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People talk about what they do, what they don’t do, and how they feel about it.
“So, what do you do?”
Ted Skiadiotis, 33
Owner/manager of Skidders Restaurant
St. Petersburg, Florida
Growing up, I barely saw my father. When I was 8 years old, I went to his restaurant in Manhattan and finally figured out what he was doing all day. I’ve worked at this restaurant [Skidders] since I was 13. I started out as a busboy, washed dishes, made pizza, waited tables, and now I’m running the show.
Greek immigrant parents want their kids to be doctors or lawyers. The last thing my mom wanted me to do was to work in a restaurant, but you can’t change who you are.
I was lucky my dad had a business I could fall back on. I took over here in 2005.
I put in 80-hour weeks. And because of my knee injuries—I tore my ACL in both knees—sometimes, I don’t feel good. But there is this pressure that makes me go to work. I think human nature is to be lackadaisical, but work makes me strict. I’m on my feet all day long and that is painful, but I love my job. In the service industry, if you don’t love it, you shouldn’t be in it. Some places, you can tell when the people are miserable. When I see that, it’s disappointing.
If you put enough time into work, it’s not only about the money. You get a certain satisfaction from success—something little, like changing the pancake mix. I changed about forty things from the menu since it opened. That accomplishment doesn’t really have a monetary value. Last month, I made medallions of ostrich. I was proud. I’m at a coffee shop/restaurant in Florida and I’m making medallions of ostrich. I know how to cook, man. I went to the Culinary School of Nick. Nick is my father.
Andrew Cameron, 31
New York City
When I moved to New York [from Ohio] four years ago, I didn’t have a job. My friend introduced me to somebody at the real-estate office and I just fell into it. I never had any intention of going into real estate. I don’t think anybody does. Nobody grows up saying, “I want to be a real-estate agent.” I absolutely hated it. I wanted to work in the nonprofit sector, particularly with immigrants. My parents, sister, uncle, and cousin are all social workers. I told my boss in April that I wasn’t taking any new business and closed my last deal on July 2.
At first, not working was exciting. I spent a lot of time networking, researching, going on informational interviews, and meeting new people. By summer, I wasn’t doing much because I had fallen into a serious depression. I felt like I wasn’t accomplishing anything. Even though I am smart, hardworking, charismatic, talented, and have some contacts, I still wasn’t getting anywhere.
I don’t want to be apologetic when I tell people what I do for a living, and that’s how I felt when I was a real-estate agent. Not that there’s anything wrong with being a real-estate agent, it just didn’t make me feel good. I don’t believe there is such a thing as a dream job. Even if you like the work and think it’s important, a job is a job. No one works for fun. You do it because you have to. You do it because you need to pay your bills and survive. I’m totally expecting whatever job I get, even if I like it, to be a bitch at times. Work isn’t fun. But being out of work is even less fun. I will say that.
Gabriel Bryant, 31
Director of the Young Men’s Initiative at Philadelphia Futures
We are a nonprofit organization that tracks students at the lowest-performing high schools, from high school through college. Along the way, we provide academic courses, after-school courses, and key preparations for college. I work with students in the office, go to various schools, and talk to my young men and my mentors. After school, the kids come to the office, and from there you are troubleshooting problems.
I don’t want to say a cliché, but working with youth and seeing the change happening right in front of you is just a rewarding experience. I felt good when I started working here and feel good now going into my fifth year.
We had this kid in yesterday who graduated high school in 2000. He took a few years off because, you know, life happens. He’s still in our program, though. We’ll see students through all their problems, whether it’s unemployment, pregnancies, or whatever. All of them have my phone number. They all call me after hours or on weekends. I get text messages throughout the day. It’s really an all-encompassing job.
When you work with youth, you have to love your job. Being an adult and working with a teenager, you have to understand that teenagers make mistakes. You have to remember that you were once young and made mistakes.
Some of the parents look at us as saviors. Some of them look at us as babysitters. But in order to really change the kids, you have to put your heart into it. I’m definitely proud of what I do. This is a place where I can effect change.
