Unemployable Traveller

Unemployable Traveller

I enjoy reading Matador Network blogs, especially at lunch break of my 7:30-4 factory job. It makes my mind wander and I think of how sick it would be if red macaw crapped on a tourist’s ice cream cone in midair…but then the end-of-break alarm goes off, I blink myself awake and curse as I forgot to eat my unheated lunch. Also the burgers leaked into my bag.

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I’m in shape. Round is a shape. Don’t judge me.

Most of the blogs on Matador are personal travel stories, photography tips and budgeting tricks and variety of semi-useful material, but today I came across something different:

How travelling made me unemployable

Fascinated by unusual title, I read what turned out to be quite a cringeworthy piece that serves as an explanation of why millennial travelers get such a bad rep and are often ridiculed for being intolerable.

For my ultra-relaxed internet lurkers who are too lazy to click the link-here is TL;DR summary*:

“I travel the world mostly to fill my Instagram but after getting the taste of freedom I became unemployable according to society’s norms. Here are 5 ways my ego manifests itself:

  1. I am a free bird and not a team player, I dance in the nude and march to the beat of my own drum.
  2. I don’t have great communications skills, and reply to emails whenever I damn feel like. You can complain but I will not read it probably. Also I will be long gone from here.
  3. My time management skills are lacking as I do only what I want and everything else can go fly a kite.
  4. I don’t take directions from anyone but me (cue Rage Against The Machine: “Fuck you I won’t do what you tell me!!!!!”)
  5. I can’t work out of the office as my ideas are too grand for restraints of a cubicle”

While reading the original post a reasonable question springs to mind: if the author does not stay in one country for more than two weeks, where is the funding coming from? I’d like to think that she runs a profitable blog, or freelances as a photographer/videographer, works with NGO’s or Doctors Without Borders or does remote work, alas nothing about that is mentioned so I’m guessing that the parents pick up the tab. This would also explain the general entitlement, scoffing at money-earning and the “I’m better than you, corporate drones” attitude.

Aside from being poorly written, this compilation of egoism makes the author sound like an airhead who is irresponsible and can’t be trusted with anything that an adult should be able to do. The complete lack of responsibility for her own actions and no hint of maturity or foresight is best summed up in the excerpt of Rule #3: “there is no way I’d be able to manage time to travel and time to have a 9-5, which would likely result in me taking off without telling anyone and being fired via an awkward email that I probably wouldn’t even read”.

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It’s tricky to type with one hand. I facepalmed so hard my skull caved in and my other hand is broken.

My dad told me a story once about an employee his company hired for an IT position. On his first day the dude went out for lunch and apparently sometime during lunch hour he met Don Henley and a little voice inside his head told him: “don’t look back, you can never look back”. He never returned. After couple of days of futile phone calls and emails my dad gave up on trying to reach him. Two weeks later the guy called back, said that he is resigning as the job was not really for him and even asked for a reference. He was clearly way ahead of his time, as these types of attitude were still in their infancy stages 10 years ago.

I am not an experienced world traveler; alas this is neither a possibility nor a priority at the moment. I lived in Russia for a good chunk of my life, and had occasional excursions to Belarus’ and Ukraine, but as a Russian I will tell you that going to either of these places is considered as much of a novelty as going from Toronto to Montreal for weekend (very awesome but it’s still basically the same culture, despite the political break). Aside of eastern Europe I was lucky to go on two vacations to Cuba, Mexico City, and few places in the US of A.

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*Is nice!*

It’s a huge list of countries visited compared to most people, but a laughable one if compared to the exploits of seasoned nomads. Someday I will travel more, and will make sure to savor the experience and take in as much from it as possible instead of simply ticking off items on my travel list and throwing a neutral density filter on a selfie depicting my ass cheeks on a beach with a strategic wedgie.

I find the idea of travelling making you unemployable ridiculous. If anything it’s an opportunity to grow as a person, develop character  as well as to learn more and to see beyond your usual surroundings. If you become unemployable in the process, then it’s not the travelling to blame but the attitude. To counteract the list of unemployable traits, here is my list of why travelling is a worthwhile experience which will arguably make you a better employee and a person in general.

