As I approach 39 (coming this summer!) I am fairly certain I’m having some sort of mid-life crisis… I am not going to ditch my family, get a motorcycle, start partying. No, it’s not at all like that. Instead, it’s more of a feeling of introspection. Where do I want to be in 5-10 years, and how will I get myself there? I have the answer to the first question, but I am at a loss when it comes to the second. In contemplating what I want to do to get myself to where I want to be, I’ve been revisiting my roles and careers of the past, and thinking about what I’ve loved and what I haven’t loved about each one. I thought it would be a fun post today to talk about what I’ve learned from all the jobs I’ve ever done!
Before I get to that, you might be wondering where I do see myself in 5-1o years, since I mentioned it. Well, no one can predict the future, so who knows what will happen; but if it were up to us, we’d be moving to North or South Carolina. We moved to Maryland 10 years ago to be closer to my parents when the kids were babies (Sawyer was 19 months, and Emmy was almost 2 months). Since then, we’ve had family (with cousins for the kids!) move to the south, including North Carolina. My parents are also approaching retirement soon and don’t plan on staying here, so the reason we moved here will be leaving. I do want to say that if for any reason a move doesn’t work out, we do love it here and are happy here. 🙂
When we initially moved to our current area, I had wanted an old farmhouse so badly…. and that desire has not completely gone away. Dreams of a farmhouse that I can put my signature style on, update and make ours still dance in my head. Those old houses have history, charm, and are weathered perfectly so that they lend to the casual family feel I desire in a home. What I adore about where we are is our location and proximity to a fabulous small city rich in history, the hills and mountains nearby that offer outdoor recreation, and the fact that we have almost two acres for our garden, chicken coop and hens, and plenty of space for the kids to roam. As much as I loved Seattle and returned thinking I should become a city dweller, the truth is that I am a country girl at heart.
I know that our next home will still allow us to have chickens and a garden, and perhaps expand on it all a bit… we’ve talked a bit about becoming bee keepers in the future, too. We’ve really enjoyed having hens and their fresh eggs over the past year. And to be honest, their personality quirks bring so much joy into our lives. My favorite is the black and white one below, Sparkles. She’s the runt, and has the funniest huge comb that flops over constantly, reminding me of Elvis. Sadly, the other chickens have her as last in the pecking order, but for us, she’s first.
Isn’t she adorable? She lays the cutest whitest little eggs, too.
All of that being said, I know that I need to design a life around all of that. I am not ashamed to say that I’ve almost always known that Chris would be our “bread winner.” When we first discussed having kids, we both agreed that we wanted one of us to be home with them. That comes with many sacrifices, such as income and being able to afford certain experiences and items, but we both feel it’s for the best. Our kids are currently 10 and 11 and I honestly feel like they need me now more than ever as they navigate through friendships, emotions, and hormonal changes which I can tell are happening due to mood swings. 😉 Recently, I was stressing about money and saying to Chris, “I just don’t know what I can do.” I went as far as searching for jobs in the area that had a good salary and benefits, and that I knew would be a good fit for me. Chris was OK with it, but he worried about the kids, and the more I thought about it, the more I knew that I didn’t want to “find something.” No dollar amount was going to be worth worrying about what I would do with the kids all summer, or school vacations or sick days. I sold Sweet Clover last fall for the very reason that I wanted to be emotionally present and readily available to Sawyer and Emmy; I want to shape their lives by the things I do with and for them rather than the things I’m never available to do. I know that I want to work from home and work for myself which completely limits my options and sounds pretty demanding, but hey, at least I am in touch with what I want for our family. Chris honestly agrees with me and supports my decision, but he wanted to let me know if I wanted to go get a job somewhere he’d be OK with that, too, if I felt it was necessary. I am lucky in that no matter what I decide for myself, I have his backing, and that makes all the difference; I hear of many wives being pressured by their husbands to go back to work at a 9-5, and I am thankful that I don’t have to do that. We get by, but money is just not the most important thing to us.
Now we’re going to take a fun trip down memory lane as I share with you all of the jobs I’ve ever had and what I’ve learned from them.
