Once at a business dinner I was a part of one of those cheesy ice breakers that I actually enjoyed. There were about 10 of us and we spent the meal going around the table, telling everyone about the weirdest or most interesting job we ever had. When it was my turn, I had trouble deciding what to tell the group. I finally settled on one, but it got me thinking – I’ve truly walked down a unique career path. So now I wanted to share a few of my endeavors – from my first job, to the odd jobs, to the one that I still love. Here we go…
I first entered the workforce at the ripe age of 15 as the dishwasher of a health-food grocery store in Memphis. As a scrawny kid that was not use to physical labor, I had no idea what I was in for. During my very first shift, no one informed me that I got a break. I was too shy to ask and too new to know. I worked until I made myself sick – literally. I’ll never forget running to the bathroom, where I puked in the toilet, still wearing my grimy apron. After a glass of water, and being told I got a 15 minute break, I continued on. Being a dishwasher, I got paid the least but often felt like I worked the hardest. I was the last one to leave and was beyond disgusting at the end of the night. Making the minimum wage of less than five bucks an hour, I really feel like this job was the foundation for my life-long thoughtfulness about spending. I still remember buying my first clothing item from my first paycheck – a shirt from dELiA*s – and realized that I had worked FIVE hours just for that one item. Still to this day, I think about purchases in terms of $5 for one hour of work and it makes me think twice about purchasing things I don’t need… Although it doesn’t always change the outcome.
Child Advocacy Center Receptionist
One summer, not that long after my days as a dishwasher, my mom had a friend that landed me a summer job working the front desk at the Memphis Child Advocacy Center. It was my first taste at working 9 to 5 and boy oh boy was I not ready for it. I mean, I think I did okay at the time, but this was quite a big deal to walk in to. The building itself was amazing – a huge historic old house that had been converted into a warm and welcoming office for little ones who had experienced unimaginable things. Kids would come through the doors, often with police officers, and I’d be one of the first faces they would see. As they left, I helped them pick out a teddy bear. At age 16 I remember thinking how trivial a stuffed animal seemed in comparison to what they probably went though. Some days I had to redact names from police reports, reading the accounts of all the horrible things they had been through. When the summer came to an end, I was relieved.. But I still think about it to this day.
Besides my current job, this is my longest running career path. I worked at a local coffeeshop, Otherlands, in Memphis on and off for many years and then eventually at Arsaga’s here at the Fayetteville Public Library. Like my very first job, this endeavor taught me quite a bit. Being an 18 to 23-year-old and having to be at work at 6:00 AM on every Sunday morning is quite a feat. To this day I get anxious if I am late, so it’s very rare that I ever am. I also took my latte game very seriously (it’s all about timing the shots).
I randomly Google image searched Otherlands, and a pic I have never seen of me working in 2008 popped up from an article over at Southern Living!
One Christmas I dressed up as an elf at Goldsmith’s department store at the Oak Court Mall in Memphis. My best friend at the time somehow had hooked us up with the gig and we got paid $100 for a full day of prancing around outside of the store. My only regret is that there are no pictures.
Stand-in & Extra on Walk the Line
With my elf performance under my belt, I signed up to be an extra on the set of Walk the Line (kidding… kind of). Filmed in Memphis, they needed hundreds of people to be in the background at concerts and during street scenes. After getting the call, I went for a fitting and required 1950s-era haircut. The wardrobe area was simply amazing. Rows and rows of vintage dresses, shoes, and accessories. They fitted me with a purple dress and I was given a day (as well as a very early time) to report to set. I was instructed to sleep in rollers the night before and had to go through hair and make-up (where they completely covered up my tattoos). For the next 8+ hours I walked and walked and walked. Very fitting, huh? It was all very worth it though, because if you pause the film at just the right time, you can see a blurry purple blob creeping behind Johnny Cash.
Checking that off, I did not sign up to be an extra again. But when they called to ask if I could be a stand-in, I jumped at the chance. On a very intimate set in rural Mississippi, I was the person who stood in for the actors while they set up the shots during the Thanksgiving scenes towards the end of the film. Reese Witherspoon wore her fuzzy slippers and did crossword puzzles between takes, and Joaquin Phoenix is just as weird as you think he is. Bonus, I actually got paid for my work with the movie, but totally I would have done this for the experience alone.
Cashier at Urban Outfitters
When I lived in the Washington D.C. area for a spell, I snagged a job at Urban Outfitters in Georgetown. It was your typical retail misery, but one thing I will never forget is that every time we left the store (for a break or at the end of our shift), we had to show a manager that we weren’t stealing. After clocking out, all employees had to turn their pockets inside out, pull their pant legs up to show items weren’t being smuggled in socks, and have purses/bags searched. Thinking back, this just sounds crazy, but maybe that’s normal?
Vintage Seller on eBay
A few years after my first retail experience, I moved to to my current city, Fayetteville, Arkansas. I didn’t land a job right off the bat, so I was pretty much bored and broke. Turns out, that combo led to something that ultimately changed my life. I searched my closet and listed a vintage shirt on eBay. Shocked when I quickly got 20 bucks for it, I started listing other clothing items. Over time, this turned into more than a full-time job. I began going to thrift shops weekly and listing 25-50 items per week. In my prime eBay years, I could buy something for a dollar and sell it for 100. If this all sounds familiar, you may know about Girlboss, who was doing the same thing during the same timeframe. Todd even quit his job at one point to help me grow my business.
I worked really hard for several years all while going to school full-time. As I got closer to graduation, I could tell that the golden eBay bubble would soon burst. I got an internship at the Walton Arts Center and started winding down my sales. Before I knew it, I accepted my first “real” job. As amazing as my eBay experience was, I knew that I would have to evolve (Girlboss/Nasty Gal style) and hope for the best or I could actually use my degree to experience a job with insurance and paid vacation for the first time in my life. Obviously, I chose the latter. But my time with eBay gave me not only an amazing experience of running my own business, but it brought people into my life that I am still friends with today and is one of the reasons I am still blogging.
That brings me to what I do today… I often get asked what I do for work, so I wrote a little blog post about it earlier this year. Check it out if you’re curious! My nine year anniversary is actually coming up next month! Minus the 10 month hiatus I took to go work at an ad agency… See, told you I’ve had a lot of jobs. But I take pride in that I’ve had a long tenure at most of them and left each on very good terms, always knowing I would be welcomed back.
I actually don’t consider this a job. For me, it’s a hobby where sometimes I get paid, just as if I were to sell crafts on Etsy or play in a band at a bar. I recognize there’s a definite stigma that comes along with sponsored posts, but I think one day that will change. It’s just all still so new. We don’t question commercials on television shows or ads on websites, but even I admit I feel a little strange posting an ad on my feed. But while I don’t consider this a job, it is a lot of work and it’s nice to be compensated every once in a while. I use that strange feeling and put it towards the creative challenge that comes with making my partnerships feel authentic and honest. Overall though, I’m just having fun with it and I hope that shows.
So there you have it (minus a few jobs that were a bit more boring and a bit less life-changing). Growing up we were not wealthy. In fact, we leaned more heavily towards the low-income side. I watched my mom work as a nurse, raising three kids as a single parent on a shoestring budget. I learned work ethic and the importance of commitment from her, but also out of necessity. Besides my mom going to nursing school, I’m the only person in my family that went to college. College that I will still be paying for even when it’s time for Iris to enroll. I took a very unconventional route to be where I am, but I’m happy to be where I landed.