Recently a friend shared a post on LinkedIn about her first “career” job after she graduated from university. At the end of her enlightening and thoughtful post she posed these questions to her readers: “Where did you get your start? Any learnings that you carry forward from that experience?”
These questions sparked some reminiscing about the start of my career after I finished university with two degrees – one for each hand. And what I had learned. My friend had one job after graduating that started her career path.
I had three before my current career got off the ground. But it was the first one that I learned the most valuable and memorable lessons. To many it would not be considered a “career” job but to me it was the first step to where I am right now.
After I received my Bachelor of Education to teach English and History at the Secondary Level, I was offered a job at one of the local high schools where I did one of my practicums. It was a good opportunity that most brand-new teachers, fresh off the university lot, would have jumped at. The perfect launching pad for a lifelong career in teaching with a decent salary, summers off, Christmases off, Easter and Spring breaks off, benefits and a healthy pension.
But it wasn’t for me. At least not at that time in my life.
Instead of staying put and playing it safe in my hometown, where I was sheltered by my family and close to friends, I packed my bags, propped my son on my hip, adjusted my aviator sunglasses, and hopped on a plane and headed west. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t look back. Because I did. I even went back. But not after living a year in British Columbia, first in Victoria and then Prince George (where I got married but that’s a whole other story.)
My first job after graduating from university was as a Chambermaid at an old established hotel in downtown Victoria. I had the option of working in one of the nightclubs in the hotel but chose the reliable daytime hours of housekeeping, even though it was less pay, and tips were few and far between, because it allowed a more stable lifestyle for me and my son. Plus, I’ve never been much of a night person. Neither was my son.
I learned a lot working as a Chambermaid.
First and foremost, it’s hard back-breaking work that is under-valued, under-appreciated, under-paid, under-respected and under-tipped (as in “no tips”, at least way back then in the dark ages). I was left with a deep and abiding respect for all the hard-working people (mostly women) doing this thankless job tirelessly day after day. And with surprising cheerfulness, grace, and discretion. I learned that there is dignity in working hard and getting the job done, regardless of the position or pay.
The second thing I learned, which was more of an observation. Every room tells a story. The morning after. The remnants and residue from the night before were scattered around the room like breadcrumbs in the forest. These artifacts covered the gamut, the entire enchilada, the rainbow spectrum, from shitty diapers to shitty sheets. Loose change to loose talk. Broken glass to broken hearts. The walls held the whispers of conversations, the floors the burden of footsteps of every ilk, the bed the weight of humanity, often at its worst. The Chambermaids were the reconnaissance unit of housekeeping, the first to step foot into what was often unknown territory. The brave souls who cleaned up the mess. And restored order.
They made the room. They kept the secrets. Then they moved on to the next room, the next story. The seeds of my storytelling career were sowed here.
The third thing I learned, and this is by far the most important. To be grateful. Grateful to have a safe, comfortable place to stay when I’m in a foreign place, grateful that gracious people are there to make it comfortable, and most of all, grateful that I’ve never had to do that job again. Not that it’s beneath me, because it truly isn’t, but because I don’t think I was all that good at it. I never really mastered the fine art of hospital corners.
That gratitude has held fast for me all these decades later. I am eternally grateful for all the positions I’ve held over the years, especially in advertising, and to the companies I have worked for, including my current work. Every one of them helped put a roof over my family’s head and food on the table. They sparked my creativity and challenged me to always keep growing, learning, and improving my craft. Plus, so many friendships we forged and wonderful memories were made.
To all the Chambermaids across the globe, thank you, thank you, thank you.