Merry Madness

I’m going to change things up a bit today and talk about one of the bad sides of Christmas: the last-minute shopping. Now, I’ve been known to run out for a thing or two at the last possible minute, but I know what I’m getting into going in, and I don’t condone the insanity that plagues many shopping centers on the days leading up to Christmas. That includes wrongs perpetrated on the sides of both stores and shoppers. It’s just a foolish, unnecessary, stressful mess.

IMG_5239.JPG Just looking at that image gives me post-traumatic stress symptoms. 😛

I’m going to tell you a story of the year I worked at a Zellers department store during Christmas. I was seventeen, just trying to make a few bucks as a seasonal worker, and I was scheduled to work 9-5 on Christmas Eve. The stressors were many, my friend. Let me tell you about them.

Stressor #1: The store was packed beyond capacity. It was chaos as panicked shoppers – many of them who were literally just starting their Christmas shopping – shoved their way through the store. They were hurried and frustrated. They were fighting with store employees and fellow shoppers alike. And it was no one’s fault but their own, but you wouldn’t dare point that out.

Look, I know that everyone is busy around the holidays, and we don’t all have the luxury of being able to just run to the mall whenever we feel like it. However, if you start your shopping on Christmas Eve and start getting belligerent with everyone because the store is so busy, or because it doesn’t have the particular toy you need…well, I just have absolutely no sympathy for you. Even accounting for other holidays and store closures, there are over 300 other days in the year that you could do your shopping if you just think ahead a little bit. Your poor planning skills are not the fault of the other shoppers or the poor cashiers that you inevitably wind up harassing.

Stressor #2: Lay-Away is the invention of the devil. Approximately half the damn town thought they would be terribly clever by doing their shopping ahead of time, putting it all on layaway, and then come in to pick it all up on Christmas Eve. People, please don’t do this. You may find it hard to understand, but when five thousand people all make this same plan, and each person has several hundred dollars worth of stuff to pick up, it takes quite a while to track everything down and process it before you can leave the store with it. Honestly, the guys and gals who manned the lay-away counter that year deserved a goddamn medal.

Stressor #3: We were horribly understaffed. As is a common(ly horrible) thing with department stores, this particular Zellers regularly tried to run with as few people as possible, even during times that they knew would be outrageously busy. On Christmas Eve that meant that from open to close, each cashier had a constant line that never dipped below 8-10 people deep, and we had exactly zero help from floor staff. You know those people who are on the sales floor to help answer questions and the like? Well they’re also there to be able to hop on an empty cash if it’s too busy, but this night we only had two of them, and they were run ragged the entire night by crazed shoppers looking for toys that had been sold out weeks ago. So we had no help. I literally didn’t even set eyes on those two girls for the entire shift.

Stressor #4: There is absolutely no empathy and employees start getting treated like robots. I remember at one point my coworker was told that it was time for her to go on her break (the first one in over 4 hours, by the way). Since we had no one to take her place on the cash, I was instructed to facilitate the break by incorporating her line into mine (in other words, serve one of my customers, then one of hers, and so on, so that no one had to wait too long). It was the easiest and most fair way to handle the situation, but people flipped the hell out. They started shouting about how they’d already been waiting forever and that my coworker should have to finish the line before she got her break (which, as mentioned earlier, would never have happened). And more than one customer actually tried goading me into the fight by suggesting to me that my coworker was a “lazy bitch” who was leaving me to do all the work by myself while she buggered off to have a smoke or something. I barely got through those 15 minutes without punching someone.

Oh yeah, did I mention all the fuss was over a 15 minute break? Her first in over half the shift? Yeah.