Waitress: Beginning my sophomore year of college, I started waiting tables and did so for a couple years, and when I was home for summers. Waiting tables is one of the most physically demanding jobs, especially if you work in an Italian restaurant where many dishes are double plated, and there are 3 floors with the kitchen on the main floor, dining on the top two! Boy, was I in great shape though! As a waitress I learned so much about people…. a table could come in, and immediately I could feel their mood. Show them some kindness, ask them some questions not just about what they want to eat, but about their day, and build rapport. With that little bit of kindness, a short-lived but happy relationship is created and the customer will show you that they appreciate your work. I always looked at it as a people-service job versus food service and I think that makes all the difference. My job was not only to bring the food, but deliver it with a little personality and bring them a happy experience. I will never forget the night my first table ordered a bottle of wine and our job was to open it at the table. I was only 20 and had never opened a bottle of wine (my how things have changed!) and I was petrified that I would fail in front of them. Rather than let them think I knew what I was doing, I just flat out told them they were my first and I was scared! They actually coached me through it, and I was sure my boss would be upset with me over that. However, as soon as it was opened, they cheered loudly, and then they left for the night, they left me the cork with a note, a $100 tip, and told my boss how wonderful I was. In making a human connection and being personable with them, it made their experience a memorable one. Now when I go out to eat, that’s what I crave in my own servers… I don’t care about the imperfections as long as I know my server is doing their best and they’re seemingly invested in me as a person.
Another valuable lesson that came from waitressing was that camaraderie is key. Each restaurant I worked in, the rest of the waitstaff would have my back, and I theirs. We helped each other out, and wanted the best for each other. So often we see people in it solely for themselves, but I recall times where other waitresses brought out my plates or pre-bussed my tables if I was in the weeds and vice versa. We helped each other with no strings attached and no other incentive, but because we were a team. Knowing that a net is there if I fall makes all the difference in a job.
Lastly, one of the waitressing jobs I had in college was at a restaurant that a lot of students frequented, especially on their “Tasty Tuesday” deal nights. I never really “fit in” in college, and this job seemed to be one more of those things that set me apart. No other Wake Forest students worked there, yet tons of them came in to eat. Several times I witness and was the subject of rude and degrading comments and behavior from some of the more affluent students. When one group in particular would come in, I would beg to trade tables if I got them… the lesson I learned there is that money doesn’t buy class. Of course, many students that came in were kind and friendly, but the ones that stick out in my mind are the ones who made me feel smaller than a speck of dirt.
Retail Management: After college, I went to work as a retail manager for Abercrombie & Fitch. My senior year I began to work at the local store (which is how I got to know Chris, who ran the kids’ store at the time). Although I was attending a great school that offered a fantastic education that could have led me to more opportunities, I finally found a group of people who made me laugh and that I had fun with. I mean, does this not look like fun?!?!?
I think we all know that Abercrombie & Fitch has a reputation, so before I go into the things I’ve learned from retail management, I should also let you know that after leaving them, I worked for J.Crew and Williams-Sonoma. Honestly, managing retail is hard work… you’re in charge of a bunch of people that you have to inspire to love the company so that they want to come to work. They don’t get paid much, so truthfully they only come to work there for a discount and hoping to have fun, and to earn a little cash. When I worked with people that were real, genuine, and fun to be with, I loved my job. That joy is also reflected in the experience that the customer has. Retail management has many facets to it including time management, money/numbers charts, visual displays, cleanliness, hiring, team building. As much as this may come as a shock, managing my abercrombie kids store is what introduced me to my love for design and creating aesthetically appealing vignettes. (Let’s face it, I was not that into the charting of numbers or making schedules!) After I ran my first store in Charlotte (the kids store at South Park mall!), I went on to open and manage two more kids stores in Nashville. I loved opening stores because that experience was almost solely focused on making the store visually appealing. In my first store as an assistant, if a mannequin needed dressing, I was the girl to go to because I could breathe life into it. Of course, the visual can also be a huge downside of retail as the focus in so many stores turns to appearance rather than customer service, but at least I learned something about me and what I loved to do.
Membership Sales: When Chris and I headed to Louisiana for his new job in 2002, I decided that it was time to hang up my retail manager apron and try something new. I had just discovered the world of fitness and fallen in love. However, I had absolutely no experience. In my job search, I found a job for membership services at a Slidell Louisiana athletic club and thought it could be the perfect segue for me. After all, I had plenty of experience with customers and customer service. I interviewed for the job and got it right away. Basically, it was in membership sales, so any time a potential new member walked through the door, our job was to greet them, give them a tour, and then hopefully get them to join. I do not have a lot of “business” skills, but I do have people skills and that helped me excel at my job. I created relationships, and because of that, I earned the award that first year. (I was also into dying my hair red then).
