Writing Memoir

What happened to the summer job and why I now love my work history

I used to be ashamed of my resume. I used to think it was BAD that I changed jobs frequently. I thought employers would read it and think, “Um, sounds like she doesn’t know what she wants to do.” And they would have been right.

Then there was that time I got fired. So, yeah, not good. Not something you want to share and broadcast unless you are Miley Cyrus trying to prove how bad-ass you are. But it wasn’t until I recently that I started to appreciate my work history with all its changes and supposed flaws.

resume-screenshot

When I started to write my first book, I started to write and think heavily about where I had been and what I had done. This time also coincided with the, ‘I’ve been fired + I’ve dropped out of grad school. OMG. What do I do with my life?’Crisis of 2005. There’s nothing like a tailspin to force you to grab the controls while mascara runs down your face.

I started working as soon as I could, starting at 15 or 16. I’m a working class girl and we didn’t have the Internet back then to beguile the lazy hours away. Plus my mom probably would have yelled at me to get a job anyway. Actually, I don’t know if that is true. I wasn’t pushed, but I felt motivated to make my own money.

So I did what was natural, I asked my stepfather if the company he worked at had any openings. My first summer or seasonal job was at a construction company where I literally counted nuts and bolts and placed them in paper bags. I also entered data into an old fashioned desktop computer while trying to ignore the boxes and boxes – and boxes of flavored Twix candy bars that sat next to me.

I don’t remember why there were so many Twix boxes. I think they were for my stepdad. No, he’s not diabetic or overweight. Must have been warehouse humor. Did you know there is a Cookies n Cream Twix bar? I ate a lot of Twix candy bars. I never got fat though. You can hate me for it.

My stepdad eventually changed companies, but stayed in construction. I would return to construction/warehouse work whenever I was in a penny pinch. In fact, when I was really down in the dumpsters from losing my job, he took me in and I even learned how to operate a fork lift! So, that should let you know, he didn’t treat me like a “girl” – I cut metal pipes and had to do other dirty work. He actually made me feel capable and smart.

At the time though, work just felt like I was earning my keep, you know?

work-history

Most of my work history though comes from working many, many, many office jobs, more office work than I ever imagined or want to imagine ever again. Temp work got me working for a great variety of businesses from: H&R Block, Planned Parenthood, a fine meats distributor to a company that flew large animals (mostly horses) around the world – and that’s just the tip of the resume.

Often I was thrown into situations/jobs where paperwork had been neglected or where I needed to dive right in and make a lot of mistakes and ask a lot of questions in order to figure out what needed to be done. So perhaps my ability to take risks and fail often has nothing to do with any innate aptitude, but rather years and years of stepping into new environments, problem-solving and training.

Reading about how teens are working less and less was what originally got me thinking about my work history. Apparently, many teenagers in the US are opting to travel, study longer or volunteer instead of taking what was once a rite of passage – a summer job. Some blame it on the economy or immigrants taking work away, but I believe that our youth today are hungry to be entrepreneurs. I can’t tell you how many early 20somethings are trying to sell me a better way to blog or make money. I also think the world has gotten smaller and that classic message, “get out and see the world” and “work is overrated” has been shared, liked, tweeted and instragramed more than ever.

There’s nothing wrong with that, of course; it’s just I no longer regret that I didn’t travel abroad when I was younger. I no longer feel like life passed me by while I was slave-waging-it in some cube farm. In fact, I feel better able to handle a life abroad having had full experiences and challenges back home. I’m grateful that I currently work less and make more, and that things didn’t happen the other way around.

projectile-point
Just another day at work…[Cortez, Colorado, circa 1995]
I was also an archaeologist. I worked at a children’s summer camp in the gorgeous mountains of Colorado for three summers. And I still have a hard time believing I was a Waldorf teacher.

One of my favorite jobs, surprisingly, was at Little Caesars Pizza because I worked with such fun people. We laughed while we made phallic shapes out of dough and laughed even harder when the manager discovered our creativity in the freezer. I hated when all the phones were ringing and I smelled like a dirty kitchen after a day’s work, but this was where I learned that people do not read signs, and that it’s who you work with that makes a job.

