What I’ve Learned From Odd Jobs

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According to Business Insider, the average person spends over 90,000 hours of their lives doing work. That’s a long chunk of life. The conversations I had with adults who are already deep in their careers about their first jobs have always stayed with me, perhaps because I like to hear where people come from. Jobs are such a big aspect of our lives and the experiences we have through our jobs at every stage, but especially at the beginning, inevitably contribute to who we become. As graduation approached and I set out to find a job, I thought back to some of my early jobs. I’ve done odd jobs for the past few years, and while some are more random than others, during working hours I’ve often thought about what it would be like to have a more traditional job than one of my first. Being a barista, for example, seemed rather “normal” to me in my head. While part of me longs to know what it’s like to greet customers, store ingredients and experience the hustle and bustle behind the counter, I am also grateful for what these assignments have taught me.

Strange jobs are just that: strange. There are so many jobs that people are hired to do to make the things and provide the services that we use in our lives. From every single item in your home to every service you’ve ever paid for, there have been an abundance of jobs to make these things a reality and to make the things happen that make these things a reality.

Since I was little, I’ve drawn into making and selling things. At first it was with play money and just for fun. Eventually I learned to sew on a sewing machine, and when I was 10, with the help of a starter from my mom, I started Scrunchie Land, a fun little business that makes and sells hair ties on Community Park Days. I made enough money on my first run to buy more fabric and elastics, and Scrunchie Land went on for two more years. During that time, I learned that it’s okay to figure out, invent, and reinvent things over time as I develop the design of my product. Also, I’ve learned that by solving my problem of not being able to find both cute and comfortable hair pieces, I can solve this problem for others as well.

When other interests surfaced, I stopped making hairpieces for a couple of years, but when I was 14 and moved to a new dance studio, interest returned. As I spent nearly 20 hours a week in dance classes, including ballet, I soon realized the need for more reliable bun sleeves as the brands available weren’t suitable for different hair lengths and textures to keep hair securely in place. If you’ve spent a day in ballet class, you know that hair flying in your face is the epitome of inconvenience. Add strict teachers and you have a difficult situation. Having learned to crochet in third grade and being free to style my own patterns, I started making custom sized bun sleeves for my peers, this time with more reliable elastic bands, different sizes, different colors, and optional beads. Little did I know it was going to be what it did when kids saw both useful and decorative accessories as they danced and filled my to-do list with a barrage of custom-made items. As my dance studio orders slowed down, I offered my product to two local dance stores that stocked both my bun sleeves and other bows and hair clips I had come up with. Similar to Scrunchie Land, I’ve learned that by solving my own problem, I can also solve someone else’s problem. It was a win-win situation.

Over the years, my family and I have baked baked goods for friends or teachers as a year-end thank you. When I was 14, I decided to teach myself how to decorate cakes more seriously. I made fondant from scratch and spent days in the kitchen, fascinated by how vertitle butter and sugar can be. My grandma’s favorite comment was “You spend more time in the kitchen than in your bedroom”. Three months later, I unexpectedly received my first cake order and, thanks to word of mouth, continued my individual cake activities. During this time I learned a lot about running a small business, customer service, the balance between creative freedom and customer needs, and much more. I’ve learned to deal with the pressure of being responsible for someone’s wedding cake, thinking three steps ahead because factors like baking temperature play a role and how to tackle big projects on one date another counting. I was my biggest competition. I wanted to outdo myself every time because that meant I was moving forward. In the fall of the following year, I went to a local bakery with my portfolio in hand and asked for an internship. I spent the next year and several months on Fridays in a large kitchen, helping in every possible way. I’ve seen what I’ve experienced before on a much larger scale while trying to keep up with the machine of it all. I have also learned that there is often the option of creating your own seat at the table if you are looking for a job for which there is no vacancy or that has never existed in the company. I learned to spot opportunities and act before I had time to convince myself otherwise.

Upholstering a couch is probably one of my strangest jobs. Now when I think about it, the image of a 16 year old me redesigning a five-section couch sounds absurd. Long playlists and my sketchbook with ideas pushed me forward. I was asked if I could take on the project in the spring and spent all summer whenever I could random hours designing and selecting fabric and finally sewing and quilting until it was done. The first, third and fifth sections had the same design as the second and fourth sections. This job showed me that I can combine my affinity for the practical and the non-practical. It was a hands-on project for a handy item mixed in with unnecessarily complicated quilting components that I wanted for aesthetic reasons. During the course of the project, the owner of the couch could not see my aesthetic focus next to the practical one. In the end it was recognized and through it I learned to better communicate the progress and the final vision. As nerve-wracking as it was for me to take the job, it must have been nerve-wracking for the couch owner to trust that the tedious process would serve her satisfactorily. After all, the customer is always right.

I wrote this article with the classic “yes and” mentality in mind, the concept that is the central idea of ​​comedy improvisation and that drives me forward every day. “Yes and” means saying yes to the idea your scene partner is presenting and building on it. The experiences I’ve written about here, including for another time, have shown me again and again that saying yes, even if a job sounded strange or intimidating, only led to learning something new. Of course there was frustration, but at the end of the day I always felt like I had won something that I hadn’t expected before I took the casual job.

Photo by Markus Winkler on Unsplash



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