My first real job was as a stock girl at a shoe store. This shouldn’t surprise anyone. I quit after my junior year of high school, and took that summer off. My senior year found me working at a supermarket bakery, where I stayed until I left for college.
My freshman year work-study job was a security guard. Which is, of course, ridiculous. All I really did was act as Gatekeeper for the restricted-access buildings, and shoot photos for the occasional replacement ID card.
When I returned home for the summer, my old bakery boss wanted me back (she had hired TWO people to do the work that I used to do, and still didn’t think they were doing it as well) but the Big Boss put me over in the deli instead. A delicatessen in New Jersey is one of the busiest places around on any given hot, muggy, summer evening. NOBODY wants to cook. Not indoors, not on their grill. It’s HOT. What people eat a LOT of is cold, sliced meat and salads. I worked the evening shift, from around 3pm to closing. Always alone. My biceps were better toned than ever before, from hauling around 10-gallon containers of potato salad and hoisting giant roasts onto the slicers over and over and over and over. I was underpaid, overworked, and learned to drink iced coffee from 2-lb deli containers, just to keep up with the steady stream of customers.
Back in the relative calm of school again, my work-study program shifted me to the Residence Hall office. I filed some paperwork, and had the master keys to every dorm room in our largest of the campus buildings, the 17-story Willoughby Hall. Our exterminator contractor could only hit so many dorm rooms in a given day, so I would spend a part of each day accompanying him from room to room, unlocking doors and making sure he walked out with the same equipment he walked in with. At the end of the school year, when it was time for me to return once again to New Jersey, my boss threw me a good-bye party. With a cake.
My return to NJ was semi-permanent, and I got a job as a supermarket cashier while I went to school. The money wasn’t bad, the union (464A) made sure we got a 25¢ raise every three months, the hours were flexible, and the guy going to Stevens Tech and I used to unofficially compete for fastest speed. I prided myself on having “regular” customers who would seek out my line, just to say hi. Even if my line was longer. I love doing a job well. When the store was sold to new owners, each and every employee was laid off.
Through a friend, I quickly found work at a 100-year-old company that produced beautiful, woven clothing labels. Levi’s Red Tab? We did those. Silver Tab, too. Anthropologie. Columbia Sportswear. The World Cup tournament and the Olympics. And then there were the layoffs. One person from each department. The last hired in every case. And that, in my department, was me. My boss was crying as he gave me the news. As soon as the hiring freeze was lifted, he tried to get me back. It didn’t feel like job security to me.
Just as my unemployment was about to run out, I finally found a new job. I had, in desperation, applied to work as a part-time telephone operator for a market research company. The people who saw my resumé and interviewed me, though, saw something better in me. I was hired on instead as a department manager, and I was the one hiring new operators by the end of my first week. I spent my days working full-time for Suburban Associates, and finished my degree in the evenings.
BFA firmly in hand, I said goodbye to SA and moved to Colorado. It took me nearly two months to eventually find work as a production artist for QVS Digital Imaging, a brand-spankin’-new prepress vendor. We were tied in with a mid-sized offset printing company, and as a result I learned how to prep files for efficient production better than anyone I have ever met. Even the most expensive and seasoned designers would turn over files to me that I had to spend time fixing before we could properly rip plates. I learned how to peel apart the most complex files, and put them back together seamlessly. Taking in all sorts of files on all sorts of media also meant that I had to learn the basics of a number of different software programs, in addition to picking up what computer maintenance and repair I could manage on my own as the files and disks took turns corrupting various systems. As the company grew, I was given the leeway to delegate tasks so that I could focus on the design services that we also offered, and I eventually became Senior Designer (and unofficially Really Tricky File Fixer).
After nearly seven years in that saddle, and with nowhere else to go at QVS, I threw my hat in the ring for what I had heard though the grapevine might be an upcoming design gig at a socially-conscious company nearby. The company was a perfect fit for my ideals, and I was thrilled to be offered a position, even if it wasn’t exactly what I’d been looking for. I was hired on as Digital Assets Manager, with the promise of “movement from within” when a design position eventually opened up. Eight months later, we laid off a third of the company. I was spared from the chopping block, however. As my department continued to reorganize, I eventually took on more and more tasks, until I was soon acting as the lead for two different catalog publications, and numerous magazine ads, although my title didn’t reflect the change in responsibilities. It took a couple more years for that to finally get taken care of, and in 2006 I was officially made an Art Director, in charge of three different catalog brands. Recently, I’d been butting heads stylistically with a newer hire, but my frustration with that relationship didn’t cloud my opinion of the company that I worked for, or of the rest of my colleagues. The company and I were still a perfect fit, and my coworkers were my family. By now, I had been there longer than most others, but we all arrived there for the same reasons: love of the planet, of humanity, of seeing what good we can do when we put our minds to it. On Monday, I was finally able to take a break from working on that particularly frustrating project, and get down to business on one of my own. It felt soooo good to be back in the saddle. I was in my element, feeling the groove. Every interruption was a fly in the ointment of My Gig. Still, the happiness from being back with my duckling couldn’t be quelled.
Tuesday morning began like any other. I set my coffee down at my desk, I tucked my purse behind my tower, I started to open the server windows so I could get into my files. My VP came over and asked me to come into her office for a quick meeting. Within minutes, my world was turned upside-down. The company was reorganizing again. My department, already scaled down to three people, was now down to one. And I wasn’t it. Thank you very much, we’ve loved having you, you’ve been a valuable asset to the company, but now we have to let you go. Someone will be waiting for you with boxes when you return to your desk. Please pack up, return your security card, and leave. We’re very sorry.
Well, wow, um, shit. Shitshitshitshitshit. This was NOT what I expected today. My mail had already been cut off when I returned to my desk. I burned DVDs of what personal files I could find in my haze, and a coworker helped me box up my things. I cried some. I twittered. The immediate response from the Twitterverse was overwhelming. My phone started ringing, and DMs started pouring in. Friends who know me offered up words of encouragement and cyber-hugs, while even relative strangers offered condolences and the occasional job posting. Suggestions were made. Leads were offered. On this end, a great deal of love was felt. I don’t recommend the Losing Your Job method of learning who your friends are, or how many you really have, but it sure did put a glossy shine on an otherwise nasty day. To all of you: Thank you. Thank you so very much. I have never felt so lucky to be in the unenviable postion of looking for work.
Post Script: I rec’d a phone call on Tuesday evening from the guy at work who is now in charge of what’s left of my department. He has been operating in ‘Oh Shit, I Am Fucked Here’ mode all day. I explained to him that I have no hard feelings toward my former employer, and had actually offered to come in as a contractor to finish the job I’d just started. I could almost feel his sigh of relief. He assured me that he would start the paperwork right away, and he hopes to have me back in the office on Friday. That contract would be short-lived, but at least I’d get to see my project through to completion. It would mean a lot to me to be able to finish it. I’ll keep all y’all posted with any further developments.