Three years ago last week was the anniversary of my first day working at TSA. No big deal except that in my 27 years of my work history, It's the longest I ever held a job. Kinda sad I know, But that's how life is.
So, Why is that? How is a man with a college degree not able to hold on to any job longer than three years?
Several factors are involved.
One the main factors is that although I have a college degree. It's a BFA, an art degree. That gets you only so far, The portfolio takes care of the rest.
Plus, I hate looking for work, It was soul draining hearing why you're not good enough for the job. Too much work would be involved just trying to get a job. It took time from actually doing my art work for my portfolio. I was quick to learn I wasn't gonna be suited for freelancing.
That's another factor. What to put in the portfolio. When there are no assignments, you do what you want to do, Or at least that's what I did. Comic presentations, Timid Caricatures and unfocused water colors. The stuff wasn't bad but it was unfocused. My drive was limited, I had a hard time doing new pieces when I tried to market myself. I was and am lousy at networking. So after having a low paying artist assistant/publishing job I set out to a new frontier, Seattle.
It was 1991, I was 24 years old. I had an idea for a comic strip and I felt I was ready to conquer the west coast. After some false starts looking for art jobs I needed to work somewhere, anywhere. A friend from the east coast was a bartender, so I figured I look in that direction. I fell into a job working as a cook in a pub. It was only part time but it paid enough for me to live on in modest fashion. This allowed me time to my dream.
The dream, a comic strip I created whose name I hoped would be ironic: Pipe Dreams. I worked on it with gusto for the next few years. Sending it to syndicates only to have it rejected, Time and time again. It was good but not good enough and my enthusiasm would wane and wax depending on my mood. Still I worked at it, Improved it but than I met....her.
Her....or She, will remain nameless. Some people know who she is, A good woman for the most part. She supported me, Though I didn't like being helped and was upset that my efforts weren't successful so I sometimes resented her for it.
I met her when I was unemployed. My cook job was okay, But I needed more so I quit that to work at a nightclub. The nightclub was shady, and after a murder outside the club cut business in half and our quota was increased by double, We were laid off en masse.
That started what would be a unfortunate trend in my working life. Periods of unemployment. It took me six months to find another job and what I found was not good, paid little, and ultimately got me fired after a few months. It was a bakery after months and months of futile attempts of landing a bartending gig. I continued to work on my comic strip but was starting to think about getting a regular job doing graphic art of some kind. By this time all my fellow SVA alums were moving along nicely at their art careers in NYC. I had few opportunities but one in particular I was keen on...
By then I moved to the suburbs of Seattle in the town of Federal Way to live at my girlfriends place. I didn't like it there and hoped to move out as soon as I got this job at a place called Humoungous Entertainment. A computer software company that specialized in children's games. My interview went well but I was a little slow with learning to use a Wacom tablet. This being 1994-1995 and I had no computer I felt it was something I can pick up within two weeks. I didn't get the chance to prove that I didn't get the job.
It took about 3 months of unemployment when I took on a job through a temp agency. I also had a temporary gig doing caricatures for Guinness. Despite the low pay of the former gig and the grueling, depressing nature of the job, I was there for a year and a half. I got laid off when they cut their workforce right before Christmas 1995.
This started my longest period of unemployment to date. It lasted from December 1995 until August 1996. I spent the first part of it feverishly working on what I felt was my best set of comic strips I ever did.
Meanwhile I caught the acting bug by signing up for an ad agency. I thought about how ironic it would be if I could make a living as an actor in commercials and movies because I FAILED at regular jobs. Despite some work as an extra, It didn't work out. I was 29 and had gained 35 pounds and I was filled with enough self-doubt that I had to face facts and look for another real job.
The problem was that I wasn't getting anywhere looking at want ads and my piss poor skills at networking. So I went to another temp agency and they found me an even worse job than the warehouse job from a year back. I worked an assembly line in a bicycle factory.
I'm getting no closer to getting a career in anything. I hadn't lucked into anything substantial. Every job I had at this point were ones I wanted to leave the day I started. In both the warehouse and the bike factory, There was pretty much no direct way to move up into what would be a more suitable office job that paid better AND had benefits. But I needed to work regardless. Working a crappy job was better than being unemployed but every job I had was soul draining.
I worked at this bicycle factory for as long as I could and beyond. It was depressing, The only good thing was that I only worked four days a week. But I needed one whole day to recover from the job.
Finally I got a job that made use of my artistic skills, Kinda. We finally got a computer for Christmas 1996. I found a job through the internet at an embroidery factory. My job was to be a digitizer, A skill I had to learn from the ground floor. The complication of the Compucon program and my relative inexperience with computers made sure my job would not last. Plus, We had an embroidery woman who suffered with frequent bouts of "brown bottle flu" and I had to cover her slack without having any previous ability to work the embroidery machine.
So, Most of my time was spent covering for a drunk woman while simultaneously learning how to do my primary task by training myself and doing other tasks without any assistance. So after a mere four months I was let go.
I didn't want to go through an extended period of unemployment again So I grabbed the first job I could find. It was back in restaurant work, As a cook. It paid better than my previous jobs but it was hard work at times and I bitched and moaned like no one's business. I was 30, Fed up and failed out. Thankfully I was in a relationship with an understanding woman who shall still remain nameless. I was at this TGIF-like place for longer than any job ever at that point. Almost 3 years. I might have been there longer if my relationship hadn't fallen apart. My ex broke up our engagement and emotionally I had to leave the town of Federal Way in order to get my head back.
