Support

How I arrived at Support

This post is my first contribution to this year’s Support Driven 6 Week Writing Challenge, and the perfect way to kickstart this blog.

The ways of support are mysterious. As a young human who would avoid math and small talk, I always thought my jobs would involve neither of those things. Books were my safe place and one of the few things I knew for sure I liked, so after I finished school I decided to get my degree in literature. Not because I had any faith in the career prospects, but as a way to get a few years of all-reading-all-the-time before I had to face the real world.

That real world had real people that I was afraid to talk to. When puberty hit, I stayed away from the drama and tears that seemed to unfold at least once a day during 7th grade. It had seemed like the wisest choice at the time, but years later, as the time to go into the workforce approached, that excellent decision was looking a lot like a mistake. What if I had missed out on crucial empathy-building moments and now would be forever behind in social skills?

But even if you’re convinced you’re an inadequate human, you quickly discover most jobs do involve interacting with other humans. A lot. My first job was at a weekly biking event called CicloRecreoVía. Every Sunday, our group of quasi-volunteers would close down a few streets in a nearby neighbourhood to create a car-free zone. It was beautiful to see families going out for a stroll right on the streets, children riding their bikes or skating without having to look out for cars, and people generally experiencing their neighbourhood in a completely new way, if only for a few hours.

The job itself was great, too: I got to do a bit of (very light) physical labour setting up and taking down the cones and barriers, directing local traffic when people needed to drive in or out of the car-free area, and mostly bike around making sure everyone was having fun and appeasing the occasional grumpy neighbour.

A few months later it became clear to me that I should find more gainful employment, as my family’s financial future was starting to look a bit uncertain. As far as I could tell, my only marketable skill was that I spoke English, an ability that everyone in Chile is taught to believe will open every door. I found an ad for a part time receptionist position at a small apartment hotel that would work perfectly with my university schedule, so I bought my first pair of slacks, my first pair of non-sneaker shoes, and the kind of top my mom would approve of and maybe wear herself.

In full professional costume, I was able to appear competent enough during the interview to make it to a trial shift with the other top candidate. She had experience, was actually comfortable in her work outfit, and seemed generally more at ease than I was, but it was a hotel after all, so my English got me the job. That and my queerness, since I’m sure that made the lesbian couple who ran the place like me more.

My position existed to give each of the three full-time receptionists a day off, so I worked from 1 to 9pm on Fridays to cover the afternoon shift, and from 9pm on Saturdays to 1pm on Sundays to cover both the night and the morning shifts. The overnight shift was fairly brutal, though the fact that we rarely had walk-in guests meant I could usually sleep for a few hours at a time between scheduled check-ins.

Knowing when guests would arrive and leave made the job surprisingly introvert-friendly, because it allowed me to be prepared for most interactions. Calls were always unexpected and therefore stressful, but they got easier. While wearing my one office outfit and smiling all the time never stopped feeling impostor-y, I got a lot more comfortable helping guests, handling my mistakes, and solving problems under pressure.

I left the hotel to work much more reasonable part-time hours at a gym my mom co-owned, where the front desk and slim managerial duties got boring pretty quickly. I also felt I had to keep my queerness a secret since it was a semi posh women-only gym. Being in the closet created a whole other kind of Impostor Syndrome: I was actively hiding a part of myself to fit in. Elsewhere in my life, the master’s degree in publishing I was working toward seemed like it would be useless and my then-girlfriend was ready for a change, too, so we decided to try out Canada for a year.

Arriving in Vancouver four days after Christmas would have been a terrible idea if the 2010 Winter Olympics hadn’t been 6 weeks away. Thanks to the promise of tourists, every place that sold anything was hiring. My first Canadian job interview was a quick chat in which the manager of a pizza place admitted she just wanted to confirm I spoke English, and I started a few days later.

Morning shifts began with chopping veggies, portioning dressing, and folding pizza boxes, and then ramped up the pace at lunch time. Hearing and speaking English with the people choosing their slices was a bit tricky at first, but it was much better than being at the till and struggling to find the right items on the touch screen and to recognize the unfamiliar coins and bills quickly. The whole experience was a crash course in fast-paced customer service, time management, and local candy offerings, since I made a point to bring home treats with my tip money. Not to mention, the leftover pizza slices I sometimes saved from their dumpster fate.

Shifts became less frequent once the olympic craze faded and after a few months I was able to find a job that would actually remain full-time. It was at a family-ran Jewish bakery and deli that had been around for years. I knew close to nothing about Jewish culture (beyond being able to hum a couple of songs from Fiddler on the Roof) so it was an interesting experience. I learned about holidays, traditional foods, a few words in Hebrew and Yiddish, and even got to bake bagels once in a while. Having regular customers made it an ideal setting to practice building relationships and understanding loyalty a bit better, and it was nice to be able to hand make sandwiches for people I had come to know. In terms of the team, there’s nothing like a sandwich-making assembly line to teach you how to work with others, and the fact that my co-workers where so different from me made it really fun.

After about a year I moved into a leadership role where I got to try my hand at managing people, ordering from suppliers, handling stock levels, and get some insight into the bigger picture. I’m still thankful for the opportunity, because on top of everything I learned about myself and about running a business, it was what allowed me to become a permanent resident of Canada. I had spent over three years working at the bakery by that point, so I decided to look for something new.

While working in the food industry I had idealized retail: you didn’t have to make anything on the spot or wash your hands all the time, and your clothes didn’t smell like baked goods at the end of the day. So I was excited when I landed a job at a toy store, but the pace of retail turned out to be far too slow to keep me engaged. I was also used to having enough autonomy to go above and beyond for customers when needed (coffees on the house if we messed up someone’s order, a free cookie while you wait) but being the new person there was no room for discussing or bending company policies.

When I found out Hootsuite was based in Vancouver and hiring for someone to do support in Spanish, I thought I would give it a shot. I was generally tech-savvy and sure that my experience in customer service would come in handy, as would my native language. It took a couple of tries and some time in the customer forum to catch the attention of people in Support and show how I could help out, but I got the job.

Working regular office hours made me feel like a grownup, I enjoyed being able to wear jeans to work, and working at a growing tech company was just cool. The best part was getting to help people in a more meaningful, long-lasting way than I was used to, while learning about our products and the technology behind them.

Thanks to Support Driven, I’ve realized Support can be a path in its own right, and it has inspired me to find areas I can improve in and ways I can polish my craft. As an introvert I still find it hard to believe that I managed to find a job where I’m comfortable helping people. I’m proud of how far I’ve come and excited for all that there is still to learn.

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