What I Learned From Odd Jobs

According to Business Insider, the average person spends over 90,000 hours of their lifetime working. That’s a hefty slice of life. The conversations I’ve had with adults who are now deep into their careers about their first jobs have always stuck with me, maybe because I like hearing where people came from. Jobs are such a huge aspect of our lives, and inevitably, the experiences we have through our jobs at any stage, but especially in the beginning, help to shape who we become. As graduation is approaching and I’ve been setting out on the job of finding a job, I began thinking back to some of my first jobs. Throughout the past years, I’ve found myself doing odd jobs, and while some are more random than others, during the times working them, I’ve often thought about what it would be like to have more of a traditional job as one of my first. In my head, being a barista, for example, seemed more “normal.” While a piece of me craves knowing what it would be like to greet customers, stock ingredients, and experience the hustle and bustle behind the counter, I’m also thankful for what these bouts of work taught me.

Odd jobs are exactly that: odd. There are so many jobs that people are employed for in order to make the things and provide the services that we use in our lives. From every single object in your house, to every service you’ve ever paid for, there have been a plethora of jobs to make those things reality and to make the things that make those things reality.

Since I was little, I’ve gravitated towards making and selling things. At first it was with play money and strictly for fun. Eventually I learned to sew on a sewing machine, and when I was 10, with the help of some starter fabric from my mom, I opened Scrunchie Land, a fun small business making and selling scrunchies at community park days. During my first run, I made enough money to buy more fabric and elastic, and Scrunchie Land continued for two more years. During this time I learned that it was ok to figure things out as I went, to invent and reinvent as I developed my product’s design. Additionally, I learned that through solving my problem of not being able to find hair pieces that were both cute and comfortable, I could solve this problem for others too.

As other interests rose to the surface, I put down making hairpieces for a couple of years, but when I was 14 and transferred to a new dance studio, the interest came back around. As I spent nearly 20 hours per week in dance classes, some of which ballet, I soon identified the need for more reliable bun covers as the brands available weren’t properly sized for different hair lengths and textures in order to securely hold hair in place. If you’ve spent one day in ballet class, you know that hair flying in your face is the epitome of inconvenience. Add strict teachers to the equation and you have a sticky situation. Since I’d learned to crochet in third grade and was proficient in freestyling my own patterns, I began making custom sized bun covers for my peers, this time with more reliable elastic, varied sizes, varied colors, and optional beads. I had no idea that it would turn into what it did as kids saw each others’ both useful and decorative accessories at dance, filling my to-do list with a flow of custom orders. When my dance studio’s orders slowed down, I pitched my product to two local dance shops which both ended up stocking my bun covers and other bows and barrettes I came up with. Similarly to Scrunchie Land, I learned that through solving my own problem, I could also solve a problem others were experiencing. It was a win-win.

Throughout the years, my family and I would make baked goods for friends or teachers as end-of-year thank you gifts. When I was 14 though, I decided to teach myself to decorate cakes more seriously. I made fondant from scratch and spent entire days in the kitchen mesmerized by how vertitle butter and sugar could be. My grandma’s favorite passing comment became “you spend more time in the kitchen than your bedroom.” I unexpectedly got my first cake order three months later, and thanks to word of mouth, continued my custom cake pursuits. During this time, I learned a lot about running a small business, customer service, balancing creative freedom with customer needs, and so much more. I learned to handle the pressure of being responsible for someone’s wedding cake, to think three steps ahead because factors like temperature play a part in baking, and how to tackle big projects on a deadline others were counting on. I was my biggest competition. I wanted to top myself every time because that meant I was moving forward. The fall of the following year I walked into a local bakery with my portfolio in hand and asked for an internship. For the next year and several months, I spent Fridays in a commercial kitchen assisting in any ways I could. I saw what I was experiencing before on a much larger scale while trying to keep up in the machine of it all. I also learned that if you want a job that doesn’t have a job listing or has never existed at the company, there’s often the opportunity to create your own seat at the table. I learned to recognize opportunity and act on it before I had time to convince myself otherwise. 

Reupholstering a couch has got to be one of my oddest jobs yet. Thinking about it now, the image of 16-year-old me revamping a five section couch sounds absurd. Long playlists and my sketchbook with ideas powered me through. I was asked about taking on the project in the springtime and spent random hours whenever I could throughout the summer designing and fabric selecting and eventually sewing and quilting until it was finished. The first, third, and fifth sections had the same design as did the second and fourth sections. This job showed me that I could blend my affinity for the practical and non practical together. It was a practical project for a practical item blended with unnecessarily complicated quilted components I wanted for aesthetic value. During the course of the project, the owner of the couch couldn’t see my aesthetic priority in addition to the practical. It was acknowledged in the end and through this I learned to work on better communicating progress and the end vision. As nerve racking as it was for me to take the job on, it must’ve been nerve racking for the couch owner to trust that the lengthy process would give her a satisfactory service. After all, the customer is always right.

I wrote this article with the classic “yes, and” mentality in mind, the concept that is the central idea of comedy improv and drives me forward everyday. “Yes, and” means saying yes to the idea your scene partner presents and building off of it. The experiences I wrote about here, among others for another time, continually showed me that saying yes even when a job sounded weird or intimidating only led to learning something new. Frustrations naturally existed but at the end of the day I always felt as though I gained something I couldn’t have expected before taking the odd job on.

Photo by Markus Winkler on Unsplash

6 thoughts on “What I Learned From Odd Jobs

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