I’ve Never Had a Normal Job—Here’s Why

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We’ve been duped. Swindled. Hoodwinked. Tricked.

That’s right—the world has been lying to us about something pretty major.

Life after college.

It’s easy to think that by the end of college you’re supposed to have everything figured out and be well on your way to career success.

Well, we’ve got a newsflash for you, Walter Cronkite. You aren’t. Or, more accurately, you don’t have to be.

In today’s post, guest author Eve Sturges talks about spending her twenties hustling instead of working her way up the corporate ladder. As someone who’s never had a normal job, she delves into some of the lessons she’s learned along the way—and gives us all a little hope that there’s nothing wrong with finding your own path.

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When I started a graduate program last year, the get-to-know-you question was, inevitably, “What did you do before this?” Within my cohort, we had a lawyer, a probation officer, a dance instructor, a health insurance portfolio manager (whatever that means), two elementary school teachers, and myriad other working people who define themselves by their career, and were looking to make a huge change in their professional lives.

“I… well… I do a lot of things, I guess,” I would mutter with a nervous giggle.

Bothered and self-conscious, I struggled to explain what it is I “do” and searched for a word that would best describe my path. I thought about all the different small jobs I was holding at the time, and all the jobs I had moved through over the years, not one of which I had ever considered a career. It made me feel different, but in a good way. With pride I found it: “I was a hustler.”

Before you jump to any conclusions, let me gently guide you to the first definition in the dictionary, which is “an aggressively enterprising person; a go-getter.” I like Merriam-Webster’s best, “an ambitious person who eagerly goes after what is desired and knows how to get around problems.”

I would like to blame my twenties on the pregnancy that surprised me half-way through senior year of college. Deciding to become a mother changed my after-college plans dramatically, as you might imagine.

Except, the truth is, I didn’t really have after-college plans. My college education at a pricey liberal university focused on Performing Arts and Psychology. That’s a double major that makes a lot of sense in the philosophical world, and zero sense in the real world, which is also where school loans exist.

So without much time to explore my options, I went to work. Over the past ten years, I have worked as a customer service representative at a propane company, a waitress, a barista, an executive assistant, an on-set teacher, a prep-school tutor, a babysitter, a food-review writer, a blogger, a bookkeeper, a murder mystery dinner actor, a database-entry clerk, a garage-sale host and, one time, a lemonade stand manager.

It worked; I could pay the rent. I could also explore my vaguely undefined creative dreams at night after my daughter went to bed. I wrote two screenplays, hosted a story show with comedian Melinda Hill, and—the most rewarding—created a blog.

The parts I loved about the hustle were the people I met along the way, and the diverse experiences a more straightforward job probably wouldn’t have offered me.

One night I’ll never forget is when our murder mystery dinner troupe was hired by a millionaire to create an elaborate scene in a hotel lobby for his girlfriend. It was totally bizarre, and I don’t think I would ever do it again, but I met an opera singer and a cowboy in one place, while we all pretended to be something we were not; who else can say that about a job?

Working in restaurants gave me access to delicious food and wine, which I never could have afforded if I was a customer! I have served movie stars, and I’ve also had to be on the receiving end of the telephone while extremely angry propane customers chewed me out.

The parts I did not love about the hustle were earning wages on a day-to-day basis, without benefits, and with no certainty of the future. Slowly, my experiences were feeling less and less like fun stories.

My knees and wrists were starting to ache from waitressing, and I no longer felt like I had the energy to stay up late to write.

I realized that wasn’t getting any younger and, more importantly, neither was my daughter.

Soon enough she will be looking at colleges and I want her to go wherever she wants, even if it’s a pricey liberal university.

I also started to want a different kind of life with her before she is old enough for the SATs; I was thinking about vacations—and health insurance. What had worked for me for many years—the hustle—was no longer working.

Now I am almost done with a Master’s degree in Counseling Psychology, pursuing my Marriage and Family Therapy license. It’s a long road before I’ll enjoy fancy vacations or health insurance, but its nice to be on a road that has a destination.

I am incredibly happy with my decision to go to graduate school, and I am not sure I would have experienced such rewards if I hadn’t been such a mover and shaker beforehand.

Sometimes I wonder what my life would have been like if I had settled down with a steadily paying, but unfulfilling, desk job after college. There are things it would have afforded me, but I don’t regret my choice to hustle, either.

It got me out in the world meeting interesting people, trying different things, traveling to exciting corners of Los Angeles, and time to get to know myself, which is something I didn’t take the time to do in college.

Homework time! Does Eve’s unconventional path appeal to you? Read up on career options for commitment-phobes or learn a bit more about what it’s like to start your own company in our interviews with entrepreneurs. And if you love the idea of doing something different while also working a regular job, consider the “side hustle” route.

Eve Sturges, hustler and graduate student, lives in Los Angeles. She’s always looking for inspiration, and trying to get others to do the same; check out her blog www.themagpielist.com and follow @magpielife on Instagram.

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3 Responses to “I’ve Never Had a Normal Job—Here’s Why”

  1. Best of the Web (7/4/14) | CareerMehCareerMeh

    […] Who says you need a “real” job? On After College, one writer discusses why she’s spent her post-school years hustling, doing everything from blogging to acting to waitresses — and why she doesn’t regret it one bit. Check it! […]

    Reply
  2. Christi P

    I’ve also never had a “real” job, am in graduate school and am about to enter internship as a mental health counselor in Seattle. I’m struggling with the idea that I now have to be somewhere 3-4 days a week at 7:30-8 in the morning, and stay there until 5pm. That’s just never happened, and as a performer/musician, I am wondering what I’ve gotten myself into. Any suggestions?? I’m happy with school, but not sure about this 8-5 idea. :)

    Reply
    • Melissa Suzuno

      Hi there, thanks for stopping by and sharing your thoughts! I’m not going to lie – switching from the student lifestyle to an office or other professional environment can be tough. One thing to keep in mind is that every company is a little different. Try to approach the first few months on the new job with an open mind. You’re there to observe and learn the rules, both for how to do your job and how to fit into the company culture and get along with a new group of people. You’ll quickly see whether this is the type of place where it’s okay to step out to grab coffee, or if you’re only allowed to take a 30-minute lunch break, or if coworkers meet for happy hour every Thursday. After a while, you’ll develop a sense of what works for you (or what doesn’t). You might learn that working 8 to 5 isn’t so bad, but that there’s some other aspect of the work environment you don’t like. But you’ll never know until you try!

      Reply

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