popular personal blog once upon a time, and then she recapped The L Word, and then she had the idea to make this place, and now here we all are! In 2016, she was nominated for a GLAAD Award for Outstanding Digital Journalism. She's Jewish and has a cute dog named Carol. Follow her on twitter and instagram.

Riese has written 3183 articles for us.


  1. I just read the full ‘video producer’ one and it’s right on. I’m living it right now godddamnit.
    As someone who’s had every job from working at a bakery, library, novelty shop, canning factory (mmmm beans) to being a sound designer, composer, touring musician (the friggin’ drummer no less), unemployed artist etc, it feels really cathartic to hear other people sounding off on their jobs.
    I didn’t notice the one for working at a gynecologist’s convention at the Canadian souvenir boutique selling maple syrup and beaver mugs though. I’ll just have to write that one myself I guess.

    • it drives me crazy when people are like “it’s nbd, just like a three-minute video” and they’ve got two hours of footage, and i’m like, do you understand that’s the OPPOSITE of how it works? I could make a one-hour video from your footage in a day. i could make a 30-minute video in two days. I could make a 10-minute video in a week, and i can make you a three-minute video in two weeks. The shorter it is, the more time it takes. ppl are insane.

        • So true. My final project at one filmmaking workshop was a documentary that we had over 6 hours of footage for and edited it down to a 6 minute short. We viewed, TRANSCRIBED, logged and edited it down in 5 days.

    • AGREED.

      “…the pleasure of analyzing, say, the overall efficiency of a combined heat and power facility is hard to describe.”

      I wish that every one who thinks I’m only studying engineering for the job prospects could read this.

      • THIS x2

        Producing the right solution to a problem is truly one of the most wonderful things I get to do. There is not a lot of things in life that give you an enormous sense of well-being and completion (apart from…well..ya know..). Being an engineer and getting to do the work I do is basically what makes me happy :)

        The words ‘gay’ and ‘woman’ describe only a small part of who I am, but I think ‘engineer’ describes more than 90% of my personality ;)

        I would love for kids to be able to see why Mathematics is so important in the world. I use Calculus to design algorithms to produce chocolate powder. Statistics and probability I use to control how your tap water is cleaned before it gets to you. Algebra to determine the best way to produce the paper that your money is printed on.

        Engineering is creative in a way that a lot of kids don’t realise!

    • YES! i wish everyone would understand how much fun i have at work (when i’m not teaching). then maybe they would stop telling me to go home and not work on the weekends.

    • I work with a lot of engineers, and I am always amazed at how much pride they feel in what they create. I mean, I’m proud of the manuals I write, but not nearly as proud as they are!

    • Today it would be something like “I just found out that the last six months of work I was doing is irrelevant because someone from another lab labeled a tube wrong.”

      I wish that was a lie, but it’s true…getting strains of TB from another lab that is sloppy MAY ruin your life (and not in the you have TB way).

      • :((( sorry to hear that. i’m sending proteins out tomorrow to another lab. in light of your post, i will check 1000x and make sure that i send the right proteins

  2. “D is for Dad
    ‘Being a stay-at-home Dad is like unemployment.'”

    Not if you’re doing your job right. Being a stay at home mom is full time work, 24/7 not 9 to 5. Being a stay at home dad should be equally exhausting.

    Disclaimer, I’m not a mom, but I know women who are.

    • Uh, the descriptions are about things people *don’t* understand about the job. If you read the intro before the lists, it’s pretty clear. Hence, this guy’s saying, people *think* it’s like unemployment, but it’s not. That it’s like unemployment is the misconception he’s trying to anecdotally disprove.

      • I don’t think that’s quite right. Especially since the D is for Dad entry is limited to that one sentence.

    • I can see it in two different ways–

      it’s like unemployment because it’s frigging awesome and not like a job.

      or it’s like unemployment because it’s full of desperation and terror (as the unemployment one said).

      leaning towards desperation and terror.

  3. Interesting read. I think there are some that are more useful to the public than others. I learned the other day that tops via credit card are not the same as tips via cash. I guess you should always tip via cash when you can. I’ve never been a waitress, but good to know. My exposure to ad design tells me the graphic design one is right — people want stuff that looks like shit and designers know better, but do what they are told. Drives me up the wall when I see us producing stuff that looks like garbage, but I have to know my place. I mentioned the other day being a zookeeper sounded fun if you get to play with the animals. Turns out, that’s not really what the job entails.

    No one understands what my job is, and they mostly think it entails slandering people. I’ve decided to start categorizing it differently to people not in my field.

    • Tips via credit card are different than cash? How’s that? People in the food service professions have it ROUGH (and not just because hungry people are mean people), so I always try to tip very well. I’d hate to find out I’ve been unintentionally screwing someone by tipping via credit card!

      • First of all, using your credit card always means a small fee for the company/restaurant, which is why they often have minimums — below a certain amount, it’s not worth it for them monetarily, etc. The fee can impact the amount that actually comes out in the tip. Also, since when you pay with a credit card the money is going directly to the management/ownership, it’s up to them to do the right thing and actually pass those tips back to the waitstaff. Some places do, some places don’t. If you leave a cash tip, you can at least be sure that your server is going to be the one it goes to, and whether it’s going in a tipshare or their pocket, it’s more likely to end up in an actual waiter’s hands.

