A Semester of Work

A Semester of Work

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The fall of my nineteenth year promised to be a long one. For the first time in thirteen years I found myself out of school. I was employed at the same mind numbing job that I had held for the last three years. While most of my friends were back in school after their summer break, I was back at home after a year of living in a college dorm. The transition was not an easy one for me, and I looked upon my semester off with little optimism.

The previous fall was one of much more hope and excitement. At the age of eighteen, I was ready for college. I chose to attend State University, not far from my home, but still far removed from my former life, as I was moving away from my parents and into a dorm. I was to attend State with two of my closest friends from high school, and live with one of them. My major was undecided, so I planned on taking the general education requirements. I was quite unsure of what college held for me, but was eager to find out.

It was not long before I discovered that, for me, college held boredom and feelings of uselessness. While I enjoyed some of my professors and courses, I treated college just as I had treated high school. The game plan was to show up, do just enough work to "earn" an A, and leave without gaining any pesky knowledge. Just like in high school, I executed this plan brilliantly, and found myself with a high grade point average and an even higher level of ignorance. Eventually, this method began to wear on me. As I was accomplishing nothing, feelings of guilt began to arise for the amount of money my parents were pumping into my education. Damned by a sense of self awareness, I realized that I was little more than a spoiled brat with time to waste. I finally began to look to the future and question where my life should lead. However, as I remained unsure of what direction I wanted to take, I became more frustrated than ever before.

My solution? Run away from my problems. This brilliant idea initially manifested itself in a plan to travel the country for a semester.

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This was concocted late one night with an equally restless and easily carried away friend of mine, by the name of Ivan. We planned to use our fall semesters to drive around the country and, in so doing, hopefully discover something about

the direction of our lives. It is the oldest trick in the book - a journey of discovery, where the journey is emphasized over the destination. While the idea of acting out a cliché appealed to both of us, I quickly realized that this sabbatical would be of little worth. My friend Ivan was obviously considering this more of a joyride than a quest for self awareness. His personality

often leads him to become immediately excited by a plan, relentlessly enact this plan until it is exhausted, and then purposely get nothing out of it. In a sense, he has a tendency to not only "seize the day," but to squeeze it until it is crushed and rendered helpless. Fortunately, he also tends to completely forget about an idea if he hears nothing of it for a while. I decided to use this tendency to my benefit, and dropped the idea entirely.

The second plan for running away spawned from a trip to Charleston, South Carolina over spring break. As one could imagine, by spring break I was completely dismayed with school and my current pointless life. Stuck in a rut, I felt that a vacation would do me good, ignorant as of yet to where this trip would lead. A friend of mine had an acquaintance in Charleston, so we decided to travel there, pleased with the idea of having a free place to stay.

Off we went, myself and two friends, for one of the better vacations I have experienced. I immediately fell in love with the city. We made a friend in Charleston who was able to show us around. The downtown area was great, as were the restaurants, the parks, and most importantly, the C.D. stores. I even enjoyed the beach, which was a great surprise to me, as I normally do not

enjoy such outdoor activities. Lastly, I toured the campus of College of Charleston, where my newfound friend attended school. The campus was beautiful, affecting me in the same way everything else in this town had.

Obviously, by the time I returned home, I was making plans to move toCharleston.

Frightened by the idea of moving there alone, I was able to enlist a couple friends to join me for this adventure. This was easier than one might think, as I fortunately have several friends as shiftless and excitable as I was at the time. My friend Joelip, who was doing poorly at MTSU, was more than ready for a life change. Another friend, a girl by the name of Heather, was graduating high school and had already chosen College of Charleston as one of her

options for after high school. Equipped with my dazzling charm and powers of persuasion, I quickly convinced her to join us. (It helped that she had basically already made her decision to move to Charleston.) Thus, another ill-conceived plan had been hatched.

By summer, the only thing that kept us from moving to Charleston in the fall was place to live. I had been accepted to the college and remained excited about the move. In early summer, the three of us, Joe, Heather, and I, traveled to Charleston in search of an apartment for the fall. Charleston is about a nine hour drive from Nashville. By the third hour I began to doubt my decision. While both good friends of mine, Joe and Heather are, by nature, loud,

outgoing, stubborn, and extremely opinionated. I am neither loud nor outgoing. However, I am just as opinionated and stubborn. I was already realizing that this would lead to some interesting times in Charleston. However, I am very capable of ignoring others if I begin to find them annoying. Joe and Heather did not appear as capable and certainly not willing. They argued throughout most of the trip, too similar to get along. The idea of living with this wacky couple for a year began to sicken me, but I remained optimistic as I once again entered Charleston, the town of which I am so fond.

