Saturday, February 13, 2010

Unexpected Perks

So as I've mentioned before, I work for a language learning software company called Rosetta Stone. When they hired me, I was more desperate for a job than I'd ever been. This was my first winter trying to survive as a face painter on the off-season and it did not pan out. Hellooooo ramen noodles. So, after working over a month for $10 a day (face painting = commission), I hopped on Craigslist and started sending out the ol' resume. And then the the re-written resume. And then the rewritten resume with cover letters. No one even emailed me back. It was absurd! I never have trouble find a job. I'm not sure if you know this, but I quite closely resemble an Animaniac (in appearance and personality) and most employers think having a cartoon on-board is good for business.

(in midnight sun in northern Sweden)

(at Familia Sagrada in Barcelona, Spain)

I must have applied for at least 30 jobs before I got a call back. The first was a kiosk cafe in an office building. I had 2 very long interviews (yes two, for a kiosk) that ended in a phone call saying the job was between me and someone else so they flipped a coin to decide... and I lost. They actually left that in a message on my phone. A few weeks later, they emailed me asking if I wanted to come in for a third interview (THIRD!) along with another series of interview questions that I was supposed to answer, again. I wrote back asking them to clarify that they were asking me to do a third in person interview after already conducting two lengthy in person interviews on two of my days off where I met both owners and talked at length about my experience and background. And to their slew of idiotic questions ("Can you make change quickly in your head? Are you a team player?") I answered, "Yes, I promise you I have what it takes to work at a cafe... as I told you in the interviews when I answered these same questions, and as my background in working in cafes clearly shows. It's not exactly rocket science."

I did not hear back from them.

Thank god.

Then Rosetta Stone called me. And I took the job, graciously. I was very excited about the prospect of learning languages for free (despite my fear that I would totally suck at it- which it turned out I totally don't. Yay Polish!), getting paid, and eating something more than Thai peanut noodles every night. You could say that my interest in my job was very 1-sided. Educate ME, pay ME, feed ME. I hadn't expected anything more. I should learn to stop expecting.

When I first started face painting, I thought it was going to be an impersonal slap-paint-on-face-you-look-great-NEXT sort of exchange. I thought that the people at the end of my brush would just be contoured canvases plopping down in my chair, getting up, plopping down, getting up, and at the end of the week I'd make a tidy sum off them. But then I realized that it was more than that. A whole lot more.

These people, especially the children, were not just getting a random images slapped onto their cheeks. They were choosing what they wanted to be transformed into, what face they wanted to show the world, what persona they would embody for a day. Sometimes these choices were very brave- the little boy who wanted to be a pink butterfly with purple lipstick and sparkles- despite the protests of his teacher and the ridicule of the classmates. The girl who wanted to be batman- "NOT batGIRL", while her mother told anyone who would listen that "That girl ain't right. The only thing that make her cry is when I threaten to put her in a dress. She THINK she a BOY but SHE NOT!" The woman who had just spent months in the hospital who told me she thought she was going to die, but she didn't want to die without getting her face painted at least once. She became a tiger.

(Pierce, me, and Dave with our faces paint on tour)

Gender expression, self-assertion, strength... all these things came from the end of my brush. And that was only part of my job. A face painter is also there to make people feel safe, validated, to tell them that whatever face they want to show is ok. I became the authority on rights and wrongs in face painting- telling Dads that if their boys wanted glitter then they would sure-as-heck get glitter, and if they (the Dads) didn't like it then I would be sure to leave the glitter off their faces when they got them painted. I told Moms who fidgeted when their little girls wanted to be Spiderman how great it is to have raised a little girl who wants to save the world. "Beats the heck out being barbie, doesn't it?"

Face painting certainly wasn't just a series of contoured canvases, and I was certainly more than a moving paint brush. And as I've come to realize, my new job isn't just selling language learning software to anonymous passersby, and I'm more than a saleperson. I had expected to be able learning languages for free. I expected working in a temperature controlled building, having a cool boss, working alone. All great perks. But a perk I hadn't expected is the impact my enthusiasm for language and travel would have on people, and in return, what impact their inspiration would have on me.

I don't interact with normies at length very often. My own personal circle of friends is mostly grumpy old hardcore kids and society-drop out types. When I'm face painting the maximum time I chat with someone is about 3 minutes, and that's while I'm also talking to their child ('Keep your chin up for me... good job... do you want sparkles?) The longest conversation I've had as an on-duty face painter was with a woman who is a professional clown, and that was mostly just me grilling her for how she got into it, how she learned, where she performed, and her favorite balloon animals. But at Rosetta Stone, I talk to normies for up to an hour at a time. Once we get past the fact that I have tattoos and they don't (sighhhh) and establish that we're coming from different places but that's ok, we start talking language and all surrounding it. And that's where my job stops being just work.

Technically my job is sales. I demonstrate the product, I answer questions, I try to convince the person in front of me to buy. I'm pretty good at it, but the "product" really sells itself. Because, as I tell people when they protest the price, that I'm not really selling a product. ("Well technically I am, but...") Then I explain how the ability to speak another language isn't really a "product", it's a skill- a skill that can alter their entire lives. Once you understand another language, you could pack up and move to a city across the world, find a new culture that may suit you better. You could meet someone who will become your best friend, and you two will grow old together, laughing all the way to the end in _____ (pick a language, any language.) You could meet the person you'll fall in love with. You could find new words that define things you thought were undefinable, find your self sorted out more clearly, use language that conveys precisely what you have to say. ("Language frames thought.") You can do anything you want, but you can do none without first learning the language. I'm not saying this because I'm trying to sell them, I'm saying this because it is true.

If they want, I tell them about my travels. I tell them about my first time in Europe, and how it wasn't until I got to Poland that I felt like I was on another planet. The buildings still ravaged from World War 2. Stumbling into Medieval courtyards. The juxtaposition of American movie posters and ancient buildings. The foreign flavors of borscht and fried cabbage. The distinct lack of English speakers and how I knew if I got lost I would be SCREWED! How exhilarating that thought was.

(photos from my first trip to Poland:)

Once you start down a new path, others branch off of it. In my trip to Europe, I (kind of) conquered my fear of flying. During my few days in Poland, I knew that if I could be there, I could be anywhere. And everywhere. The whole world opened to me, and I knew that I'd be globe-trotting forever because of it.

Then sometimes people well up with tears. Sometimes hey tell me their secret long-abandoned dreams of wanting to travel to some far off place. How I make those desires feel "important." I tell them that's because they are important (duh.) It's funny, punk rock taught me the importance of self (DIY) education, encouraged me to follow my dreams, connected me to a network that enabled my travels- all of which I take for granted, and all of which I forget that normies don't have. So through my job as a language software sales-girl comes the spreading of punk rock ethics to normies, and just like these ideas spoke to me, they speak to them as well. Funny, isn't it? In the end, whether they buy or whether they don't, we stand on opposite sides of the counter, reaffirming the other's desires and encouraging the other to learn language, travel widely, and love passionately.

Today at work I talked to 2 people today, and only 2, and they each told me how inspired they were not just to learn a language, but to change their lives. And if they follow through and I had anything to do with it, well, that's quite a job perk. As for me? I started learning Spanish... you know... to supplement my Polish. The more paths to walk the better...

Do Widzenia!

1 comment:

  1. Have you sold the software to a hardworking farmboy? Getting one shot to impress an Italian supermodel?