More interesting than I thought: Every job I’ve ever had

July 10, 2014

When I was 12(ish) years old, I started babysitting for the kids in my neighborhood. I would always pack a small backpack full of a couple toys and some crayons and activities, and when I would arrive I would let the kids pick something out to keep. I also used to tidy up the main floor of the house, if I was still sitting after the kids went to bed. My tidying methods, which I still use today and that drive my husband crazy, don’t necessarily involve putting away or organizing, simply putting like things into piles so that the visual clutter is reduced. Looking back, I’m sure this drove the parents whose kids I was sitting for completely crazy. One time I let in another neighborhood kid that I wasn’t in charge of watching into the house, he tromped mud and tar all over the carpet, and I couldn’t get the stains out for the life of me. There were cartoon-looking footprints everywhere. I told the kids not to say anything when their parents got home, in hopes that I could run away before they saw it, but they told them anyway. During the two minute chaperoned walk home all I could think of was what I was going to tell my parents when the mom of the kids I was sitting for yelled at me, never called me again, didn’t pay me, etc. She paid me anyway (8 whole bucks!) and was incredibly kind about the situation. I think I told my parents a few years later. By the way, almost 20 years later, that mom is now a grandmother and has gifted me some of the most thoughtful gifts when my children were born.

When I was 14 I got my first real job at a high-end party supply store. I could only work on Saturdays, and most weekends I had to attend concerts for a jazz band that I was a part of in middle school. #geek The store had so many things that weren’t directly labeled with price tags (individual sheets of paper, balloons, etc) that I felt like I could never do anything without help. Also, I’m pretty sure I hung up on 89% of all the customers who called while I was working, as the phone was really complicated and I was expected to answer it but never taught how to use it. They had chocolate covered Little Debbie delicious something-or-others in the break room. I had to wear “fancy” clothes, and I barely had any, so dressing for each shift was a huge pain in my tomboy a$$. I remember my shoes always hurting my feet. After a few months of barely being scheduled and turning down half of the days I actually was scheduled because of the concerts, the manager told me she was just going to stop scheduling me all together. I walked out, realized I was essentially fired, and burst into tears. I didn’t care about losing the job – I never liked it – but the fact that I was fired from something (aka. I failed!) completely humiliated me.

When I was 16 I started working at a dry cleaners. I rocked at that job. Everything was stored in a computer, my brain meshed well with computers, and I prided myself on finding the shirts that were “lost” that were really filed under the last name Baxton instead of Paxton. Troubleshooting was my thang. I helped the customers drop-off and pick-up, sorted the clothes, entered the orders into the computer, helped close, and had a blast with the handful of other teenagers who also worked there. There was a local bakery in the same strip mall, and we would often walk over to pick up the $1 day old panini loaves and down them by the chunkful. A classmate who worked there introduced me to salt and vinegar chips, one of my loves to this day. We would eat them until the insides of our cheeks were sore. There was an older gentleman that worked there who had such bad breath, we called him Hal, as in halitosis. He had no idea what it meant, and thought it was cute that all the “kids” had a special name for him. I have no idea what his real name was. There was one customer whose face looked so much like a cartoon character (long shape, huge curved nose, wide eyes) that we would see him coming and immediately play the “not it” game. Whichever one of us was still in the front of the store last, had to help him. He was always very nice, but we were afraid that our fits of giggles wouldn’t go over well with him, so we ran to the back to hide and muffle them with our hands. I thought it was super fancy when some customers would request their dress shirts to be folded and boxed instead of hung up. I imagined them going on fancy trips and packing those perfectly pressed and folded shirts into steamer trunks and hotel dressers. My parents still get their dry cleaning done at that location.

The first summer home from college I worked at the daycare incorporated into the local school district. I sat around all summer with elementary-aged kids, playing with them on the playground, playing card games like 3-to-13 and gin rummy with them, and microwaving industrial-sized cookie sheets of french toast sticks (eww) for their breakfasts. Those were the days I always dreaded having clean-up duty. Maple syrup is a bitch to get off of lunchroom tables. There was one girl there who was one year older than I was, married, and with two kids. I did the “age comparison” thing all summer long, and it freaked me out to think about all of the “old person” things she had already done at my age. There were two rowdy but fun ten year-old boys at the daycare all summer whose parents were both divorced, and halfway through the summer we found out that the mom of one and the dad of the other were dating. I thought that was so scandalous.

