Why I’m thankful for my weird summer job experience

I had a pretty odd assortment of summer jobs in high school and college. My resume includes nanny, nail salon receptionist, behind-the-scenes liaison at Cirque du Soleil, and a greeter at a librarian convention. These jobs helped me learn about what I love (people) and what I don’t like (box-cutters) and make some more informed decisions about future employment opportunities.

There can be a lot of pressure to get a summer job that will lead to a career, and that stinks! It’s totally cool to try out a job for three months without worrying how it will affect your college application. I always knew I wanted to work in a creative job, preferably hunched over a computer, but I’m thankful that I tried jobs that pushed me out of the comfort zone of my desk chair.

One summer, I applied to work as a temp, which meant every few weeks, I got a new assignment in a new office with new people. At the first few places, I did secretarial work. My supervisor would ask me to dress business casual and arrive five minutes before my shift started. Usually, I just had to file for hours – it’s a job not a lot of grown ups want to do. I didn’t really get to talk to anyone, but I didn’t mind. I sang the alphabet to myself all day and got really fast at organizing, a ninja skill I still possess.

In the heavy heat of July, my supervisor offered me an assignment at a Nordstrom factory a few towns away from my home. My shift started at 7 a.m., but the pay was better than any other job I’d taken so far. I couldn’t wait to blow Nordstrom away with my lightning fast alphabetizing, and barely listened to my supervisor’s directions.

“You’ll need to wear work shoes,” he said. I had a perfect pair of heels in mind; they were leopard print and clicked importantly when I walked. “And please wear loose-fitting pants.” That sounded a little strange to me, but I had some black flowy gaucho pants that were technically loose-fitting.

(This is by far the most valuable, life-saving lesson I learned from this summer job: If something sounds strange, ASK QUESTIONS. Don’t assume you know better. I definitely didn’t.)
When I arrived at the Nordstrom factory, I got put into a quick training session with about twenty-five people, mostly men who were three times as big as me. They were all wearing sweatpants. We were directed to open giant boxes of baby pants, take out each pair, and hang them up on tiny clothes hangers. Before they let us near the merchandise, they handed each of us a giant knife. Here’s another instance where I should have asked a question: I didn’t realize what the knife was for until I saw one of my huge co-workers use his to open a box.

I spent the next nine hours standing at my little station, with my feet swelling in my leopard print heels. My gaucho pants were indeed loose-fitting, but also very wooly. By the time I got to break for food and some fresh air, I looked like I’d fallen off a boat and I smelled like a hamster.
During lunch, I told my fellow factory workers about how I should have asked why there was such a specific dress code, and a lot of them laughed and sympathized. One of them asked me why I hadn’t just left when I saw the not-so-heel-friendly environment. That hadn’t even occurred to me! I realized his question was actually a compliment, one that I haven’t forgotten. People, whether they are your boss or your co-worker or your customer, appreciate follow through. It’s incredibly important to stick to your word, even if it means limping away from a pile of baby pants.

This was by far the oddest summer employment experience I’ve ever had, but I gained invaluable knowledge that will no doubt follow me no matter what job I’m doing. I’m grateful that I made mistakes when I was younger, because I’ve never stopped making mistakes – I’m just getting better at avoiding them. Now, I’m sure to ask questions, make sure I understand directions and what’s expected of me, finish things I start, and always always double check if it’s appropriate to wear heels.

(Images via herehere, here, and here.)