Jobs? I’ve had more than my share. When I was 14 I started working in the summer as a filing clerk for the construction company where my mom worked in accounts payable. This was before computers so I became a paperwork champion. My task list was small and I got bored quickly. I got nosey and wanted to learn anything I could about the office, even if it didn’t involve my responsibilities. I showed initiative and they rewarded my curiosity by asking me to answer incoming calls. I was already a professional at pretending to be an adult so this was right up my alley. Thinking back, I remember learning the phone system that had 6 incoming lines and feeling pretty genius. When I went back to school I quit working for that company because it was 30 minutes from home and didn’t compliment my school schedule.
That first job prepared me for an office environment. I learned what it meant to be professional and how to dress appropriately for work. It exposed me to an environment full of construction workers. I knew the difference between working with men who wore button up shirts in the office and men who worked in the shop and wore jeans and safety gear.
I later took those skills to a commercial fleet supply company where I worked after school 4 hours a day. I learned all about warehouses, inventory, invoicing and that commercial truck parts are way different than car parts (hey, I was a dumb young girl, don’t laugh at me).
I learned more about working with men. I was not sheltered from warehouse banter and I observed the way men talked when women weren’t around. I was young so I am pretty sure they underestimated my comprehension abilities. Silly, silly men.
I worked in the office mostly so I honed my clerical skills and was privy to the girl gossip. You pick up a lot listening to an office full of women during the day. I learned early on that in a work environment where 6 women share an office, there are usually 1-2 that are true friends and the others gossip about and compete with one another. That wouldn’t be so bad if they weren’t 2 faced about it. My rule is, if you can say it about me, please say it to me. I will extend the same courtesy. If I know someone to be 2 faced I will selectively share information with them on a need to know basis only. They earned it and we definitely won’t be having coffee on our days off so we can be ‘friendsies for pretendsies.” No, just no!
On a quick side note: In my original post, When a Ginger Snaps, I talk about surrounding yourself with the RIGHT people. I promise, if someone is two faced, they are not the right people. If you tolerate them being two faced you are guilty by association in my circle of trust. If someone is two faced to someone else in front of you, what makes you think they aren’t two faced when it comes to you? Two faced is two faced and you are not immune to being treated the same. If you tolerate two faced people, chances are that you also are two faced. I file those people in the “acquaintance” file in my life. They may have a lot of really fabulous qualities that I appreciate but that one is a deal breaker for true friendship. I’m so “judgy,” *sigh*.
My lesson in office gossip was to remain professional and friendly but trust cautiously on a personal level in a work environment. My lesson was also to never compete with another woman and only focus on doing my best. Doing that inspires the right women along the way. Emotionally immature women will be jealous and hateful and competitive. Those are women I simply avoid. I have never cared about being first place at anything. I just want to feel satisfied with my accomplishment and that has nothing to do with winning over someone else.
I also learned that people behave differently depending on who surrounds them. The way a group of men act in a warehouse is different than how they act on family vacation. Same with women. It’s like a pack mentality.
I have never been one to run with the pack. I have always been fascinated by observing it, though. Usually, when everyone is gravitating to something like a new popular movie, song, or TV show, it is the LAST thing I want to gravitate to. It’s almost as though it annoys me that everyone is loving the same thing at the same time. I admit, I will go back 5 years later and enjoy the movie when the hype is over. I will listen to the entire album to see if I like the artist that everybody couldn’t shut up about 3 years ago. I just don’t want to follow the crowd. Such a rebel! LOL
Back to my work…
Do you know what else I learned? I HATED working in an office. I hated the structure and the filing. I hate the gossip and the politics and drama. Why didn’t I listen to myself back then? I’ve worked in several offices since. Why? Well, because I knew how.
When the school year was over I resigned from the fleet supply company so I could do something else over the summer. I initially thought fast food was my destiny but instead I sold perfume concentrates door to door in businesses. Crazy, right? Some people sold vacuums. Me? Perfume!
My dad had a female co-worker that left her job to sell perfume and asked me to come along one day to sell with her in San Francisco. Of course I went. Let me tell you, I was good at it. I walked my well dressed, 15 year old, and chubby, freckle faced self into San Francisco office buildings with my suitcase full of concentrated perfume oils and sold the hell out of them! “Egyptian Musk Oil” was the top seller. I still gag when I think about the scent.