Christina Kornhuber, 31
Co-owner of Berry Park
New York City
Four years ago, while working at an office job, I realized I had always wanted to own my own business. You wake up in the morning waiting for the day to be over, the week to be over, the month to be over, the year to be over. It just seems like you’re waiting for your life to be over so you can retire and get out of the office. I went to Australia for a year because I was looking to do anything but stare at a computer screen.
I worked in many restaurants and bars throughout college, so it was natural to open a bar. It’s really stressful and scary but exciting because you are building your own business. I’m a hard worker. If I’m working, I want to work for myself. You get a lot more out of it when you are doing it for yourself.
Right now, work is all-consuming. I don’t see any of my friends anymore. Yesterday was my day off; I wound up coming in and doing some maintenance.
When I was in college and had to study for a test, I would just do it. There was no question about it. And it’s the same once I started working. You are on your feet for 14 hours; you just do it and don’t think about it. You’re exhausted and you’re hurting but you just do it. It’s one of those things. I can’t picture being lazy, sitting on the couch and watching TV.
I tell my partner that I don’t want to do this forever. I would like to do it for 10 years, make money, and then give back. I would always work, though, but I would do something different. I don’t think you can do the same thing forever.
Timothy Robinson, 25
New York City
I was doing corporate health-care PR—pharmaceutical-product launches, health-technology promotion, and corporate social-responsibility stuff—for about two and a half years but got laid off last December. At first, I really made an effort to take advantage of the time. I went to museums like MoMA or the Brooklyn Museum on a Tuesday afternoon. That was awesome. Going to a midday movie felt good, too. When the severance checks stopped coming, I didn’t feel like I was contributing to anything. I felt kind of lost. I had fallen into the idea of “funemployment.” I’ve read articles about funemployment. About a year later, it’s not exactly funemployment. They are scrambling to get by.
I applied for a job at a florist shop. I thought it could be interesting. At the same time, though, you have this ego: “I worked three years in a competitive industry, I’m not going to take a temp job or work part time.” That feeling starts to fade after six months. That being said, I didn’t get that job and haven’t really pursued retail work or hourly pay. Instead, I’ve been on unemployment and freelancing for this small music-production company.
Accepting unemployment is a great thing and it’s necessary, but I also think it’s really a disincentive for people to get back to work. I find myself surviving on a lot less than before but I’m also not putting in the hours every day to find that next job.
Right now, I only have two weeks left in my unemployment, so my job hunt is in high gear. I would really like to go in to work, work hard, have people recognize that I work hard, and feel fulfilled. A paycheck and a position and title are important, but I would love to have a community that I work with that makes me feel good day to day.
Eric Savarino, 38
Maintenance, High School
New York City
My last construction job ended last October and there was no new work. There is no financing for the jobs because the banks will not lend money to the contractors. Contractors are not going to put up 60 percent of the job when they used to put up 25 percent and the bank would finance 75 percent.
Being unemployed was nauseating. There was a knot in my stomach every day. Unemployment isn’t enough—especially when you go from making $1,400 a week to making $400 a week. I didn’t feel like I wasn’t contributing to society, because I had worked all my life. Unemployment isn’t welfare. Even with welfare, you contribute to it every time they take taxes out of your check. I had no problem collecting unemployment because I worked for 16 years straight and paid into it.
This job came to me from a friend. It’s a good job. I wouldn’t say I was euphoric when I got it. It was more relief because I still have to get out from under a hole. All my financial problems didn’t disappear because I got this job.
I’m a good worker. I’ve always been a good worker. I’m a horse. When I worked construction, I took pride in seeing some of the buildings I helped build. With construction, I saw my work.
I get home at five in the morning, sleep until 1 p.m. and then go to the gym. I’m not going to change my life. I’m just going to adjust my life to what I have to do. With this economy, that’s what you have to do: You have to adjust your life to what’s out there.
