In honor of Labor Day, a short work history

The magic elixir getting many an office dweller through the afternoon

So, it’s Labor Day weekend. A holiday celebrating the American worker for his or her contributions to our wonderful nation.

And you know what that means . . . three day weekend! (Actually, four in my case. Not to brag.)

I got my first job at a craft store the summer before I started college, ringing up skeins of yarn and picture frames and artificial flowers to the tune of a sweet $6.50 an hour. It’s funny to think of that now, remembering how I’d be on my feet for eight hours and earn only $52 before taxes.

That was lots of work for not lots of cash, but it felt like tons of money to a kid who’d never earned her own.

It was a fun job. A crazy job. A silly job. A job at which I once accidentally smashed a glass shelf and saw my life flash before my eyes, and a place that kept me buying so many stickers and cupcake liners that I basically worked for free. (The same was true at Borders only, you know, books.)

My time at Michael’s stretched on for years, mostly part-time, as I got an internship at the newspaper where I now work and beyond. I was logging some serious days, though “serious” meant something different to me at 20 than it does at 28. (And, I’d imagine, what it will at 30 or 40.)

I finally quit the craft store because I got an internship in D.C., and my summers were filled with reading Jonathan Safran Foer on long commutes and impromptu phone interviews that made my stomach hurt and seeing the city and walking unsteadily in heels. And trying to be a grown-up. And not quite succeeding.

Though I was only there three months, my time with the Washington Examiner — now shuttered, sadly — was one of those nebulous “formative experiences” you don’t appreciate at the time . . . but when you’re looking back, wondering how you ended up where you are, it comes rushing back. Those were days that mattered. They taught you something.

At the end of my summer internship, I jumped to Borders. I was there for years, reading and assisting and stocking. That was an awesome job.

And for a while, I worked two jobs. I started as an assistant editor at the paper where I’ve worked full time since college graduation, once spending my days laying out editorial and nights working part-time at Borders’ information desk. I probably would have gone on that way, working two jobs and running like a madwoman, except I got promoted to editor at the paper and we got a new manager at Borders. And he wasn’t too impressive. And he kept messing up my schedule.

All in all, I’ve been a member of the work force for a decade. Ten years of my life spent behind cash registers or information desks, computers and notepads. I’m fortunate to say that I love what I do each day and am continually thankful for the opportunities I’ve been given but, well . . . let’s just say Labor Day comes at a good time.

And what have I learned through it all?

Working — especially in an office — gives you experience with, um, varying personalities. To survive, you master the art of diplomacy . . . and frequently get used to biting your tongue. For office dwellers such as myself, you keep a schedule. You stick to the schedule. You get organized, keep track of deadlines. In time, you decipher the vague requests and commands of superiors to get the job done right and quickly.

You develop habits, like afternoon coffee (or tea — a must!) with coworkers, or slipping out for your lunch break at 12:15 sharp. If you weren’t a creature of habit before, you may find yourself slipping into unalterable routines and like things “done a certain way.” I’m so particular about my desk — and my computer — that I can tell if a single pen has been used or misplaced, or if my stapler is at an odd angle.

Silly things. Dumb things that happen when you’re seated in the same spot for eight hours a day.

Or maybe it’s just my OCD typing.

But really, I like my job. I like working. I love having somewhere to go, people that depend on me, a feeling of accomplishment when a reader drops me an email or says hi at a coffee shop. Despite growing up in the same town in which I still live, I didn’t feel a great sense of community until I started work at the community newspaper. It’s given me a sense of belonging — of acceptance — I might not have otherwise discovered.

There are bad days, of course. Rough days. Insanely frustrating days. But on the whole? Since money is necessary and all, I feel fortunate to work with great people doing a job I enjoy . . . and hope to have the ability to do so for a long time to come. (Or roughly 30-ish more years. I’m on the 2045 retirement plan! [Imagine the fun of seeing that on your 401(k). Only three-plus decades to go!])

So happy Labor Day, friends! Whether you’re off on a long weekend or still hitting the salt mines, keep being awesome you.

I’m off for a short vacation and my bridal shower in New York, armed with my camera and fiance! We’re on the road and (hopefully) loving life right about now. Hope everyone enjoys their official end-of-summer soiree, and I’ll see you next week.

With a pumpkin spice latte, of course. It’s time!

6 thoughts on “In honor of Labor Day, a short work history

  1. I worked from the time I was 12 (detassling corn…a horrid, horrid job) until 9 year ago when I quit the corporate world to take care of my kids. Everything from the 3:30am shift at a donut shop, to a bank, to Wendy’s, to auditing, to managing a department of people. I’m not sure, but maybe even I labor more now than I ever have! Ha! It DOES teach you some tough but valuable lessons in life. Have fun in NYC on your long weekend!


  2. Mmmm pumpkin spice latte! It’s interesting reading this post just a week after I’ve stepped out of the work force for the first time in years. I’ll eventually work here and there with Scott but I don’t think I’ll let him bully me into hard labor. 😉 Like you I love the routine of the day and am also a creature of habit. Eating breakfast at 9:10 even though I had been at the office for an hour already. Taking my stroll around at 10:30 and going the exact same way to the restroom every single time so that I could say hi to the same people. Eating the same damn lunch every single day. There’s a bit of comfort in these things?

    Loved reading about your early jobs. My first job was in the junior’s department at Sears for $6.00. Of course that was also when gas was under a dollar a gallon. 😉 Enjoy your long weekend Meg!!


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