What do you want to be when you grow up? I always imagined the answer would appear as a lightning bolt of understanding sometime between finishing high school and death.
On the upside I have a list of things I shouldn’t be after years of entirely inappropriate employment.
Finishing school at the beginning of the 80’s I was convinced by my stepmother, AKA the Dream Crusher, that there was very little point in my accepting a tertiary placement in an Arts course as no-one got jobs out of something so flaky. No, best get yourself straight out into the workforce, young lady and give back to society. You have very little going for you but you DO have great teeth…you should probably become a dental nurse. I would have preferred to become an Osmond, but Utah was so far away.
So there I am, the world’s most reluctant dental assistant – refusing to see the inherent value in aspirating and resenting the required workplace silence over the din of drills, suction and screaming. It didn’t help that the dentist I worked for was quite mad and convinced that, but for the loss of several key marks in first year medicine, he would have been the next Victor Chang. Instead he was relegated to teeth, gums and amateur psychology – clearly there was some confusion about working IN the head. I’m actually surprised he didn’t attempt the odd lobotomy; I know he thought about it.
My tenure here expired some years later after a particularly fraught appointment that culminated in my pitching a tray of acrylic filling materials at the wall and storming out – I had a tendency towards the dramatic. Suffice to say my letter of subsequent reference was light on positives.
Aware that being a glorified hat check girl in a bowls outfit was not my life’s calling, I responded to an ad from a now defunct airline and applied to their reservations department. My love of the gay man was well and truly cemented here as over 90% of the chaps in Res were as camp as a row of tents. They all had nicknames like ‘Dolly’, ‘Joan’ and ‘Audrey’. You knew you looked amazing when one of them told you so. Conversely you spent the whole day worrying about how to repair the damage when they stopped; head tilted to one side and said “This! What’s going on here?” while flapping their hands in front of you.
It took a year to hopscotch through the department from general reservations to corporate bookings and across to the Holiday package area. Eventually even the thrill of rush education trips to the Whitsundays wore off and I looked for something else to do. The marketing department was looking for someone to help out in their domestic brochure production area. Having nothing more than a shared love of Judy Garland films with the office manager to recommend me, I beat a number of highly eligible marketing graduates to the punch and got the job.
Writing holiday brochures required thesauric knowledge of descriptors – how many words can you use to describe the colour of the Indian, Pacific and Southern Oceans? Let me tell you, ‘Azure’, ‘Sapphire’ and ‘limpid blue’ got quite a thrashing. I wrote brochures for places almost wholly sight unseen – the jury’s out on whether that was good or bad when I was asked to make Kalgoorlie as appealing as the Gold Coast – let’s just say there were a number of really bewildered tourists wandering up Hay street in the mid-80’s.
Several years later and the biological clock chimed. With no facility to return to the job in a part time capacity, I gave birth and settled in for mother’s groups, coffee mornings and quality bonding. That was until Paul Keating alerted us to ‘The recession we had to have’ and I was job hunting again.
Myer had just launched Myer Direct – catalogue shopping that was especially helpful for rural areas and was modelled on the longstanding success of America’s Sears catalogue. A friend of a friend recommended me for part time work in their call centre. Great, no one will see me, I can wear stretch pants. I spoke to hundreds of people, many of whom I suspect just rang for a chat. It was a retail life line for women living out at Fitzroy Crossing or Biloela. Occasionally I was required to help with sizing.
“I’m not sure, madam…what size is the one you’re wearing now?”
“Dunno, it’s washed off.”
“Oh-kay, so which of the following best describes the support you need? Crop top, contour bra, support bra, minimiser or… tarp and ocky straps?”
Another child and a detour to secure an Arts degree later, I was separated from my husband and needed to supplement my welfare payments while I finished university. Someone suggested a job in the Higher Degree by Research Department working for the secretary of Human Ethics – and let’s face it, why wouldn’t you think of me for that? In a blink of an eye I was wandering the labyrinthine corridors of an unused corner of the university looking for my new boss. Veronica was an overweight academic with hair that had never seen scissors pulled back into a heavy ponytail. I inherited a musty office full of archive boxes, was given a computer password and told it was great to have me there.
To this day, I have no idea what my job actually was. I recall sending emails to various professors and Associate professors requesting completed forms known by complicated acronyms. I also ‘tidied’ the office and may or may not have thrown away the life works of several scholars away on sabbatical. I left before anyone noticed.
Next up was a brief stint at the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra. This was another support role recommended by a friend of a friend (pattern?) I assisted a psychotic Englishwoman with a blonde bob and startlingly neon coloured dresses in the area of corporate development. The job involved spreadsheets by day and accompanying groups of corporate sponsors to performances at night. Given my knowledge of Orchestras and classical music was rudimentary at best, a great deal of bluffing was once again required.
I think it was Stravinsky who said that ‘too many pieces of music finish too long after the end’ – I can’t tell you how many times I leapt to my feet to applaud in between movements because, mein Gott im Himmel, I wanted it to be over at that point –Mahler, anyone?
Needless to say this ended before it could even vaguely resemble a career.
Flushed with notions of female empowerment after divorce, I sunk my entire settlement into the purchase of a franchised business. Why not buy the next job?
My brother, disillusioned with the trajectory of corporate life, joined me in this venture and together we opened a women’s fitness studio in the Bayside area. At this point, I refer you to my previous blog on gyms and you will understand how optimistic this was.
Nevertheless, we fearlessly launched ourselves into the cult of Middle American sales training and prepared for guaranteed success. The charismatic moustachioed founder of the company, accompanied by his alarmingly thin big haired wife, would jet in twice a year to keep the faith alive. Sharing the story of po’ white trash beginnings in Brownsville, Texas, he would, mistily recount the death of his morbidly obese momma.
“As God is my witness, I swore to make a difference in the life of women all across America and sweet Jesus,” turning to his wife and clasping hands, “We have.”
“Amen, honey, Amen!”
“Now ladies and gentlemen down under, it’s your turn.”
My brother and I exchanged horrified glances. This isn’t going to work.
After three years and over 1,000 women we exited with our souls still reasonably intact – even if our bank balances weren’t.
Muddling my way through a year of direct lingerie sales, and currently floundering in a sales role for a watch group, the search continues –
All offers and suggestions considered.