My parents are go getters. It is a quality in them that I love. Their own upbringings were not necessarily ideal, but they both come from long lines of hard workers. And it is a quality they have tried to instill in all six of their children. I deeply resented this as a young person. As an adolescent, on Saturday mornings the only thing I wanted to do in the whole world was to sleep. Sleep and sleep and sleep. And maybe watch Saturday morning cartoons. But my mom figured if she was up and working, we all should be as well. She had red laminated cards with various chores listed on them. She would turn them upside-down and place coins on top. Nickels and dimes, and if it was a particularly difficult chore, quarters. We would take turns picking a card. Once the chore listed was completed to her satisfaction, we got to keep the change. This was 25 plus years ago, but even considering inflation, no matter what card we picked, we were not making much. The chores were going to be done anyway. So I guess we figured we might as well get what we could.
Like everyone, in my teenage years I vacillated between career ideas. The one I landed in at the time was teaching. I had some pretty amazing teachers in my youth. And some pretty unmemorable ones. But the ones who were great made a difference to me. I wanted to do that for other young people. I wanted to be a Mr Jones (5th grade, and a true inspiration), a Dr Mooney (sophomore English, gave me a love of reading and accepted no nonsense), a Ms Daley (8th grade English but also so much more), a Mr Sandmeyer (Government, and one of the few teachers I still keep in touch with. Made me think about the world I was living in), a Dr Kinney (Mr Neckbeard, and the reason I got my degree in psychology) a Mr. Clements (senior government, and an all around inspiration).
By the time I was 12, I was paying for most of my “fun money”. Clothes, movies, food. I had a small allowance, but I supplemented that with babysitting. Which I was good at, but kind of hated. Sometimes I worked for my dad at his concrete supply company, but my first official job happened when I was 16. I worked at a European bakery making $5.50 an hour. Which I thought was pretty great since it was just over minimum wage. I mostly manned the cash register, and counted the tills at the end of the night. It was a pretty easy gig. Everything was made fresh daily, so anything left over at the end of the night was ours to take or eat or whatever. I am pretty sure I gained a small child while I worked there. I was an ok employee. I showed up mostly on time. I did my job adequately. In my year of working there, I only missed one shift. And when I did, I thought I would die from shame. The manager was an older English lady, and when I did finally show up for the missed shift she was understandably put out. Her husband was there too. He told me “don’t worry Katie. You are as good as gold kid.” I am not sure why that meant so much to me, but it did. There were times I had to open the bakery on Saturday mornings at 6am. Being a teenager, I always pushed the time a little bit. One morning, as I was running late, I illegally passed a particularly slow driver in an attempt to beat the clock. On a two-lane street. Where the speed limit was 35 at most. Turns out that slow car was our morning delivery driver, a crusty and grumpy and lovely man in his 60’s. I arrived to the bakery in just enough time, with him shortly on my heels. He walked into the bakery and screamed “I am MAD at you!” I shrank back and said “what did I do?” He said “You passed me this morning. That was very dangerous. Don’t do that again!” I didn’t.
That job eventually fell by the wayside. When I went to college, it was in a small town where jobs were hard to come by. I was lucky enough to land a job at the local Hogi Yogi. I am pretty sure this company has gone under. But for those of you who don’t know, Hogi Yogi was a chain were you could order a custom sandwich and/or a frozen yogurt blended with whatever toppings you so desired. The job was fine. It didn’t pay much. But the food! Once again, I gained quite a bit of weight working there. I quit after my one year review. In which I was told I was a stellar employee. And subsequently received a 10 cent raise per hour.
My next job was as a server at a local Italian restaurant in Boise. It was the perfect job at the time. I made enough money working part-time to pay my rent ($275 a month) and all my bills. And I still had enough time to attend my college classes and maintain a social life. It was so fun. But my god that job was hard. I maintain to this day that every human should have to work in the service industry just once, so they can see how hard it is. You deal with abuse and demands that would make any grown person cry. And cry we did. I worked with a server who would predictably end up in the walk-in fridge on any given weekend night. She would cry out something like “I-cannot-do-this-anymore!” Another server that I loved and admired would talk her down. She would say “It’s ok. It’s gonna be ok. It’s not cancer. It’s just pasta. Nobody is going to die.” This has been my mantra as an adult when things get hard. It’s all ok. Nobody is going to die. It is just pasta. My years as a server have helped me to be empathetic to others in the trade. I am an excellent tipper. And have taught my family to be the same (my dad will regularly throw a $100 bill a server’s way). I will give a server a 20% tip just for showing up to the table. More if they are any good at all. You should all do the same. As a former server, I understand that an extra dollar or two might not help you pay the bills, but it sure makes the night easier to bear.
I graduated with a BS in psychology. I loved my major. I loved my classes. I loved everything I learned. By the time I graduated I was tired of school. I had just gotten married, and I wanted a break. I wanted time to be a newlywed. I wanted time to decide where to go next. I knew that I needed to get my Masters at least if I wanted to do anything with my degree. But I was of the mindset that I had plenty of time. Time is slippery. I never did go back to school. But I did learn pretty quick that having a bachelors in Psychology was not much better than having a high school diploma when it came to finding work…
Considering my life-long obsession with my weight and size, it’s no wonder that I landed on personal training and physical fitness as a career. I worked as a personal trainer at Gold’s Gym in North Carolina just before I had kids, and then dabbled in the personal training field for years while I was having and raising them.
My favorite job of all-time was working as a group fitness instructor and administrator at a start-up boutique gym. The gym focused on high intensity training that incorporated weight-lifting. I loved it. I loved the community. And I loved my boss. He and I had a lot in common. Because of this, and because we were both talkers, we were not as productive as we could have been. There were many conversations that started with “ok I will tell you this last thing and then we need to get back to work.” While I loved the job, it was not exactly lucrative. I was going through a divorce, and for the first time in 12 years, I had to consider supporting my four children.
