Here's what I learned by working every job under the sun
Around the age of sixteen, I scored my first job as a grocery store cashier. I wasn’t one for babysitting or mowing lawns like everyone else and I knew it wouldn’t be my dream job, counting cash and scanning groceries on my feet all day, but I wanted my own money. And though I’d rather have spent my time performing Smells Like Teen Spirit downtown for spare change, getting a “real” job seemed to be the more responsible path at the time (but for the record, I really just wanted to play guitar for spare change and do nothing else, ever). Let me preface the rest of this by saying I’m not a quitter by any means. I’m a fighter; a survivor. Except when it comes to jobs. In this section of life, I make poor choices, fleeing when things gets too hard or I stress myself out over small things or I let the creative part of me take over the logical. But I’ve learned a lot from knowing this.
When the end of summer neared, I parted ways with the cashier gig because I wanted to “focus on school” which really meant I was burnt out and wanted to spend more time playing my guitar or scribbling in my journal. Thus began a long string of failed job attempts where, I now realize, I was looking for my place. Not just in the workforce, but in the world. I wanted to know my path and had little patience in taking part in the journey itself (something I’m still working on). I thought, if I could figure out why I was put on this earth, what role I was to fulfill, maybe I wouldn’t feel so empty inside.
The void dates back to the discovery that my biological father passed away before I could re-connect. Through all those years, bouncing job to job, I didn’t realize I was searching to fill the gigantic hole his absence left. It wasn’t until recently did I somewhat reconcile all that instability inside of my brain and heart, to losing him. No job felt stable or gave me the things I was looking for. Just as no relationship or situation. This realization was a long way off from those teenage years but back then, I did was was expected just to get through, until somehow, I could figure it all out on my own.
After the cashier job, I focused on graduating. Always a daydreamer, school was impossible. I missed a lot of it and couldn’t play catch-up when it counted. My dreams of becoming a literary genius failed because I could barely pass English. Not because I wasn’t smart, but because I couldn’t get past the thought that I should be doing something bigger and better than sitting in a classroom. I had no focus, no direction, and most importantly, no guidance. I sort of felt like a bird whose wings had been clipped mid-flight. I knew I could be something, somebody, but didn’t know where to start. Time was fleeting and the sound of the ticking time clock inside my brain made me feel like there was no way I could commit to a job if I didn’t feel 100% passionate about it. It’s a feeling I still can’t fully explain, other than the old adage “life is too short to not do what you love.”
I didn’t have any major career goals after graduation. I loved to write but couldn’t figure out what to do with it if I couldn’t get into college. So, against all protests and logic, I took a different path and married my high school sweetheart. My [then] husband found a learn-on-the-job position at a company while I struggled through an exhausting list of part-time things such as mall sunglasses clerk, cleaning lady for both a business and independently, vacuum salesperson, disability aide, childcare worker, fair vendor, mortgage loan receptionist, humane society kennel worker, every makeup/home party independent contractor/consultant known to man, and finally, before divorcing and moving to another state, I settled into a wonderful position with a veterinarian where I worked two-and-a-half years as a receptionist. The vet and his vet tech taught me about responsibility, staying committed even when it felt too hard, and most of all, what acceptance, loyalty, and “work family” love is all about.
Once my marriage dissolved, I moved out of state, leaving that wonderful veterinary job behind, and found myself flailing in the great wide open again. It was scary and history repeated itself as I didn’t seem to learn the lessons I thought I had at the time. I was alone in a new place and it should’ve been a time for fresh starts with a better head on my shoulders but instead, I struggled as a mall retail employee, a kennel worker, an ophthalmic technician, a cash advance representative, and a temp worker. I made and sold candles, mason jar salads, and cookie mixes. I did publicity for bands and took on roles in anti-bullying and suicide prevention organizations. Once I fell in love and became pregnant with my first child, I was ordered to bed rest so I stopped working. This is when I turned to writing.
I wrote about how lonely it was to move, how much I missed my biological father, how difficult my pregnancy and many other raw, completely honest things. To my surprise, the writing and blogging snowballed into a plethora of freelance writing and editing – for pay. At first, I didn’t know if it could work out. Why would it? I’d gotten so good at running away from things, it was sure to be a matter of time before I failed with this, too. But after I found mentors who guided and believed in me the same way the vet and vet tech did years prior, I found the confidence I needed to cultivate the passion I had all along — writing. And even though I work part time in a running store while juggling the mom thing and writing to my heart’s content, I may never have discovered any of this if I took a different life journey.
It’s been seventeen years since that first job at the grocery store and although it wasn’t my true calling, I’m grateful for every second I had there and every job after. Without them, I might not be as well-rounded or seasoned in terms of life experience. Who else knows how Gold Bead Implants help improve hip dysplasia in dogs and can cite which running shoes are best for an over-pronator all in the same conversation (hint: me). So, if you’re struggling to find your way, just know, it won’t last forever. It’s supposed to be about the journey, anyway, right? So take it in. Breathe. And remember, every job is important in some way. I mean, if you don’t sell those vacuums like your electric bill depends on it, that family down the road may never have discovered how awful their current sweeper really is. Seriously.
(Image via Yoga Hosiers/Abbolita Productions)