    1. Must be a team player. Adventuring with a group of people will be exponentially better experience if you can get along with people without being a selfish prick. Considering everyone’s plans and interests, compromising on arrangements and resolving shouting matches that will definitely arise will make you the MVP of the team. If you are travelling alone then you develop your “independent work” skills as you are the only one in charge and there is no safety net guarding you against stupid decisions. You will also develop analytical and critical thinking which will save your ass in many situations, I promise.

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      and gravity

       

    2. Must have communication skills. As you travel alone, communication is an essential skill that you will have to cultivate. You have friends and family at home worrying about you, and you must frequently update them on your whereabouts. If you fall of the grid then don’t be surprised when your grandma will show up with search party to have some ponds dragged for your potentially bloated corpse. As a traveler you will be forced to get out of your comfort zone and ask for directions, information, advice, and very likely not in your native language. You will learn to communicate with people, be less shy, and be more humble. You will also learn patience of dealing with different types of people, conflict resolution and compassion. I bet you same skills come handy at work too.2012-02-08-mass-communication
    3. Must have time management skills. Isn’t it a beyyotchh to miss the only train of the day because you were too busy dancing with a tambourine in moonlight and picking your nose? Planning, researching, and scheduling never harmed anyone. Some travelers brag about taking off without a plan or a place to stay, but chance favours the prepared.e39f7fd4travel-fail
      Just as planned!

       

    4. Must be able to take directions. As a solo traveler you are largely in charge of planning your own adventure. You figure out what works for you and what does not and it’s part of critical thinking process. However don’t scoff at people giving you suggestions or telling you how to do something. Analyze instead: is their way better? Is there logic in it? Chances are that they are using a certain procedure because it’s efficient. You are welcome to give improvement suggestions, but don’t assume that you are always right and everyone around is an imbecile.4576470-shamwow-vince-look-of-disapproval
    5. Must be available in-house. This one is trickier to get around as there are more location-based jobs than work-from-home types. However many workplaces offer flex options; you have to ask about it rather than assume the worse. If the office environment is not cutting it for you, explore other career options, there are plenty of amazing opportunities that don’t fit into traditional 9-5 schedule. The obvious benefit of flexible work is that you can use your lunch hour productively.9d6

Summary of everything above: don’t be a dick about travelling and earning money for your adventures.

Also here is a song for those who asked themselves: “Who the hell is Don Henley?”

*the following  summary might be slightly exaggerated

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“it doesn’t feel like a job”

“it doesn’t feel like a job”

Last few months I had a miserable time looking for a job. Despite graduating from a top notch fashion design program and having couple of years of design experience under my belt, a regularly-updated portfolio and a personal site, my work search kept coming up empty. As my finances started pressing I was seeding resumes to anything that sounded not too sketchy, forget about professionally related roles or career growth potential. After months of tailoring my resume, writing individualized cover letters, and even signing up with a few job agencies, I was finally able to score an interview with a sportswear* manufacturer  for a seamstress position.

My first interview involved having a meeting with CEO, a head designer, top-tier manager and a human resources representative. I state again that it was a seamstress position which hardly requires such an extensive meeting, involving such group of people, despite being a small company. I brought copies of my resume and obviously my design portfolio, which they were not too keen to look at. As I was going over my job experience and previous positions, I mentioned my teaching contract that I did over the summer which involved mentoring a class of 10 immigrant ladies on sewing skills and industrial sewing machine maintenance. At that point the CEO causally worked in: “What nationalities are the best at sewing then?” This slightly concerned me and I answered that nationality is a lesser determining factor in sewing skills than genuine interest in sewing, willingness to learn and attention to detail. It then got awkward for everyone.

Later in the week I receive an invitation for a second interview that would involve a sewing test. A sewing test is a fairly regular trial for a seamstress position that involves using a machine to sew a small sample and lasts between 30 minutes to an hour at most. The point is to determine ones competence and to see that they are not a liability to keep in the studio, as well as to see how well they sew. I was surprised to learn that the sewing test for this company involved cutting out 12 pairs of spandex shorts with a rotary knife, cutting out several intricate appliques, then zigzag-sewing the appliques on a spandex backing. Of course as part of the interview, no compensation would be provided. So after cutting out all the stuff that needed to be cut, sewing appliques, I was then presented with a new task of sewing those 12 pairs of shorts that I earlier cut out. After sewing couple of pairs I stated that tasks completed so far should be an accurate representation of my sewing skills, without needing to repeat the shorts-sewing another 10 times. This took total of 3.5 hours of my unpaid time.

