Work Work Work

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about how I came to be here. Specifically, how I became an Art Director in Los Angeles. If you had told me when I was fifteen that I would be an Art Director in Los Angeles, I would have thought it was the coolest sounding thing ever. Reality never quite matches up to the vision in our head.

I hate my job. Well, that’s not entirely true. I like graphic design; I just don’t like being in charge. I was much happier as a lowly Graphic Designer when someone else would tell me what to do. Now, I’m the person who tells my one subordinate, Oscar (not his real name, but he seems like an Oscar to me so that’s what I call him when not talking to him directly), what to do. I am responsible for making sure he has work to do and that he does it. I am responsible for a lot of things I don’t like being responsible for, e.g. purchase orders and dealing with the labyrinthine mountain of paperwork that is The United States Post Office. I don’t like being an Art Director. I’m not even sure how I got here.

My very first job was at an outdoor music theater. I was fifteen. It was actually a really good first job as first jobs go. My job title was “Parker” since we directed people where to park their cars. We cleaned up after people on the lawn after the show was over and found all sorts of good stuff. In Michigan, where I grew up, the returnable bottle and can charge was 10 cents. You collect ten bottles or cans and you have a dollar. After a good rock concert, like Three Dog Night, we would have thousands of them. We split the take evenly like a tip. The worst concerts were classical since those people mostly drank wine and wine bottles weren’t returnable. We’d find all sorts of good stuff on the lawn after shows. Most of it made it to the lost and found, but after a while, we’d get to keep it if no one claimed it.

I see dollar signs.

I see dollar signs.

After a year or two of being a Parker, I was promoted to the box office. It was more money, but it was a worse job. We had to deal with the people directly. I’ve never been very good at dealing with people directly. Plus, the box office was not computerized, we didn’t even have a cash register, which meant I had to do math in my head. I’ve never been any good at math in my head. I used to keep a little cheat sheet at the window that said how much people would get back in change. I didn’t like concert nights. I wasn’t in on the returnable take anymore either, so no tip for me.

I worked there for a long time by first job standards–all through high school and into my first year of college, with a break in the middle to go become a homeless drug addict; that worked out well. My twenty-first birthday was spent at the box office from 9am to 6pm. Then I ran over to the college a mile away and went to class from 6pm to 10pm. By the time I got home that night, I just went to sleep exhausted.

Then, I got hit on the head. I had to drop out of school and quit my job because I was mainly a vegetable for a while. Once I regained some functionality, my mom, who had always worked in the arts, got me a job at Detroit Music Hall Center For The Performing Arts. Again, I was in the box office. This time, it was computerized, so making change wasn’t a problem. Everything was fine until a Republican governor was voted into office and cut arts funding in half, even though there was no reason to since the economy was doing alright. My mother, who worked at Detroit Symphony Orchestra Hall, and I both lost our jobs on the same day.

There was no point in looking for another job in the arts since no one was hiring, so I went a-temping. I signed up at a temporary employment agency. They put me in a job as a receptionist for a slag company while the current receptionist was out on pregnancy leave. I’m not sure why this place thought they needed a receptionist since no one ever came in except for the truck drivers who worked for the company. It’s not like people would wander in off the street looking to buy some slag.

I basically sat in the little receptionist enclave all day with little to do, but there was a computer sitting there, all dark and forlorn. One day, I figured out how to turn it on. The only computer I was familiar with at that point was the one at Music Hall, which was specially designed for them. With nothing else to do, I began teaching myself Windows, Microsoft Office and every software application they had on there. One day, one of the bosses walked by and said, “Oh, you know how to use a computer? In that case, would you mind doing some data entry for us? We’ll tell the temp agency to bump your hourly salary.” Yes, please. So, now, I sat there all day working. By the time the real receptionist came back, I knew everything there was to know about that computer. The temp agency was thrilled.

They put me in a job at the employee services center for Ford Motor Company. They handled Ford employee benefits, from retirement funds to all sorts of insurance. I started out opening mail and doing data entry. Then, they moved me onto the phones, assigning new PIN numbers for employees who had forgotten theirs. Three years later, I was an assistant systems administrator. I knew everything there was to know about personal computers and I had access to the systems room where all the mainframes were stored and I knew how to fix them. I installed wiring, did help desk and basically gleaned every bit of knowledge I could. Ford couldn’t hire me because of something political, so they made John Hancock, who provided employee insurance, hire me instead. I was making more money than I knew what to do with.

