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.
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.