I know what it’s like to be a cashier with a long line out of the door. I know that plumbing supplies are cleverly named. I know that homeowner’s associations are stupid, stupid, stupid places to work. And I certainly remember how much my back hurt from shoveling dirt into a wheelbarrow.

I’ve worked with every color, all ages, assholes, racists, mean girls, drunks, idiots, prisoners, hotties and thankfully, some nice and normal people, too. I’ve worked with people who have changed my life, and if that’s too dramatic to say, they made me a better person.

When my mom asked if I wanted anything from Hawaii, I said a haku lei, which is what I'm wearing on my head.
When my mom asked if I wanted anything from Hawaii for my college graduation, I said a haku lei, which is what I’m wearing on my head. [Hugging my dear friend, Nadya at Durango, Colorado, circa – a long time ago]
When I was going through jobs like they were costume changes (see GREAT CRISIS), I hit a special low. I worked at Target. In my thirties. I had always enjoyed being a Target shopper and I couldn’t take any more of the homeowner’s association’s absurdity, so I thought, “Why not?” But the idea of being seen in that store sent me into a shame-induced tizzy so I signed up to work the graveyard shift stocking shelves.

As you might imagine, working the graveyard shift produces some rather colorful Target team members like my manager, a gay vampire. Now, you probably think I’m exaggerating or being funny, but no, I am not. He had his incisors enhanced. He had fangs. And he wasn’t the only person I worked with who had them (but that’s the non-profit world, another story).

Nice guys, by the way.

I’m coming out, people. I’m coming out. I worked at Target. In my thirties…and I liked it.

My partner tells me that I should be proud of all I’ve been able to accomplish in the short time I’ve been here in Siem Reap. (It’s been hard adjusting after Thailand.)  Funny thing though, I just never recognized that I’ve been thrown into new situations and have survived for all of my working life.

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33 thoughts on “What happened to the summer job and why I now love my work history

  1. My teenage years couldn’t have been more different than yours. In high school and later at university, my parents discouraged me to work and instead focus on bringing home the grades. It wasn’t until late into university that I got my first paid job as an office assistant in the careers department on campus.

    Post-uni and currently, I’m moving around jobs a lot. Been that way for the last few years on contract work for a number of industries. Data entry, call centre, reception, academic research are some fields where I’ve worked. Never actually done sales, though, or worked in retail. I don’t think I could ever handle having to lie to sell someone something. Jumping from job to job can be tiring and uncertain – you don’t know when your next paycheck is coming at times. And I applaud you for living that way for so long.

    I am jealous of you, Lani…driving a forklift… 😀

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    1. It sounds like your parents are in line with what a lot of well-meaning folks are telling their kids these days, “study more, longer, travel, don’t work yet”.

      I’m simply from a different generation, but I got the sense that you have been at the same job for years (or at least awhile) so that’s good. I mean, I think there is value in working in different industries and areas.

      But don’t applaud me. I still look horrible on paper. I work because I have to, you know? A lot of my decisions were based on fear, too. That’s life and I’m okay with that now. Thanks though 🙂

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      1. I think a lot of of us, if not all of us, work because we have to. Recently it has come to my attention that many within my circle of friends and acquaintances don’t exactly love or even like what they do. I’ll ask something like “What do you like about work?” and often they’ll struggle to come up with a definitive answer.

        Perhaps if we like our work, that trickles to other aspects of our life and we have a better outlook on life. Currently I am in a contract that I really like, and am bounding with energy here and there 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Work takes up sooo much of our time, so it has to be something we enjoy or tolerate. When we hate our work, we hate our life, and the message of “travel more” or “get out and see the world” becomes ubitiquous…I think once we figure out this work week and allow people to have their own time back and find meaning, our society will truly take off.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I wish I worked less as a teenager and had more experiences as well. Oh well, better late than never.

    You seemed to turn out very fine now! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Awww, thanks. I used to wish I had gone to summer camp because it seemed to be such a rich experience, but things happen as they do and it’s nice to appreciate how they unfolded.

