I mentioned in my previous post (Starting the Official Job Search of 2017), that I’m looking for a new job this year. And since I want this to be a “good search” that reflects my true interests and desires, I have been reflecting on ALL of my previous jobs to see what they tell me about myself and what I might be looking for in 2017.
A. Paper delivery boy — Yep, I delivered the Shoppers’ Market and the Peterborough Examiner when I was a teenager. I took over the Shoppers’ Market (think Kijiji on paper) route from my brother and it was pretty sweet. It literally covered my immediate neighbourhood — one block south, one block west, one block east and two blocks north. There wasn’t a perfect route that didn’t involve either some criss-crossing or doubling-back, but it was once a week, and they did direct deposit into a bank account. No collecting.
Later I had three different Examiner routes, all late afternoon and it ran Monday to Saturday (no Sunday paper). While many people did paper routes and say later they learned about dependability, or value for money, etc., my lessons were not so positive. It gave me my own money, which was good, but there was a serious limit to what you could make. Even my last two routes, which were in apartment buildings, allowed me to handle some 85 papers at once, but it still wasn’t as much as you could make in a real part-time job. Wednesdays sucked when they had all the ads; Thursdays were collections, and I had to frequently chase people; and lots of people didn’t have the $2 or so to pay me. Separate from the reality check, I learned that a) I never really wanted to be dependent upon “piecework” for my rate of pay (hourly wage or salary, but not piecework); b) I’d rather worry about something other than the “transaction” at the front-line; and c) some people are going to crap on you or make your day, and you can choose how you are going to respond (a lesson that I still need to learn and relearn daily).
B. Dishwasher — I filled in one night at a restaurant for my brother. He worked as a dishwasher and also did basic kitchen / stock room cleaning when he finished the dishes. It seemed like mindless work to me, and obviously not what I wanted to do with my life when I was planning on university, maybe law school, etc. But he needed someone to fill in, and it paid more than I got delivering papers. I was arrogant enough to think it would be relatively easy, and instead, I was a near disaster.
He normally started at 6 or so, I think, and handled the dinner rush. He would then finish up, clean the back area, and basically be good to leave by about 10:30. At 11:00, I was still slogging through the dishes and glasses that never slowed down. I cleaned up, swabbed the floors, and I was beat. I left just after 1:00 a.m., walked home, and collapsed. I felt completely useless. A job that was the bottom of the totem pole, and I couldn’t even do it. I was supposed to go back another night, but I refused. I learned the same lesson I had from the paper route — my money/career/living was never going to amount to anything if I was relying on physical labour or transactions to do it. I needed something that was more geared to my one and only skill — my intellect.
But there was something I didn’t know, and I didn’t even find out until many years later…because my brother was ticked at me for not going back the second night, he didn’t tell me. Apparently, he was just enough faster than me that by the time he finished the dinner rush and got the back area clean, he could go home — before all the night-time plates and glasses came back from the bar. I was slower, not egregiously so, but slower, and so I was still there when all the “extra” stuff came back. So I washed it. All of it. Cuz that was the job as I understood it. What the reality had been however was that I actually did all the work of the dishwasher who would come in the next morning and clean up the bar stuff from the night before. When he came in the next day, he had nothing to do for the first few hours, as I had already done it. THAT’s why I was so much slower — I did two jobs!
C. Telemarketing — I actually did this for a whopping, wait for it, five days. I was between high school and university, and I needed cash desperately. I had already decided to live at home and go to Trent, not figuring I had many other financial options, and I was struggling to find anybody that would hire me for anything. I had nothing in the way of useful experience, see above. I had had an interview at the university in the library, but hadn’t heard anything yet, so I took the telemarketing job with a friend. He was good at it, I hated it with a passion and sucked. I lasted five days selling circus tickets, and only had a handful of sales. Again, a transaction-based job. Another area, like piecework for paper delivery, that I was never going to excel at quickly. I quit because I got another job, but I was on the line of being fired anyway (they had a quota each night to meet, which wasn’t high, it was just their break-even point for paying you vs. revenue from sales). My friend did it for the full run and made good money. Having been on the inside, you might think I would have some sympathy for those who call the house, and I’m okay with a few, but most (like the duct cleaning services) are just parasites who ignore the DO NOT CALL list.
D. Serials Assistant, University Library — My GF found out about a job at the university and applied for it, but referred me to it too. There were only a handful of us who applied, and they were looking for someone to work in the serials and periodicals section of the university library for July and August. I’d like to say I got the job because I was the best candidate, but in reality, I got it because I was going to be attending the same university in the fall, and the other applicants weren’t. The “story” just worked for them — they liked the idea I was going to be a Trent student, that they were “hiring a Trent student”, even if I hadn’t started yet. I loved the job, and I stayed for four years. They hired me full-time in summers and part-time through the school year. They were flexible on my hours around my classes, and I became one of the team slowly but surely. I am not exaggerating when I say that much of who I am as a worker in any job came from my experiences at the university.