I thought I got lucky when I got a somewhat creative job working with trophies and plaques that paid well. By then I was somewhat good with the computer but the job really wasn't as creative as I hoped. But that wasn't the problem. I worked with three women who were openly hostile towards me. One was a bully, Another was paranoid of what I was thinking because I refused to listen to her spiel about Mormonism, and the third one accused me of sexual advances. Needless to say when I depended myself to that charge and mistakes other people made that I got blamed for, I got fired, On the same day the Supreme Court decide the will of the people didn't count and gave us George W as president AND the day A-Rod officially left the Mariners.
It was before Christmas, I had just moved back to Seattle and had a trip planned to visit my folks for the holidays. It was probably the most despairing time in my working life. Again my move forward was stopped in its tracks. I even had to cash out my old Savings Bond from when I was a kid. Thankfully it was double what the stated currency value. But it didn't take long for me to get another job, But unfortunately it was as a cook again.
I worked at a gay bar as a cook at a place that happened to share the same name as the woman I was engaged to. I was trying to find irony working there. And there was irony. I was still reeling from the breakup and feeling low on my self esteem. The customers at the gay bar were quite kind and flattering to me. Made me feel good about myself. I befriended many of the customers. The year 2001 was enhanced by the Seattle Mariners record setting 116 win season. Too bad 9/11 and the Yankees would put sour note on that fun. However my employment would not last. You see, the ownership was a bit shady and they had a habit of firing cooks after about a year so they don't have to give out benefits. The father of the owner was given the task of firing me basically for having a bad attitude. This same man said I was a very positive presence a mere 3 months before. I hadn't changed much.
It took me less than a week to find another job. It was at a steak house located right across the street form the under construction Seahawk Stadium and Safeco Field. A whole slew of us got hired at once. It was great having that kind of comradery there. The mass hiring was in anticipation of the 2002 Mariners baseball season. I was fortunate to be put in the seafood section of the kitchen. I developed lots of new skills plus I occasionally had the opportunity to serve people too. This was a financial windfall on game days. I made lots of money for three hours of work along with my cook salary. I hung out with my co-workers often on the off days which were slow, TOO slow. So when the Mariners collapsed at the end of the season and failed to get into the playoffs, My days were numbered and I was laid off. Too bad, I liked working there a lot.
It took a few weeks to get a job at Ruth's Chris. It was okay, We were allowed to cook off scraps of prime A fillets (which there was plenty of) to eat, But the management was too corporate and would send us home early at any point it was slow. They'd send the American born workers home first because we were paid quite a bit more than the Mexican immigrants who also worked in the kitchen. So I would be scheduled for 39 hours only to find that I would work as little as 28. So, I had to find a better job.
And I found it. The best job I had at Seattle. It was again at a restaurant. It was called 5-Spot. A local company owned this place a long with others that had its own identities. It was located a mere 5 blocks up Queen Anne Hill from my apartment. I got lucky and was put in the best part of the kitchen. The skill level was slightly above my abilities but I was able to pick it up pretty quickly. The menu would have a changing theme every three months. Part of the theme change involved the opportunity to do some paintings reflecting the theme. the best part, The paintings were for sale and I was fortunate to sell three of them. My co-workers were great, Interesting and artistic. I was scheduled for 4 day work weeks in which we had plenty of overtime opportunities and half hour breaks. These are rare benefits in restaurant work. I was happy there and had no plans of leaving until I started dating a woman who was moving back to Jersey. After a few months I would do the same thing. It was nearly a two year run, but I was foolishly in love with the wrong woman and moved back to Jersey.
Part of the reason I moved back to Jersey was that I thought my failure to sustain a good art related job was due to my lack of connections and opportunities in Seattle. But no, I had to face facts, I fell way behind in my art related skills, Especially involving computer graphics. It was getting to 2006 and the economy was starting to sour. It starts in the creative sector. No boom in that department, So my lack of experience would hamper my abilities to get a good job in the filed. Plue one of my main connections moved away two days after I moved back to Jersey.
I had worked three low level jobs to keep busy. Night stock man at Shop-Rite, Followed by summer work at a fish market/restaurant, and a stint at another bar restaurant when my unreliable unattentive girlfriend announced she was leaving me without giving me a valid reason. I had applied TSA by this point because she gave me crap about my inability to get a better job. Gave me crap about always being on the computer looking for jobs, Working on artwork while she was watching the Bravo channel on TV.
But I got into an argument at the bar where I worked and got fired the next day. I desperately needed to find a good paying job to survive at this point. My money was running out, I was paying off the rest of the lease my ex left me with by myself. I applied for a driver job at UPS because of its great reputation. Didn't get the driver job, Because they don't allow you to do that right away. They needed loaders and made the mistake of accepting. I had to do it because I was collecting unemployment at the time and couldn't refuse a job offer. The job was terrible in so many ways. It was the worst pay rate I had in at least ten years. The work was brutally hard and the hours were very few. So I was able to combine unemployment and my feeble UPS pay to survive while I looked for much better jobs and waited for TSA to come through.
The only good thing about UPS is that my resume looked good in that there was no gap in my employment history. It also vital in getting me a cheaper apartment that was my base while I licked my wounds. I finally got the call to TSA and after working part time for 9 months I finally was able to quit UPS and here I am three years later happy with a secure job that I enjoy. I have no plans of leaving other than to transfer to Seattle when I move next October, Barring any wishy-washiness on my part.
So, what's the lesson here?
I have no idea.
I know I am terrible about selling my skills. I have a hard time dealing with failure and I have never said "no!" to any job offers that came my way. I feel like I'm begging when I inquire about job opportunities at any friend's work place. I give up at the wrong time, I get settled into jobs I don't even like and I fail to apply myself well in getting promotions. But I'm content. I'm at my most financially secure and hope to be more so when I'm back in Seattle.