Expectations vs. Reality
In the spring of 2018 I was applying to any and all jobs I could find. After several trying years of work experience in two wildly different fields and approximately zero college experience, me, my high school diploma, and my funny looking resume did our damndest to find something.
My prospects usually fell under 2 categories,
- Long shots: jobs that I was under qualified for, that could change my standard of living, bring new and exciting challenges, and seemed very very far away for someone with no degree.
- Steps backward: jobs I was qualified for that come with deeply unsatisfying pay, location, and/or hours that I might be able to tolerate long enough I could find something better.
Enter Indy Hall
Of probably dozens of job descriptions and applications, Indy Hall’s were immediately unique. Besides describing the ideal candidate, the job description and requirements were vague and intriguing. But there was one neon sign of a sentence which really got me curious:
And then, right below it:
Was this real? Could I be hired somewhere that wouldn’t exploit of my lack of direction and inexperience, but would instead provide safe environment for exploration?
Then I saw it, the most beautiful thing I could imagine:
I started my application within seconds.
It was a handful of short answer questions, simple enough. I took a cue from the vague and inviting job listing and designed my answers to leave whoever was reading them wanting more.
Within a few days I got an email thanking me for my application, letting me know when I could expect to know if I had progressed to the interview process, and encouraging me to ask any questions in the meantime. After months of having no idea what was going on in the minds of people who may or may not hire me, I took the unusual transparency as another symbol of hope and started to get excited.
The rest of the interview process was equally unusual, and bizarrely pleasant.
After an initial conversation via zoom with Alex, the founder of Indy Hall, I was invited to see the space and meet Adam and Sam, tummlers to the stars, to ask questions and get more details about the role, as well as meet Johnny, one of the founding members of Indy Hall, to get details about this place from a community member’s perspective. Of course I was also there to give them an idea of what working with me would be like, but the entire 3 hour process was so reciprocal that I never felt like a bug under a microscope. As it turns out, feeling seen as a person and not a piece of paper is quite pleasant- who would’ve thought. To this day I don’t think any of them have seen my resume. They all confirmed the impossibly ideal job I had read about in the post.
When I left that final interview I was warding off trepidatious excitement with a handful of bitter convictions, including (but not limited to):
- There is no way I’m getting this job.
- There is no way it’s as good as it seems anyway.
Luckily for me, both ideas proved themselves to be soundly untrue.
A little over a week later I was offered the position. Over the next six months what was once a too-good-to-be-true dream developed into a delightfully challenging, deeply empowering, and consistently inspiring full time job. I still can’t believe it.
I’ve made it this far, and I haven’t looked back. (I mean, I am now- but for purely journalistic purposes)
The first few weeks were a blur of names, faces, online tools, tours, and note taking, but a glorious blur at that. I don’t think I’ve ever consumed and processed that much information ever. It was utterly exhilarating.
I couldn’t get enough.
Being a passionate learner and a terrible student had me starving for education at school. My entry-level work experience was definitely challenging, but often tested my stamina and work ethic more than my intellect. It wasn’t until I started working at Indy Hall that I was finally able to dig into some juicy challenges, which tested everything.
Some things were harder than others, (it took me 3 months to get over the intimidation of taking attendance and start introducing myself to folks I didn’t recognize) but nothing came close to the challenge of getting everything done, from tedious little chores to huge steps towards project management.
While no two days have ever been same, I began to see patterns emerging.
Daily events remain a constant rearrangement of endless tasks, which I’ve divvied up into categories:
1. Somebody Needs Something aka Perform As Needed
upgrade the account, send a deposit refund, speak fluent printer error, open the vending machine because a bag of chips got stuck, find the missing thing, can’t find the missing thing because we’re out of it so gotta go get more of it, negotiate with at least one of the 14 online tools to get someone the info they have requested, reboot a router, etc.
2. Indy Hall Needs Something aka Perform As Needed
sort the torrential downpour of packages so the mail area isn’t an actual mountain of cardboard, correctly rearrange the circular tables in the gallery, push the chairs in, wipe off the countertops in the kitchen, relocate something off the worktable in the workshop so the surface is usable again, update the notes in Airtable after a tour, etc.
3. Long Term Goal Management aka Get Around To Whenever Possible - or - Shit That’s Tomorrow
reach out to the artists who are performing at Open Hall to see when we can do soundcheck, create the marketing plan for an upcoming event, schedule it, then execute it over the next month, write the next 500 words of the short story, dream about where you want to be in 1 year, 5 years, 10 years and start to work backwards, dream about where Indy Hall could be in 1 year, 5 years, 10 years and start to work backwards, etc.
4. Misc. Extremely Important Stuff aka Fit It In Somewhere Because It HAS To Be Done
help people update their billing info, take attendance twice a day, give tours, write newsletter, update social media, say good morning to everyone as they walk in, etc.
5. There’s Someone Right In Front Of You Who You Could Get To Know Better aka The Most Important, Must Do At Every Possible Opportunity!!
have lunch, learn about their favorite comic books, discuss how great the art store down the block is, commiserate about stupid septa being stupid again, share a giggle after overhearing something purely incredible at the table next to you, comment on their GroupBuzz posts, encourage people through their current challenges and celebrate together when they overcome them, etc.
As Sam tried to warn me, the mind-bending, whiplash-inducing, multitasking required to keep up with daily tasks and long term projects, and staying 100% accessible in the present moment is… substantial to say the least.
Through constant mental gymnastics to decide “what the heck should I be prioritizing right this second?”, I formulated some (imperfect) methods of prioritization out of pure desperation to not fuck up.