They set a goal to sell 20 per day and I ran out after 4 hours. I could sell 15 on a bad day and my best day was somewhere in the 40’s. I was never pushy or sleazy. I can’t stand greasy sales people. I was friendly, chatty and people wanted to know what I was selling. I almost didn’t have to ask them to look at my products. This is when I learned that sales was my strong suit and I liked it… A LOT. It was social, it let me be outside most of the time and I was in control of my own success and earnings. I used to travel with this woman and we had a blast all summer. I sold perfume everywhere from Fremont to Redding, California and I made good money because I earned cash bonuses every week. It was a fun job and it was a job most people only survived a few days. I can’t imagine doing it now but at least I know I am capable of it. I did that the entire summer of my sophomore year and had a nice savings when I was done.
After that I got hired at Taco Bell and I worked there after school. This was my first devastating experience as an employee. I had never handled cash before and had no idea what it meant to count in and count out. The manager who hired me had me train on the register and I was taking orders my first week. At the start of each shift he handed me a cash drawer with an amount written on a receipt and told me to sign it. He also signed it. At the end of the shift we did a blind drop as a standard practice. I still think blind drops are bad policy but that’s just my opinion.
I was employed there about 2 months and he called me into his office and terminated me for my drawer being “off” by more than $5, more than 3 times. I was shocked. I was sick over it. More than anything, I wanted to die inside thinking he thought I stole from the drawer. I asked him when I was off. I asked him by how much. I asked him why he was just now telling me. He had no answers, handed me my final paycheck and he ushered me out the door. The walk home was very long. I felt defeated, helpless and I cried the whole way. I never understood what happened and I was not experienced enough to realize the details behind my termination were suspicious. I remind you that I was self-sufficient and the adults in my life were not interested in my Taco Bell woes so I never addressed it. I just got fired and moved on. I was too embarrassed to ever list that job on a resume.
It was about 4 years later that I read an article in the paper about that same manager getting fired and there being a fraud suit against him. He skimmed drawers by a few dollars here and there and terminated employees (mostly teens) for mishandling cash along the way. Those dollars added up to a sizeable amount and he got caught. What a real treat he was. He lost his job and ended up in a world of legal trouble. Karma is sweet and this was my first opportunity to witness it first-hand. It didn’t benefit me professionally but it gave me peace over the whole situation and I didn’t care anymore that someone thought I was a thief. I could let that one rest, finally!
After Taco Bell, I moved on to Togo’s Deli which is where I learned cash handling 101. Count your drawer before and after your shift. Guess what? I didn’t have cash handling problems at all. Imagine that. I could also make a sandwich. Their menu hasn’t changed much and I know at least 80% by heart to this day. My husband loves to quiz me on sandwich numbers for his personal entertainment. That, and music trivia.
I loved to cook at home and Togo’s was a chance to make food to order, be social with people and learn to work quickly. The owner of the franchise was a very stern Vietnamese woman and everything was to be done in a very fast and efficient manner. There was a timer on our registers and those orders better be complete, correct and over the counter within the expected timeframe. She meant business! She owned 2 stores and split her time between the locations. I admit, our days were much more pleasant when she wasn’t there to tell us to, “work faster, work faster.” I can thank her today because I can haul ass to get something done. If you’ve ever seen me coordinate or cater a wedding/event, you know this first hand. Everything will be done, presented well and on time. I typically do it with grace (while people are watching, lol). Thank you, crazy slave driver from Togo’s!
My best friend at the time was a guy and we were inseparable from 6th grade through our mid 20’s. He worked with me at Togo’s and we were in a tight group of friends with our coworkers. This was my first real group of drinking buddies. One thing you will find out as you read further is that for every sad story I tell, there is a party around the next corner. I’ve LIVED and most people have at least one really awesome, “One time I was with Kelly” story. I am counting on this blog to resurrect some laughable memories. We did a lot of camping back then and I miss those days often. Later on, I became roommates with one of the girls. She and I also worked together later in life at a heating and air conditioning company in the office.
In my previous blog, Childhood. What’s that?, I shared that I moved out when I was a junior in high school. I worked at Togo’s during that time. In the summer after my junior year I needed to make more money than the $4.25 an hour wage I was making part time at Togo’s. I jumped at a chance to work part time in an office at a merchant credit card processing company. I was back to answering phones and filing. During that summer I worked the evening shift at Togo’s 2-3 days a week and Monday-Friday during the day at the merchant service company.
When it was time to start school again I was overwhelmed. It was my senior year of high school and I knew I couldn’t work both jobs and go to school. I was already out on my own and couch surfing. I ended up leaving Togo’s to pick up more after school hours at the merchant service company. The hourly wage was a bit higher and the flexibility was better. About 2 months into the school year I was deflated. I could barely make it to my first period class which was English and I needed to pass that class to graduate. By that time I was satisfied with C’s and D’s on my report card because it meant I was passing and could get on with graduating and making a living.