Stressor #5: People kept trying to steal stuff. No, really. The one that sticks out in my memory is this one young kid – maybe 12 or 13 – who was buying a large, round Christmas tin. He looked visibly nervous, and when I picked up the tin I noticed that it felt too heavy. I opened the lid to find that he’d put a smaller tin inside…and another smaller tin inside that…and a further smaller tin inside that. I gave him a look, and he averted his eyes and pretended not to notice. So I scanned all four tins, took his money, and watched him leave the store in a big hurry, which made me wonder if he didn’t have something in his pockets as well.

And stuff like that kept happening all day. People hid shirts inside other shirts, or ripped open packs of socks and underwear to stuff extra sets inside. Sometimes they shoved small toys into the front of play sets with open-front boxes and pretended that they thought it was included. I never confronted anyone, and just scanned it all properly, but it made my frustration level go way up because I had to scrutinize every item everyone brought me.

Also, who goes through that kind of crap for an extra pair of socks?

Stressor #6: The goddamn registers didn’t work properly. I don’t know about Zellers stores in other parts of the country, but the Zellers store in my hometown had a reputation for never updating their sales properly, so the registers never rang in with the correct prices. On that Christmas Eve there were a mega-ton of sales going on, with completely random new ones being announced over the PA system every hour…and none of them rang up properly. Since a lot of the sales were things like, “25% off women’s shoes in brand x, y, and z” or “30% of kids clothes from sizes x to y” it was effectively impossible to keep track of everything, so every customer had at least one item that they insisted was scanning in wrong, but you had very little way to know for sure. And there were lots of sales that were very subjective, like “$20% of ‘Learning Toys'”, so then you got into arguments like, “Well, building blocks aren’t really a ‘learning’ toy, but they do have the alphabet on them so I guess maybe that makes them educational?”

To top things off, remember those floor workers I spoke of earlier? Yeah, normally we would call one of them to check into the sale for us, but as I mentioned they were completely inaccessible, and if you bothered to call one you’d just end up sweating at your cash register for 20 minutes while angry shoppers screamed at you to hurry up. So what did I do to handle the onslaught of people insisting that this item or that item was on sale? Well, here’s the thing: our registers did not need supervisor access to do a price override. So, yeah…you can see where I’m going with this. It definitely wasn’t the “right” thing to do, and I knew it at the time, but on that day, Christmas Eve, with hundreds of people crammed in the store at once and everyone losing their minds left, right, and center, all I really cared about was getting everyone rung through and out of the store as quickly as possible.

———-

The entire thing was a learning experience for sure, and I have to admit that I’ve had a lot more empathy for cashiers during the holidays ever since that experience. Because here’s the thing; as much as you last-minute shoppers may want to get angry at the stores for running out of the item you want, it’s really your fault for not going out to get it sooner. And as much as you want to bitch out the cashier for things not ringing up properly, she’s not the one who programmed the registers and has no way of knowing the proper price for every item in the store. And as much as you want to kill the other customers who are getting in your way and holding up the register with an outrageous number of items, they’re just doing the exact same thing you’re doing, so hey, stop being such a hypocrite.

So my advice is two-fold, as we approach the final shopping days before Christmas and things begin to get a little intense:

1. Take a moment to stop, think about what you need to get done and get bought, and do your damnedest to work out a plan to do it before the last minute.

2. When you start to get filled with rage toward a store employee, stop for a second and put yourself in their position. Imagine if you were the one working a cash register on Christmas Eve (probably at minimum wage), getting berated by every single person who so much as looks in your direction. I guarantee you’ll suddenly feel a lot calmer and a lot less judgmental.

My final thoughts? Try to treat each other respectfully during the season. Period. 🙂

Have you ever worked retail during the holidays? Do you have any horror stories? Maybe a story that proves that not everyone is a maniac shopper? Please share!

Customer Service Suffering

Back in the day (the “day” here-forth meaning “sometime in the past that I can’t quite recall) I was a regular reader of the “Customers Suck” Livejournal account.  I used to read those stories day after day, and occasionally contributed one or two of my own, because at that point in my life I had worked several customer service-based jobs and it helped to vent and listen to other people vent.

