Friday, February 4, 2011

Garment Shops and Restaurants

I have been reading this book* lately about what it is exactly that makes successful people, successful.  The other day I was reading the stories of some successful clothing manufacturers from the early 20th century.  The author explained at a certain point the critical nature of being in that business in New York City in that particular generation as opposed to having the kind of job where you just woke up and went to work for someone else every day for thirty years without ever "learning market research and manufacturing and how to navigate the popular culture and how to negotiate with the Yankees who ran the world."  Jobs as day laborers and domestics and construction workers, or working in the fields of the big fruit and vegetable growers.  Because at that time people were purchasing clothes at an alarming rate, mostly for the first time since they had previously been accustomed to making their own at home or paying high prices for tailor-made clothes, and the fashion industry was making its first big boom in the United States thanks to the industrial revolution and Jewish immigrants from Western Europe who could do the work well and cheap.

Being a garment worker in that time and place was not more glamorous than construction or day labor jobs by any means, "but as a garment worker you were closer to the center of the industry.  If you are working in a field in California, you have no clue what's happening to the produce when it gets on the truck.  If you are working in a garment shop, your wages are low, and your conditions are terrible, and your hours are long, but you can see exactly what successful people are doing, and you can see how you can set up your own job."

Hang on tight if you have no idea where I am heading with all this.

Last time I posted I said I was going to tell our story and I think this is as good enough place to start as any: our seemingly menial jobs that could turn out to be the steppingstone to something huge.

I have a college degree from a decent four year University and even some graduate school work under my belt, but since I graduated with the expensive piece of paper that qualified me as a professional, the only thing I have really done professionally is wait tables.  My dad thought I was flushing my degree down the toilet, of course, and I was embarrassed about that for a long time.  I was constantly trying to find that something I could tell people I was moving on to so they wouldn't think this was all there was to me.  I really cared how people perceived me.  Then I stopped caring so much and my dad gave up hope that I would ever do anything with my degree and I ended up meeting some really great people along the way.  Really, I just discovered that this job gave me the things that the author of my book thinks are the keys to finding one's work fulfilling: complexity, autonomy and a correlation between hard work and reward.  I interact with hundreds of people in a given week and learn and refine relational skills, hospitality and even cooking.  The better I am at my job the more money I make and the schedule of a server is one of the most flexible there is outside of working for yourself.  Restaurants are not just places where people go to nourish themselves, they are where people celebrate significant life events and conduct matters of business, and I get to be a part of that.  Perhaps one of the most interesting and fateful parts of my job is who I meet.  The last place I worked I had the privilege of winning the favor of a couple of business men who became regulars, then friends, then a critical part of helping my husband and me get this church house.  When I started working at this restaurant in our small town, within the first week I was serving lunch to almost every member of the Chamber of Commerce.  "There is a lot of power in this room," the restaurant owner said.  My point is that I feel like I am at the center of the garment industry in the early 20th century.

Then there is my husband.  He went to a reputable two year technical college and worked for an auto dealership for a while before opening his own small automotive repair shop.  Auto mechanics are not exactly white collared, but they fix the cars of the people wearing suits and they have to know a fair amount about business and they have to deal with a lot of automotive oil.  I'll talk more later about how it all came to be, but the oil business is full of potential and we never would have cracked the industry if not for my guy who fixed cars for a living.

I don't even know how all of this will play into our future-- the people we meet even haphazardly, and the skills and knowledge we acquire-- but I believe it's not hurting.

*the book is "Outliers," by Malcolm Gladwell

1 comment:

  1. Ashley: I just came across your blog, and I'm in awe of the story coming together. Your perspective, honesty and ambition are darn inspiring. Can't wait to hear more.