In university I took on several jobs to help ease the financial burden on my parents. During my Law degree at the University of Wales, Cardiff, I was a Student Warden at my hall of residence and I had various jobs at the students union.
Between my LLB and MBA I secured a job at the Welsh Office, the Home Office for Wales. It was the time of the outbreak of mad cow disease (BSE). I would liaise with farmers in South West Wales, and ensure their herds were incinerated to facilitate compensation. It was a terrible, hellish time for cattle farmers in the UK, but that is a story for another day.
During my MBA I had a greater finance gap to cover. My office job, even combined with the students union work, was not enough. But a friend told me about a factory where the pay was fairly good, I went and registered immediately for two shifts weekly.
We would go in at 7pm and work till 7am on a production line in a massive bakery. My job was to stack English crumpets on a fast moving conveyor belt. For hours I would stand there, stacking, stacking stacking… if you paused for a moment the crumpets would pile up and the machines would be switched off. No shift could afford that. We had targets. And so we worked, fast, fast, fast, so fast… Mindless work, stacking.
For the first few weeks I had nightmares that I could not keep up with the machine… I would wake up in a sweat, my hands moving, stacking imaginary crumpets! After a few weeks on the job the tips of my fingers became sore and tender, soon after that they were cut and bleeding. We wore gloves but I would buy plasters and wrap my fingertips thick and tight to alleviate the pain and stop the callous skin from developing. When I first got there the shift manager took one look at me and said, “This one will not survive a shift.” Well, I did. And within a couple of weeks I was one of the fastest hands on the deck!
My toughest days were Wednesdays. I would work the Tuesday night shift at the factory and get home at 7.30am. I just had time to shower and have a bite to eat then head off to my Strategic Management tutorial from 9am to 11am. I loved the subject but sitting through that session was agony, keeping my eyes open was so hard!
Looking back on my life I am so thankful for those jobs. Like a gem in the rough that needs polishing, we all need experiences that help shape and mould us…
My work in the students union taught me how to deal with people, all kinds of people… Some very pleasant and civilized, some a little too pleasant (ahem!), others drunk, and some racist and just plain nasty.
At the Welsh Office I learnt how to deal with people facing a crisis. How to convince a devastated Welsh farmer that we are indeed trying to be of help. How to move a person from furious and frustrated to calm and focused on making the best out of a bad situation.
And from that factory job that I loathed so much I learnt an incredible skill… The art of very serious multitasking. Moving swiftly, compartmentalizing your thoughts and actions even as you execute multiple activities. I was always a very fast reader, and clear thinker… now my hands were fast too. I would stand on that production line dreaming of a million different things, mentally walking through statutes, case -law and and case-studies, planning my essays and projects, visualizing my future, and all the while never missing a beat, nor a crumpet.
Every cloud has a silver lining they say, and indeed that is true. In every struggle there is a blessing. There will be a season when you feel like you are in hiatus, everything seems out of reach and life is so difficult. You will ask yourself, “Where will I get my big break?”, but the opportunity will not come to you, you must create it. When in purgatory there is an end game, focus on it and work towards it for your time in situ will not last forever. Like Jospeh and Daniel and Esther in the Bible you must prepare yourself for your purpose and you will rise to it when the time comes.
Be strategic, work hard, and from every experience take knowledge and gain understanding. Your time in purgatory will make your eventual success all the sweeter… for if we have not been drenched in the sweat of hard work and the tears of disappointment and struggle, how can we the truly appreciate the sweetness of success?