I started out small…I was basically opening and sorting the mail, and after it was checked in by the full-time staffer, I would put it on the shelf. The records were all in paper, and were super important. Nothing could be missed. We kept excellent records, in a way that only a library can appreciate. We knew when we got every issue, which ones hadn’t arrived, it was all recorded. There was this amazing filing cabinet with pull-out drawers that were only about the size of a small book turned sideways…the catalog came out, the end dropped down to the pull-out table, and voila, an accordion-style set of cards that you could lift up, enter your info, and move on. A book lover’s dream, more so than any card catalogue could ever be. This was real, this was raw! THIS was a library!
I learned about computers…used WordPerfect and Lotus. We were just starting to switch over to digital records, and I even sent my first email. 1988. To another university of course, asking if they had any issues of some magazines we were missing our copies of, and they replied and sent them to us through inter-university mail. It was awesome!
But the two things that stood out for me above all else were (a) the value-added nature of my work and (b) the people.
I was an assistant in title and in function. My job, obviously, was to assist, but more importantly, it was to help them do their jobs more easily. I did the grunt work — opening and sorting the mail would take a staff member 25-30 minutes and slow her down from actual recording of the entries. Similarly with shelving. If I did the opening and initial sorting, and the shelving, she was free to do other work, or even the recording with more time to follow up with something if there was a problem (often simple, like issue 4 arrived but issue 3 had never come, which would require noting and a request to the publisher to resend, but would slow her down if she was also doing other things).
I took on projects. There was a set of titles with missing issues on a special set of shelves — four or five titles per shelf, six shelves per bay, maybe around 16-20 bays. Some 600 titles, some with multiple issues missing…we couldn’t bind them with missing issues, there was no room to put them in the periodicals area just loosely, so they sat with us. Students couldn’t access them without asking for them, and I knew most wouldn’t bother. And there was no time for anyone to follow-up to see if we could find issues elsewhere. So, one summer, I spent a few hours each week to work on it as a “weed the beast” project. Over the course of a summer, I got it all down to less than five bays. I wrote letters, I wrote emails, I called other universities. I begged, borrowed and cajoled copies of issues to complete our collections, sent them for bindery, and put them in the stacks where they belonged. There was some internal metric, probably number of titles, and I reduced it from something like 600 down to less than 100 at one point. It’s a never ending war of attrition, but it was a source of frustration for the library and the staff I was working around. For them, it was like a Christmas present to have someone do it. Which I did on my own initiative. I had permission, but it was my idea, my project. I loved being helpful…it made other people’s jobs easier, even if I wasn’t doing anything glamourous or important, and I loved doing it. Value-added work, however minor or trivial in level, is pretty dang addictive. And everyone loved the work I was doing. Another bonus.
The other area was the people. I am NOT an extrovert, no matter what some people might think. I am, and have always, been an introvert. Yet in a role where I have formal structures, I can be a bit more liberated. In the library, I would frequently have something in our area that had to go over to fragile documents, the reference section, acquisitions, circulation or reference. Even archives or the mail room or the head librarian’s office. I jumped to do it…because I got to meet more people and see a bit of what their job was about, what they were working on from time to time. Not in an obnoxious way, just chatting as I dropped things off. I got to know everybody in the building, without trying to do so. I was just curious, and lord knows I like to talk, so I got to meet people across the library.
Here’s the thing. When I “quit”, after university in order to go off to law school, my team suggested we have a “going away lunch” for me. Sure, sounds good, I thought. They asked if other people could come too, which also sounded good. Particularly as one of my previous bosses had moved jobs and was in another section now, so she could come too. I expected, maybe five people. Then I found out acquisitions was coming, so I thought, “Maybe 10”. There were over 30 people there. Almost the entire library came. I felt overwhelmed. I was just a student. And ALL these people wanted to come to my farewell lunch. And it wasn’t like it was right next door, you had to drive 20 minutes to get there. They all came. The library was practically shut down — the only people left running it were mostly students, and some of them had to be told they couldn’t come too. I was a little self-conscious too, since I knew a staffer in the library had retired after 30 years the week before, and only about six or seven people even knew who she was and went to her lunch.
Looking back, it is easy to see how I connected with them and why they would come. Because I was helpful. Because I was nice. Because I was curious about their jobs and what they did, and asked questions about them. I wasn’t simply cashing a pay cheque and heading for the door. Because I liked them.
Between the addictive nature of value-added work, and liking my coworkers, I seriously considered doing a Masters in Library Science degree when I finished my undergrad. I even considered becoming a systems librarian, as it was going to be the future. I just didn’t know if there was much of a job market for librarians.
So, instead, I chose law school. How did that work out for me? I’ll let you know in the next post…