When I started out in the part-time world, I was a teenager and everything about work was great. I worked at restaurants and pizza shops and always made fast friends with my coworkers if I didn’t know them already. I got a paycheck every two weeks (which was a huge deal to a kid who had never been given an allowance.) I bought a classic car that was falling apart and drank in my new-found independence.
Then I graduated high school. I went to college for a semester and worked on the weekends. It was still fun. But then the financial reality of tuition, books, and everything else set in. The only responsible choice was to find another school.
And I did, over the years. I went to a few different schools as I moved around the country. And I also held a slew of part-time jobs. When you start dealing with grown-up bills and expenses beyond going to the movies with your friends, the stress of everyday life makes you realize you’re getting paid crap and in turn resent the job that just a few years ago was so wonderful. I had a good career going in between all these part-time gigs. Which actually makes you resent having to take them on all the more. Knowing you could be doing something you love and getting paid more for it is one of the worst feelings ever.
Survey Collector–via phone
I moved a few times because of family circumstances outside of my own volition. I didn’t go kicking and screaming, but moving without the promise of a job can really throw you off for a few months. I had a hefty savings account that got us through quite a few months, but eventually I had to start looking at jobs that were less than ideal. There was a survey call center in town that said you “could” make a decent amount per an hour. They gave paid training. So I signed up.
We really were just interested in collecting surveys for polls. We didn’t ask anyone to buy anything or ask for credit card information or even their name. But people don’t hear that. They hear your script and hang up the phone. And your pay is based on how many surveys you can complete per an hour of work.
I could deal with people being rude to me. Or so I thought. One day, I went through my entire opening script, after which a man came on telling me I was on live radio and started ripping me a new one. Accusations and harsh jokes at my expense. I hung up. I tried not to cry. That was the day I started inserting a fake name into that script.
It was also the day I turned in my two weeks notice.
At my two week review (which was also a week before my last day…I know I lasted a long time at this one,) my boss called me into his office and revealed how much I was getting paid. He asked me if I was sure I wanted to quit. After seeing that number, I almost wasn’t. Apparently I had been rocking it, and he tried to encourage me to stay with suggestions of promotion and telling me these numbers were what they looked for in supervisors.
But I had already found another job. And I didn’t want to almost cry on live radio anymore.
The Grocery Store Clerk
From there I moved to the grocery store. I checked people out. It was pretty boring. And at the end of a shift my feet hurt like all get out. But it paid pseudo-decently for its caliber of work, and I liked most of the people there. A few months in I found a position in my field, but I stayed at the grocery store as well. Because more money couldn’t hurt.
I heard some of the managers talking a few weeks before Thanksgiving about how they would take the people with the slowest checkout time off during the holiday rush. The managers would come in and replace them. I didn’t want to be one of those people. I’m an overachiever even in a grocery store. We had our numbers (items per minute) printed out every week next to our schedules. Within a week I was second from the top. I maintained it, and was proud to be one of the competent cashiers that would stay on the week of Thanksgiving.
And then on Thanksgiving eve, this manager tapped me on the shoulder and told me to work the floor. “I have high numbers, though. There’s like five other people here who are at the bottom of the list.”
“I told you to go work the floor.”
“I don’t even know what that means. I’ve only ever checked people out.”
“Just go work the floor. Stock stuff.”
“Where is the stock room? Why can’t I just keep checking people out? I’m the second fastest person in this store.”
“You think you’re so great? You’ve been here a few months. I’ve been here twenty years.”
Maybe she had a point. But all I could think was, “Yeah, there’s no way I’m going to be here twenty years. This lady’s life is seriously pathetic.”
Before I went off, a kind new hire who had worked in another grocery store told me she’d show me how to “work the floor.” She did, and was patient enough to listen to me fume as I tore empty boxes off the shelves as she restocked them. That girl was a saint.
I put my two weeks in that night. That shift manager tried to start lunchroom drama everyday. I held my tongue. I was seriously over it. I told her she wasn’t the reason I quit; I had been working another job and this one just wasn’t fiscally worth the gas money anymore. Which was partially true. But the other part of the truth was that life is just too short to be a perfectionist working at a grocery store arguing with near middle-aged women about check-out ratios.
I’ve worked a few other part-time jobs over my adult years. Most of the others I’ve really enjoyed, mostly because of the people I’ve worked with or the content of the work itself. But the bottom line still remains: it’s often not enough money for all the effort you put in, and definitely not enough to pay the bills. I’m blessed to have found a lot of stability with family and work back in Pittsburgh. And I think the part-time gig can be a good thing for someone with a little bit of time looking for a little bit of extra money. But it can really, really suck as an adult if it’s your main source of income.