My high school year ended, and I had no ideas or expectations on what to do with my life. The correct answer for me was to spend the summer in Cancun and get a walnut-colored tan and swim in the aqua and green water ocean. September quickly arrived and since no one in my family spoke about affording college, the trail of classified ads in the New Orleans paper awaited me. There were no career planning or job search tips during the 1970s in high school, not to mention the lack of the Internet that could magically produce “good fits” for one not going to college.
Top jobs during this era for women included secretaries, bookkeepers, teachers, waitresses and nurses. Forget seeing a female truck driver or male nurse. Women literally hit the pavement in high heels wearing huge shoulder pads while walking around to offices handing out their resumes. If an employer was slightly interested, the gut-wrenching part was the announcement of “The Evil Typing Test.” I was not a high achiever in Typing 101, especially when a timer was placed next to me ready to produce that horrible ringing sound making your teeth fillings ache.
My epic work journey began when I noticed ads for selling answering machines door-to-door at downtown businesses. With a new Sears vinyl briefcase under my armpit and a box with an answering machine and cassettes, I entered a large office building. Knocking on the first business, I put out my confident moxie power explaining why a group of distinguished lawyers needed this practical 10-pound dinosaur of a machine. This would be a short career but a great dress rehearsal in self-confidence. My theory is trying any job and make it a building block to where you are headed. You will learn something from each job. Flexibility is a must. Back in the day, the EEOC was not eyeballing employers or protecting aspects of discrimination in the workplace. Finding a job was a hard part of life for women.
The bright side is with each new job you reestablish new boundaries and it enables you to morph into a team player. I’m not saying jump from job to job, I am saying a new position is never a waste of time. There are some excellent examples on why job hopping can be an excellent choice. For example, I took a job as an office manager for seven physicians and 25 staff members. It was a Maritime Medical Center and all patients arrived from ships (mostly Greek) stopping at the ports in New Orleans. My training was the head doctor walking me to each room, showing me the supply cabinet, patient files and my computer and desk chair. HIPPA did not even exist. I spent 4 years training myself in all aspects of medical care, office management and Greek food. None of the patients spoke English and each sailor assumed I had a medical background. This position took me to a higher level in that the medical team insisted I learn to take patient x-rays, draw blood, and give injections. I was even involved in purchasing a new MRI machine for the office. Again, there were no regulations and policies in the work arena, but what a bountiful amount of knowledge I received. And the Greek food was out of this world!
One cannot just survive on having a career jumping from job to job. There comes a time to nest in. And so, my nest was built at Tulane University as assistant to The Dean of Liberal Arts. Who knew! I didn’t even have a degree, but I had the gift of gab. I loved the students immediately and savored the knowledge spreading all over campus. For me, academic employees were so different from corporate America. I felt important in helping keep the college functioning. I also had the ability to attend college while working there and advanced my position on campus. Lagniappe (“a little extra” for those who don’t speak French) for me was tuition free to a completing a master’s degree, as long as I made passing grades.
So, in retrospect, odd jobs are fine as long as you make them building blocks to your career. Whether you have a hammer in your hand or take secretarial notes for a sour, grumpy doctor, you will arrive at the end of the tunnel that is a perfect fit for you! And remember the fabulous Greek food I endured while managing doctors and sick sailors for 4 years!