When I finished my bachelor’s degree in Hotel Management, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do next. I knew by then that I didn’t want to work in hotels after all, let along be a hotel manager. No. That was the only certainty I had.
I remember being at my favourite beach terrace, hanging out with some friends and sipping some sangria whilst describing how utterly lost I was. I was telling them my brain was absolutely blank. I would close my eyes and find myself in this never-ending bright space, with no directions to follow. I would even dream of this white space, and I was all dressed in white as well, I’d walk for miles and miles and see nothing and no one. And if I’d scream the echo would return my words to me… Another one of my friends said it was the opposite for her: she had a maze of directions and was so lost she would just sit down and refuse to walk. We laughed. At this point an older man sitting at the next table, who was eavesdropping, said “if I can make a suggestion, you should all find yourselves rich husbands. That’s the best thing you can do”. You can imagine the ice cold looks he got from us, all independent woman (plus one guy).
Even though I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do, my plan wasn’t to get a rich husband; I knew I had to find work. I started working as a part-time sales representative for a hotel chain, trying to sell ‘VIP memberships’ to guests who had stayed at their hotels, over the phone. I hated that job. I sucked at it too.
I soon realized I probably should go back to Uni, and study something else to increase my chances of getting a better job; I decided a Master’s degree should follow. But I needed to wait a year for applications time, and I also needed money.
So, much to my misery, I stayed at the sales rep job I hated, whilst looking for something else. Kind of by accident I started another role also as a sales rep for a charity. Basically I would spend my mornings selling VIP memberships over the phone and my afternoons selling hideous toys for a charity’s trust fund. I only made 1€ per sale on the charity job, but it was paying off much better than the VIP stuff, so I dropped the VIP memberships and focused on the charity. I even dragged one of my friends along, because it was so good. However we soon realized the ‘charity’ was a bit dodgy. We felt awful and dropped out as soon as we could.
Whilst I was still doing both part-times, my friend, who I dragged into the charity thing, found out about this gig we could help with. It was a Golf Masters, we’d be working as bartenders for the whole week and it paid amazing. Off we went for a week to the Algarve. We had no idea what we were getting ourselves into. It was basically slavery. There was us two, plus three other crazy guys, and a few other people, but it was working non-stop from 6 am to 12 pm. The ‘work bus’ would pick us up when it was still dark and it was dark already when we returned. Everyone was mental too, and some of our colleagues would run away from the bar when things got tough (cashier broke, draft beer dispenser broke, etc). So it was just us. I don’t think we slept at all. But in the end it paid off, even though we had to chase the company down for it.
After leaving the charity, I found myself in a place where I desperately needed to work, and a friend of a friend told me about this agency she worked for, an events agency. They had this big database of people, and every time they had an event that required assistants, hosts, promoters, etc, they would call those people. Kind of like freelance work. The thing with any ‘promoters’ agencies’ is that they’ll always favour the people they already know – which makes total sense. But I needed to get on their radar ASAP, so I dragged myself to the agency, handed in my resume and said: I want to work, I need work, and I have full availability. They liked my attitude, and it wasn’t long before I was working at all sorts of events doing all sorts of things.
People can sometimes be a bit naive about what these gigs really entail. I remember when I got a so-called ‘real job’ someone suggested I should erase the ‘promoter experience’ off my resume… as if it wasn’t ‘work’. Let me tell you, it is ‘real work’. And it is hard.
I once had to spend 12 hours standing, walking and running, without ever sitting down or eating, because there just wasn’t time for that. I had to make sure everyone was registered, everyone was in the room, everyone knew where to go for lunch, everyone got in the right bus, etc… Oh, and I was wearing killer heels the whole time.
I was once tied to a giant balloon, promoting a local radio station. It was a helium balloon three times my size, tied to my waist and my job was to ‘walk amongst the people’ at a music festival. The festival was at the beach and it was windy, and yes, you guessed correctly, I kept being dragged by the stupid balloon. Screaming across the beach hoping someone would stop it. The next day my back was killing me.
I was once attacked by a deranged mob who were trying to get to one of the ugly backpacks I was giving away. They just couldn’t wait for their turn and decided to try to get one themselves… all at the same time. That was one of the few times I cried on the job.
I worked at conferences, product launches, product promotions, music festivals (my fav), concerts, car auctions, charity events…
There was one company in particular, one of the agency’s client, a media company, who I worked for the most. They were sponsors on charity races, which were my favourite events. There was this one race: ‘The Woman’s Race’ for breast cancer, which I worked at 3 years in a row (during my master’s as well). The week before the race they would set up a marquee where people could collect their kit from. All the sponsors would have their little stands there and so was I, representing one of the group’s magazines. I was there 9 to 5 everyday, my job was to give away the magazine, chocolates and pens. I loved it. You would make friends with all the other sponsors’ promoters; you’d meet the organization, and people would chat with you about anything and more. I had to stand all day, and keep going back to get more giveaways, but it was fun. The problem was that the actual race day was super dull for me. All the other promoters would be outside: Powerade, cereal bars, ice cream, transport of Lisbon… everyone was outside greeting the runners as they crossed the finish line. I was the only one who had to go in super early and set up my stand at the VIP marquee where the ‘important’ people would have their interviews and photos taken for the magazine, and would come to gather for some snacks afterwards. I’d just stay there and waited till they arrive. I was pretty much invisible there. Except I wasn’t.
A few days after my second race, one of my friends sent me this clip from the magazine I was working for; Yep, that’s me in the back, looking miserable.
I absolutely love this picture. Not only does it make me laugh (loads), it reminds me of all those things I did. All the hard work, all the things I learned, even if not in a ‘conventional way’. It reminds me of all the people I met, all the lessons (good and bad) and all the great friends I made. I look at it and I see pass the ‘miserable’ looking me: I see all the stories, the lessons, the hard work and the people.
I worked with that agency throughout my master’s, and even after getting my first internship I still did a few gigs.
I now have this picture framed and it’s on my desk, looking at me as I write down these words, as a reminder of all those lessons, all those people, all the hard work. It keeps me humble.
Someone asked me the other day if there was one thing I could erase off my CV what would it be. I replied ‘nothing, because everything I did, makes me who I am today’.
“Never regret anything that has happened in your life, it cannot be changed, undone or forgotten so take it as a lesson learned and move on.” Unknown.