This first apartment hunt was entirely unsuccessful. Subsequent trips to Charleston for this same reason proved to be failures of equal magnitude. We made four trips in all over the summer. We found zero decent apartments that we could afford. It seems that I am not the only person with such a passion for the city. As a result, vacancies were scarce by the time we began looking. Those apartments that were available were either entirely too expensive or in very poor condition. Joe and Heather almost seemed relieved at the prospect of not living with one another. I was just disappointed.

By the time I realized that Charleston would remain nothing more than a vacationing spot for me, it was too late to go back to state. I had not registered for classes, nor did I have a place to live. Living with my parents and commuting to school was a possibility, but I was in no mood to make the best of the situation. The time had come to mope.

This brings us back to my fall as a nineteen year old. My favorite pastimes becameworking at my dead end job and feeling sorry for myself. I had given up on the Charleston idea, and was planning to simply return to State in the spring and continue to get by. Presently, however, there was still plenty of complaining to do.

The dead end job to which I so solemnly refer was my assistant manager position at Sbarro, the Italian Eatery, located at Cool Springs Mall. Apparently, an "Italian Eatery" is a fast food joint where customers have the right to yell at you for no particular reason. Throughout my three year stay at this job I was constantly disrespected by the customers. Of course, this can be expected at any fast food chain. Fast food employees are considered by many to be the least important, least qualified, least intelligent workers around. This overall

opinion coupled with the foul mood that many humans experience as a result of hunger leads to some very rude customers. This naturally leads to anger and frustration in the overworked employees, and generates the feeling that it is the employees versus the customers. Thus, it is easy to understand why fast food employees are not always cheerful and helpful, and why customers are often searching for something to criticize.

The entire system of the fast food industry creates an inherently bad job. Upper
management simply forces the employees to work too hard for not enough pay. With the wages an employee makes in an hour, he or she could never purchase the amount of product that he or she produces in that hour. This is a fairly depressing fact, making it very difficult for most employees to keep up with the demand of the customers and for their salaries to keep up with the economy. As an assistant manager, I was making more than most of the people who worked with me at Sbarro, and my wage was by no means high. I worked alongside adults with spouses and children to support who were making little more, if not less, than myself.

Eventually, I began to find the fast food industry unbearable. Over the three years, it had never been a great job, but was tolerable as a part time job. Working full time, however, while out of school was a completely different matter. I began to feel somewhat worthless, as if I was not living to my full capabilities. By October, I had decided to hand in my resignation.

Quitting this job was far more difficult for me than I expected. I had become close friends with all of the other managers with whom I worked. The general manager and I had become very close, and I therefore was aware of his salary. He made far more than anyone elsewho worked at Sbarro, but I still wondered how he was able to support his family of five. His pay in no way equaled his worth, as he worked over sixty hours a week and was an extremely intelligent and over qualified manager. The other managers worked almost as diligently, but

were paid even less. One manager was deep in debt, and his wife was pregnant with twins. His salary did not meet his needs. My salary was no bigger, but I had none of the same worries, as my parents still supported me. Thus, when I decided to resign, feelings of guilt washed over me. Why should I be able to leave, with no other job lined up, while my harder working friends were

trapped in their jobs? I felt that I was somehow abandoning them, showing them that I was too good for their situation. My co-workers did not seem to share this feeling and were all friendlyabout my leaving. To this day, our friendships remain. For a while, however, so did my feelings of guilt.

Now out of school and out of a job, I quickly began searching for new employment. Eager to try something entirely different, I decided to look for a job in retail. I applied at theBest Buy electronics store in Cool Springs, which was, at this point, still under construction. Myfriend Joe decided to join me, and we were both quickly hired. We were to be on the merchandising team, with our duties including keeping the floor stocked, pricing items, and

setting displays. I had never done such work and became excited, looking forward to a change of pace.

Before our first day of work, we received bad news. As we were on the merchandising team and were responsible for putting out all of the stock from the previous night's truck before the store opened, we would have to arrive at work at 6:00 every morning. I am very much I night person. In my first year at State, I made it a point to have no classes before 11:00, so I could sleep in every morning. Thus, this news was disheartening, as 6:00 normally marked the

midpoint of my night's sleep. We were still excited about the new job, however, and considered the early mornings only a minor setback.

As the job began, Joe and I became rapidly less excited. Our actual jobs did not seem tomatch the job description we had been given. We rarely worked on pricing, nor did we set displays. All our job actually entailed was carrying around the heaviest items in the store, such as televisions and appliances. Being very thin and remarkably weak, this job did not seem to suit me. Once again, I felt that I was not making the most of my abilities, working in a mindless jobof manual labor. I also felt tricked by upper management, as the only promise they kept was thatwe would have to report to work at 6:00 every morning.

