I have spent the last six and a half years dabbling in higher education, with very little to show for it, except, perhaps, debt. Most days I feel like I am tilting at windmills. I’m chasing this elusive degree that escapes my grasp again and again. My own shortsightedness has created an indomitable giant out of a relatively small thing: finishing.
To describe my path in detail would take far too long, so let’s suffice it to say that I’ve been to six different schools, taken a slew of classes–most of which were very interesting– and met many people who I wont see again. I didn’t think very much about the fruit of all this labor. I never spent much time contemplating what I was working towards, because that was too nebulous for me. The future was an amorphous cloud of possibilities, hazy and intangible, making me dizzy if I stared at it too long. I was fumbling around, doing whatever appealed to me at the time, all the while proclaiming that I was on track, except I never claimed to know where the track was going, nor did I mention how it was circuitous.
I ran out of momentum. I hit a dead-end, a wall, a roadblock. I took a hiatus from school and decided to just work. HA. Pretty stupid. I’ve mentioned before that I had been suffering from unemployment, the economical disease that has become the blight of our country. I, and thousands of others in LA county alone, spent the summer trolling job sites, visiting web-based career fairs, and canvasing local businesses, completely unlucky and very burnt out. I longed for something to do to keep me occupied.
Then, when I had given up all hope of ever paying my towers of bills, I received a phone call about a job for an accounts receivable position I didn’t even remember applying to. A friendly man on the other end of the line told me very little, chatted with me about nothing important, asked if I had any experience with Quickbooks, and then told me to come in for an interview on the following Monday. I had been very honest with him, admitting that my background wasn’t in accounting, that I had only minimal experience with Quickbooks, or any accounting software, and that I would be very pleased to come in on Monday. When I hung up the phone, I realized that I had no idea what company he was from. I had an address and an appointment, and thought, what the hell?
I did some research on what Accounts Payable even was, looked at some screen shots of Quickbooks, and drove to my appointment. I didn’t feel apprehensive, most likely due to the numbness I had developed from all of the previous job rejections, and I went into the nondescript office building (20 minutes early) very relaxed.
For whatever reason I didn’t think that not knowing anything at all about the company I was interviewing for was detrimental. Every website about job interviews will tell you the opposite, but like I said, I was numb. I grabbed a business card from a little stack on the counter in the waiting room, hoping to get an idea of what I was going into. When I read the words “International Forklift Co.” I nearly started laughing. A forklift company? Accounting department in a forklift company. This was going to be far outside my comfort zone.
When I met with Javier, the president of the company, I felt disembodied. I floated after him into his office, sat behind the impressive mahogany desk, and heard myself saying ridiculous things like, “I actually don’t have much accounting experience since I came from a restaurant environment” and “I don’t think Quickbooks will be hard for me to learn, even though I don’t know it very well” and “This is the farthest I’ve gotten in the interview process for a while.” My mouth ran on and on, smiling the whole time, while my brain burrowed into a little, dark, disconnected hole. Luckily for me, Javier was completely content to discuss the difficulties of finding a job, completely ignored my lack of experience, and seemed very excited to introduce me to his VP, Sal.
Sal explained to me that they had seen many applicants, some of which had immense accounting experience and college degrees. My heart sank. Javier was jovial, upbeat and nice. He was the head of the company, but Sal was in charge. It was Sal who would be my direct supervisor, so it was his opinion that really mattered. My brain woke up and clapped a muzzle on my mouth before I could say anything stupid. I listened to his description of the job, asked intelligent questions, explained that I had experience with invoicing and had even worked as an intern in the billing department of a flooring company. I didn’t say that my experience with invoicing amounted to filing and that I scanned documents in the billing department, but didn’t actually handle any accounts. However, I won points with my philosophies on customer service.
Apparently the forklift industry is extremely competitive. There are several big forklift companies vying for accounts, as well as hundreds of smaller, mom and pop style forklift companies that will charge half the price. The only way to compete is to be friendlier, more accommodating, and provide the best customer service around. I know how to do that. Working as a waitress in a neighborhood bar on the border of Oakland and Berkeley–a neighborhood full of wealthy, demanding, egocentrics–prepared me for pretty much anything forklift customers could throw at me. I described some of my customer service philosophy to Sal. I told him that my favorite thing to do was to make a customer who came into the restaurant angry, frustrated and expecting the worst time of their life, leave smiling, happy, and promising to come back.
Sal shook my hand at the end of the interview, told me he would discuss the possibility of my employment with Javier, and cautioned me not to get my hopes up, as I had no real accounting experience and no degree. I went home with a confusing combination of feelings roiling in my stomach. I felt that I did well, I felt that I did terrible, I felt that I really should have gotten my degree, and I felt hungry.
Two hours later, Javier called me, “Reyna. Hi. It’s Javier. You got the job. Can you start tomorrow?”
I do not, for even one minute, feel that this was anything but luck and the power of personality. For half a second I thought, see, I don’t need a degree! I got a job! But then I considered the pay check: paltry, the hours: long, the actual job: boring. I sit at a cramped desk and invoice work orders. It is far from glamorous. There is no room for advancement, it isn’t going to get harder or more challenging–infact, the opposite is true–and although it is giving me priceless job experience, it will in no way supplant the necessity for a degree.
If anything, I am more motivated now to finish college. I’d like to have a more glamorous job, not that there is anything wrong with what I’m doing now, but I’m spending most of my time trying to figure out how to spend my time at work. I think something more challenging may be in order, but I know that wont happen unless I can get that piece of paper. So here goes the next chapter in the higher education story: college number seven–I just have to get in.
It is time to finally slay the giant, admit it’s a windmill, and move on with my life.