I left that site a long while back because, personally, I felt that my fellow posters were unnecessarily abusive to each other, but I now read “Not Always Right” (and it’s sister sites) on a regular basis for the same reason. Even though I haven’t worked with customers in about eight years or so, I still shudder when thinking about some of the things I had to put up with, and I still see and experience things to this day that make me wonder if half the consumer community wasn’t raised by packs of rabid wolves.

Image via eurokulture.missouri.edu

I thought it might be fun to share a few of my favorite personal stories.

1. Zellers: The Liars
Zellers, for those who don’t know, is a Canadian department store chain that recently went out of business and sold most of their stores to Target. I worked at two different Zellers stores in my customer service career, and the first one was actually my first retail job. I got a part-time position there coming up to the holidays, and I quickly learned that half the people I’d grown up around and lived near my entire life were dirty, rotten, filthy liars.

See, the thing about Zellers (that was their own damn fault) was that they would often put on all these sales (sometimes last minute without them even being in the flyer), but not program them into the registers. So we cashiers would just scan things along and have to rely on customers to let us know if something had scanned wrong. If a customer pointed out a wrong price we would have to call one of the floor walkers to go find the product and let us know what the sale was. That is, if there actually WAS one. See, everyone and their dog knew that this happened on a constant basis, and most of them also knew that cashiers at Zellers had the power to change prices on the register without any help from a supervisor or anything like that. See what I’m getting at?

The last few days coming up to Christmas was the worst because there were lines 20-strong of customers with hundreds of dollars worth of merchandise each, and we only had one or two floor walkers in the store. You could literally wait 20 minutes for a floor walker to call you back about a price, and in that time your line of 20 customers would inflate to 40, all of them extremely mad that you were taking so long. And EVERY. SINGLE. ONE. OF. THEM. would claim that at least one of their items was scanning wrong. In the interest of not having a riot in the store, my fellow cashiers and I would often just override the price to whatever the customer was saying it was, only to find out hours later that everything they said was 100% BS.

I’m convinced that this combination of the stores refusing to update their registers properly and customers being dirty rotten liars is why this chain of stores went out of business in the first place.

2. Sirius: “Are you deaf or just an idiot?”
I spent several months at a call center, a job that I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemies. My particular contract was for Sirius Satellite Radio, and one of my main jobs was activating people’s new radios. I would take down all their information, payment method, etc, and then go through a little spiel before hitting the button that would send a signal to their radio. The main point of this spiel was, “Is your radio currently plugged in and turned on, and does the antenna have a clear view of the sky?”

You have absolutely no concept of how often the answer to that question was “Yes” when the reality of the situation was “No”. At least two out of every three of my customers would wait the obligatory few minutes, inform me that they still weren’t getting a signal, and then feel free to inform me that, “Oh, by the way, I’m in a parking garage. Is that okay?”

People, evidently, have no idea what the words “clear view of the sky” mean.

I even had one particular lady tell me that everything was great, hang up, and call back later to complain that her radio wasn’t working; after a short, painful conversation we determined that she hadn’t even taken the radio out of the box when she called to have it activated.

3. Cape Breton Post: Cheapskates
Here I’m going to give a piece of advice to anyone who currently has a newspaper subscription. That advice is plainly, and simply, to pay your damn paper carrier. If you honestly can’t afford the (very affordable) cost of a newspaper, please cancel your subscription, because if you don’t pay what you owe that money literally comes out of the pocket of the kid who brings your paper every morning. Literally. From the pocket of the kid. The newspaper company isn’t losing a cent, because that’s how paper carriers work. The kid has to pay a bill every month that corresponds to how many papers they deliver. Whatever is left over after that bill is paid is what they’ve earned. If you refuse to pay them they still have to pay the bill, which means they make less money on a job that already pays beans.

If you are like a few of the customers I had, who were completely loaded with cash but still absolutely refused to ever pay me…dear news reader, there is a special place in hell for you.

