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I was a Girl Scout for a number of years.  I started as a Brownie, then dropped out because I hated selling cookies. My mother had this notion in her head (for reasons still unknown) that I should sell 100 boxes in my first year so that I could get the “100 Boxes” badge for my Brownie sash.  This idea sounded very good in theory, as that sash was the ugliest of browns, and I hadn’t really earned any badges other than the ones you just get for showing up.  In practice, what we both failed to realize, is that I hate selling things, and I am shockingly bad at it even as an adorable, freckled little kid, which should have meant that all I needed to do was smile and proffer a box of Thin Mints.

When I was Brownie age–must have been second grade, I was shy around strangers.  This is certainly not a bad thing since it’s something I was taught to be to avoid being kidnapped, but it was tremendously unhelpful in the art of cookie selling.  My mother dragged me from door to door trying to persuade me to go up alone and sell someone some overpriced (but delicious!) cookies, and I just wouldn’t do it. If she got me to the door, I certainly wouldn’t smile.  Finally, she acquiesced and went up with me, eventually she just let me stay in the car or at home because my foot dragging was just too much to deal with.  That is one of the nice things about my mother, my brother and I both realized early that she had little patience for incompetence.   That realization got us both out of many, many unpleasant tasks.

I earned my badge, sewed it on my sash, and then promptly quit vowing that I would never again sell a cookie.  Over the years my mother would bring home box after box of girl scout cookies that her co-workers would sell at work.  “I don’t know why I never thought to just do that,” she remarked, “It really saves time.”

Years later, a friend convinced me to come back to the troop.  By that point, I would be automatically upgraded to Girl Scout (no more of that Brownie crap) just by virtue of my age.  I liked the idea of  earning a promotion for doing nothing other than getting older, but I was wary of scouting.  “It’s fun,” she assured me, “Besides, you can always quit.”  That is the kind of convincing I respond well to, so I demanded that my mother buy me an ugly green vest (“I have to wear it to meetings or they’ll laugh at me!” I said), which I never wore, and gave it another shot.  By this point, my brother was a Boy Scout, and had a Swiss Army Knife, which I coveted, so I figured that if he was learning and doing cool stuff, I might as well too.

Of course, I never got a Swiss Army knife, until I bought one for myself years later, but I actually do have fond memories of my time as a Girl Scout.  Gentleman Scholar asked me recently, “what do you actually do as a Girl Scout? Do you guys camp and stuff?”  I had to think about that, because I honestly never quite knew what the point of it all was.  Boy Scouts is very cut and dried, everyone knows what they do, but the point of Girl Scouts, at least my personal experience with it, seemed to be quite ambiguous.

I remember vividly when I was a Brownie, we had a cooking lesson one day.  As our troop leader was not, apparently, much of a cook, we made ants on a log and then mixed a can of corn with a can of chicken with stars.  It was insanely delicious, and I frequently made it for myself over the years.  I get embarrassed actually thinking about what we did and learned because it seems to antiquated and 1950s housewife.  Because I have a huge crush on Mike Rowe, I’ve read his wikipedia page more than once, and learned that he was an Eagle Scout.  That’s a title that carries weight and prestige–I don’t think Girl Scouts have an equivalent, do they?

Regardless, I’m sure the scouts of today are quite different than the scouts of my time, and I tried to find out by being an assistant troop leader, but no one ever called me back (still a bit bitter).  What I finally told Gentleman Scholar to sell him about why scouting was awesome, was the series of weeks when we talked about hobbies.

Everyone has hobbies, or is supposed to have hobbies, I’ve talked about this before at length.  Except, just like I often struggle to understand what people do for work, I also don’t quite get what people do for hobbies.  Gardening, running, knitting–these are all pretty obvious and straightforward, but I have a sneaking suspicion that people out there are either pursuing some pretty unusual hobbies that they don’t talk about, or watching more tv than they’ll admit to, also that lack of hobbies or things to do is why people end up having kids.  Since my hobby for many years was going to college or grad school, and the whole lifestyle that goes with that, I still don’t have an hobbies besides running, drinking and reading.

In the hobby exercise that we did for Girl Scouts, each girl had either one meeting or part of a meeting to talk about a particular hobby that she did.  It could be anything, the more unusual the better, and even in our small group, we had some good, weird stuff.  One girl taught us to make gum-wrapper chains.  This was fantastically rewarding to me because the girls in Babysitters Club books were always making gum wrapper chains and they never explained how to do it.  Learning, finally, how to do this made me feel somehow more normal, and more like a character in a novel.  Another girl taught us how to latch hook, which was amazing because we had always had this hideously ugly latch-hooked scene hanging on the wall in our house, and I always wondered how it came to be.  After each meeting, I would rush out to get the supplies necessary to try this stuff out, and then abandon it after a few weeks, but it was fun to try something new.