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  3. I enjoyed the recording – I listened while working on art – and the surprise is that you speak the way you write. In my case my writing is quite different from my normal speaking. Your anecdotes from the past are some of your best pieces, and making recordings make them even more accessible.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. From the “artist” page of my website (and I left out quite a few jobs including trying to sell pens, shirts, etc. to companies with their logos on them). I think you’ll relate, Lani. 🙂

    “Naomi holds a Bachelor’s degree in History and Russian Areas Studies from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She has never received formal training as an artist, but she can trace her somewhat twisted path from ESL teacher, to political consultant, to website creator (just to name a few) to artist.”

    Liked by 1 person

    1. 😀 I think artists, like writers (or any creative endeavour, really) should draw upon LIFE and experiences. I think it’s what makes our work relateable, tangible and breathe.

      And now I know a little more about you, too! Cheers.

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  5. I think there’s no right way to do it. You have to do what’s right for you at the time, and then the right lifestyle will eventually come along, and you’ll know it when you find it. At least, that’s what I think now. I think everyone’s path is different, but that’s what makes it so much fun to read about! I think you should be very proud of your life ^^

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You are absolutely right. It’s just funny how much we live on regret. Reading articles about summer jobs in the US for teens just gave me a chance to re-evaluate how I think about work and my past.

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  6. You’ve had a fantastic work history. And it’s so nice that you appreciate it.

    When I was a kid, we all started working at about the age of 10. And I do mean all. The most popular summer job was picking strawberries. The season didn’t last all summer, so we had plenty of time to play, ride bikes, swim. We used our berry-picking money to buy school clothes. After I graduated from high school, they stopped letting kids work in the fields. Child labor. My best summer job was driving a dump truck that carried peas from the field to the “set” where they were shelled.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ahhh. When I think about strawberries, I think about Mexican workers in California doing the job that no one else wants to do anymore.

      But I have friends that would travel to Australia and Canada for seasonal berry-picking jobs because the money was good.

      In any case, you are so lucky you got to have the experiences that you did. Good ‘ol fashioned work! Driving a truck must have been fun!

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  7. What an interesting work history! My life has been totally different. Since kindergarten I was swimming in a team already which left me later on without time to do any small jobs besides my high school or middle school time. This continued up till my university years where I actually quit swimming at one point and some time later decided to make some bucks as swimming surlely didn’t pay well. So what I’ve work so far? I’ve been a life guard at the swimming pool ,swimming coach, cleaner at the airport, self employed in online marketing and company strategy consultant, work at a bank and last but not least also having with my wife these days our own little business 🙂
    I don’t know if there is a right way, it always depends how a human being makes the best I out of the given opportunities

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Very well said. Yes, we must make the best from what we are given, but sooo hard to do when you wish you were somewhere else, doing something else…

      Swimming coach and lifeguard! You must know CPR. That’s hard work. I mean, rescuing someone in the water. Did you ever have to do it?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I thankfully never had do rescue anyone but I had of course all kind of lessons for these things. Furthermore I was a medic in the Finnish army so I know another thing or two BUT I would be the worst medic in history as I cannot handle blood at all 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      2. It wasn’t my choice with the army, back in the day both Germany and Finland had the compulsory military service. I didn’t want to do either of them because I wanted to study and get continue with my sports . So I got out of the German military service thanks to some doctor papers but in Finland they did not really care about it and I had to go there and lost my scholarship for a university in California (also good as I met my wife at university in Finland )

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Compulsory military service! I thought that was odd for Thailand, but I guess it’s more common than I realized. Seems like such an archaic idea, but maybe it has done some good for socieities, too. You should write about it.

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      4. Lets see about that topic. Not really too keen to write about it any time soon as it wasnt really the best time of my life plus losing 9 months to something I have/ had zero interest in.
        Germany got rid of the compulsory military service some years ago, same many other European countries did long time ago but Finland still sticks to it though it doesnt really make sense in times of modern warfare (my units average life expectation in a war would have been roughly 8 seconds….horray)

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  8. I started babysitting when I was ten. I was burned out by the time I was sixteen and used homework as an excuse to stop taking childcare gigs. My dad was having none of that — he dropped me off at the mall and told me not to come home until I had a job. Luckily a snobby women’s clothing store hired me, overworked me, and underpaid me. Unlike you, I didn’t have the confidence or self-esteem to quit and try something different — I had a tendency to gratefully stay at various companies until they went bankrupt! Great for severance pay, terrible for resume.