4. Tim Hortons: Lunatics with weird ordersThis is actually my husband’s story, not mine, but it’s too ridiculous not to include in this post.

Another piece of advice, this time for anyone who ever stumbles into a Tim Hortons coffee shop. Ladies and gentlemen, if you wander into a Tim’s pretty much anywhere within the country of Canada, and you order a “regular” coffee, you are going to get one cream and one sugar. It may be different elsewhere, but that’s what “regular” means in Tim Horton’s jargon, so please don’t lose your mind if you receive your coffee and that’s not what you meant to get. Just explain what you actually wanted, and they’ll be happy to remake it for you.

Additionally, if your coffee order is the kind of order that no one in their right mind would ever order, please explain yourself thoroughly instead of ordering “regular” and then pitching a complete fit.

The customer in question walked up to my husband, ordered a “regular” and received his one cream, one sugar. He then proceeded to take a sip, spew that sip all over the counter, and start screaming “Are you trying to kill me? I have diabetes!” It turns out the customer wanted something that no other customer in the history of Tim Hortons has ever ordered: one cream and one milk. And he thought that this abnormal request was a “regular”.

To this day I can’t fathom why someone would want cream and milk in the same coffee.

5. Every damn place: Rudeness…good old fashioned RUDENESS
I’ve worked a number of customer service jobs, and endured all the idiocy that comes with such a career, but I never really fathomed how unbelievably rude people are until I became the shopper in the situation. See, I was never much of a shopper when I was younger, but these days I regularly spend great deals of time shopping for groceries for my family, presents for birthdays and holidays, and just generally wandering around the stores to get out and keep the baby from getting too shack-wacky.

And what I find with every single trip is that people in general are rude, ignorant arses. I know that sounds terribly cynical, but that doesn’t make it any less true. I couldn’t begin to count the number of times that I’ve seen people block off entire aisles with their carts, push in front of people without so much as an “excuse me”, and act like you’re a huge inconvenience to them because you happen to be in the same store at the same time.

In one particular example, my husband was leaving the store while carrying two huge, heavy containers of kitty litter. At this particular moment two old ladies decided that directly in the center of the doorway was the perfect place for the conversation they were having. I was with my husband at the time and there is absolutely no way that they didn’t see him standing there, glaring at them, waiting to be able to pass. In the end, after waiting way longer than I would have, my husband ended up shouting for them to get the hell out of the way, to which they responded by shooting looks at him like he was the asshole. I nearly died from laughing, I’ll be honest.

In other example, a recent one, my daughter was sitting on the floor of a toy aisle. She had one of each of the four Ninja Turtles down on the floor with her, playing with them. My husband was in the aisle with her at the time. Enter lunatic woman, who wandered down the aisle, swooped down, and snatched up one of the turtles that my daughter was currently playing with, and walked off with it. Please note, at this time, that there were plenty more of that particular turtle sitting on the shelf. That woman chose to grab a toy away from a child rather than take one off the shelf. And besides that, even if the one my daughter had been playing with was the only one left, what right did this woman have to just snatch it away? How did she know that the child’s father – who was standing right there, I’ll remind you – wasn’t planning on buying those toys?

As the holidays grow closer and people start to lose their minds trying to get their shopping done, things only get worse. People argue about sales prices with associates who have no power over the pricing. They rip open packages to examine the product, thus making that particular item unsellable. They pick up items (usually something that is meant to be kept frozen) and drop them in random places rather than put them back or give them to an associate to put back. And they’re rude, rude, rude to one another, standing in each others’ way, snatching items away from each other, and just generally acting like a bunch of animals.

It all makes me extremely glad that I got out of that racket a long time ago, but also makes me sad that I still have to watch it every time I venture out to a store.