Much like Sbarro, I became good friends with several of my co-workers at Best Buy.

One such friend was one of my team leaders, a man in his mid twenties, with whom I worked

most days. Never have I met a man more overqualified for his job. He was basically a

mathematical genius, with a college degree in engineering. Upon graduation, several job offers

fell through and, before he knew it, he had to find a quick job in order to pay his bills. He has

been working in retail ever since. He was also very computer knowledgeable, spending most of

his spare time on a computer. However, management was more desperate for someone on the

merchandising team, so he was not allowed in the computer department. He obviously hated his

job at Best Buy, spending his days complaining while carrying around 27 inch televisions.

The closest friendship I made while at Best Buy was with my other team leader, a twenty

six year old man with a degree from MTSU. He was also a very intelligent, capable worker. He

had recently been laid off from his job as a technical writer for Gibson Guitars. Our common

interest in music forged a quick bond, and I soon came to highly respect him. We spent

countless hours working together, allowing us ample time to converse. It became clear that he

was completely unsatisfied with his job, although his salary was quite sufficient. He confided in

me that he felt he was wasting his time at this job, as he had so many other interests outside of

Best Buy. With every day he came to work he seemed more frustrated.

Dealings with upper management added to the hatred that so many had for their job at

Best Buy. Like most businesses, management was concerned simply with our work output, and

had no real concern for the individual. Almost every day we worked nonstop at some tedious

task, simply to have a boss criticize us for not completing enough work. The most infuriating

aspect of the Best Buy management is that they constantly claimed to provide a caring

environment for the employees, claiming to be unlike other businesses. They praised the

employees at superficial meetings, then scolded us later in the day. While most of the employees

were not bothered by hard work, they were bothered by working hard for unappreciative


Eventually, December came and, with it, the busiest retail period of the year. The store

now opened an hour earlier, so we reported to work at five in the morning, sometimes four. The madness of the season began to wear on almost all of the employees, and I personally could not wait to return to school. A couple of weeks before Christmas I resigned, allowing myself some time with my family for the holidays, before returning to Belmont in January.

On my last day at Best Buy, I experienced some of the same guilty feelings I felt while
leaving my friends at Sbarro. Once again, my friends and co-workers were all friendly, congratulating me for getting out of the job. This time, however, I was offered some advice from my friend who had formerly worked as a technical writer. He had become fond of casually giving me advice as we talked away long days of work. His urgent tone of voice, however, forced me to take notice of this particular plea.

"Whatever you do, make sure you work hard when you go back to school. I know you're
probably gonna ignore me. I always ignored my father when he told me the same thing. But
just remember that it is worth it. It is so much easier to do some work while you're in school than to be stuck where I am now. Find something you like and stick to it. It's worth your while."

I am really not sure why I paid such close attention to his words. There was nothing especially profound in his advice. It was nothing that I had not previously heard. Maybe it was simply the right time to hear it, or maybe it was simply from the right person. Perhaps it was the fact that I could really tell that he meant everything he said or that I finally understood the meaning behind these often used words. Whatever the reason, I listened, and I was forced to examine some of my attitudes toward school and life in general.

First, I came to the realization that, as miserable as my semester off had seemed, it had
only been four months long. In this four months, I had found two jobs unbearable and quit both before I had previously planned. I had only been given a sample of what millions of people endure every day for entire lives. I never had the feeling that I was trapped in any particular job, as I could leave at any time I chose to do so. I was never forced to worry about supporting anyone, not even myself. While I always felt that I was suffering just as much as my co-workers, there were always some very important differences. It is insulting to them to say that I can empathize with their situation or somehow relate. All I truly learned was that I had no idea what their situation was actually like, and that I always hope to maintain this ignorance.

Despite this, however, I learned that I do not necessarily have to feel guilty for being in a more advantageous position. I simply should not take my position for granted. The only way I could justifiably feel guilt is if I was wasting away my opportunity, as I had previously been doing. It is in some way insulting to all of my hard working friends if I ignore their advice by ignoring my advantage. I currently have the opportunity that most of them wish they had. I must take advantage of this, if not for them, at least for my own well being.

During my semester of work, I also came to realize that performing well in school does
not guarantee anyone a successful career. My friend with the engineering degree performed very well in school, but still was unsatisfied with his current career. It has become obvious to me that I may never get the job I want or make the amount of money that I desire. I may never even decide what job I actually want. The lesson learned is simply that I will do all I can to make this decision and to ultimately see it come to its fruition. I may never be completely satisfied with my career, but I will have no regret knowing that I at least made a strong attempt.
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