Even though I performed well, my heart wasn’t in it… most of the day we say at a cubicle in an office making cold calls. After that first year, I knew that I did not have the personality for an office job and prefer an atmosphere where I get to keep on moving. However, I loved seeing people make positive changes in their lives, and being a part of that experience. During my time in my job, I began learning about personal training. After one year in sales, I moved on to become a personal trainer at the same facility.
Personal Training: I loved this job! I helped people on a daily basis, and I loved the constant motion, and seeing a new face each hour. When my schedule was full, my day whizzed by. After a little while I was promoted to be senior coordinator, which meant that I was in charge of senior programming. We had a large senior population at the gym, and I planned fun events and classes for them, one of my favorite being a Friday evening dance I called “Senior Prom.” This entire experience was a positive one for me, and I learned to love the constant action as well as knowing that I was making a difference in people’s lives. However, now that I am older and with kids, it’s not a job that suits my lifestyle. The busy hours are 5 am – 10 am, and again in the evening from 4 pm – 9 pm, and those are the hours that my kids need me home.
Group Exercise Instructor: Personally training naturally led me to become a group ex instructor and over the years I’ve taught spinning, boot camp, HIIT, and bosu classes. At our last town, I was able to teach about 4-7 classes a week, and fit them into my mom schedule which was ideal. It’s a relatively easy and fun job that keeps you in shape while providing some spending money. It does require a lot of energy, and on the days where you don’t feel well it can be a challenge, but I look back on that one with fond memories. When we moved away, the day I taught my last boot camp class, a couple members were in tears, which let me know I had done well for them. That job was one that allowed me to be connected to people, again helping them do something good for themselves. When we moved here, the local gym told me they didn’t even need any subs, and there was nothing closer, and I let my certifications lapse. Although I love fitness, it’s not my “calling” so I don’t feel the pull to get back to working in that atmosphere. What I did love was the busy-ness and the people.
Furniture Flipper: In 2007 when we moved to Maryland, I began flipping furniture for our home out of necessity. From their business grew, and was easy back in the day before the market was saturated. At the risk of embarrassing myself, you can check out a feature Apartment Therapy did on my business in 2009 here. If you’ve read my blog for a while, you know that’s how it started and you probably already know a lot about it, so I won’t bore you with many details, but I will say that this was where I truly found my creative spark and what pulled me into the design world, an area I had never before been much into aside from your standard TLC and HGTV shows that were around back then.
Store Owner: In my just over three years of store ownership, I saw the good, the bad, and the ugly in people, vendors and customers alike. I wrote a lot about it here and here. Owning your own store sounds dreamy, right? Making your own hours, creating the vision you want, etc… And many times it was like I was living the dream. However, in today’s day and age with cell phones and the internet, we are accessible at all times. People want answers no matter what time it is or if it’s your day off. You take all of those retail management duties, and add to it so much more, and the fact that the ultimate responsibility of the store’s success falls on you and it can at times be a lot to handle, especially when your priority is raising a family. As much as I loved my partner and the team we had in place at the time we sold, I knew that the hustle that goes along with it was not right for my kids and that they deserved to have so much more of me than I was giving them. Chris and I talk about store ownership later in life when we’re semi-retired and no longer have kids that need us at home, because we both do love the retail experience… and the thing that we both love most about it is the people.
Of course, I am also a blogger, but seeing as I just make enough money to keep this blog up and running, I am not including it in my list of jobs. I did, however, earn my BA in English & communication, so it’s the one that is most related to that, if it matters. I enjoy writing and I really adore the English language, everything it’s used for, and I love correcting grammar!
And if you made it this far into the post, congratulations! I know this was a wordy one, but it’s all been on my mind and yesterday I had time to sit down and spill my thoughts as well as sift through old photos so I could bring you such beauties from my work experience. Ha!
Where does this all leave me today and how will it get me to where I want to be in 5-10 years? Damned if I know! Clearly, I like being creative, connecting on an interpersonal level, and doing something that adds value to others’ lives; and I need to be flexible, mentally and physically available to my kids, and constantly in motion (or at least not glued to a desk chair). I am still digging deep and working out what will be next for myself, but it’s a great point of reference to have this checklist of musts to help me eliminate or proceed with any options. If you’re having a midlife crisis similar to mine, I highly recommend making your own list of jobs you’ve held and seeing what you loved and didn’t about each. You might be surprised to find all of the common denominators like I did!