When I was just a small girl, life was full of promise. Then the unthinkable happened. No, many horrible and unthinkable things happened, which leads me to the question, what is more important, the destination or the journey? Arguments have been made for both, but I tend to lean towards the latter. I believe it is our experiences and how we handle them that makes us who we are. Finding ourselves and appreciating our own talents and uniqueness only comes from failing and then rising again. Forging ourselves from the chaos and ashes, rising again stronger than before, an exquisite journey of self-discovery and self-love.
I have had a full and interesting life, bursting with heartache and blessings, bad choices and triumphs. At 19 I was lost; I was searching not only for a job, but also for some small shred of the intelligent and artistic girl I had once been. Looking through the classifieds in the L.A. Times, I came across an ad:
Artist Wanted: must have portfolio
My heart skipped a beat. I was an artist. I had a portfolio. I called the number.
The results of the interview changed my life forever. I got to experience working in a theme park – Universal Studios, Hollywood, a place I had visited many times as a child. I learned a new medium, one which I love and will continue to practice and create with the rest of my life. And finally, I gained back some of that confidence lost so many years ago. I found a sense of purpose, my independence, a piece of myself.
I was paid $9.00 an hour – standing outside for eight hours a day, five days a week, getting over-time when available – painting children seated in director’s chairs. It was hell on my back and feet. I didn’t own a car and commuted two hours by bus and bicycle twice a day. Needless to say, I was in the best shape of my life. It was hard; I loved it.
My job ended abruptly when a deposit went missing. I was heartbroken; I didn’t take it. They had me on camera counting and dropping the money in the lock box, nevertheless it was on my shift, so ultimately, I was held responsible. I held it together till I got to the subway, and then I cried all the way home. I felt so alone; how could this have happened? I had put the money in the bag and locked it. I had put it in the drop box and turned the lever. What the hell was going on…
I ended up here in Houston, Texas, living with my mother, working at La Madeleine. I met my best friend and lover – now my husband – working there. Food service was new to me, but I worked hard and learned quickly. I hated it. The same repetitive motions, the same rude people with an enormous sense of entitlement: It was sickening.
It was only made worse by the fact that the general manager hated my guts for some unknown and perhaps obscure reason. Maybe I reminded him of someone who mistreated him, or maybe he just hated women in general, who knows. All I do know is that at one point his treatment of me became so unprofessional that not only other co-workers and managers started to comment on it, but customers would walk back up and comment, “Are you okay? I can’t believe he’s talking to you like that.” I should have filed a complaint with Corporate. But, I decided to move on to – hopefully – better things. The only thing lost was a job I hated. The only thing gained was the love of my life.
Fast forward to a few years later. I was a mother of a three-year-old daughter, rejoining the work force after years of being a stay-at-home mom. I got a job at Cinemark as a concession cashier/bartender/party hostess. I enjoyed it. As a lifelong movie buff, it was a fun way to make money and contribute to our little family.
After being an associate for about a year, I earned the title of manager. It meant a lot to be considered for the much-desired position. As a leader, I tend to lead by example, by working right alongside my team, treating them with respect, and always giving them the tools necessary for success. As a firm manager, I believed in being honest with my crew, using constructive criticism and positive feedback as the key to encouraging morale. The entertainment business is challenging because customer service and professionalism are vital. If people are disgruntled, you cannot expect them to help the guests with a smile on their face.
The job was even more stressful during the holidays. There is not a proper word to describe the chaos that ensued. Our general manager allowed other managers to go on vacation even while one was sick in the hospital, and I was left working 60 hours a week with a 4-year-old at home. I worked so hard that I pushed myself to the brink and ended up in the hospital with pancreatitis. When I was released and approved to return, my back went completely out. So once again I was not allowed – or able – to work.
Upon my return, I was greeted with the menacing question of “Do you like your job?” as well as many other veiled threats. Considering all my health problems – with appropriate doctors’ notes – as well as the stress of my car dying in the street (the engine giving its final death rattle in the middle of rush hour), and my husband’s totaled in a wreck on his way to work on Christmas Eve, I would say my reasons for missing work were legitimate and due to extenuating circumstances.
I could not believe this rude woman, who let others go on vacation while we were already shorthanded during our busiest time of year, was sitting there with a smirk on her face trying to intimidate me. I controlled my anger and kept my composure. Even though mind and heart were in full revolt, I believe in remaining as professional as possible.
I smiled and said “Yes, I do like my job, and I’m happy to be back again.”
When I told my husband the ungrateful disrespect this woman had shown me, he – as always – gave me the support and confidence I needed to quit. I started looking for another job.
When I finally put my two weeks in, my general manager apologized profusely for the way she had spoken to me. She said she was just “going through a lot of things right now, and I shouldn’t have taken it out on you” and “Hadn’t we moved past this already?”
Having worked odd hours (leaving work by 1:30 am at the earliest), overworked to the point of going to the hospital, and losing both my husband’s and my car – all the while getting paid $9.75 an hour and missing precious time with my daughter during the holidays – I had never once lost my composure. I thanked her for her time and the opportunity, but felt it was time to move on. In the end it was a hard decision, giving up what amounted to a title. I learned the ability to prioritize. I put my self-respect, and, more importantly, valuable time with my family before my ego.
Fulfillment can be found in the work you do, family and loved ones, or in the life you create. The journey of life can break you, just as a job or the people in your life can. Though my life has been an emotional roller-coaster, fraught with despair and joy, it has made me who I am today. A jack of many trades – and a mistress of some – my interests are numerous and varied. I have a loving husband, and an amazing daughter. Comfortable in my own skin, I have become a strong and confident woman who is willing to take the initiative necessary to better our lives. I am attending college to achieve an A.A.S. in Paralegal Studies, because I want to help others who are suffering injustice and have all the odds stacked against them. I know there are others who are going through much worse than anything I’ve experienced, but to be able to give people strength and support when they need it most would be the best thing I could do with the gifts I have been blessed with. Finally, I have a set path, a direct goal and the stability needed to reach it. Looking back on it all, I wouldn’t change a thing.