The next summer I couldn’t find a part time job to save my life, so I spent the first three weeks of summer vacation sitting on the couch in the house I was sub-leasing in Iowa City, eating Chex Mix, applying one or two places, and telling myself I was sooo busy. I finally did get a job in the accounts receivables department of the university. The building was one of those government-looking buildings that was several stories tall but oddly had no windows, just brick all the way up. I worked with a gal who found it fascinating how quickly I learned how to file things and update her very basic Excel spreadsheets. She had photos on the wall of a baby, and all summer I assumed it was hers until one day she mentioned a granddaughter. We had celebrated her 39th birthday in the office just one week earlier. A 39 year-old grandma! I thought that was scandalous too. I told the manager who hired me that I would *totally* continue working past the summer, when I knew full well that I didn’t plan to. I kept the job a few weeks into the fall semester, then quit.

The next summer I had an internship in the technology department of a construction management company. I worked with two other young guys and the three of us made up the entire IT department, if I remember correctly. The employees would bring us their broken computers, we would push two buttons, get it working again, and giggle when they would walk away in amazement. We also regularly set-up new computers for all of the employees, and I helped create a system for recording all of the settings and software installs that we would define on every new machine. I had to log a timesheet every week and remember being amazed, while also feeling bad, that I had logged a couple hours over 40 one week and they paid me time and a half of my hourly rate for that smidge of extra time. One guy I worked with had a last name of Snow. I thought that was cool. An older gentleman we worked with had a wife and daughter that he openly complained about all the time. I thought that was so not cool. One of the guys in the department was engaged and I remember thinking how nice he was for making wedding-plan related phone calls on his lunch break. He would have sticky notes on his desk like “Call DJ” and “Ask cake lady about the flowers.” That guy turned out to be the brother in law of someone I later worked with at an entirely different company in an entirely different city five years later. I still see the construction signs from this firm around the midwest and smile. They offered me a full-time position after the internship was over, I told them I would let them know as the semester progressed, and eventually turned them down when I received an offer for the company I worked for in Kansas City. Having that position to fall back on, though, did allow me to be pickier with my interviewing my senior year in college. And by pickier I really mean lazier.

Before the end of the fall semester of my senior year, I received a formal job offer from the company in Kansas City. I accepted without even thinking about googling job negotitation strategies. The lady who called said that I would receive some paperwork soon, and that I should sign and return it. The door bell to my apartment rang not even five minutes later. I thought she was magic. Overnight delivery apparently wasn’t something I was very knowledgeable about at that point. I called everyone I knew from the bedroom in my apartment and no one answered. Not my mom, not my dad, not my sister, not any of my currently MIA roommates. The carpet in my room was blue, and I laid on my bed and stared down at the company paperwork that was laying on top of it until one of my roommates finally arrived home and I was able to share the good news with someone in person. I did less studying and more partying the spring semester than I ever had before. I showed up to a final or a midterm, I don’t remember, of one class I needed to graduate and a good friend was sitting there, waiting to take the test. “I didn’t know you were in this class!” I exclaimed without thinking. “Ann, you’ve skipped every session, how would you know I was in this class?” Ha. Touche. I got an A in that class thanks to notes from my then-boyfriend’s fraternity on past classes and a professor that was keen on repeating the exact same lectures and exams.

I started my corporate job in July of 2003, just two months after I graduated college, and was there until January 2010 when I ditched the cubicle in order to work from home doing the small businesses that I had been doing on the side for several years. While there, I worked in customer service support and troubleshooting – a job that was not what I was originally offered, but I didn’t have a choice in the matter – followed by several years in engineering working on software design and requirements. The software design role had me doing a lot more writing than I ever expected. And we all know where that led…

This morning, as I was pouring cereal into a bowl for one daughter and holding the other as she spit up on the floor, I had a random thought: who says normal lives aren’t interesting? I’ve often read about the lives of others – in books, in magazines, in my Facebook feed – and thought, “Sheesh, my life is so boring compared to theirs!”

But then you start typing a few things out, remembering fascinating details, and your life doesn’t seem as ho hum as you thought.

If you’re still with me, that was just 2000+ words to say: You’re an interesting person with all sorts of weird and wacky and wonderful experiences! Even if you think you’re not.

Hugs to that,


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