Then Ford went through a rocky patch and laid me off. I was still employed by John Hancock, but they didn’t have any jobs in Detroit. They had two positions available though: one in Atlanta, GA and one in Boston, MA. I couldn’t stand the idea of being landlocked; I need large bodies of water. I chose Boston. I packed up everything I had and moved to an unknown city in a matter of weeks.

When I got to Boston, not even a month later, they didn’t have a job for me. Are you kidding me? I just uprooted myself and moved several hundred miles for a job that didn’t exist. I tried to get a job as a systems administrator elsewhere, but Ford had specialized systems like Music Hall did, and they didn’t translate very well to the rest of the world. My choices were move back to Detroit with no job or stay in Boston with no job. I stayed and went a-temping again.

The temp agency assigned me to their corporate headquarters. My first job there was sending out Christmas cards to their customers. Four years later, I had an office with a window and a title with a lot of words in it: Senior Business Development Manager. Then I got laid off there, too, and had a similar choice to make: stay in Boston with no job or move to California with no job with my best friend. I moved.

I got a job as Marketing Manager for a stock photography house. In my spare time with them, I taught myself Photoshop. I cleaned up their collection of old stock photos, removing dust and scratches, adding a watermark and putting them for sale on the internet. The owner of the stock photography house had to lay me off again. He felt so badly about it though that he got me a job with a friend of his who had a freelance graphic design business and needed help with marketing. In my spare time there, I taught myself graphic design.

And now I’m an Art Director, which pretty much brings us up to date. Do you sense a pattern here? Do you see how life has blown me from one path to another? I do tend to make the most of wherever I am put, there’s no doubt about that, but it’s the “put” part that is sticking in my craw at the moment. I have never sought out a career, though I’ve ended up with many. I have washed up on many shores without any sense of direction.

Frankly, I’m tired of it. I’m tired of drifting. I’m envious of people with careers. I’m envious of people who knew exactly what they wanted to be from the time they were small. I’m envious of people who had the time to figure it out in college without having to work from the time they were fifteen years old. I’m going to go back to school very soon (I hope), but I still have no idea for what. The problem is, I have no idea what I want to be when I grow up.

There are 43 comments

  1. electronicbaglady

    it’s exciting though – next job might even make you an astronaut at last! Seriously, I would be bored if I had a career and always had to be thinking about the next stage and what I had to do to fit in a narrowly defined path. Live adventurously :-)

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  2. SousEtoiles

    I am right there with you. I’ve been out of college for almost five years now, and I’m just starting to figure out what I want to do. I’m learning that there are special and specific places for people like us. It’s finding those places that’s the hard part.

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  3. draliman

    I sympathise with your current situation. After being in the same job for nearly 10 years I’m responsible for way more than my little brain feels it ought to be. It was way simpler a few years ago when I just got told what to program and that was the extent of my job.
    On another note, do you still have any clout with Ford? I ordered a new car in October, it still hasn’t been delivered and I’m currently driving around in a courtesy car – a Ford KA “Grand Prix” with black alloys, red trim and go-faster stripes and I feel like an idiot. It’s just not “me”. Give Ford a poke, will you? :-)

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  4. twistingthreads

    I always suspected you were awesome; now I know!

    Very few people know what they want to do with their life, nor does it serve them well forever. That’s not to say you shouldn’t try, though, if that’s what you want. I’m just saying that you’ve got lots of company, and there’s no shame in not knowing what you want to do when you grow up, or changing your mind.

    But–I sympathize. I’m in a similar type of job loathing situation. I think your post managed to ease me down from the rage I just came home with. I hate management; I never aspired to this! I keep trying to figure out where or what I’m going to do next, and I come up empty. All I want to do is write, but that is rarely a living, and while I might try, it’s not a guarantee. So…I’m in limbo. I was supposed to go back to school for my masters in counseling, but lots of things got in the way, and I changed my mind. I’ve wanted to be a therapist since I was eleven, and a writer since I was six, but life throws curveballs, I guess. I was one of the few people who always knew what they wanted to do, up until I was 25. Now I know nothing. Silly, huh?

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    1. goldfish

      Really, all I want to do is write, too, but it wouldn’t really pay the bills. At least, I haven’t figured out a way to make it yet.

      Well, I guess knowing what you want to be doesn’t make it any easier, eh? Good luck to you, my friend. I hope you figure it out.

