33 Days of Truth: Day 7
Hey howdy hey! Continuing on with the personal growth challenge I’m doing for my 33rd birthday (33 Days of Truth!), today I’m gonna tell you aaaall about my work experience; the mistakes I’ve made, lessons I’ve learned, and what I think work should really be about, but most often isn’t. Let’s do this.
Werk werk werk.
On Day 5 of this challenge I answered a series of personal questions; one of them in particular relates to today’s share topic, so I’ll repeat that here and then build on it.
Q: “Is what you’re doing now what you always wanted to do growing up?”
A: Nope! When I was a kid, I wanted to live with my parents forever. I didn’t really have a vision for what I wanted to do the way kids say, “I want to be a fire fighter!” or “I want to be a doctor!” In high school, I played around with different career paths based on what I was passionate about: fashion design, journalism, psychology, film. Film encapsulated all the others in one way or another so I chose that. But I fell out of love with that path, the industry and everything. Maybe if I’d pursued it differently, let it be a freely creative outlet for myself, I might have gotten further along; instead I blocked my self-expression and felt unsatisfied by everything I tried to make. Secretly I was always more interested in personal growth and self-discovery. It’s been my shadow passion. I’ve never allowed it to take front and center even though it’s always been there, always pulling at my attention. That’s the essence behind what I now want to do when I grow up… Not so much a doing and more a way of being.
I find myself wondering what life would be like if I took personal growth and self-discovery out of the shadows and gave it the true spotlight. If that was the majority focus of my work and life, rather than a part-time, half-hidden pursuit. It kinda gets me emotional to imagine that. Could I really? Am I allowed? Of course I am, but it’s taken over a decade in the work force to realize and acknowledge.
The process of deciding what to do with my life after high school was kinda daunting. What a stupid thing to make young people have to figure out right away, before they’ve even had any experience outside grade school and their parents’ home. You sit down with a school counselor and pick out from the proverbial hat of life a few vague ideas about what trajectory to set your whole future on.
Incidentally I don’t recall sitting with a counselor to talk about my options, although we were required to complete one job site visit, and I went to the vet. Got to witness a neutering and a cat getting its tail skin sewed up over the bone, where it had been severed. Not even sure why I’m telling you that. I apologize.
Loved animals. Def didn’t want to be a vet. But as I said, I had many different passions under consideration. To sort them out, I used my own critical thinking and reasoning skills (such as they were), which circled me around to a career in film.
I think that deep down, when looking at the movie world from the outside, what I actually wanted was to be an actress because I could learn cool skills for every new role and it seemed like an amazing way to master oneself (see, even then I was wanting self growth and development, and just bypassing right over it). However, I convinced myself that I would hate the lack of privacy (because obvi I’d be so famous), and also that I would much rather be behind the scenes, at the helm, in the director’s chair.
This concept grew into wanting to become a director-writer-producer triple threat, with my own production company. Looking back on it, I can see with ever increasing clarity what a ruse the whole film thing was for me. It was a detour from the path I really wanted to be on, living life on my own terms, creating and being myself. I detoured from my detour, too; in the process of trying to build a movie career I fell into working jobs to pay the bills and getting in over my head on both accounts.
Disclaimer: The following extensive recount of my work history was written at well before sunrise this morning. Not remotely necessary, to go over everything in such detail, however my 4am self did the writing and I’d like to honor her efforts. Good job, me, writing instead of sleeping. Now if we could write and get sleep, we’d be stellar.
A (Not So) Brief History of [My Werk]
I had my very first job around seven or eight years old, removing the plastic wrappers from new bottles with my best friend at her dad’s business, a small medical supply company that sold and distributed breast pumps for nursing mothers. We would earn a certain amount per bottle, and once we had exactly enough pocket change for the things we planned to buy, we would walk ourselves over to the local toy shop. Among the toys I bought this way were a plush white tiger that purred when you squeezed it (awesome) and a wind-up clown that would roll its head and move its arms while playing a music box rendition of It’s a Small World (omg, why?).
Fast forward to my teens, when I worked alongside my high school bestie for the local elementary school principle, who taught an evening parenting class and needed our help watching the kids of said parents. I also did a little bit of traditional babysitting, with one lucrative gig over the summer following graduation that allowed me to save up just enough to move. I spent pretty much everything I’d earned in the transition down from Washington state to Southern California, where I then lived with my grandparents while pursuing college and dreams of becoming a filmmaker.
My early work experience with kids loaned itself to my first official, W-2 employment, as a child care teacher in a district-wide after school program. I started out in a temp position, bouncing from site to site for a couple weeks before one location hired me on permanently. Apparently, it was rare for a temp to get a permanent spot so quickly. But with my background, including being the second eldest of my siblings growing up and able to change diapers in my sleep, I had mad skills taking care of kids. Or so I thought.