When my oldest was born, her dad and I made the decision that I would be a stay-at-home mom. My earning potential as a personal trainer wasn’t great, and it made financial sense for me to stay at home and raise our children, as opposed to spending my entire income on childcare. I do not regret this decision. Being at home with my kids was a profoundly wonderful experience. I miss it every day. I wish I could still be a stay-at-home-mom. It is my ideal career. But staying at home with my kids made for a pretty sparse resume when it came to finding a job that would support me and my four children. I had resigned myself to my role as fitness guru. And I was determined to invest my time and energy into the small gym I had landed in. I was sure it would work out.
While I was working at the gym one day, I got a phone call from an old acquaintance. My ex husband and I knew him and his wife from our younger married years. He was looking for an administrative head for his growing transportation compliance company, and thought I would be a good fit. The salary he was offering seemed obscene at the time. And the answer to all my prayers. I had to at least take the interview. The job was vague and scary, but the amount of money, the amount of security he was offering, was something I could not pass up. I left my comfort zone, and accepted the job. It broke my heart to leave my gym, my people. There are still moments I regret my decision.
I had no idea what I was doing when I took the new job. My new boss warned me that I wouldn’t. There was no training, no real job description. It took me an entire year to understand what I had gotten myself into. And I spent a good portion of that year feeling like a fraud. In the beginning, I would think “they are going to find out. They are going to know you don’t know what you are doing”. That job was hard. And in retrospect I can confidently say I did it great. I figured out what I needed to do. I learned. I put my heart and my soul into it.
It was a great job. My boss was kind and empathetic. The women I worked over were amazing. But it was demanding. There was very little flexibility for kids’ doctors appointments, school performances, gymnastic practices. I had to hire someone to get my kids off to school on the weeks I had them. Their dad was understandably getting frustrated with my lack of availability. He had been working at his own career for years (while I was home with the kids). He had the flexibility. He told me one day “I still have to work!” That’s when I knew things had to change. For my kids, they had to change.
In 2021, I made the hard decision to leave my secure job and take on a local candy company with my dad. It was an established and well-known candy company making a moderately decent profit. It seemed like an easy gig. When I finally decided to commit to leaving my current job, I tried and tried to arrange a meeting with my boss to give him my notice. But between Covid restrictions and his busy schedule, it did not end up happening. So I told him by phone. I gave a month’s notice. Then, feeling like I had let him down, I asked him if he was mad. He said “Katie, I am never going to be upset with an employee for quitting so they can find something better.” I have taken that reaction with me. And used it with my own employees.
That job was hard. So hard. But I learned a lot. And I will be forever grateful to the man who gave me the opportunity to do a job I was not, on paper, qualified to do. I like to think I stepped up to the plate. I like to think I made a difference in the role he hired me for. I hope he feels the same.
Running my own business is not easier. In some ways it is much harder. I am always on the clock. Even if I am not there. The candy store is always on my mind. The success or failure of my business is on me. If we don’t make money, I cannot pay my employees. I cannot continue to provide a service to my wonderful customers. A service that in a small way, makes their lives a little better. I cannot support my children. My family. My life. It is a heavy load that I feel all the time.
Shortly after I took over the store, my manager at the time tried to give me advice on how to run the store. She was a bit older than me, and had played a more “motherly” role in our encounters when I was in my teens. We had gone to church together for years. I went to school with some of her kids. I can see why she felt the need to butt in. Her advice consisted of “open your mail every day, I will help you get organized, and if you haven’t finished your tasks, you have to stay until they are done. That is just what it is.” I told her very frankly that I had no interest in having this conversation with her. This manager no longer works for me. Her leaving was a mutual decision. Watching us come in and make changes to the candy store she had put so much of her life into (no matter how minor) proved too difficult. I understood. I still have a lot of affection for her. I would like to think she has the same for me. But my position about my business is and always will be, that the business can burn to the ground if my kids need me. And the business can burn to the ground if my employees’ kids need them. At the end of the day, it’s just a job. A means to live life. For me. For my employees with kids, for my employees without kids.
As a kid, my room was always chaos. Garbage shoved under my bed, in my closet, anywhere I could hide it. There were scraps of paper, laundry washed and rewashed (because who knew if they were clean or not?). I was very content with doing the bare minimum. Not just with my room, but with my life. Homework, dance classes, whatever. My mom told me once that she worried how I would do as an adult, based on my ability to keep my room clean. Understandable. But I am fine. I am a hard worker. A very hard worker. Things are still chaotic and messy. That is just who I am. But I get up on Saturday mornings. I have my coffee. And then I get to work.
My career path has not been what I thought. Life has not been what I thought. Whose life has? I know very few people who are on the career path they chose when they were 18. I am not a teacher or a psychologist, or a personal trainer. I own a candy store of all things. And I work hard at it. As I would any other job. It will work out. It will be fine. But if it’s not, that will be ok too. Whatever job I end up with, I will do it to the best of my ability… as long as it means I can be there for my kids.
Hopefully my kids will take my example, and the example of my parents and their parents, in their own lives. Most of them live with scraps of paper on their floors, laundry that might be clean or dirty. Their grades are average at best. We don’t have laminated cards with chores. But I still insist they help. And they hate it.
Rachel has a job. She has been very sick for the past week. She has missed school, but she has gone to work every single day she has been scheduled. She has suffered through. Her room might be a mess. Her grades may be sub-par. She may resist family work days. But when it comes to her working world, she is stellar. I did that. My mom and dad did that. Their parents did that. Her life will probably follow a different trajectory than she thinks right now. Whatever she decides to do, she will be great. They all will.