“A plain bagel with plain cream cheese.”
That’s what the Brentwood mom whose name was probably something like Cheryl or Cindy ordered on my first day– my first hour– of working at my first job ever, Brugger’s Bagels. I was 15 and I was nervous as hell. I remember the interview, which in hindsight was exceptionally painless and lasted maybe 15 minutes at the most, seemed at the time to be the singular most intimidating thing in the world. My dad, who drove me and dutifully waited in the car, treated me to Smoothie King after I trotted out to the parking lot triumphantly reporting that I was hired. He asked, “How much does it pay an hour?” (A rational question) and I said, “Ummm… I didn’t ask”.
A plain bagel with cream cheese.
Out of all the millions of combinations and interesting flavors– a plain bagel with cream cheese? I thought “this woman is so boring”. She seemed impatient as I slowly got out the knife and tried to position the bagel just right, the way they trained me a grand total of 20 minutes ago. The last thing I remember was her soured expression and that mousy brown soccer mom bob. I thought if God had a template for Brentwood Mom, he probably used this woman for inspiration. And then in one swift moment, I accidentally sliced my palm open with the bagel knife, saw a flash of bright red and hit the floor. I woke up in the break room. My manager said she called my mom and she was on her way to pick me up. It was a very dramatic first–and last–day of work. I now use this story as a punchline when bragging about terrible jobs, but still– that incident was over 10 years ago but I still have never shown my face at the Brentwood Brugger’s.
My adult life has been partly characterized by the series of comedically terrible part-time jobs I’ve accumulated. I’ve had jobs that I adored and have also worked at certain places where I’d 10 out of 10 rather pluck my eyes out with a plastic spoon than return to.
In a society where “what do you do for a living?” is one of the first and most frequently asked questions amongst strangers, it’s so easy to place an enormous amount of weight on it. “What do you do?” quickly transforms into “Who are YOU?” As a recent graduate armed with a degree in performing arts, well… it was my least favorite question to answer. I learned quickly that being a professional actor rarely means that your income comes solely from the check you received from playing a role onstage– no, it usually means that you have at least (if you’re lucky) one or two side hustles supporting your passion by actually paying the bills, funding your limited after-the-show social life, and helping you afford the gas to and from the theatre.
I’m not quite sure how to begin to explain the abundant menagerie of sheer ludicrous jobs I’ve temporarily received a paycheck from, so I’ll just start with the bad and end with the good. Here we go:
Jobs I’ve Absolutely Hated/Jobs I Knew I Probably Wasn’t Going To Like… But Took Them Anyway Because I Was Poor:
- Brand Ambassador/ “Promo Model”: I have done everything from wearing short shorts and posing for pictures with vacationing frat bros to walking around in a parking lot in the heat of July giving out flyers for a recently opened Gabe’s Department Store. I’ve oddly enough given out samples of Vegemite at a Brewer’s Conference, I’ve tried to force revolting flavored beets onto unsuspecting shoppers at Kroger, I was once hundreds of drunk strangers’ best friend when I (perhaps illegally…? No one asked for my ABC card…) gave out free shots of bourbon and whole cans of beer, and I’ve even managed carnival games (breaking what I assume to be the Guinness Book of World Records for “Most Played Games of Skeeball with Barely Standing Country Fans”).
A Note On Brand Ambassador Life: There is nothing more humbling than the out of body experience of offering complete strangers cheap prizes, tiny samples, about-to-expire coupons, etc. and watching them literally look through you like you don’t exist, while simultaneously thinking, “If I were them, I would probably do the same thing. I ignore those salesgirls who try to give me moisturizer samples at the mall every damn time. This is my karma.” There is also nothing more demeaning than getting a constant stream of catcalls, perverted jokes and graphic one-liners directed at you while you’re honestly trying to make a living and not be dismissed by just going for it and slugging the perv right in his greasy face. I once had a man probably three times my age ask me (in front of what looked to be his teenage son) if “I could be his price” for winning skeeball. At gigs such as these you’re taught to laugh it off and simply smile and say something to the effect of, “Oh no sir! We have plenty of amazing prizes up for grabs! Take a look!” But after 5 hours of standing on concrete and repeating the same line over and over until my head was spinning, I just stood there flabbergasted and as the blood rose to my face. How dare this scum of a man attempt to degrade me? What did he think I would say? “Oh yes sir! I was hoping you’d say that. I get off at 6, come meet me around back. Or better yet, I’ll just leave work right now and come home with you.” Why? Just– why? When I didn’t respond he continued by saying, “I’d give anything in the world for you to be my prize” as if that was supposed to be romantic? …and preceded to reach out and stroke my cheek. At that point I wish I could say that I kicked him squarely in the balls, but instead I kicked into autopilot, walked straight for the nearest public restroom and cried in a stall, consoling myself with the fact that the CMAs were almost over and that I would never over my dead body work them again next year.
