“While everyone’s lost, the battle is won With all these things that I’ve done”
– The Killers, “All These Things That I’ve Done”
I was a high schooler when Hot Fuss came out 2004. My bestie made me a “burned” cd, as we called them, and I played it until I learned every single word and flourish Brandon Flowers drizzled on each song. It was a time when the actual lyrics of a song didn’t have to resonate anyone’s lived experiences, or be at all relatable, to see massive popularity. We, who would be donned and derided as Millennials, were celebrating the very existence of alternatives, and the collection of quirky bands in this era gave us an expression for all the incompatible pieces of ourselves.
As a Black girl at a Southern Baptist Christian school, this music seemed to be made for me. I could hold all my conflicting identities in one electric moment of ecstasy under the spiritual trance of The Killers. Every part of me could exist at once when I popped it into my home computer’s CD-rom.
This turned out to be excellent preparation for what would be a long, winding career path and an amalgam of experiences that were unlikely to ever make sense on paper. Some of the things that prepared me most for the high-pressure situations I would one day find myself in were things that don’t make the CV cut as impressive moments. Of all the time spent in interviews, spooling beads of career experience on a string for employers, it was these odd jobs where I picked up elements of being human in a world that does not often allow space for it. It’s also where my appreciation for people in these roles will live forever.
Here’s a rundown of the top five career experiences in low or no-paying jobs where I learned the most about being human:
1. Daycamp and afterschool counselor
Time in: 5 years
Set boundaries, even though they will be trampled upon daily, because they are building blocks of trust. My number one rule, “Don’t touch Miss Lauren,” was rarely respected by sweet, germy little five-year-olds, but I am still friends with some of those kids almost 20 years later. Wow, I am old ‘cause they’re adults now.
2. Writing center consultant
Time in: 3 years
To help people become better writers, the most important thing a person can do is to help them hone their original intent in writing, stick to that intent, and honor people who came before them in the same vein.
3. Retail associate
Time in: 6 months
Someone is waking up at 3 am the day after Christmas to put markdown stickers on stuff that didn’t sell, and they aren’t getting paid very much to do it, and it’s weird that this is somehow correlated to a person being born 2,000 years ago.
4. Chamber of Commerce intern
Time in: 5 months
No business is too small to contribute meaningfully to its community! Canvassing businesses in rural North Carolina to join the local chamber showed me the importance of forming strong partnerships and how those partnerships impact residents in their communities.
5. Restaurant cashier
Time in: 7 months
There is great power in food. I joined a minority family who, compelled to build legacy by quitting corporate jobs and risking life savings to invest in a locally-owned restaurant, needed me to sell onion rings alongside them. I lost touch with this family, but I hope they succeeded.
I know I am not the only one whose life feels like a random compilation of jobs. What are some of your most formative experiences? How did they help you become the person you are today?