Gary Conkling Life Notes

Mostly whimsical reflections on life

The Elusive, Ineluctable Summer Job

The summer is nearly over. It is the perfect time to reflect on a summer job.

summer-job

For college students, summer is the ultimate bummer. No classes to ditch. No parties to crash. No roommates to bug. If you are an underclassmen, you are probably back at home and your parents expect you to work. It is very stressful. Mostly, it is very annoying.

We all have been there.

Missi was a 19-year-old college student at a loss of what to do during summer break. A church friend recommended a job selling educational materials. She jumped at the chance.

Your first step “on the job” was to attend sales training – and buy your samples. That way you had first-hand knowledge of what a sale looked like.

Missi’s training involved learning the skills of playing to parental heartstrings and never taking “no” as the answer to your importuning..

Upon graduation, Missi was dispatched to Buffalo, New York to begin her sales career. She never had been in Buffalo before and had to carry around a street map to avoid getting lost. Missi recounts how every street loomed as a long, unknown corridor with feature-less houses and faceless homeowners. It was as if she was living in an Alfred Hitchcock movie – in Buffalo, where she knew no one.

Her first door-to-door encounters were fruitless. Missi found it hard to press on when potential customers politely declined to buy her goods. “I realized I wasn’t cut out for selling,” she recalls. “I couldn’t wait for the summer to end.

Missi’s misadventure of a summer job parallels my own. Facing parental pressure to find a job, I also followed up on a recommendation from a church friend. In my case, the “unbelievable opportunity” involved selling steak knives to young women building their hope chests.

My training included a session on the dubious economic benefit of giving away a set of steak knives for sex. It would have been more useful to get first-aid and ego-salvaging treatment when doors slammed in your face.

My experience with steak knives came a cropper as did Missi’s selling books in Buffalo. She eventually called home and asked for the money to buy a ticket home. I never left Denver, but it didn’t make it any easier to crawl home and ask my parents to pay for my samples because I never sold a single set of knives.

Cracking the summer job market has, if anything, become more difficult. I look back at my college years and wince. I have huge sympathy for young people who look for the perfect summer job and, if lucky, find something to do that is modestly gainful and acceptably humiliating. If they are really lucky, nobody will suggest they try door-to-door sales.

Please share your embarrassing summer job experience,

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