    I wanted to go to summer camp, too. Or boarding school. They seemed like lovely places.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Of course! Babysitting. Such a classic teen job. Thanks for reminding me of it. I was a latchkey kid so I was babysitting “unofficially” me and my brother for years – Hahhaahha.

      Gosh, did I have confidence? I think I was just scared to stay someplace that made me unhappy. Sorry about ‘snobby women’s clothing store’ – there must be some great stories in there, Autumn!

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Great recording, Lani. You seem to turn out well.

    I have had been a contractor, for a long, long time, partly out of choice and partly due to market forces. Had I not been for my background, I would not have been given meaty, interesting and challenging roles but very often, I get thrown in the deep end. I am expect to perform and deliver. I rise to the occasions because I need to. Needs be!

    It hasn’t always gone smoothly esp in the last 2 years. Lately, I have been tossed around by the waves. Some tell me they cannot employ me because I am a Pigeon and not a Dove. Others tell me I have an impressive cv but ……I have been to interviews where I was dismissed within minutes.

    I was in high finance in the private sector, did my rounds in Central Government and now gravitate between private and public sectors.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. My dear friend, Nadya has had the longest unemployment streak that I know of. I feel grateful that I never had problems, really, finding work. Of course, I was willing to take most things, but I don’t even know if that is even an option anymore with the economy the way it is. I hear it’s getting better, but can I trust the NEWS?

      I hope smoother waters are up ahead for you soon, traveller!

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      1. Thank you Lani for the kind words.

        I think both of us have learnt to ride with the waves. Survive training (ST) in the making. I don’t think my ST is in the SAS /
        the Navy Seal ?? league yet.

        The challenges in the workplace and finding suitable?? work are becoming more common.

        In the UK, Senior Civil Servants in Central Government have been put on fixed term contracts of 2 years for the last 10 years or so. Gone are the days of bower hats and drinking cups of tea; we all are assigned to tasks of the next grade even though it is not in the contract. In some departments, it is popular with secondments from some of the Big Boys in the accountancy world eg Price Waterhouse Coopers because one get to sink one’s teeth into interesting, meaty and challenging role.

        Even NHS hospital consultants are on fixed term contracts these days.

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  10. Woah, our stories are very different. I didn’t work until I was 25! I focused on my studies before that and my parents never told me to work. That doesn’t mean I didn’t value money or was a big spender or a lazy ass!
    I have only had 3 jobs until now: pavilion hostess in the Shanghai Expo (only for 6 months, this was fun), executive assistant in a plastics manufacturing company (not too fun, but the money was good) and videogames translator (my current and favourite job, as it is related to my studies!).

    I don’t think having a lot of jobs makes you look bad. It proves you have a lot of experience and can do many different things!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Marta. I think many employers want stability and I never felt like a stable employee. Hahahaha.

      A pavillion hostess sounds very exotic 😛 and your current job sounds great. Lucky you! Many dream of working in the videogaming industry.

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  11. Lani, so well written. But what job do you have now and/or one, two three? I have started a group called Poetry Lovers’ and Writer’s in the Meetups Chaing Mai. Wanted to with like souls. Going well so far. Getting me in the groove again.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I miss our writing groups. and I miss your poetry classes! Jealous.

      Right now I’m working as an English teacher at a reputable school. Whenever I say where I work, everyone seems impressed. I must say, I rather like the reputation and positive feedback.

      Thanks, Sandra!

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  12. This is so awesome! And I got to hear what your voice sounds like… there is something so much more personal when you hear someone reading their own writing. You get certain inflections and emotion that you wouldn’t by just reading! Great idea.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks. I don’t know how many audio blog posts I’ve done, but I hadn’t done one in a while so I figured it was high time that I did.

      It’s more work, but I think it’s worth it and honestly, I enjoy it. Thanks so much Jenny 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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