What about you? What kind of terrible customer service stories do you have to share? Have you ever had a customer completely lose their mind on you? Have you ever completely lost your mind on an idiotic customer? Please share! I know I’m not the only one! 😛

Things I Know About Kids: Pay Attention to What They Like!

Let me start off this post by asking a question: how many of you can recall at least one birthday, Christmas, or other present-giving holiday where you were disappointed by a present? Maybe you got the cheap knock-off version of the thing you really wanted, or maybe you got something that was way outside your age range, or maybe you got something completely different from what you’d asked for because what you really wanted was deemed somehow inappropriate. Or maybe, just maybe, you got something completely random that you didn’t want, and all you could think was, “Geez, does anyone even pay attention to what I like?”

2nnneNow here’s the thing. I’m not suggesting that kids shouldn’t be grateful for the presents they get, because they should, and it really peeves me when kids are ungrateful little brats. I’m also not suggesting that parents should break the bank when it comes to presents…if you genuinely can’t afford it, then your kids are just going to have to deal (and again, be grateful).

But I am saying this: for the love of god…pay attention to what your kids like.

I bring this up because of my “jobs I’ve had” post a few days ago. Mentioning my previous positions at various department stores reminded me of something I dealt with a lot while working retail: clueless parents. I can’t count the number of times I got questions from parents who had only the basest inkling of a concept of what their child wanted as a present. For example, once I had a mother come into Zellers and ask me for help finding a game that her kid wanted. She said the game was called “Mario”. I had to bite my tongue to keep from screaming as I asked her, “Which Mario?”

A SMALL clipping of the Wikipedia list of Mario games...notice the dates?
A SMALL clipping of the Wikipedia list of Mario games…notice the dates?

A brief discussion thereafter revealed that not only did the woman not know which one of the dozens of possible “Mario” games she was looking for, but she didn’t even know which video game console she was buying it for. She knew that her kid had a “Nintendo”, but not which version, and at the time N64 was still booming, while Gamecube was wracking up new sales. Each system had a plethora of “Mario” games, so I had absolutely no way of advising this woman as to what she should buy. In the end I practically begged her to go home and ask her kid about the game again.

Now seriously, folks…it’s one thing to get a little confused when you find out that there are multiple games with similar titles…but if you don’t even know which system you’re buying it for? Sorry, but you must have your head lodged firmly up your back-end. I know there are lots of parents out there who don’t know a damn thing about video games, but how can you honestly not even know which console(s) your kid owns? Is there really not enough space in your brain to commit the words “Gamecube” or “Playstation 3” or “Gameboy” or “XBox” to memory?

I don’t mean this post to torment parents who are a little out of touch with video games and toys and the newest gadgets. We can’t all know everything about everything. But this is your child (or children) that we’re talking about. Is it really so hard to pay a little bit of attention to what they enjoy? The toys they play with? The TV shows they watch? You have no idea how many times I watched parents struggle over a wall of action figures because they had no idea which superhero they were actually looking for, or how many times I’ve watched a parent pick up some random toy with a look of bewilderment on their face and ask me, “Do you think my kid will like this?”

You have no idea how many returns I’ve seen after a holiday, during which the parent grumbled that they’d, “Apparently got the wrong thing.”

Really, I swear, it’s not rocket science.

Yes, there are an outrageous number of options out there and sometimes it can be a little overwhelming, but you know what works? Ask your kid questions. If your kid is playing with a bunch of dolls, ask them what their names are and which ones they don’t have. BOOM, gift idea. Simple. Direct. Almost 100% success rate. Or you know what else works really well? When your kid asks for something specific, take ten seconds to really listen to what they said. The “Mario” game fiasco above could have been easily rectified if the mother had paid attention long enough to hear the full name of the game and, ideally, write it down so she wouldn’t forget. Bada bing, bada boom.

We can’t all be super-parents, and no parent has a 100% grasp on everything their kid is into…but that doesn’t give us an excuse to be ignorant. Your kids have as much right as anyone else in your life to have your attention long enough for you to be able to buy them nice presents without begging a bewildered sales clerk for help. It’s not difficult. It just takes a little bit of effort. Aren’t your kids worth a little bit of effort?