Next day I received an offer of employment for the job, and while that was not exactly thrilling I had to take it for the time being. My first day involved cutting out more stuff similar to what has been done during the test, and working on the serger to complete items. M*, who is a senior seamstress, was assigned to keep an eye on me, mentor, and answer any questions. No formal training has been provided at any point, and expectations were for me to start on regular production. Things started off ok but M seemed progressively more and more annoyed of me asking to check my work or on the work of the machine. We clearly had some language barrier issues since I have a thick soviet-spy accent and she has really heavy Spanish one. It felt like she did not understand half of what was coming out of my mouth, and it provoked a lot of shrieking and eye-rolling to my relatively straightforward questions. I got a bit fed up with this and thought twice next time to ask her anything. As I was sewing I was constantly told to speed up and reminded on the amount of items I need to be doing per minute. Which I assume is fair but not feasible during my first week of work at the very least, and considering the training was nearly non-existent.

The CEO started the business as a designer and a seamstress way back in the day, and when she saw that M’s instructions are not helping, she demonstrated to me how she sews. Upon seeing that she is cutting a lot of corners and not matching the seams properly I asked her about what quality she expects from my work. She replied with “I don’t care if the seams line up, I need to get this done fast”. Later on when I decided to sew a bit faster and as she demonstrated when the head designer and M told me that my work is sloppy and will not pass quality control. A reasonable remark of “that’s what the CEO demonstrated” was debunked with “CEO does not care about quality but we get to deal with remakes when it does not pass the quality control or when customers return it”.

I was let go before my probation period of 3 weeks ended, and before my pay could reach the soaring 12.50/hour. The experience was overall unsatisfactory on many levels, including the fact that the pay was insulting considering the skill level one has to have to operate the equipment and sewing very difficult material. It was not a huge loss, and my biggest disappointment was forgetting my metal fork in their kitchen. The HR rep was really nice and agreed to provide me with a reference, saying that I should call Her directly, not the CEO.

Out of curiosity I checked out the company’s Facebook page and a website and was confronted with what can be best described as Word98 clip art graphic design effort.

edited job poster

This is not the job ad that I replied to, and was posted in October, few months prior to me applying to this job. I will not stop and comment on the visual aspect of this ad, as we all have eyes and can appreciate the effort put into designing this. I found the title quite amusing as it only partially holds true: it does not feel like work, but it does indeed feel like underpaid labor. I also got severe back pain from sitting at the serger for 8 hours a day, but it’s partially to blame on my bad posture habits. There is not a whole lot of creative input in a monotonous task of sewing orders of the same item all day and the team I’d hardly describe as dynamic. While most of the people were actually allright, the team largely consisted of immigrant ladies with spoken English worse than mine, who were working there during the busy season and would get laid off to live off EI during the summer, before getting re-hired in the fall (not exaggerating, this employment method was recited to me by the head designer). It was a bit sad considering that these ladies perhaps did not have better job prospects and I wish them all the best. Also after snooping around on the company Facebook account for a bit I noticed that on company photos from 2014 almost no faces looked familiar, leading me to think that employee loyalty is not the highest there, and the workforce is quite dispensable.

The takeaway from this experience is:

  • Over 10 years of various employment I can attest that companies will squeeze as much free work out of you as you let them so don’t fall into that trap. A better writer than me summed this up in a nice dialogue, followed by an illustration.
  • Any experience is a good experience to see what kind of work you might want to do in the future, but in many cases what work you would rather avoid ever again
  • Make a solid business website-there are a lot of resources for it. If technology is not your thing don’t be stingy and pay a developer/designer to make one for you.

*For intents and purposes of this blog, I will not be providing any real names or business contact info as it is irrelevant and not the point. The point is to narrate the experience and the account for the events that actually happened, to entertain your boredom and hopefully warn others about the work environment they might experience.