Monday, March 20, 2006

Jobs I’ve had

Before we begin, a special message to Wandernut. Two things, babe:
  • Thanks. For saving me. I wanted to post something but I didn’t know what to write about. Your tag saved me from having to be original.
  • Sorry. I’m sure you at least expected me to be interesting. I tried. I’m sorry.

Accounts Clerk / Data Entry Clerk / Filing Monkey

My first job.
400 bucks felt so big.
Having my own money felt so big.
I felt mature and responsible (a feeling which would never be recaptured in any other job since).
I had an EPF number (social security to you guys outside Malaysia).
I made friends with people I didn’t go to school with.
I discovered how hard it was to earn a decent wage.
I spent everything.
I admired my folks.
I learnt about politics and how I was crap at it.
I felt useful.

‘Good English’-speaking Asian
This was at my Uni.
It was a short-lived, but well-meaning attempt to help ‘International’ (read ‘Asian’) students improve their spoken English for presentations. You got paid 10 bucks, and you spent a full day with these students and helped them with their oral skills (leave it). It was shitty pay for a reason – you weren’t supposed to profit from it. You were supposed to help people.
I took two Koreans, an Indonesian and a Hong Kong girl to a comic store named The Minotaur. I bought a comic and we went to a coffee place. I made them act out the scenes like a sketch. They were so good. I spent 15 bucks all in.
They still got laughed at in presentations but they remembered my name.
For one of the very few times in my life, I felt like a good person.
I also knew I was a crap teacher.

Intern, then part-time Marketing Exec in a software firm
I got a free course in programming from a company that was hardcore about the Internet when it was young. They wrote ‘serious’ software. I’m not talking puny consumer version Windows. I’m talking AS/400 apps. I felt so hardcore.
I met Lou Gerstner, then CEO of IBM. He introduced himself as “Lou Gerstner, CEO, IBM.” I replied “(my name). Brilliant marketing student.” He laughed and shook my hand. I felt something break.
I was asked my opinion. Really asked.
I ogled my first colleague, an older woman.
I got a good grade for my internship. I told my lecturer there was some mistake and forced her to show me the test score breakdowns.
I was offered a full-time job. “Stay here. Stay with us. We’ll sort out the work permit stuff.”
I turned it down. Partially cos exciting things were happening in Malaysia. But also because everything I loved was there – my family, my brother, and a girl who would stay with me another 6 years.
I felt like I could do anything.

Internet kitchen sink
I got my first name card. It said ‘content development.’ It started as a mix of writing and basic programming for the website. It quickly ballooned into project management (you had to or you died) and sometimes salesman (you had to our nothing got sold).
I learnt Photoshop, Illustrator, QuarkXpress.
The dot com bubble burst and we were one of those hit.
I told myself I’d try everything I wanted before age 30, with the theory something would eventually stick.
I felt I’d left with more than when I arrived. More of what, I don’t know.

Tabloid journalist / senior busybody
I wrote for a men’s magazine I liked as a reader. Actually, I worked for very watered-down local edition it. But hey, it was all new to me, and therefore fun.
I got a lot of free stuff. Free drinks, advance screenings to movies, and a new expensive car to test-drive every two weeks.
I got to meet interesting people – a lady who trained the tigers on Gladiator, I interviewed a medical examiner and spent some time in a morgue, and Malaysia’s only F1 driver. And I interviewed Shaggy.
I developed ambition, and I got bored quickly.
Towards the end I had savage disagreements with my editor – a moron with a work permit. I learnt that management’s job in general is to run the company, not attend to the needs of individual employees. It’s the right way to think. It’s imperfect, but more efficient in the long-run. It’s also hard to see that when you’re an employee.
I felt like I’d sold myself short on this one. And without arrogance, I say this: they didn’t deserve me.

After months of writing marketing plans, contracts, number-crunching and soul-searching I started a local edition of a leading movie magazine from the UK. I began the venture with a colleague at my old magazine job.
With a loan, I rented a small office, bought some tables, a coupla computers, and hired a friend to work for me.
I went out and saw advertisers and things were looking positive.
And then my partner asked for a larger slice of the company or he’d withhold the money he was supposed to bring in. I told him the law prohibited me giving over more shares without more capital. In any case, it was a larger slice of nothing at this point.
He went crazy and it went spectacularly to hell. I burned every cent I had and then some to buy him out. There was no other choice. I needed to control the situation and I didn’t want him a part of it.
In the next few months, I let two employees go, including my good friend who initially refused to take my money, mailing me back my cheque with a note saying “I believe in you. Make it work.”
But I couldn’t.
And I did try. I used the last of my lease to make sales calls. I re-wrote my business plan to allow another publisher to take control of my business in return for a job and marketing input. In the end, I just ran out of money.
I sold what I could, closed the office and decided to get a job.
I felt like a failure.
Actually, it was worse than that. I felt like a fuck-up.
After that I made a list every day. At the top, I wrote “I am still standing.”
It’s 4 years later and I’m writing this from the Mac I bought for the business.
And I’m doing ok.

Sitcom scriptwriter
I got asked by a friend. I had no idea how but I really wanted to try it.
The pay wasn’t very good, but I learnt to think of jobs in terms of energy spent, not just money earned. And for the energy spent, it was actually ok.
I sold two scripts, none of which I saw after they’d been filmed.
I learnt how to write dialogue.
I discovered I could be funny on paper, if not in person.
I felt like writing had become a good friend. It fed my tummy, and made me feel good about myself. And up until now, I hadn’t given it the simple respect that it deserved.
I am now grateful I’m a writer.

Copywriter, three different places now
I kinda fell into this. Stumbled, more like.
In the same week:
  • A friend told me to try copywriting. I thought it was about patent law.
  • I bumped into a Creative Director of an ad agency about 10 mins from my current office. It was his last day so he couldn’t give me a job. But he did give me the name of the guy replacing him. I called up and asked for an interview.
  • I got a call to come into the agency. I chucked in my job. I went home to put together a very, very amateurish portfolio during the night.
  • I went for the interview. I got the job.
I realised the value of taking a chance on what you want.
And how important it is for someone to take a chance on you.
Copywriting was where I stopped having just a job and started my career.
I’ve also swung wildly between feeling I have a gift and feeling I’m a total imposter.
The last two years, I’ve kind of come to terms with my profession, which is to sell things with words, not always truthful.
I’ve also come to terms with my craft. Which is actually a kind of magic.
More importantly, I know the difference between the two.
The best piece of advice I ever got was “Don’t try and be a writer. Just write.”
I feel I’m still learning.
I don’t want to be in advertising long-term. My personality doesn’t match it (I’m a loner by nature) and I don’t feel compelled to be as ‘good’ (whatever that is) as you need to be to ‘make it’ (whatever that is).

But writing. That I can do forever.

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