- Grocery Store Clerk: For a few months I bagged groceries. It was actually great pay for how little skill it required and the company was incredibly friendly and easygoing about all my rehearsal conflicts. However, have you ever experienced that awkward moment when you see someone from high school randomly out and about and see them with their baby or their engagement ring and then look at yourself and think, “what the hell am I doing?” Taking a temporary job to help you get back on your feet post graduation is nothing to be ashamed of… but that was a lesson that didn’t seem to sink in as I bagged groceries for former Brentwood cheerleaders with their enormous rings-by-spring showcased on their fingers like the queen’s Crown Jewels.
- Nannying– The dissatisfaction in this gig can be summed up by saying that it’s ALL (and then some) of the chores of being a mommy, but with none of the actual joy that I imagine comes with being a mommy. This gig also made me question, “Do I even want kids?” And if I have them, “What if I can’t stand my kids just like I can’t stand these little brats?”
- Cashier at a Trendy Boutique– Three words: Boredom, Dusting and… Boredom.
- Host at a Not-So-Trendy Restaurant- I think I lasted about two weeks at this job? The cons: bussing tables and carrying piles of filth so high that you have to take Epson salt baths nightly to soothe your sore back, consistently being the bearer of bad news regarding the wait time (because everyone assumes they’ll be the very first person to show up on a Sunday after church and… they are in fact number 27 in line with a party of 9…), and pay so low that you hardly notice a direct deposit added to your checking account on payday. The pros: I’m a badass at rolling silverware.
Jobs I Honestly Thought I Would Like But Actually Ended Up Hating:
- Barista– Loitering for hours in coffee shops as I read, memorize lines, write and socialize is one of my favorite activities. I’m actually doing it right now and taking advantage of free WiFi as I write this sentence. I love coffee. I love trying new local spots and experimenting with unique flavor combinations. In fact, my best friend and I always have to find a “trendy” coffee shop to kill time everywhere we travel. Our instagrams are littered with filtered findings of coffee shops from Colorado to Florida to Tennessee to Maine. However, actually working at a coffee shop is quite a different experience altogether. Think– getting on your hands and knees to scrub remnants of dried tuna melt from the floor, trying to keep your cool while you’re being chewed out for not reading the customer’s mind and omitting extra foam on their vanilla cappuccino, and waking up at 3:30am so you can start your shift at 4:15am. Yeah… not so “trendy” after all.
- Full-Time Preschool Teacher- It happens at least once a week– someone will take one look at me and say, “I bet you’re so good with kids! You’d be the perfect preschool teacher!” and then I feel a pang if guilt because I, in fact, absolutely cannot work with preschoolers full-time. My most memorable experience in a preschool consisted of me wiping actual feces off of toys, walls and scrubbing it out of the carpet when I had a child who thought it was super fun to take whatever was in his pull-ups and hide it around the classroom for me to find like presents on Christmas morning.
- Yoga Instructor- Yoga has been a passion of mine since my teen years and as it stands now, I teach roughly–give or take–4 classes a month and that’s been amazingly fulfilling enough. Here’s the brutal truth they don’t tell you when you’re getting all touchy-feely in yoga teacher training: there is no such thing as a full-time yoga teacher without an enormous amount of driving, having to obtain popularity through the roof to grow your clientele, and the acceptance that your schedule and your budget will fluctuate week-to-week. What they don’t tell you: you can easily get so burnt out on teaching that you neglect your personal practice and before you know it, the thing that used to be your stress reliever has become your stress inducer.
- Virtual Fitness Coach- When I signed up to coach for Beach Body I thought, “I already spend 6 days a week at the gym either working out or teaching, I love fitness, I think I’m pretty motivational (?), and it’d be a great excuse to push myself to work harder on my personal fitness goals”. What I didn’t consider was how much anxiety it would cause me to walk through life with one eye constantly trolling my own social media accounts and how awkward it would be to convince my friends (who are for the most part, as poor as I am) to part with their money.