The best part was that though some of these hobbies were a bit embarrassing, each girl started out a bit sheepish, then transitioned to authoritative, and finally landed on proud.  It was like all of a sudden, this weird thing that you learned from your grandma was cool.  So I still don’t really know what real Girl Scouts do, I suspect it’s better than this, but this was what we did, and it was pretty awesome.  Thankfully, selling the cookies didn’t render me unable to enjoy eating them, or I’d probably be a lot more bitter about the whole thing.

work_for_myself_bannerA while ago, a friend of mine did a radio piece about crappy jobs.  I helped out and told her some stories about my more colorful experiences. Once it was all edited, a group of people met  in the basement of a restaurant to listen it the finished product.  It was interesting, hilarious at times, but I found myself annoyed on more than one occasion with the attitude of the some people interviewed.

At least two people described hateful work experiences, and then said “it was then that I decided to work for myself.”  The tone used to say that was a sort of smug “I can’t be penned in by others’ expectations and rules,” and it just grated on me.  It sounded spoiled, obnoxious, and immature.  Isn’t working for yourself the dream of many people that they never quite get to realize, or have to work very hard for years to achieve?  Somehow these 20-something hipsters have one lousy experience and then decide to shrug off the yoke of oppression, and answer to no one. Of course these are all assumptions about the people who said that–I don’t know who they are, but I picture someone who still receives a healthy allowance from his or her parents, and earns little-to-no-money making eco-friendly shoes or being an urban farmer.

Around the time I heard this radio piece, I read a short article about entrepreneurs who have manage to successfully work for themselves because they simply did not have the temperament to work for other people.  One example was Penelope Trunk, whose blog I actually read because despite her rampant narcissism, she makes some good points.  She recounted how she was fired from an ice cream shop for refusing to scoop flavors she disliked (something like that, anyway). To that I say: what the hell is wrong with you?  Did you not expect that that would become an issue before even applying for the position?

This may be my Midwestern work ethic is showing, but I’ve always had the attitude– do your job.  The article was praising people who refuse to fall in line, or who are too creative to work for “the man.”  I’m pretty creative, but I also live in the real world, and know I need to get paid.  I’ve had terrible jobs, jobs that I hated more than I even believed I was capable of; jobs that sent me into a depression and made me question everything in addition to being low-paying and soulless— but I had to do them, because I had pay rent and eat.

Maybe I don’t understand all of this because I’ve never had a full-time job.  There’s a chance that going to a hateful 9-5 would make something snap in my brain that drives me to create a career where I work for myself, but more than likely I would starve and be homeless before getting that career going.  In my first interview for a library job, they asked me why I wasn’t pursuing writing.  I said that I was, but I’m also realistic enough to know that while I’ll always be a writer, I may never make a liveable wage doing it.

I’ve been working for myself (in a way) all summer, and I’ve never been so bored.  The reason I’m bored, is that I’m learning very little and I never leave the house.  Everything I need to accomplish can be done from my laptop, and so I sit in my chair all day.  I love being able to roll out of bed, work in my pjs drinking my coffee, and still accomplish things; but making my home into a workspace makes me feel like I’m always working or should be working, and also gives me license to take many, many breaks.

I need interaction to feel creative; I need pressure from outside sources; I need to actually make enough money so I can play a little bit as well as work.  Everyone (or maybe just Oprah) says follow your passion, and I’m fine with that, but what I’m passionate about (and I suspect that I’m not alone in this) is not a real job.  Librarianship is something I care about very much, and I’m passionate about certain aspects of it, but when you ask someone “what’s your passion?” it makes the ordeal of figuring out what you want to do with your life that much more difficult. My cat gets to follow his passion, because he will be taken care of no matter what, but that’s not how people should live.  In return for his care, I expect him to pay attention to me when I want him to, and wait to be fed until I feel like getting up–he has no control.  You should have to deal with something unpleasant to get to the good–otherwise how do you do tell the difference?

Mike Rowe of Dirty Jobs said something similar, a lot more articulately at a TED conference recently–you should watch the video, he’s pretty dreamy and has a great voice.