Shown: Something worth a bit of effort.
Shown: Something worth a little bit of effort.

Jobs I’ve Had (and Headaches I’ve Endured)

After stumbling across this post from lazylauramaisey I started thinking about all the jobs I’ve had over the years and I thought, hey…why not share?

Papergirl for the Cape Breton Post
This was the first job I ever had and believe it or not I think it was one the longest ones I ever had. If I’m remembering correctly, I started the route in the eighth grade and didn’t quit it until I went to college. Sometimes my mother would drive me because the route was a few streets away from where we lived, but a lot of the time I walked as well. It wasn’t a bad job for the most part, and at Christmas I got some pretty nice tips, but there was this one family I spent five years wanting to strangle. They were as rich as any family can be in Cape Breton, and it was like pulling a crocodile’s teeth trying to get my payment out of them. They would actually look out the window – right at me – and then not answer the door. My first “customers are idiots” experience.

Cashier at Zellers
For those who might not know, Zellers was a Canadian department store, much like Walmart. When I was in high school I got a job there for the Christmas season, working cash. I absolutely hated it for two main reasons. One, I was still pretty shy in high school and the job forced me to talk to people all day. Two, there weren’t enough support staff. A major flaw at Zellers was that sales were rarely properly programed into the registers, which resulted in a lot of customers loudly proclaiming, “That’s not the right price!” as I scanned. The thing is, people would do this all the time whether the item was on sale or not to try and cheat the system, and the only way to combat it was to call a “floor-walker” to go find the item in the store and prove what the actual price was. During the holidays calling a “floor-walker” was tantamount to insanity…it was so busy that chances were they would never get to you. So when my line-ups started getting super-long and all the customers started getting super-agitated I just stopped calling for help all together and overrode any price the customer’s told me was wrong. I probably cost Zellers a lot of money that holiday season, but in my defense, they should have hired more damn people.

“Waitress” at the Marine Atlantic Ferry Terminal
I put quotation marks around waitress because I didn’t really serve the food, but I did sometimes serve ice cream. It wasn’t a bad job, but I had an idiot boss who would rather us wash down the same tables fifty times than stand still and do nothing for five minutes when there were no customers. I offset my annoyance by constantly filching Rice Krispie Square treats.
Also, once, my boss demanded that I stay late, even though legally I couldn’t drive that late (I was still a new driver with a restricted license). It was my first run-in with opposing an employer. I told her that I’d happily stay late if she paid my fine when I got it. She ended up sending me home.

“IT Specialist” at the Coast Guard College
This was a work term for my university program, and I can honestly say I didn’t learn a damn thing. The job mostly consisted of things like replacing the batteries in the TV remotes in the residents’ rooms. The one challenge I had was when the speaker at a meeting was having issues getting his computer to work with the overhead projector…that was the first time I’d ever seen a Mac computer, but damn it, I got it working.

“IT Specialist” at Cape Breton University
Another work term, and twice as useless as the first. This is the university that I actually attended, and they created the job just to have something available because they were having absolutely no luck finding work terms for the students in my program. I had almost nothing to do for this entire term. I spent most of my time transposing a huge map via this huge electronic drafting board, which wasn’t part of my job…it was just to pass the time.

“Floor Walker” at a different Zellers
This was the first job I got after my future husband and I moved in together, and I hated it so much worse than the first Zellers. I mostly wandered around replacing merchandise that people had moved, or straightening up clothes that people had unfolded, but those were the “good” parts. The bad parts were dealing with customers, who at this particular store seemed to be twice as idiotic as others I’d dealt with in the past. I remember this one particular lady brought in a flyer the day before the sales were to start, and absolutely demanded that we give her the sales prices that day because one of the graphics on the flyer said, “Come in and enjoy our great sales today!”