Frederick McKindra, 25
New York City
I always wanted to write fiction and thought of journalism as a means to make a living until I was able to support myself as a fiction writer. I wanted a nine-to-five job so that I could work on fiction from five to whenever. I was so hungry for work. I have worked as a personal assistant to Spike Lee’s wife, gotten a fellowship at the Village Voice, and worked as a personal assistant to Jonathan Lethem. Then, I found this MFA program at the New School.
I also work part-time at a grimy bookstore in Penn Station. They pay $8 an hour. I love going there because it brought me into a closer relationship with people I would never have met in New York. I’m on a first-name basis with guys in the NYPD and construction workers and church matriarchs.
Kids my age are now ascending beyond entry-level positions. I’ve watched them float by me, which has been difficult to deal with. I’m not doing that because I wasn’t able to find a foothold.
I used to despise guys like doctors or lawyers because I felt what they were doing was so spineless. I had so many friends who talked about going into those professions and stockpiling their money and then starting life at 40. I thought it would be noble to live my life all the way through. It’s hard to judge them so harshly now.
Stephanie Veloso, 23
Director of Operations, ALSS recyclying company
I modeled for a long time. I was with Ford and Elite and did mostly commercial stuff because I’m short—I’m five foot seven and change. I got out for a couple of reasons. It’s not the most intellectually stimulating of careers. I had fun doing it and traveled, but it didn’t really fulfill me. You can only sit in a makeup chair and have pictures taken so much. I hated when someone would be like, “What do you do?” They thought I had the IQ of belly lint. People are going to have their assumptions. There was also that pressure from the agency: “Lose five more pounds.” “You could be skinnier.” “If only…”
A little less than year ago, I got out. I’m now working at my parent’s company. We do scrap recycling. It’s not that glamorous. I’m at the factory at 6 a.m. We buy scraps and resell it either to another port or to Asia. I also work the forklift. I’m a small girl and don’t do much heavy lifting but I do everything from A to Z that needs to be done. I’m really happy. I’m helping my family and it’s something that requires a little bit of brainpower. Even though the work is harder and the days are longer, it’s easier to go to sleep at night. A lot of people think that I left this glamorous job. Those people don’t understand because they are not in my position.
Marie Castellano, 60
Brick, New Jersey
I was a British Airways employee for 14 years, working in Jackson Heights, Queens.
It was very exciting because every day you meet people from all over the world. You talk to people. You are helping people that lost luggage or missed flights. We used to have a courier service for people sending important papers. We had the Concorde for many years. It was exciting to see who was on the Concorde.
I moved to New Jersey in 1994 and the commute was hell. When I turned 50 years old, I was offered a retirement package. I was excited to leave but missed the job terribly. I retired too young.
It was a little boring to stay home. The first week, I slept late and cleaned my closets. You straighten stuff out. You go on a vacation and then what are you going to do? If I was a millionaire, maybe I would have thought of more things to do.
Now I hang out with my grandchildren. My husband is also retired, so that’s good. But I liked going to work. There is nothing like having that satisfaction of going to a job every day and liking it. Maybe I’ll go back and work 20 to 25 hours a week. Maybe I’ll do some volunteer work. Right now, we’re babysitting.
Evelyn Iniesta (name changed to protect future employment opportunities)
In New York, I was doing marketing for a magazine. When I started, I loved it, but I had been there for a while. Even the new projects didn’t excite me. I figured if I was going to quit my job, why not take a year and go to France? I had money saved up, so why not? I thought I would regret it if I didn’t do it. I don’t miss work at all.
I’m in classes now, and learning anything new is super exciting. It’s not even the classes. It’s the people. There are kids in my class from China, Italy, and Brazil. You end up talking to them after class and learn about their ideas and their country. From week one, I felt like, “Wow, I’m using my brain again.” That was really nice.
The last month and a half, I’ve been vacationing in Croatia, Spain, and Greece, but I’m excited to get back to classes. I do miss being productive. You can only vacation for so long and not do anything. I think we need to be productive in some way. I couldn’t be just chilling in France. I would need to be taking classes or working.
I know I will be working again. I want a job that I will be excited about. I don’t care if at my next job I make as much money as I did before.