The second in a series of posts exploring my work history, revealing how I ended up working in a library. This post: volunteering in Israel, and working for Disney.
After sitting my A level exams and leaving school, I embarked on a gap year. This was 1993, and back then, taking a gap year was not as common as it is today. Only two other students from my school took a gap year at the same time that I did; everyone else either went straight to university or got a job. Thanks to my weekends spent working in a bakery for the previous two years, I had saved enough money to be able to afford to take a year out from education, so persuading my parents that this was the best decision for me was not quite as difficult as it otherwise could have been. So what did I do with this new found freedom? Why, I went to live in Israel for three months, working as a volunteer on a kibbutz, much to the surprise of, well, pretty much everyone really. I wanted to escape, to get away from everything that was familiar, including my family (not that there was anything wrong with them; I was just an eighteen year old who needed his independence). More of a lifestyle choice than a job, my three months working abroad were transformative. It was my first time living away from home, my first time traveling alone, my first time to be completely free from anyone that had known me up until that point, my first time working in a foreign country, my first time to really go on what I considered to be a proper adventure. It felt wonderful.
As a volunteer on a kibbutz, I didn’t receive any wages; instead, volunteers were given free board and lodging (including all meals) and a small allowance in the form of credit that could be spent at the kibbutz grocery store or pub. The actual work that I did was menial at best, but all volunteers were rotated around regularly, so we experienced a variety of jobs. During my three months there I operated the dishwasher in the kitchen, trimmed hedges with a petrol-powered chainsaw, cleaned the swimming pool, moved old furniture around on a tractor and trailer, pulled up weeds, helped with deliveries to the food store, and worked on irrigation. More importantly, I met and made friends with people from America, Australia, Japan, Sweden, Denmark, Ireland and France as well as from all over the UK. I returned home changed; suddenly, the world seemed full of opportunities, with more (so many more) places that I wanted to explore. What I learned from this experience: I wasn’t going to be restricted by seeking employment only in my home country; I was heading into the future with my eyes wide open to the world.
Before I could head off on another adventure, however, I had to fund the rest of my gap year. I got a job working in The Disney Store. I had never worked in retail before, so this was out of my comfort zone, but my self-confidence had been buoyed by my experiences in Israel so I felt ready for anything. I was not a shop assistant, but rather a Cast Member. The shop floor was referred to as on-stage and the staff-only areas and stock room were backstage. Disney had strict policies on everything; men were not allowed to have facial hair, women had to wear American-tan tights, our shoes had to be plain white trainers (they even supplied a kind of special white paint with which to cover up any branding on our shoes). To confuse matters, customers were called guests and shoplifters were customers. Regardless of what you call it, Disney had high expectations of customer service; we were forever being told we should aim to exceed expectations, and that we were the ones who created the particular brand of Disney magic. I worked in the store for eight months, before embarking on the final leg of my gap year; a month traveling in Japan. What I learned from my time with Disney: retail is a tough industry to work in; my face ached from smiling, my feet ached from standing, and my head ached from remaining polite all day; creating the illusion of magic comes at a price.
Part three to follow.