The Beauty of Being a Working Girl

WorkingGirlEmilee RussellFeminist Wednesday University Ambassador 

Just as some are proud of the wealth and financial success of their family, I pride myself on my family’s long history of struggle and work ethic. My grandparents on both sides were entrepreneurs and laborers who raised my parents to appreciate the value of hard work, a lesson they instilled in me from a young age. My father grew up working both for  my grandfather’s landscaping business and at a lumber mill where he spent 35 years. My mother worked several jobs to put herself through college. She worked as a construction flagger and as a waitress before getting her degree and becoming a legal secretary. We were never poor while I was growing up, but my parents never wasted money or spent it frivolously. I’ve reaped so many of the benefits of the hard work of my family that I did nothing to deserve, but I also learned and appreciate work ethic as a result of the examples they set and the lessons they taught me.

I got my first job the summer after eighth grade, working at the local pool. It was a good first job. My boss was nice and my co-workers were my classmates and friends. For four dollars an hour, I got sunburned while being splashed and jumped on by rowdy toddlers who wanted to do anything but practice their front crawls and backstrokes.

I worked there for two summers before I was shipped off to “lumberjack camp” the summer after my sophomore year of high school. My parents insisted that I “get a real job”  to save up for a car. So I applied to be a member of a youth crew at the ranger station two hours away. Five days a week all summer, I was out of the house no later than 4:15 every morning to catch the city bus that took me to work and brought me home at 6:00 each evening. I wore a hard hat, leather gloves, and work boots, cleared hiking trails and bike paths, trimmed trees and worked on projects for the ranger station. I made minimum wage but worked full time, so by the end of the summer I had saved enough to have spending money throughout the school year and to buy a nice little used car that spring.

My first car wasn’t flashy and didn’t have any bells or whistles. It was a soccer mom car but it was reliable and sturdy and I immediately fell in love with it. I loved my car not only because it symbolized a new part of my life that included new freedoms and new responsibilities, but also because I knew how hard I had worked to afford it. Most of my friends drove much nicer and newer cars than me and once in awhile, I’d feel a twinge of envy riding in their Hummer or new Jeep, and wished that my parents would’ve given me a car. But it didn’t take me long to realize that the lesson of making me earn my car was a gift in itself. After learning what a big purchase like that entailed, it enabled me to want to support myself financially, to move away for college, and to pay for as much of my education as I could. Not only did I want to be independent, but also, I was confident I could be.

So I tucked that lesson of self-reliance and independence away as I prepared to begin my senior year of high school. I got a summer job as a nanny for a little boy and girl, by far the toughest and most rewarding work I’ve ever done. I had many of the responsibilities of running the household - cleaning, organizing, cooking and feeding the kids meals, laundry, taking them to lessons and activities, reading and writing with them, and a million other things that go into the care of a family. I never knew how the day would go. Some days it would be a fight just to get a kid into his or her car seat or put dishes in the dishwasher. After a long day, things like a kid hiding their swimming suit before lessons or refusing to practice their times tables would be enough to make me want to burst into tears. Sometimes I would give in when they insisted they didn’t want to wear shoes, or resort to frozen yogurt for lunch. But every time I thought I was about to reach my limit, they’d come snuggle up to me or ask me to read to them or draw me a picture or pick me berries, and they’d win over my heart all over again just like that. I would gush (and often complain and rant) to whomever would listen about the kids I’d come to love dearly. For two summers I was a nanny and I loved (almost) every minute of it.

The November of my senior year of high school, I started working at a Subway in my town because my mother insisted I learn how to budget my time between work and school before college. I worked roughly four or five hours a few evenings each week making food, cleaning, and helping customers. It taught me customer service, patience, and how to be charming when all you really want to do is rip off your apron and take a nap. I worked there until a few months after graduation while also doing my nanny gig that summer.

I saved what I could and by the end of the summer, I was ready to move away to college. I had mentally prepared myself to be broke and work my ass off at my job and at school. My family helped me with the deposit on my apartment, but otherwise, I depend on myself for the rent and pay my own bills.While it was a little daunting, I absolutely knew I could do it. I love making my own money but I know it’s necessary to swallow my pride and accept help when I truly need it. I know my family’s behind me if I’m ever in serious trouble, but they’ve already given me the tools to make my own success. The older I get and the more life experience I’ve got under my belt, the more I realize that the lessons and examples of independence that my parents and grandparents have taught me are invaluable. I’ve benefited from the work ethic I’ve inherited from them so much more than if I’d been given everything I thought I wanted.

Knowing that I have the tools to support myself gives me peace of mind. It also makes me want to always strive to be self-sufficient. I don’t want to depend on my significant other to be the breadwinner, because I know I can take care of myself. I love earning my own money and it’s a way for me to cultivate my confidence and independence.

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