Here’s one of them:
[caption id=”attachment_1684” align=”alignnone” width=”3024”] A flowchart which is very hard to describe that is basically saying, “hang out with folks as much as possible, make sure all your work is being done, and don’t forget to eat breakfast”[/caption]
I also, unsurprisingly, learned some extremely hard fought lessons.
So, given all of this, I’m going to attempt to speak to my past self. Maybe I can help her by sharing some pearly nuggets of wisdom that came from this past 6 months.
Dear Anaia whose mind is swimming with excitement and uncertainty,
Hi, it’s me! (That is, you, from the future.) I’m writing because foresight is a gift only I can give you.
Hope this helps:
Mistake Like You Mean It
I know very well that you have always confused recklessness with a willingness to mess up. It’s a deliberate misunderstanding, one that has often led to commitments dissolving and leaving you smug, thinking to yourself ‘Good! I didn’t want to do it anyway.’ But guess what?
Mistakes are not excuses for doing the wrong thing on purpose.
Mistakes are beautiful, beautiful gifts. Mistakes are opportunities to learn and then do better.
It’s time to learn to love them, and it’s time to learn it out quickly, because you have too much to loose and you have worked too hard to give up. So here’s a little epiphany for you, dear Anaia.
Moments of insecurity are not your evil over loads.
There is no Eye of Sauron in the sky forcing you to walk away from a challenge because you might fail. Quite the opposite, there’s an Alex in the gallery who is ready for you to mess up, ready to help you fix it, waiting there to tell you to try again. He will probably tell you a funny story about messing up.
It’ll be fine.
The truth is you might not be good enough. Maybe your first, or second, or 8th attempts will all come up short. That is not reason enough to not try. Furthermore, by refusing to try you sacrifice ever finding out how to do the thing. I can say with mathematical certainty that not trying is never worth not finding out how to do the thing. It just doesn’t happen.
You do not like hearing this and I risk you throwing this letter away by putting this first.
(Should that impulse arise, just consider the irony until it’s unbearable, and then keep reading.)
There’s Room for Your Ambition After All
Your insistence to figure everything out alone, willingness to plunge headfirst into adventures big and small, and desire for growth, change, and freedom have made a lot of things more difficult than necessary, particularly in regards to finding employment. You are so damn stubborn about this it’s ridiculous.
Maybe if you were less privileged, less confident, and less ambitious you would negotiate with that deep and abiding stubbornness. Maybe one day you will be forced to choose between your livelihood and your affinity for independence and adventure. I know you are thinking that maybe that time had come, and I know that was causing you a lot of pain. Good news, friend: it hasn’t.
You have wrangled an incredible opportunity - one that not only allows you to grow, but demands that you work as hard as you can to grow as much as possible.
(I know, that thought still makes me want to cry.)
But now, for the first time, that open-ended, alluring, Just Work Hard Enough That You Exceed Your Own Expectations is matched by support. Support from people are generous with their wisdom. People whose careers, attitudes, and abilities are inspiring.
You can be independent and ask for help.
You can get help when you ask for it.
More than that: you will.
Make Friends (With Discomfort)
For someone who regularly sprints off of metaphoric cliffs and into the unknown, you are a great big baby when it comes to being uncomfortable.
When you are waiting to hear back about this job and considering what you would do if you are offered the position at Indy Hall, this childish aversion to even the slightest discomfort is tugging at your shirt and whining to be tucked in for a nap. You are well within you rights to say “Kindly fuck off, childish aversion to discomfort. I rebuke you with the power of dark goal-attainment magic”
(How I wish it were that easy.)
There is one anticipated discomfort that comes with this job that frightens you more than the others. It’s the same challenge that has stood firmly in front of you, blocking your path, many, many times before.
There is tremendous social responsibility that comes with working at Indy Hall. It cannot be overstated. You will be tasked with, at the bare minimum, getting on first-name-basis with hundreds of strangers, build trusting relationships with as many of them as possible, be readily available, every moment you are at work is a moment you must be ready willing and able to help anybody with absolutely anything they need.
This level of interaction is on such a monumentally bigger scale than ever before, you will go into shock a little. (That’s fine. You’re used to it. Remember the cliffs of yore?) You’ve grown through so many challenges, this is just one of them.
Things that make you cringe and hide right now are not doomed to do so. Exposure therapy is real, you’re a badass, and nothing is ever as scary as it seems.
It won’t get easier, but you will get stronger.
With that will come security, peace, and, yes, even comfort that you couldn’t possibly imagine. It will also mean that you are doing your job well, which is extremely important because, as stated before, you are not going to mess this up. Not only that, but you actually like meeting new people, specially Hallers. (You will really like them quite a lot.)
Three birds, one banishment of lingering immaturity. Well done.
Your smile will become freer. “Good Morning!” will float out of your throat effortlessly, countless times, every single day. You will feel pride when folks come to you, for anything and everything, because your good mornings and newsletters are working and people know you are there for them. You will shake hands, give tours, and learn through every minute interaction and every after hours heart-to-heart that this isn’t so bad.
It’s actually really, really lovely.
You will feel a little silly for resisting this charming life for as long as you did, but eternally grateful for pushing yourself into this overwhelming sweetness, that may well have stayed hidden indefinitely if you didn’t push yourself so hard.
Your little community of close friends have taught you how much you need them, how much you enjoy being needed, and just how nice it is to have smart, courageous, weird, interesting, and funny people in your life.
Now you will discover just how big that community can get, and you’re going to like it, too.
I can tell you confidently, Anaia 6 months ago, that I understand your hesitance to believe this will all happen. I know how hard you have worked for other exciting opportunities, and I remember how painful it has been when they ended in disappointment. I also know that you were right not to give up, that it was all worth it, and the best is yet to come. Just trust me on that.
So take a deep breath or two, summon all of your considerable strength, and jump.
This one is really worth leaping for.