Behold: The Crappy Summer Job

Last summer, I worked as an intern in the IT department of an ophthalmic device company. I copy and pasted screen-grabbed photos into Word documents to record the permissions of hundreds of users that summer... AND I even learned how to spell ophthalmic. When I wasn't doing that, I was an accounting intern at a financial services company; I filed, searched archaic computer files for external auditors, and spent a lot of time eating Cookie Monstah. I also thought that it would be a good idea to get a job at a large furniture/home decor company, so at one point in time, I was working three jobs and seven days a week... needless to say, it was a bad idea. The summer before that, I hostessed at a large restaurant (with incredibly high turnover) in downtown Boston while interning at Invest in Girls, which was at that time, a teeny-tiny startup.

Over the dinner table this past weekend, I spoke with friends about the importance of The Crappy Summer Job. I sincerely hope you all know what I'm talking about. You know, the job that pays too little, forces you to interact with people you probably don't like very much, has you on your feet/in a chair too long during the day, schedules terribly, tests your patience, makes you long to call out every single day... the list goes on. If you've never had one yourself, I imagine you've heard about the phenomenon from your parents; my dad worked at Howard Johnson's, my aunt worked at the floral section of a grocery store, "we woke up at 4 am to serve the breakfast shift" and "we walked five miles uphill in the sand on the Jersey Shore to..." etcetera, etcetera.

Looking back at it, I wasn't necessarily dying to get a summer job when I turned 16. It seemed unnecessary; I was told while growing up to enjoy my childhood, and yet I was being pushed off into this strange world of I-9s and W-4's and how many allowances do I give myself? and what even are allowances? and Shoot... what's my social security number again? Do you mind if I call my mom right now? I think she has it memorized. 

This summer, I'm interning at TripAdvisor. There are free snacks everywhere and sparkling water fountains and free lunch every day of the week. There's a fitness center with free classes and locker rooms with wood benches in the showers. While I'm not doing anything related to my passions or major, it's completely bearable, and I'm paid well.

Most importantly, I'm now seeing the fruits of my underpaid/miserable/mind-numbing labor of summer's past. The Crappy Summer Job teaches you hard work, yes, and it teaches you the value of a dollar - especially when feel that you're receiving way too few of them. The Crappy Summer Job is more than that, though; the Crappy Summer Job is a rite of passage that gives you the right to gripe just like everyone else about taxes and the federal government. It allows you to join the leagues of complaining adults around you... and to realize that you're maybe, just maybe, one of them now.

I was effectively cut-off from spending money at the age of 17. I had to pay for my T pass into downtown Boston every day, and whatever food I wanted to buy; I had to support my "innocent" stops into Madewell on Newbury street and J Crew's flash online deals. Speaking to adults about this now, it seems completely odd that I would be given money when I could be working for it; unfortunately, I have a habit of looking down on anyone my age who isn't working. Sorry in advance.

Even if I had emerged from my first two summer's working without a semblance of understanding regarding the value of a dollar or the value of my time, it would be worthwhile to understand this: the Crappy Summer Job is more than earning money. The Crappy Summer Job, in all of its bitterly-tinged glory, is about earning the right to NOT have a crappy summer job. It's about appreciating every job you have that isn't crappy. It's about remembering, fondly, a time when you only worked three months of the year, and it's about saddling your high horse and telling your grandchildren some day about the time you sold furniture you knew nothing about and stuffed pillows or those three months I worked in an office with three older men disassembling computers or that summer I sat families with screaming children into greasy tables for twelve hours straight... If anything, at least you've got that. (Because if you're making minimum wage all summer... you're probably going to want a little something else.)

Taking it Personally

I have always been one to take things personally. I had a teacher during elementary school who had a color coded discipline system. Every student had a clear, plastic sleeve hanging on the wall, and in each sleeve there were three cards. If your green card was showing, it meant you hadn't gotten in trouble at all throughout the day. If your green card were switched to a yellow card, you had one warning. If yellow had been switched to red, however, you knew you were going to have to bring something home to your parents to sign.

There was only one time during my elementary school career that I was even mildly disciplined. One time. Some may have called me a goody-two-shoes or a teacher's pet, but I recognized that there were rules to follow, and more importantly, parents to satisfy and teachers to impress. So, naturally, when my green card was switched to yellow, I cried the entire day. It felt like a personal attack from the teacher, and more importantly, I felt like a failure.

Flash forward to Tuesday of this week. I get an email from a higher-up - who is "100% not mad" and giving me "professional feedback." And like the former version of myself from 2nd or 3rd grade, I cry about it. I spend the time at the dinner table with my family seething about this woman and her curt email, and I lose sleep turning over possible emails back to her until I'm up so late and so exhausted that my hypothetical emails become one-worded and involve emojis. (Update: I sent her a perfectly kind response back... big surprise there.)

I take it personally when people I barely know don't seem to like me the way that I'd like them to, when I'm critiqued a tad bit harshly, and whenever I'm said no to, within reason.

I've been told I'm too sensitive and that I take things too personally, and to some degree, that's completely correct. Is it possible we're all narcissists for feeling that nearly every negative thing that comes our way has to do with our actions and character? Maybe. However, the more I think of it, and the more I try to envision a world in which no one takes anything personally, the more I feel that feeling is what makes us human.

Really, go ahead and imagine a world in which no one takes anything personally. People probably wouldn't recycle or conserve water, and the endangered species list would probably be longer than this blog post. I wonder if there'd be monogamy and marriage. I'll go so far as to say that the intricacies of human life and the web of human connection depend on the nuance that is involved when we take things personally.

In an ideal world, I would be a less subject to the flood of feelings that come from criticism and failure, especially as directed at me externally. I would take the advice and move on instead of mulling it over in my head for days and attempting to decipher further, probably hurtful, subtleties of speech. Maybe one day I'll learn how to take things to the heart without taking them to the head. In the meantime, however, I'm learning to embrace the pure humanity of feeling - even the feels that come from a one word, no punctuation response from your boss's boss. Ouch.

         Personal BY TONY HOAGLAND

Don’t take it personal, they said;
but I did, I took it all quite personal—
the breeze and the river and the color of the fields;
the price of grapefruit and stamps,
the wet hair of women in the rain—
And I cursed what hurt me
and I praised what gave me joy,
the most simple-minded of possible responses.
The government reminded me of my father,
with its deafness and its laws,
and the weather reminded me of my mom,
with her tropical squalls.
Enjoy it while you can, they said of Happiness
Think first, they said of Talk
Get over it, they said
at the School of Broken Hearts
but I couldn’t and I didn’t and I don’t
believe in the clean break;
I believe in the compound fracture
served with a sauce of dirty regret,
I believe in saying it all
and taking it all back
and saying it again for good measure
while the air fills up with I’m-Sorries
like wheeling birds
and the trees look seasick in the wind.
Oh life! Can you blame me
for making a scene?
You were that yellow caboose, the moon
disappearing over a ridge of cloud.
I was the dog, chained in some fool’s backyard;
barking and barking:
trying to convince everything else
to take it personal too.