Stephanie Lechner: Nametags and Hairnets

Failing career assessments since the 8th grade

Month: September, 2012

Circling Back and Touching Bases or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Job (Part II)

The College Years

Moving to Nashville, TN and attending Belmont University was one of those “sliding doors” moments in my life.  Up until my last year of high school, Nashville was most certainly not in my life plans (despite the rampant popularity of country music in the Midwest, I always had a passionate disdain for the genre). For as long as kids are supposed to consider which university to attend, I had planned on attending University of Southern California. I had researched their Music Industry program, and had determined that LA was where I wanted to be (at least for college–NYC was always my ultimate dream destination). Through a random discussion with a recruiter at a college fair, I had discovered Belmont’s Music Business school and subsequently arranged a visit. I fell in love with the small campus, and Nashville’s close (but not too close) proximity to my home state seemed appealing, but USC was still #1. I got into both schools and agonized over my options for months. I had housing requests and financial aid set up to both schools, biding my time until I ultimately had to make a decision. I’m typically someone that follows my gut instinct, and for reasons unexplainable, I made the leap towards Belmont.  I packed my little Saturn, moved to Tennessee and vowed never to return to Indiana beyond the occasional visit. My plan was to get in, learn as much about the industry as possible, and get the hell out of there to more metropolitan pastures.

For the most part, my jobs held during my college years were mundane. I was a hostess in a brewery.  I was an administrative assistant. I edited single-camera instructional videos about Jesus. I even worked as one of those people that go into retail stores after hours and manually count their inventory. See what I mean? B-O-R-I-N-G. The job I held the longest was under the employ of Every Nation Ministries (the organization responsible for the aforementioned Jesus videos), or as my dad would describe it, a noticeably not-Catholic charismatic cult church.  Much like every other occupation, I didn’t apply for the job out of any long-term career plans. I needed money, and if that meant working for a church organization or counting t-shirts at Express, I was content to do the work. I won’t dive into the details about my work at EN because it is a section of a larger narrative I’d love to share later. I will say this, though—I understand that somebody needs to run the business logistics of churches, but I also recognize that I am not one of those people. Unfortunately, working behind the scenes of “God’s work” left me little more than cynical, jaded and broke. Sigh. Such is life. (Side note: this should not at all reflect poorly on the 6 or 7 stellar people that I worked with directly on my team. Those folks were awesome, and my bosses were remarkable people. It was being a cog in this larger machine that left me a tad deflated. As I mentioned, much bigger story here than I have room to do justice to in this series, but I will one day. I promise. )

On the academic side, let me give you a little context on what it was like to study the music industry from 2002-2005. This was the post-napster, pre-Itunes era, and the Nashville community was terrified. They filled our seminars with browbeating lectures on the career consequences of illegally downloading music. Since, this is an industry perpetuated by the who-you-know mentality, they also spent a lot of time trying to teach us how to network. At the same time, I soon discovered that I didn’t really have a knack for picking up recording technology, and became flustered when I began to imagine life outside the walls of my school. I think there are 2 types of graduates from Belmont’s music business school: those who leave ready to enthusiastically tackle the business of music, and those that leave loathing the industry. Unfortunately for me, by the time I graduated, I was hardly listening to music at all which is the most depressing sentence to write. Learning about the business side of things completely sucked the joy out of music for me (this was not the case for most of my classmates.  It’s just me. I’m weird).

If I could emphasize one major life lesson learned during the ages of 18-23, it would be this: never make absolute statements, and if you must, whatever you do, don’t make them out loud. In addition to my life-long vow never to wait tables, as my parents dropped me off at school in 2002, I promised not only to never leave the Catholic Church (oops!), but I promised never again to be an Indiana resident. I was convinced I had bigger and better plans, and I was also certain I knew exactly how my adult life would play out. Ah, the pride and foolishness of youth. Now you all can understand why I was depressed at the age of 24, when I moved back home to Greenwood, Indiana, unemployed and started waiting tables at the Olive Garden.

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Circling Back and Touching Bases or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Job (Part I)

My First Joe Job

I should have had a fondness for the food service industry. I literally wouldn’t exist were it not for the restaurant chain, Denny’s. You see, my mom was a waitress at a Denny’s in Ft. Lauderdale, and my dad was the short-order cook.  They met, fell in love, and sold a lot of pancakes (to this day I am still in awe at my dad’s ability to perfectly flip an omelet).  I look forward to the day I can share more of my family history in the restaurant biz in my forthcoming memoir: My Grandmother Works At Pizza Hut (and Other Tales From the Normal Child). My fondness for serving food, however, ended there, and I made a personal vow to never become a server. In my mind, it just seemed like such a thankless, stressful way to make a living.  I made tiny concessions on this vow when I was in high school because there were very few options for teenagers wanting to join the work force, so at the ripe old age of 15, I began my rocky path of employment at the local Dairy Queen.

I still remember the joy I felt when I received my first paycheck. The autonomy of possessing my own money was immediately addicting, and I was content to keep mixing Blizzards to keep the cash flowing. In the grand scheme of things, the jobs you hold in high school amount to very little beyond earning enough cash to buy a very cheap used car (my beloved 1987 Honda Accord, Charlie), but for me, certain patterns in my approach to work surfaced almost immediately, mainly my high self-inflicted turnover rate.  This first job was precisely what you would expect it to be: lots of sweat, countless Peanut Buster Parfaits and unruly customers, but I had a lot of trouble getting along with my coworkers. The day they locked me in the freezer was the day I quit. I lasted 2 months. I plunged myself even further into the world of slinging hash when I took a job with a few friends as a line-server Jonathan Byrd’s Cafeteria where the uniforms looked liked this:

I’m fairly certain I recently saw a hipster sporting that dress, so who I am to complain about our cutting edge attire. This job was mostly miserable labor including, but not limited to, cleaning the salad bar, standing on a buffet line dishing out fried chicken and watching old ladies make poor man’s lemonade to avoid a beverage purchase (poor man’s lemonade=free water+free lemons+free sweetener). The upside was that I worked in the trenches with a few good friends, so all was not lost. It was at this point, another pattern emerged: my inability to do just one thing at a time. While I was working here, I decided to take a 2nd job as a veterinarian technician (one of my favorite Joe Jobs!). I continued to keep 2 simultaneous jobs in addition to my extracurricular activities until graduation. By the time I ventured into college, I had accumulated five entries on my pithy resume and started my very own assortment of name tags. If I’m not constantly busy, I drown. I’m like a shark in that respect.

Clock in. Clock out. Cash check. This was my idea of work, and I kept those notions entirely separate from my notions on “career.” A career is something I would be completely passionate about: something I love to do so dearly that most times it would not even seem like work. A “job,” however, is just something you do to pay your bills. As long as I kept those ideas separate, and was making strides to actualize my artistic dreams, I was content to do whatever paying job was available to me.  And that mentality didn’t change as I moved away from my childhood home of Greenwood, IN, and moved to Nashville, TN to start college.

Until next time…