Read on only if you want to know the details and story-behind-the-story of the challenging and diverse careers of one woman named kj:
1. Woolworth's Five and Dime: My friend CC and I started our jobs together. She ran the popcorn machine, which was far more prestigious than my assignment in the Stationary department. I was required to dust and look busy at all times, which was not easy. I was later transferred to knicknacks and that was even worse because I hated dusted all those little ceramic kittens and plastic vases. I did this job for about two years, until I was politely asked to leave because I was calling in sick too many Friday nights saying my mother needed me (had to have a socI ial life, afterall...)
2. I quickly got another job at the Anderson Little Men's Clothing Store. I worked behind the counter and ran the only register, which was big-cheese status as far as I was concerned. The store had a small women's section, handled by a very nice woman named Lovie, but mostly it serviced men buying and being fitted for suits. I kept this part time job through my first years of college--it was the main reason I always had money. I spent my money frequently ordering 2 am pancakes at the International House of Pancakes with my college friends Moose and Ann. One Sunday morning while I was cooking bacon, Anne's brother called me to say Anne had been killed by a drunk driver who hit her from behind while walking. Moose was living on a sailboat with her husband and could only be contacted by the longest saddest walk of my life down her pier to pick her up on our way to comfort Ann's mother.
3. During my college summers, I worked mostly in factories. I spliced film at Polaroid on a clunky machine that had previously packaged Wonder Bread, I soldered computer circuit boards before computers were mainstream, and I blew water from copper bellows by placing the bellows, one at a time, over a strong gush of hot steam that sometimes burned my fingers. I liked these jobs because I found myself working with union-type hard working men and women who got a kick out of me, the college kid. My affection and easy way with all kinds of people probably came from those irreplacable days.
4. I also did a couple of office temp jobs, including working a calculator all day, every minute for Mary Kay Cosmetics and a brief stint I can hardly remember except that the boss was a jerk. We used to kid around and cluck like chickens for some unknown reason and as a result he sent around a notice that the office clucking had to stop. What was I thinking that on my last day of work there, I left a note on his office wall that said "Cluck You".
5. Just after I graduated from college, I found a temp job working for a spacey college professor who had started a non profit agency to send food and supplies to Biafra, a country where children and families were starving and dying by the hundreds every day. On my first day in his makeshift office, he told me the Boston Symphony and the Boston Pops orchestras had volunteered to play a benefit performance at Symphony Hall. It was up to me to coordinate the event.
Ooooh. I was impressed beyond my years and dove into action. I was to find performers who wanted to perform with these world-known symphonies. I wrote out a list of people I thought would be sufficiently famous, starting with Barbara Streisand, tracking down her agent by calling 411. When it was finally in place, Peter, Paul and Mary, a classical pop guitarist named Mason Williams, and the top comedian at the time (Pat Paulsen, who was also spoofily running for President) joined Senator Ted Kennedy, conductor Arthur Fiedler, and me, this star-struck kid with no experience, for a day of rehearsals and an incredible night at the theatre. This was the beginning of my career as a big cheese. I picked up confidence that lasted me all the way to the disaster of the Restaurant.
6. I student-taught 8th grade English and for a brief time was then a substitute high school teacher. When I married my husband and left for Germany 3 days after our wedding, I somehow landed a job teaching reading and English to American soldiers who had not graduated from high school. I've always liked teaching--I like the challenging of keeping things interesting and simple--but it is exhausting work. (Don't let anyone tell you teachers have it easy. These folks are the backbone of society and they should paid accordingly).
7. Just my incredible luck that the one and only Counselor position opened up at the Army Ed. Center where I was teaching. I passionately loved this job. First of all, these guys were in Germany with no family, driving tanks and artillery into the woods, and dealing with military structure and toughness that not everyone could handle. So I learned to be a counselor, a listener, and a problem-solver on-the-job. Plus I ran diversity workshops, set the GED and college course schedule, and decorated the ed. center so it was a comfortable haven from the tanks and barracks. When my husband was given a chance to leave the army early, I left my job here expecting to return to the states only temporarily. It didn't turn out that way and eventually my little counselor desk was filled by someone else.
8. My now-civilian-then-husband had started grad school in Europe. In order to finish his degree, we packed up for Oklahoma shortly after we left Germany. I got a job as an Administrative Assistant in the Freshman Dean's office at the University of Oklahoma. I don't know what went wrong. I never felt liked from my first day there. I was an outsider and nothing I did seemed to help. Eight months later I walked away from that job vowing I would never again work somewhere I did not feel good about.
