People in my Twitter feed are sharing their first seven jobs. I’m not sure of the significance of the number – maybe it’s because you’re bound to have had quite a few shitty jobs before you get to the good stuff?
But it struck me because it’s exactly seven jobs that have got me here. I’m on my seventh leap, in-house promotions aside, and you could see them as seven phases of my life. They span my transition from 15-year-old to 27-year-old. I started my working life on £20 a day if I was lucky. Now, that would get you 15 minutes of my time.
The Seven Phases
1. Prising wax off a local salon floor at 15. It was a blazing hot summer and the girls that worked there spent most of the quiet, dreamy days sitting around reading magazines – which I wasn’t allowed to do. Some days I wasn’t paid. Monster by The Automatic came out that summer and it played constantly. I remember it playing on the day my first proper ex-boyfriend called to say he knew what I’d done. Hard to concentrate on which bin belongs to the salon when you’re reeling from the realisation that you’ve caused heartbreak. It wasn’t me, though. She said I’d been chucking stuff in the wrong bin but I knew I hadn’t and stood up for myself. Not long after, my services were no longer needed.
2. Telling fat women they looked nice and hiding in the stockroom at Next. I think I was technically too young for them to employ but my mam managed to get a sneaky guilt-trip in when one of the managers called and I was out. I did several years there and had nice little friendships with my colleagues. My sister worked there for a while too, and I got a boyfriend in on the game just before I left. I still dream about it sometimes; that I’ve missed a shift or I’m lost in the echoing corridors behind the shopfront. I kept the job when I moved to Reading for uni, travelling the 40 minutes to Guildford.
3. After I quit Next, I was SNAPPED UP by Paperchase. The girl interviewing me couldn’t quite believe what she was being offered (four years in retail next to the dull-eyed schoolgirls she usually saw) and I was falling over myself for the discount. Sadly, neither she nor I were to know what a spiralling mess I’d be within six months. Somehow, I kept going there; sometimes not in uniform, sometimes on an hour’s sleep. I spent a lot of time staring at the wrapping paper patterns. Towards the end, after I’d dropped out, I was often commuting 40 miles to do a three-hour evening shift after a straight 36 hours awake.
4. Temp work at AQA, the exam board. We were all kids, all summer-high. And they knew it. You had to sign in by 8.30 am or you’d lose an hour’s wages, even if you were a minute late. But it was the first real structure I’d ever had: a full working day with a real weekend. By some luck, I was assigned to a tiny team whose job it was to file stuff. We drew pictures and laughed a lot while the other hundred temps sat in a huge hall, speed-marking papers in near-silence. One day I was put in there and I got on the leader board. The next, I was told I wasn’t needed anymore. That’s a temp contract for you: bye.
5. After a week spent panicking about being unemployed and fruitlessly visiting the Job Centre in my smartest clothes (to be stared at by the regulars), I got myself a job at the Wetherspoon’s in Haslemere. I knew nothing about bartending beyond being a drunk, and it was a scary proposition. Just not as scary as being an unemployed university drop-out. I worked hard. I burned my fingers on huge oval plates that bent my wrists back. I lifted things too heavy for me, I broke up fights and I went home soaked with beer every night – sometimes blood. Phil used to come and meet me when I finished closing down at 3am, so I didn’t have to walk through the dark, frosty park alone – a route that took you through ‘Rape Alley’ as my friends had called it when we were silly teenagers. He’d help me get all the glasses in, bless him. I had a weird year there, loving my regulars and getting a promotion and doing OK. I thought that could even be it for me: the Wetherspoon’s career girl. Thankfully, it was not.
6. My first adult job. My sister was working at Yell, writing websites for small businesses, and she recommended me for interview. Man, it was a youth club factory floor. No one over 25, mostly recent graduates. All more concerned with flirting and Fridays. But I was a drop-out, remember? I lived an hour and a half away, I was living with my boyfriend and I was scrambling to make up for the shitstorm I’d flung myself out into. So, I put that Wetherspoon’s ethic to work. I grafted, I cried, I worried and I overworked. I got promoted. I got promoted again. Then, I got the promotion that made my life now possible. Global Creative Copywriter, my boss and I decided. The real deal.
7. Now. This time. People started getting made redundant at Yell and I didn’t fancy the lovely little Marketing Studio‘s chances. I had two glasses of wine and applied for a job. This job. Now, I’m Head of Copy if that means anything in a small-ish business, and doing very well. I made up for what I did and I write for a living. Can’t ask for more than that.
What’s changed in me? I cry less. I break no hearts. I don’t worry about the future like I used to. I agonised over it, truly believing everything was ruined. Even after I got my job at Yell, I worried and worried about building the life I thought I was supposed to have.
Things are so much more settled when you do something you know you’re good at, that earns you enough money that you don’t have to see it all as temporary.
Whatever kind of day I have, I am always glad I’m not desperately trying to mop hair off a slick salon floor.