I started earning my own money when I was 8 years old babysitting children for my neighbors. Yes, back then girls started babysitting when they were about 8 or 9 years old—you definitely wouldn’t see that today!! I had regular clients, babysat after school and weekends. My dad was a bank vice president so it wasn’t that I needed to work, just that I liked to be responsible.
I got my first actual job when I was 13 years old and in 8th grade. It was for $2/hour at a local pizza place. I answered the phone, took delivery orders, waited tables and whatever else was needed. I kept that job for a year. By this time, my father had been through alcoholism; we lost our home and moved to a sketchy neighborhood in an apartment. This was a lot for a young girl but kids are very resilient and learn to adapt. I needed to buy my own clothing as we were depending on my mother’s close to minimum wage job as a secretary. I really needed that job because in 7th grade, my mother was only able to buy me one pair of jeans so I started filching my older brother’s Levis. I dressed like a boy, not because I wanted to, but my pre-adolescent clothes no longer fit and my mother was overloaded with just trying to support us all. I was what was called a latchkey kid starting at age 10—I came home to an empty house after school and was trusted to watch after myself. Something else that would be considered neglect back then. I call it survival—there was no other choice. Life is not ideal—what sounds good in theory often fails miserably in reality.
Once I was in high school (I started when I was 13), I went through the usual succession of jobs high school aged kids had back then at fast food places and retail. By the end of my junior year (when I was actually of legal age to hold a job) I was a dental assistant, secretary at the local high school district office and then went on to become a teacher’s aide for 4th graders in my senior year. Not bad for a kid who wasn’t old enough to vote. You wouldn’t see that now though—kids are competing with middle aged adults for the mindless low-skilled fast food/retail minimum wage jobs.
My parents were unable to help with college expenses so I was sent to a secretarial school instead. That’s what women were guided to do back then. How ridiculous! We were encouraged to become secretaries, nurses and teachers—this is until we got married—then we were apparently supposed to be happy little housewives for the rest of our lives. Unfortunately wages were flat for too long and wives needed to go back into the workforce. Kids were on their own at very early ages.
The average wage in the U.S has remained relatively flat since the 1970s.
After secretarial school was my first real full time job as a Medical Records Technician at a Big 10 school in the Midwest. This is another position they want a degree or certification for. I went in not knowing anything and was a master within 6 months. I still remember many ICD-9 codes such as 382.9 for otitis media (ear infection). Yep, did it and did it well, including automating the system from manual to computer, something that was difficult in those years when servers with memory less than today’s cheap laptop and took up an entire room. After that, I was paralegal and researched information for court cases where I learned a lot about law and developed my written communication skills.
Within 5 years after finishing secretarial school, I got a job at a major pharmaceutical company in their quality assurance department. I stayed at this company for 15 years. I worked my way up. In the beginning when someone left, they didn’t backfill but added their responsibilities to mine. After 10 years I had worked in almost every aspect of quality assurance and was a project manager for global technical operations. In fact, for 2 years I did a director’s job. I may not have a degree, but I do have a brain and am able to learn on the job. From there I moved on to human resources where I recruited from top MBA schools and then on to communications where I worked with the top executives of the company. I loved my jobs there! I had direct reports who I groomed and developed so that they are very successful today. I managed by motivating my employees—so different from today’s paranoid management structure.
In 2001, the company I worked for was swallowed up by a bigger pharmaceutical giant. We had to make the choice whether to relocate to the NYC headquarters or take a separation package. It was just after 9-11 and the resulting economic problems were just beginning. Because the job market became somewhat unstable at that time, my husband had a great job where we lived and the cost of living in NYC was so high, we decided it would be best if I took the package. We planned that I would take a step back from my career so I could be with my children (which I really wanted) and we would save $600/month for daycare. I started my own business designing websites, graphic design, management development, and later social media. I also was occasionally called back to the pharmaceutical company as they transitioned all departments to the Midwest.
Around the time of the 2008 economic crash, I was burned out. Working for yourself means you’re on call 24/7 and when you’re both CEO and the admin, the day is never done. I was overworked and thought longingly of my corporate jobs where I could leave most of it at the end of the day.
Well that’s my introduction. My subsequent blogs will include my rude awakening to corporate America in the 21st century and the frustration of finding a job that pays a living wage.