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  5. nightingale

    I am as impressed as everyone else who has commented already. Your ability to adapt and make something out of different challenges is a quality we look for in people we work with (said the HR person).
    Most people who are on a set career have rolled into it through opportunity and an element of chance as well, myself included. Sure it helps to be well educated, but if your knowledge leads you up a very narrow career path you have few options when life throws one of its curveballs. Which it will do. What you want can also change over time. Some people with good careers in their late forties are really quite unhappy, when they no longer want to do what they have built a career on, but can’t think of what else they could do to make a living.
    Look at the your adaptibility as a valuable skill, and don’t spend too much time regretting. You should feel more in control.

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    1. goldfish

      I regret not having a formal education to fall back on. I never even got my associate’s degree. I’m going to try going back to school, but really, I’m not sure that it will get me any farther than I’ve already gotten. Life’s a pickle sometimes. :)

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  6. Purple Rosemary

    I’m 41 and still don’t know what I want to do with my life. Life has put me where I need to be, though. I finally found a job that I mostly enjoy (it has it’s days). So, it’s all good right now. Ask me again in 6 months.

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  7. 1jaded1

    Hi Fish of Gold. Gosh how I loved this post. You are so resilient and it sounds like you can carve your own path, no matter what, wind be damned.

    You were born in Detroit…same. when I was 15 I was going to be the most badass cop on the force. Life had other plans. Things turned out as they should have. I slyly joked to everyone that I would be where I’m at now. They all laughed but I’m exactly where I want to be. It isn’t perfect and I’m still fighting demons, but it really does sound like you will get to where you want to be as well.

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  8. fibot

    I know a few people (including me) who would be a little jealous of the way your working life has panned out, especially being able to land some of said jobs without any formal education in them. I studied my butt off and worked my butt off and have managed to end up in a niche instead of lots of broader roles. But, at the end of the day I do like my job and am quite happy with my lot. What is your dream job?

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      1. fibot

        true. well you’re certainly making a good start – I love reading your blog, it’s one of my faves. so keep doing what you love and I’m sure you’ll end up landing where you CHOOSE to land instead of where you’re put. :)

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  9. monikadrinkstea

    Hey! I really enjoyed reading this, I can relate completely. Finished my degree two years ago and I have had so many crappy dead-end jobs, I don’t want to invest any more time or energy in a job that sucks. Its a dilemma for sure. My only consolation is to imagine: you’re one of those people who always knew exactly what they wanted to do, so they studied hard and became a… whatever, and then found out you didn’t like it, or it didn’t live up to your expectations. That would suck. And then what would you be left with? Probably not half the adaptability someone like you has shown. To me, your CV sounds awesome!

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    1. goldfish

      A lot of people who’ve commented on this post seem to think that my wandering work history doesn’t seem that bad. It’s really not bad to me either. It’s just that I would like to study hard and become a… whatever.

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      1. complicatedwaltz

        It is not a bad thing! You are adaptable, like the Sea Lamprey?? My husband found his way through his career the same way as you- except he is happy as a mograph designer, doing software development, training (are you seeing the parallels?). He used to be an audio engineer and got pushed in new directions. He has a perpetually good attitude and he is loved wherever he goes. Lucky duck. Happy duck.
        I, however, did that traditional thing and studied hard, had a good career in my field, and gave it all away (regrets…I have a few…). Had a few kids, a few moves around the US, and I’ve found myself without connections, without a lot of marketability, and (worst of all) without a lot of options. I taught in a pretty narrow, specialized field. Got recertified in a broader (yet highly competitive) field. 60k in loans, graduate degree, and 15 years experience, clawing to get crappy $20/hr jobs. So, maybe I’ll just let myself get blown in a new direction…
        Point being, we can end up everywhere/nowhere/anywhere, no matter if our path was chosen, or chosen for us. Don’t despair, there’s nothing wrong with your path at all. Your career karma sounds pretty lucky, all in all, I’d let the currents keep taking you downstream. I read somewhere that people have an average of 7 different careers?

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  10. Blathering

    I don’t regret not being “career minded” but I do regret that I never thought of writing as a possible career, way back in the day. (Instead I tried art.) I do also wish I had more practical/specific skills, so I particularly admire your ability to have taught yourself so many practical skills along the way, that led into your next job each time! (It says a lot about your abilities, that you keep on ending up in management roles after a few years in a workplace.) I hear you about your lack of interest in being a manager. I seem to be at the point where to change jobs, prospective employers expect me to want to manage other staff. Actually, no thanks, I don’t want to! Like you, I’d rather sit at a computer and write all day, if I could!! ;-)

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