A-Little-Bit-of-Everything at a Nova Scotia Liquor Store
As far as customer service goes, this was one of the better ones. Everyone in the store did a bit of everything, so I’d be on cash one day and replacing stock another day, unloading new stock the day after that. But the best part was the drive-thru. Yes. I worked at a liquor store with a drive-thru. It was completely idiotic because legally the customer had to receive their liquor, pull forward, get out, and put the liquor in the trunk. It was just…foolish, honestly. But whatever. I enjoyed working the drive-thru. I particularly liked working it with this one other girl about my age. We would trade off on working the window/cash and actually running for the order. I enjoyed running for the order. It was also quite humorous because you can’t imagine how many customers we got who drove up to the drive-thru speaker with no idea as to what they actually wanted. I’ve gotten orders such as “uh…some kinda rum?” and “this thing in a blue bottle…I have no idea what kind of liquor it is”. I also had more than one traveler from another province beg me to let them take a picture of me handing their order out the drive-thru window. I don’t blame them. Leave it to Nova Scotia to have drive-thru liquor stores.

40035095A-Little-Bit-of-Everything at Walmart
Yes, I did eventually end up at a Walmart, only because the liquor store just kinda…stopped scheduling me in. Anyway, I started in an actual store, doing more floor work, but what I was really hired for was a large group that was set to “build” the new Walmart that was going up. We put the shelving together and arranged it properly, pieced the cash register area together, put up all the signage, and eventually stocked all the shelves. It wasn’t a bad gig for brain-dead work that you could zone out during, but I hated it for one reason: the manager. Never have a met such a stone-cold witch. The best example I have against her is when she refused to let my young coworker have the afternoon off to go to her cousin’s funeral. Apparently “a cousin isn’t a close enough relative”. I was so disgusted that when I got the girl alone I told her to take off and I’d cover for her. She didn’t because she needed the job to pay for school and was scared she’d lose it, which just made me that much more disgusted. When I finally left that job it was all I could do to keep myself from slugging that manager in the face on my way out.

Customer Service Rep for Sirius Satellite Radio
…which is a nicer way of saying, “call center punching bag”. I activated people’s radios, took payments, resolved issues with accounts, and helped them troubleshoot issues with their radios. By way of explaining what this job was like, I beg everyone this: if you ever get a Sirius Satellite Radio, listen to the rep who is activating it for you. I lost track of the number of times I asked, “Does your radio have a clear view of the sky?” and received a “Yes!” only to find out later when the radio wouldn’t work that they were really in a parking garage or in the middle of their apartment building. It was all I could do not to scream bloody murder at some people.
Also, occasionally, the Sirius system would screw up and double- or triple-charge people. This made for some very interesting conversations. One man with a trucking company had purchased three radios with lifetime subscriptions (approximately $500 each) and been triple-charged, making his bill jump from $1500 to $4500. He was extremely calm and polite while I fixed the issue. Meanwhile a few years later I got a customer who had been double-charged his $15 monthly bill and he completely lost his mind. I actually hung up on him three times because he wouldn’t stop swearing and calling me every name under the sun. Pleasant!

Instrumentation Maintenance Tech at the Paper Mill
My first “career” job, which is what I trained at university for. This job taught me first and foremost that I knew nothing. I may have spent four years and a crap-ton of money becoming a technologist, but my first few months at that mill taught me that school means absolutely bupkiss without experience. I really had no idea what I was doing, and my older and much-more-experienced coworkers didn’t let me forget it. Within my first six months I burned myself on several steam pipes and once managed to spray myself with hot condensate. It’s really quite amazing that I have any skin left. Oh yes, and lots and lots of 120 volt shocks. You’d think I would have learned to wear my gloves, but…no.
Maintenance is an interesting beast. You learn a lot – because you have to – but it can be very stressful because you have to keep the plant running. When the plant is down it’s losing money every minute, and that’s directly correlated to how fast you can fix something. I didn’t really realize just how stressed out this job made me until long after I’d lost it (when the mill shut down and was sold).

