ABCs of Freelance Writing: E is for Experientialism

experientialism n., the doctrine that we learn by experience

You could say I’m a bit of an experientialist. I mean, learning how to skydive without actually skydiving? Don’t think so.

I remember how my fourth grade teacher, Mr. Potter, used to tell us stories of all the jobs he’d had and all the things he’d done in his life. At nine or ten years old, any time an adult asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I got the distinct impression I was expected to pick just one thing. So I wondered why Mr. Potter got to do so much before settling on teaching, and I wondered if I’d get the chance to go on similar occupational expeditions.

The reason I’ve been thinking about all this lately is that I resigned my day job at the synagogue on Friday. In the next few weeks, I will wrap up that chapter of my life and move on to a new job at a new company doing writing and editing things. Although my freelancing remains a constant, this will be a big change for me. I’m eager to learn more, but I’m also prone to pondering about how I made it to this point.

At 31, I’ve already done quite a bit:

Photography Studio Assistant

My first real job. Got my first ass-chewing from a disgruntled customer. Learned how to crop negatives, paint the high-key background, and track accounts receivable. My favorite part of the job was sorting proofs for duds after they were developed. Even in the digital age your photographer has photos of you that you hope never see the light of day.

City Hall Receptionist

My first job with health insurance and a 401(k). Punched a clock, balanced a cash drawer, collected taxes, and answered the switchboard. Not the worst job I’ve ever had. I learned that in the real world, people sometimes take jobs that don’t suit them.

City Parks, Recreation, and Cemeteries Office Administrative Assistant

I was promoted to this position about a year and a half at city hall. The part where the office was located on the cemetery grounds was weird, but I was young and invincible. Death was still something that happened to other people, and that actually made it easier to deal with the bereaved.

Community College Administrative Assistant

My first job in Indianapolis after making the big move. I was only there 6 months, but I learned what I had suspected was true: I would never be satisfied as a clerical worker.

Elementary School Attendance Secretary

Definitely the worst job I’ve ever had. But every once in a while one of the kids would hug me for fixing her glasses or finding the homework she dropped in the hallway, making it possible to hold out until I found a full-ride scholarship and went back to college full-time. I learned it’s not the will that makes the way, it’s the desperation.

Editorial Assistant

Part-time job I held while going to IUPUI. One of the most interesting jobs I’ve ever had. My favorite part was working in the archives and reading old issues of The Post. Kurt Vonnegut shorts and those crazy retro ads about how 4 out of  doctors recommend Chesterfields made me feel like a time traveler. I learned sometimes your job will require you to dig through the trash.

Author’s Assistant

Another fun part-time job I held during college. Got to read a lot, and the fact that I can still recommend Paper Towns to friends after reading it four or five times for work should say something. I learned that writing books for a living isn’t as glamorous as one would hope, but it sure beats being a school secretary.

Medical Receptionist at Psychiatric Clinic

Third and last part-time position I worked during college. This job was very stressful because the doctor was consistently overbooked and usually late. I learned to respect how delicate the human mind can be. A patient also taught me how to sanitize the hand sanitizer bottle.

Synagogue Administrative Assistant

One of the best jobs I’ve had to date. I started this job at such a turbulent time in my life. I had just graduated college, filed for divorced, and was struggling to get even one foot planted firmly on the ground. I gained a lot here: friendships, perspective, an appreciation for and understanding of Judaism, and rest from that constant struggling at home while waiting for the ex to finally move out. I learned that 2 years, 7 months and 15 days can fly by when you work with good people.

What have your jobs taught you?

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0 thoughts on “ABCs of Freelance Writing: E is for Experientialism

  1. Your post is funny because I was just thinking about this very issue over on my blog (Great minds think alike, I guess!). I find the experience I’ve gained from my many jobs–both full-time and part-time–has been invaluable.

    I’ve learned that even though I’m not a people person, I’m great at customer service because I treat people the way I would want to be treated. I learned that a not-so-good job working with friendly, pleasant people can make you hang in there a lot longer than you’d think. And I also learned that there are still wonderful managers out there who treat their employees with respect and civility despite the fact that it’s not the norm anymore.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Yellowed biographies of famous industrialists seem to always include their litany of odd jobs. I remember idolizing these Great Men of History for their breadth and perspective. Nowadays, we seem to invoke the “10,000 hour rule” and blithely insist upon hyper-specialization. In my many random positions, I’ve learned that it’s not the work that matters, but how people perceive and conduct the tasks at hand. Everybody ought to have lots of jobs, so they learn how and why to work.

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