For a mere three hours each day, you’d think that the child care job would’ve been a breeze. It wasn’t. It was as much if not more exhausting than a full eight hour shift. Children are great (or rather, they can be), but they take every ounce of energy you’ve got (parents… I salute you). This especially applies when you are dealing solo with upwards of 40 kindergarteners at one time. (No joke, that actually happened to me. Omg. Why.)
Some kids can be a delight to work with, while others can destroy your confidence and make you break down crying in your car after hours, like that little punk ringleader of the “KKK” who at barely six years old, had a disturbing ability to emotionally manipulate both children and adults. To clarify, “KKK” was the private nickname I gave to the three angel-faced, pig-tailed little girls under my charge who all had first names starting with the letter K. They caused so much trouble and made my work life a veritable hell some days.
I did the child care thing for three years, while I went to junior college, racking up transfer credits and earning my AA degree in TV & Film Production. Wanting to do something in my chosen field, I applied for and landed a job working at a production office in Los Angeles. At least, it was called a production office, and that’s supposedly what I would be involved with there. But the only thing that made it at all relevant was the fact that my boss was *once* a high level television executive, and was the daughter of a major TV network’s founder.
By the time I worked at the office, however, the production side of it was nonfunctioning, and instead my boss’ foundation took center stage. But we weren’t doing anything meaningful in the nonprofit sector, either. It was basically glorified personal assistant work. (One of my tasks included creating the annual flyer and sending invites out for the boss’ dogs’ birthday party celebration. Believe it or not this was one of the more interesting things I did. Yeah.)
What I thought would be an exciting segue into my movie career ended up being a menial, Sisyphean desk job of pushing papers. Within the first few months, I wanted out. But financially I was in a bind, and so I proceeded to spend yet the next three and the worst years of my life at that f***ing office.
Here’s the sum up of what that period of existence was like (also extracted from my Day 5 Q&A).
Q: What was the worst phase in your life?
A: Ughghgh! 2008-2010. I felt so stuck, working at an office job in LA and living in Hollywood, absolutely miserable and unable to pull out of that. I didn’t know how. Finances kept me stuck in the trap. I would cry on the phone with my mom at lunch breaks, and I would cry on my drive home – sometimes so hard I had to pull over because I could no longer see the road through tears. I was super depressed. I stopped giving a s***, and not in a cool way. I would sleep until the last possible second before having to get up for work. I started skipping showers. It was bad. Getting into USC film school saved me.
At USC, I started working at the film school’s alumni office on campus, which at least didn’t pretend to be anything other than a regular office. While there I actually had some peripheral involvement in the industry, too; attending pre-screenings of new movie releases, assisting with red carpet functions, and rubbing elbows with industry bigwigs. (I once rode in an elevator with George Lucas. Check me out!)
USC saved me from office misery but it didn’t save the fire for a movie career. The passion flickered one last time and then went out for good. By the time I got my fancy, golden-ticket degree in hand, I wanted nothing whatsoever to do with movies. I was over it. I left the Hollywood scene and moved back to my birth town up on the central coast of California. A friend of my dad’s, the general manager of a boutique Bed & Breakfast, hired me on a handshake.
In stark contrast to the LA office job, working at that little inn helped contribute to the best phase of my life. My front desk position was super chill. Not having the pressure to perform or make something of myself, it was a refreshing change of pace. Sometimes it got a little boring, but for the most part it was enjoyable busywork.
I did a variety of homey things like stockpile laundry, help clean rooms, bake cookies for guests, and set up the breakfast tables. I didn’t have to stay stuck in front of the computer screen, so in between check-ins I could roam about the old converted Victorian house or step outside for fresh air if I wanted. When it was extra slow, I would sit by the living room fire with a cup of tea and a book. In the evenings, my boss and I would play games, laugh our butts off over episodes of Fawlty Towers (so real), or sit out on the front steps, sipping Irish whiskey and people watching.
It was, in a word, idyllic. I knew it wouldn’t remain that way indefinitely, so when my boss moved on, I did too. With a couple years of hotel guest services under my belt, I got the idea in my head to continue building a career in hospitality, at least until I figured out what else to do. This brought me to yet another office job, and it was like having the LA one come back to haunt me. Albeit a pale shadow of its former self, it brought on an all-too familiar sense of being stuck in a rut and deeply unhappy.
CUE EXIT MUSIC
In my head right now is a Production Assistant with a headset and clipboard making wild circular hand gestures while silently mouthing, “WRAP IT UP!”
It’s after 9pm. I need to post this bad boy and be done. And then do that sleeping thing.
I’ll do the sequel, Werk: Part II tomorrow. 😃 Stay tuned!
P.S. When I set out to do this 33 Days of Truth challenge, I imagined writing a couple paragraphs for each day. Instead, I’m threatening to write an entire 33 part autobiographical series…