Commissioning Technician on the Kearl Lake Project
My first (and so far only) job out West turned out to be an excellent one. I had a good contract, good coworkers, good (for the most part) bosses, and good work. Sometimes it was hard work – particularly in the middle of winter when you’re outside in minus 40 degrees Celsius – but it was interesting work with very little stress. Since we were still building the plant there was no big scary rush to get things going like right goddamn now!!! I also got to experience the job both from the field and from the control room, which I think taught me a lot. All in all I can’t complain about this one. It was a good job with good people and I made a lot of money to pay off lots of debts and bills. Yes, after ten other jobs, I finally hit one that didn’t make me want to murder the world.

Writer!Okay, so it can’t really be considered a job until you’ve been paid for it, but it sounds better to say that I’m currently working as a writer than to say that I’m currently unemployed. 😛

inspirationMy eighth grade English teacher told us once that by the time we were thirty-five we would have had up to ten different “jobs” and possibly one or two different “careers”. I didn’t believe him at the time, but there you have it: I’ve had 11 different jobs, only two of them part of my career as a technologist, and one unpaid “job” as a writer. Amazing. Has anyone else had a varied string of jobs like mine? Please share!

It’s a Full-Time Job Just to Keep Track of the Jobs…

When I was in the eighth grade, one day our English teacher began talking about the difference between jobs and careers. I don’t recall much of the conversation except for this: he told us that on average each of us would have ten different “jobs” throughout our lifetime (and hopefully eventually end up with one “career”).

At the time I remember thinking how silly a statement that was. Ten different jobs? Preposterous! I was going to have one or two summer jobs, tops, then graduate from college and swoop right into my career. There I would stay for the rest of my working life, and retire a financially stable woman.

Kids are dumb.

Contrary to my childish beliefs, within two months of my 28th birthday (hardly my “lifetime”) I had already had the following jobs:
– A paper route (shut up, if you have to get up before sunrise it’s a real job)
– Cashier/server at the cafeteria in the Marine Atlantic terminal building
– Cashier/floor walker at Zellers
– IT assistant at the Coast Guard College
– IT assistant at Cape Breton University
– Cashier/floor walker at Walmart
– Cashier/floor walker at a different Zellers
– Cashier/stock person at a liquor store
– Customer service at a call center
– Instrumentation mechanic at a paper mill
– Instrumentation commissioning tech at Kearl Lake
– DCS commissioning tech at Kearl Lake

Twelve. Twelve jobs, and no careers. The job at the mill could have become a career if it weren’t for failing markets and the fact that even if I’d stayed there, there’s no way the mill itself will be around long enough for me to retire. Twelve jobs, and there will be more to come because even the one I’m at now is not permanent. I could be laid off any time now, and it’ll be on to the next one.

Thinking about this makes me wonder how many people ever actually make it to the “career” phase of life, and/or how long they are able to hold on to it in such an uncertain economy. Instrumentation, technically, is my career, but at any time I could be laid off and there’s never any real guarantee that I’ll find another position. Ideally writing would be my choice for a permanent career, but that requires sacrifices I’m not currently able to make, so that may never happen either. My husband was an electrician for four years, and is currently a stay-at-home-dad. My father drove trucks for pretty much as long as I can remember, but that’s between a couple of different companies and soon he’ll be heading out West as well. I know tons of people who went to college to train for careers they never ended up achieving, and just as many people who had careers and lost them for any number of reasons. Nothing is certain, and any of us, at any time, could end up in a completely different situation than the one we’ve been in, or the one we imagined for ourselves.

Look at your own situation. How many jobs have you had throughout your life so far? How many careers? Do you feel secure? Is there something you’d rather be doing instead? I’m interested. Please share. 🙂