9. My "career" began for real as a Rehab. Counselor for the Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission. I had a caseload of 30-35 severely disabled adults--men and women who wanted or needed to work but needed help because of a disability. My clients were paraplegic, quadriplegic, psychiatrically impaired, had heart conditions, amputations, all sorts of chronic illnesses or injuries. In this job, I learned how to find resources that did exist and create resources that didn't exist . I learned people are people are people.I got my master's degree in Counseling during this time, and I went to work excited and fulfilled every single day. When I die, I'm guessing the word "Counselor" will be one of the few to describe me, and I like that.
10. One day I saw an ad in the Sunday paper for a Resource Coordinator for the New England Spinal Cord Injury Foundation. Since I knew alot about spinal cord injury, I went for the interview as calm and cocky as anyone could be who really doesn't want the job. But I got it.
I spent the next two years traveling the state, meeting every single newly injured person, often just days after their lives would change forever and forever. I'm talking about people who are fine one day and permanently paralyzed the next. For months and years, I stayed with these folks --through their intensive rehab. learning to use a wheelchair and hold a fork, through their challenging transitions home, through creative planning for them to work again.
The world is generally not hospitable to disabled people, but I learned that didn't matter so much as long as the people in your life loved you and as long as you weren't alone in tackling and overcoming certain obstacles. In this job I began writing and publishing: I was Project Director or a regional, and then a national, Resource Directory. Lily Tomlin's quadriplegic character Crystal wrote the book cover's inscription. Forgive me for bragging, but at the time this resource directory made a huge difference in the movement for independent living. I'm proud of it to this day.
11. Next: I'm pregnant. I take a leave of absence for 12 weeks. I receive a call from Easter Seals to do a resource directory for them. I don't understand that my boss at the Foundation hasn't approved this, so I accept. Some confusion ensues and as a result I become a self employed Consultant (as well as a new mother). The project was fun and easy. I continue to consult for the Foundation as well, but I've had my first taste of entrepreneurialship and I like it.
12. A friend and I decide to teach a class together. We call it "Shifting Gears: Exploring Personal and Career Choices". We offer it through my town's adult ed program. The first night 7 people show up. The next week 13 people show up. We are off and running, making up the cirriculum as we go along. By the time it's finished, we've decided to go into business together. This was the birth of OPTIONS Associates, a company I would run for the next 25 years.
13. What can I say about OPTIONS? At one point we had 100 employees and managed community residences throughout the state. At another point we had consultants and nurses and vocational rehab. specialists in 8 states along the eastern seaboard. The company was well known in case and disability management, voc. rehab, training, and developing new programs and products. Along the way we had a few splits, the business got too diverse and too big for my liking, and for a time I let things fall apart for reasons I will not get into. When I made the decision to return to my roots as an Independent Consultant, it took me a while to realize how much happier I was without worrying about all the marketing and supervision and administration that was required of me.
14. Although I was regularly working as a Consultant, JB and I cashed in on her dream to own a Restaurant . We called it Tomato City and specialized in American tapas--interesting appetizers that combined to be a main entree. We renovated a dingy space for five months and transformed it into what I called "a slightly upscale American cafe". It was a hit from day one--cozy, relaxing, fabulous.
But there was one problem: JB and I didn't know what we had gotten into. We were exhausted, the place was too big (65 plus another 35 seats in the back room), and neither of us could cook or keep up as well as we thought. We almost killed one another. We closed 5 months after we opened because it was that or us. We were lucky to sell the lease and assets without getting creamed. It took us a year or more to forgive eachother--yikes--but today I can say I'm glad we did it. There is nothing like opening the doors and seeing the space fill up with happy customers. It was exhausting, but it was also exhilerating.
15. Here comes my worse worse job: I agreed to help a casual friend get his business on track. I did this because I was experienced in helping private clients choose and set up their own businesses and he and a partner owned an Independent Movie Theatre that needed help. Plus he wanted to start a Local Artisan Cooperative. This was the only time I became somebody else's employee in years and I was confident and excited. It was a disaster. These guys ran their businesses off the cuff and in ways I couldn't agree with or adjust to. I managed to build a wonderful cooperative, which is still wonderful and going strong, but the movie theatre was no better when I left than it was when I started. It's now ok, I believe, several years later. All I can say about this whole experience I learned alot and good luck.
16. Consultant/Counselor turned Writer: Until last July, I had clients throughout the United States and some locally, focusing on either disability needs, return-to-work planning, or self employment. From time to time I continued to offer workshops and training in happiness, communication skills, and professional development. I did this until a gig I had wound down and I stopped. I just stopped. I stopped because JB encouraged and allowed me to write. So here I now am, writing every day, readying to publish, and loving every minute of it. I do not yet know if I can make a living doing this, but I am going for it.
Because, as you may remember, I promised myself years ago I would only work at something I liked. And that's what I'm still doing........