You’ll notice I never spoke a word about college. No one ever spoke a word to me about college, actually. In fact, I thought college was something that rich people could afford to send their kids to. Kids of blue collar families just worked right out of high school like my parents did. Paying your own way and putting food on the table was the goal! I’m not suggesting this is “right.” I’m suggesting this was my train of thought at 17 and no one ever taught me differently.
In December I turned 18 and like every 18 year old, I knew it all. I was a legal adult and now there wasn’t anyone who could prevent me from moving up and moving on. I was failing in school and still wanted to graduate so I enrolled myself in independent study through the local continuation school to get caught up and be on track to graduate. They told me that if I finished all the required classes through them I could still walk the stage with my class. That was my ultimate goal. I wanted to celebrate with my friends that I’d gone to school with from 6-12th grade.
One of the reasons I decided to transfer was because I failed a required class in my junior year. When they reviewed my transcripts they told me I did not need to take the class again. I argued. They insisted and I believed them. I finished all the required packets. I was done early! I thought I was going to graduate with my class. A week before, they informed me I was short the credits from that class I failed and would need to complete that class to graduate. I think my head exploded. I was angry, mostly because I tried to be proactive earlier in the year and they told me I didn’t need the class. I was a dumb kid. How would I have known better than the adults which classes I needed? Who was I to question authority or disrespect my elders? I was so tired of being under estimated. I got this treatment at home all my life.
At this point in my life I was done with it all. I did the smartest thing any 18 year old could do. I said, “F%C& IT!” and dropped out of high school in the last week of my senior year with one class left to graduate. Do you know that neither of my parents know what happened or even asked? I’m 41 and they’ve still never asked. Amazing! My mom passed away in 2015 so she’ll never know.
I did attend the graduation. I sat in the back row and cheered on all my friends while they walked the stage. I cried a lot that day. There were no senior balls or grad nights for me. I was working the night of the senior ball and I didn’t have a date anyway. I didn’t meet the requirements to attend grad night either. I don’t think I ever got over any of that. I never did get a high school diploma but my career moved on. (Disclosure, when I was 30, I went online and finished for the sake of having a diploma so I could at least check the “yes” box on applications where it asked if I graduated. I left that box blank for years and no one ever asked why.)
I have some wonderful memories from school but high school dances, yearbooks and senior picnics are not part of that. I don’t even have a senior picture. My parents weren’t paying for those “extras” and I just didn’t have the time or money. Ok, I had the money but a cap and gown and feathered photo shoots weren’t in my budget.
When I left high school I worked full time for the merchant service provider and signed the lease on my first apartment. I remind you this was in 1993 and computers were still not an every-day tool in the office. It was a new thing and several of us shared access to one for data entry only. When I had an opportunity to use it, I learned as much as I could. I realized quickly that I could efficiently 10 key by touch and I remembered my “home row” from my high school typing class. The more I used the computer, the more efficient I was. Eventually I took on more responsibility and was promoted to a “sales admin” position.
This is where I learned all about the importance of clean contracts. There were about 25 sales people submitting long form contracts, almost as obnoxious as the contracts you sign when buying a car. These were contracts with business owners to process their credit cards. This meant lease paperwork which had to be spotless. This meant the contract of fees to be paid and that also had to be spotless. Each “deal” was about 12 pieces of paper full of red tape and that was all sent to me to review for accuracy, then submitted for processing to corporate. If paperwork was incorrect, I had to work with the salesperson to get it corrected. This was often a challenge and my first lesson in the imperative need to be a professional relationship builder. I learned quickly.
There was a couple in Vancouver, Washington who were Independent Sales Managers. They submitted their contracts through our office. They were incredible sales people and they were terrible at paperwork. I mean really terrible. They always collected the money. They always knew the deal was done but when it came to the details, it was like pulling teeth. I did a lot of back and forth with them because no one else would. We became friends. I saw them for their strength. They were talented sales people and they made incredible money for the company. They were not administrative geniuses. So what? They brought in revenue and they could sell strawberries to a citrus farmer. They were kind and honest but sucked at paperwork. I’ll take people like that any day and I will help them so they don’t suck. I was good at paperwork and caught all the little errors and prevented them from holding up deals and commissions. Do you know what happened?
They opened their own satellite office, independent of the company I worked for and they offered me a job running their office. I wasn’t going to be rich but it was more money than I’d ever made before. I wasn’t in love with my dumpy apartment. My social circle was drama filled and I was not afraid of change. I accepted their offer and packed my car full of sentimental possessions. I drove 661 miles from Fremont, California and started over in Vancouver, Washington, just north of the Oregon border.
I knew the couple that hired me from our business relationship and we had met in person twice during business trips they took to the office. I rented their furnished “bonus room” and started a new life in the northwest. 19 years old and FREE!!