        • if you’re going to a restaurant that’s corporate-run, you can be positive that the server is going to get the entire credit card tip. i’ve never worked anywhere where credit card tips were given out differently than cash, but i know the systems in restaurants that are owned by giant companies aren’t skimming anything off the top. you’re already essentially free labor for them as it is.

  4. I wish there was one like this for academic majors. Most of the time, I really hate telling people my MA is in Women’s Studies. No, we didn’t sit around and complain about men all day. I had to LEARN ALL THE FIELDS. I had to have a firm grasp on psychology, sociology, anthropology, history, economics, queer theory, and poli sci before even getting into the intricacies of my area of specialization, representation (which required me to study lit crit, film theory, and language extensively, with some bonus art history thrown in). And then on top of that, I also had some African American, Asian American, Native American, and Chicano Studies, as well as a tiny bit of legal and health thrown in as well.

    I’m a fucking Jill of All Trades and that degree was very, very hard to earn. I guarantee that at least 90% of the clueless douchenozzles who giggle when I mention Women’s Studies couldn’t hack it if they tried.

    • Wow, I have no idea why I’m so angry today. I guess I’ve just reached Bullshit Critical Mass or something.

      • Honestly I read that as sexy white-hot passion for your Women’s Studies M.A.

        That tends to turn me on. Hmmmh gurl.

  5. where does the waiter who makes $3 an hour work? WHAT?!
    when i used to serve tables in toronto i would make $200+ a night in tips.

    so you dont all hate me, ill add in that i should have quit for always being sexually harassed, but i didnt have to quit because i got fired for being gay!

    but on a positive note this is an awesome and enlightening article, so thank you for sharing!

    • The poor bastard who makes $3 an hour lives in the US. Here, restaurant servers are exempt from minimum wage laws, allowing their employers to pay them using contempt and the spare change they find between the cushions of their couches. This is because they figure the tips will make up the difference between their wages and the insulting pittance that constitutes the minimum wage here.

      I have a lot of feelings on this subject!

        • Yet another reason to be happy I’m living in Washington now. Not that I’m a waitress or could physically do such a job. I’m just glad to live in a place that at least tries to be less miserable than Idaho is.

      • in canada servers are exempt from minimum wage laws as well, but in my experience still usually make $9ish an hour (before tips)

        also i suppose it depends where you work. if you work at an overpriced restaurant owned by the mob…you make a lot of money. if you work at a teeny independent cafe, perhaps not as much.

  6. I don’t understand how wait staff survive, if the math is correct in that case? Why would anyone wait tables in America for any reason (other than total destitution)? …. It seems hardly worth the effort :\

    Is a union fighting to change that system, or is it so ingrained in your culture that no one cares? and what is your minimum wage?

    • Minimum wage is set by both federal law and state law. The federal minimum wage is $7.25 an hour and where the state’s minimum wage differs from the federal one, the worker is entitled to the higher of the two. Still, it’s very difficult to actually survive on no matter where you are, especially if you have kids (I mean, can you imagine trying to survive on $7.25/hour in New York City?!).

      It is so ingrained in our culture that no one cares (about the poor). Also, unions have it ROUGH here, as they’ve been the victims of a decades long smear campaign that’s labled them as Communist organizations working to stifle progress and the economy. As to why people would even wait tables, if you work somewhere the tips are good enough, you can end up making much more than the minimum wage. Other than that, it’s just sheer desperation. Our social services, frankly, are shit. Most people just don’t have much of a choice. And what with the economy being the way it is, a lot of people are stuck doing that since there’s no other option.

      One of the many, many reasons I’ve been trying to get out of here since I was, like, 6 years old.

    • HAH. Unions getting involved in hourly service jobs like waitstaffing. That’s a good one. But yeah, basically waiting tables is what happens when you (inevitably these days, my mom ended up having to go back to it after 2 years of unemployment and a Master’s degree) can’t get work anywhere else. At that point you’re desperate and will basically do anything you have to. Plus as people above said, it is POSSIBLE to make a surplus or at least break even, depending on your demographic, hours, “assets”, etc. The gamble of unregulated capitalism exemplified, I guess.

  7. The waiting thing is disgusting. I quit my previous waiting job because it wasn’t worth getting out of bed for $15/hr and I found something better (another waiting job). It’s horrific that servers in the US are so vulnerable to exploitation.

    Yep, people don’t tip in my country and the cost of living is much higher, but I’ll take that any day. To all the servers out there earning spare change, I hope you vote.

    • Exactly. The idea that the *tips* are the only way you earn income is just…WHAT. I’m so used to a service fee being added onto the tab *and* people being paid a set $ per hour to work in hospitality. You could give tips if you really want to but that’s usually either if you couldn’t be bothered with your change or if you really liked the service. The US system befuddles me.

  8. I’ve got three on this list under my belt — librarian (well, I got the degree), movie theater worker, and waitress. I hated waitressing, but nothing’ll make you despair for humanity like cleaning out the pounds and pounds of popcorn, candy, and related trash you just sold to these pigs two hours ago, to the sound of the same set of ads you’ve been hearing every hour for the past month.

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