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The Office

The Office Essentials
The Office Essentials

I have my own office. An office with a door, a desk, a com­puter, a phone, a white­board and draw­ers. I also have a very cool mag­netic pass to get around, one with my pic­ture on it. I have a favourite lunch place and I hate Mon­day morn­ings. I got a new office job. I feel like a lucky girl.

I loved teach­ing. Yet, after four years, I decided it was time for a change. Teach­ing is drain­ing and doesn’t pay much, plus the school’s success was linked to its ability to get new contracts with government agencies—not easy in the mid­dle of the recession but for us, teachers, no new contracts = no work hours.

Teach­ing taught me a lot. I was 22 years old when I started and my stu­dents, all civil ser­vants, were usu­ally at least twice my age. I didn’t know much about Canada at the time and I knew even less about the gov­ern­ment, pol­i­tics or sec­ond lan­guage train­ing for that mat­ter. I learned as fast as I could because every morn­ing, I was fac­ing a class of exec­u­tives who, for the most part, would have prob­a­bly rather be swim­ming with sharks than learn­ing French. Being taken seri­ously, both because I was an immi­grant and a young woman, wasn’t easy. Trust me–I won’t ever be afraid to speak in pub­lic after this work experience.

Yet, I was ter­ri­fied dur­ing my first classes. At the time, I had very lit­tle work expe­ri­ence. I had worked briefly in France as a stu­dent and then as an intern in Hong Kong. After I arrived in Canada, I had a series of short-time con­tracts, usu­ally in the cus­tomer ser­vice indus­try. I had no idea what I truly wanted to do nor did I know what I was able to do. Uni­ver­sity in France doesn’t exactly pre­pare you for the real world.

I kept on telling myself I should find some­thing bet­ter but kept on post­pon­ing the job search ordeal. Mak­ing barely enough to sur­vive was good enough. I wasn’t picky—my gen­er­a­tion grew up with the fear of unem­ploy­ment and job insecurity.

One day, shortly after I got my per­ma­nent res­i­dent visa, the staffing agency I was work­ing with called me for an assign­ment. When I asked for more spe­cific infor­ma­tion about the job, the woman on the phone was very non­com­mit­tal. Being my usu­ally silly self, I wrote the address down and didn’t ask fur­ther ques­tions. The fol­low­ing morn­ing, I ended up in a ware­house and I learned my task con­sisted of stuff­ing envelopes. I was a fuck­ing human envelope stuffer and no a pro­duc­tive one, mind you. My hands were cold after a few hours and I kept on get­ting paper cuts. But I stood in the mid­dle of the cold hangar all day, fold­ing let­ters, open­ing envelope after envelope and stuffing them with—of all things!—firearms license appli­ca­tions. I was seething with frus­tra­tion. What the hell was I doing there? Wasn’t it any­thing else bet­ter I would be good at?

This was my wake-up call. At the end of the day, I used the manager’s phone to call the staffing agency and let them know I wouldn’t be com­ing in the fol­low­ing day. They didn’t sound sur­prised—it was a shitty job. That night, I spent sev­eral hours writ­ing a bet­ter resume and in the morn­ing I left home with as many copies I was able to print. It was Jan­u­ary and the weather was very cold. I started in one of Ottawa’s main street and dropped off my resumes at a few lan­guage schools. A cou­ple of hours, cold and tired, I went back home. By the time I got there, the first school I had dropped my resume at had already called back and wanted to see me for an inter­view. I was hired, open the spot and started the fol­low­ing day. I stayed there for almost four years. It was my first real job.

Look­ing back, it’s funny that I have never been for­mally trained for any of the posi­tions I had. This is a huge dif­fer­ence between France and Canada. In France, you need to have a degree match­ing exactly the job offer, oth­er­wise you have no chance. In Canada, being will­ing to learn and hav­ing the rel­e­vant skills from pre­vi­ous expe­ri­ences means more than a degree.

So, I’m back to the office cul­ture, which I only briefly expe­ri­ence when work­ing in Hong Kong. It is less crazy and the work is more intel­lec­tu­ally chal­leng­ing. So far so good!

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