What I’ve Learned From My Treacherous Job Search:
- I HAVE to do something I love. Period. End of story. Forgive me for sounding aggressively millennial, but I’ve discovered that I’m the type of person that has to feel as though my job has meaning. I’ve also learned that there is a difference in a job and a career and though I might feel awkward defining myself as an actor when I’m currently not onstage, nevertheless, performing is my career and everything else I do to make money is a job which supports that career. And still, I need to have a fulfilling job to pass my time and pay my bills. I cannot mindlessly slave away at a coffee shop for minimum wage and feel an inch closer to my ultimate goal. I’ve tried many, many times and I’m not ashamed to admit that I’ve quit every single time without fail.
- I CAN’T be afraid to put my foot down when necessary. There comes a time when enough is enough and no paycheck–no matter how large– is worth feeling like dirt. I used to fantasize about just dropping my apron, ditching the activation site, sneaking out through the back–whatever– and never coming back… and once I actually did just that (and maybe that was a self-fulfilling prophecy in hindsight…). The point is that money comes and goes but at the end of the day all you have is your integrity and your dignity. Also– your relationship with yourself and your loved ones should never have to be compromised for any job, let alone one without benefits. This is a lesson that I’m still learning because, admittedly, just a week ago I was entangled in yet another Part-Time Job Catastrophe web. Let me explain by saying that when I came back from my acting contract in Philly, I was struggling to stay afloat with a $10 a day budget, so naturally, I took every work opportunity I could get. I was working some 50 plus hour work weeks and sometimes working 15 days straight without a day off. And you know what? The money was nice. I like being able to buy a set of matching towels instead of using ten year old pieces of crap that have hair dye stains all over them. A couple of days ago I bought myself gelato for no reason other than I wanted it, and it felt damn good to not fret over that $4.50 exiting my checking account. Not to mention saving– saving is something that was entirely out of the question not even 3 months ago. But with all that to say– I’m still an extremist who is working towards obtaining more middle ground in my life. I became obsessed with filling every spare minute of time with a money making opportunity because when I started seeing that money flowing in, I saw freedom, a way out of the constricted life I had been living, and just couldn’t say no. Ambition and the want for more never dies. It’s human nature– or at least in my nature– and I find it hard to settle when I know that I could have more… and yet, pulling 13 hour days and coming home too cranky to muster a polite conversation is entirely not worth it.
I’m proud to report that the Part-Time Job Gods have finally granted me what seems to be a proper fit for my lifestyle and disposition. Currently, I’m an acting coach for students aged 5 through 18, I teach enrichment classes to preschoolers (and it’s bliss because my classes are no longer than 30 minutes–just enough time to do a cute song and dance or finger painting activity and peace out before mayhem ensues), I’m a substitute yoga instructor (it’s amazing to pick my own hours and now teaching is a treat, not a chore), and on weekends I get to dress up as Disney princesses. In a nutshell, while I’m waiting on my dreams to come true, I help others realize theirs and what could be better than that?
It used to be a running joke amongst my friends that “Gina can’t hold down a job” because I had a unique talent for quitting one job and getting hired at another in a week or less… I’d laugh with the rest of them and comment on my own inconsistently and lack of stick-to-itness, but most times I was laughing just loudly enough to cover up the real fear inside me that said, “Maybe you’ll never be a competent adult who can financially support yourself”. I grew up watching my dad rise from the bottom to the top of his company that he’s faithfully worked for since before I was born. So, I guess I’ve always thought that seeing something through in the good times and the bad was a sign of strength and maturity. I also grew up measuring success by monetary gain. Not to mention, being a first generation college student, I naively thought that I could easily get a well-paying job just because I have a degree… Well…while nearly none of those things have proven to be true in the path I’ve chosen, I can, however, choose to be okay with it. I’ll probably never work a 9 to 5, I probably definitely won’t retire in my fifties and I’ll probably never be able to afford to live in a suburb like the one I grew up in. But you know what? That’s okay. For now, I am content and that’s what matters. So, cheers to the part-time jobs out there and to those of us that are hustling through them–they are ALL a pitstop on the road to adulthood and can even teach you a lesson or two if you let them… the shitty ones that you’ll quit in two weeks included.