Mariah Proctor is a junior at Brigham Young University.
Being a student is a unique time of life. It is a time when institutions and individuals are willing to invest money in giving you the opportunity to see and understand the world and study whatever appeals to you, making a time, that is already uniquely responsibility-free into a rich, life-changing experience.
It seems like there are a million scholarship opportunities and originally, I applied to study abroad in Vienna with 21 separate sources of funding that were going to get me there. The catch is, you don’t get every scholarship and an average of 18 of those 21 sources are likely to fall through. So there I was, freshly informed that my veins weren’t suitable for plasma donation (so long source #19) and still in need of a chunk of funding. I figured if I picked up an odd job about once every three days, I could at least scrape together the rest of the money I need to feed myself abroad. So, I got cozy and comfortable with the world of craigslist and submitted myself for every job around (some more odd than others).
First I was a janitor. Full time for five days they called me ‘custodial.’ Well, ‘they’ being the civilian types, the other janitors called me ‘captain.’ Did I ask for this name? Maybe a little, but I was being facetious, and it stuck anyway for all five days. I realized quickly that being a janitor is neither the place to make friends nor the place to meet cute boys. The first because trying to make small talk over the sound of the vacuum kills any potential continuity in a conversation, and the second because no one takes a temporary janitorial position unless they are scrambling for funds for a fast-approaching and very expensive affair. For me it’s a trip, but it seems for everyone else, it was a wedding; specifically, their own weddings. I hope for every engaged boy I worked with, there was a female counterpart working just as hard elsewhere. If not, I feel sorry for the unequal yoking ahead for them.
Then I was a laborer for the nationwide ‘simply mac e-waste event.’ It mostly involved standing in a Utah that I had not expected to be so cold while we waited for people to up and decide to bring us their old electronics to recycle. Standing there in desperate search for conversation next to me was a man who was unshaven and looked to be in his 40s. He finally settled on the end of the world as a good topic, and our discourse lasted the better part of two hours. He assured me that not ‘if’ but when a solar flare from the sun knocks out our communication lines and power, all that will be left, once the panic dies down, is what we’re prepared to trade. He told me the prime goods to have on hand–including chocolate in brick form and the tin of chewing tobacco he keeps in his freezer. He admitted he also kept it because he chews….but it would be great to trade too.
The hardest thing about this job was being anonymous. It made me realize how badly I need to be utilized for my specific contributions in a given workplace. Every time silence begun to creep in, my tobacco-chewing friend took the opportunity to share more of his thoughts on whatever came to his mind. We wore matching reflector vests and a matching need to be heard.
Somewhere in there, I was a wedding hairstylist. This is the one that garners the most shock from my friends. I picked up the ad online and was not dishonest about the fact that I am neither licensed nor extremely experienced, but desperate times… Not until I arrived did I find out that I was to do the hair of the bride and not just the bridal party. She arrived for her hair style over an hour and half late, and I ultimately had to do three full hair-dos in 45 minutes including she that was to be wed.
Everyone commented on my poise and ability to be calm under pressure. Internally I commented that the Lord must be working pretty hard on me to achieve that appearance of aptitude. I found myself stepping into my apparent role and talking more about hair and hairstyles than I ever have in my life. It was amazing that I had a rolodex of movie hairstyles tucked away and ready to call up when it suddenly became the expected topic of conversation. I laughed off questions about whether I owned a shop, and how often I did weddings, and in the end (as we sat in her strangely quiet reception) the bride asked if it would be ok if she recommended me to her friends.
One Saturday, I worked as a brand ambassador at Staples. The man that hired me belonged in promotions—he could’ve sold me on anything. He wore plaid pants and converse shoes (and he didn’t even know it was actually the store’s 80s day). He called me ‘Miss Mariah’ with the same happy inflection each time. I worked at the eco-table and told anyone who would listen about the ‘over 4000 recycled items that Staples has, from paper up to office furniture, including a line of biodegradable cleaning supplies.’ I handed out free recycled notebooks and found out that Utah folks are deadly serious about free things, not seeing that it is a gift from the company, not something that they are entitled to by virtue of feeling like the world is getting daily more expensive.
The following Saturday, I worked the photo booth at a ‘Thomas the Tank Engine’ themed carnival. One photographer called me ‘Red’ and the other called me nothing at all. I found in the last 20 minutes of my 25 hours working there that the latter was from a family of Mexican shaman, and he was tattooed in Mayan glyphs from the top of his head down to his ankles. Of course I found out how interesting these people were only after I was on my way out. The photographer’s daughter in me cried out for the people spending exorbitant amounts of money on these pictures. Some families must get pretty desperate to be in a picture together because I’d plug their ticket number into the computer and when the picture came up I’d think “too bad,” and they’d order sixty dollars worth of prints.
My household of 13ish always gets a kick out of asking where I’m off to when I open the front door. They’ve learned by now that it could be to someplace kosher like school, but it’s more likely to be to become a mystery shopper or the control group in psychological testing on pregnant women. I’ve had a wide variety of experience in a very short period of time and each odd job seems a little slice of Americana (bringing me that much closer to my big slice of Europa). In each position I encountered individuals who need badly to be considered and reminded me that everyone suffers their own personal drama, even when I assume (dramatically) that mine’s the only one.
My roommates always ask me how I picked up the skills that I have to complete these jobs and wonder at the variety, but it only takes one skill which I happen to have in abundance. You can be anything that you want (or a number of different things at once) if you have confidence in your own ability to problem solve. Whether the problem is how to curl an entire head of soon-to-be-married blonde hair in 20 minutes, or how to subdue a man that insists he get a second or even a third free notebook, your belief that you can find a sensible solution to any problem—that if there’s something you don’t know how to do, you can learn to—can take you anywhere you want to go.