What I’ve Learned From 13 Years of Part Time Work

I’ve worked part time for the last 13 years of my life. I have never, ever had a full time job. I’ve held a lot of different jobs and I’ve done a lot of under the table work. Babysitting, editing, cleaning, catering, paid internships…the list seems endless! I’ve never been afraid of work and I’ve always been money conscious. What are my major take aways from the last 13 years though?

I come from a single income, single parent household. Growing up my family didn’t have a ton money to burn so anything ‘fun’ that I wanted for myself has to come out of my own pockets. Trips to the mall or movie theater were not funded by the Bank of Mom.

My very first job was a at a local farm in my hometown. My grandmother would pick me up at 7am and drive me to the farm. I worked there for about 6 hours a day. Let me tell you: that was work. Farm life is hard labor! I picked strawberries by hand, weeded gardens and fertilized young pine trees. All at age 14. (I have to say, that job has given me a huge appreciation for the work that migrant farmers and workers do. What I did was just a fraction of their actual day and I have my white passing privilege to shield me from racist stereotypes too.)

After a summer on the farm I worked at Market Basket, a discount grocery store in the northeast. Then I worked as a waitress in a retirement home (for an hourly wage, no tips). I babysat, I did lawn work. I have always been trying to make money. When I got to college one of the first things I dd was secure my work study job at the campus box office. I kept that job all four years and senior year picked up two more: grocery store clerk/cashier and coffee shop barista.

Since graduating college and moving to Austin I’ve worked as a waitress, a receptionist, a caterer, a nanny, a researcher and a fundraiser. I still to this day have never had a full time job. As long time readers know I had five part time jobs earlier this year! Right now I can claim three part time jobs, a situation that will probably continue into 2016.

So, what has this long list of jobs taught me?

Challenge Yourself

You have to get outside of your comfort zone. I hate the food service industry at this point but working in restaurants and in catering has taught me SO MUCH. I’ve learned time management skills, how to prioritize work needs, how to speak and work with other people, how to organize groups of people, how to share detailed information with a large group…the list goes on.

Challenging yourself doesn’t always mean working a job you don’t really like. It also means pushing yourself to do more. It means striving. It means learning new things that you may struggle with for awhile, so that in the end you become a stronger and more capable person. Challenge yourself to become the best worker you can. Talk to people if you’re shy. Take a course and beef up your resume. Learn to code on the internet. Don’t be afraid of new opportunities!

You Need Balance

If you’re working multiple jobs you NEED to find balance. I’ve been both luck and unlucky that a lot of my work can be done from home. That means knowing when to consider my house my home and when to consider it my office. I have to balance work with the rest of my life. Picking up a 9 hour catering shift every Saturday means that I don’t have the time to spend with my friends who only have free time on the weekends. There’s a balance to be found between making money and living life. Having a nontraditional schedule is in some ways freeing and in some ways quite restrictive. You have to live within those boundaries and find joy in your life.

I also need balance in my work schedule. I need to be able to find the discipline to sit down and get it all done. I need to be able to spend an hour on this project, an hour on another and also find time to take that phone meeting.

Understand You Can Do It

I’ve been scared to start every job I’ve ever gotten. From waiting tables to interning in Washington DC to starting at my current non profit job, it’s all been brand new territory. It’s so important to remember that I am a smart, hard working person who can handle myself. I might have a few rough days or a settling in period but I can and will find my footing.

Sometimes the work is not glamourous. When I was struggling emotionally and financially last winter-summer, I picked up a receptionist job that was 10.5 hours a week for $9 an hour. It wasn’t really any money, it wasn’t a position that would lead anywhere. It was terrible hours (5:15am-10:15 am on Mondays and Fridays). It was a nothing job really.

I needed the routine though. I needed the money. I needed to remind myself that I was capable of getting up, going to work somewhere and doing the things they asked of me. That job helped me remember that I have value and that I could do something. It helped get me up in the morning and try to use my days to get to a better position. (Which I did!)

There is an inherent risk in putting yourself into a new position. Challenging yourself or redefining yourself is hard work. But you can do it. You have the wherewithal. You have the ability. You have the strength to weather the changes and emerge on the other side. Reminding myself of that when a new project or opportunity comes up is one of the most important things I do for myself.

Working for so long and in such a fractured way is my normal. I’ve never worked in an office, never had a 9-5 workday. At this point I don’t even know if I’d be comfortable doing that! While I certainly want to make more money and I would love to be able to get to the point where one job sustains me, I like the flexibility and autonomy that my part time jobs allow me.

For now I’m just taking these lessons to heart and learning more every day. Do you have any tips from your own work experience? 

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22 Replies to “What I’ve Learned From 13 Years of Part Time Work”

  1. Interesting! So in a perfect world you do want one main job, but you just haven’t found “the one” yet? so you you keep exploring/testing/challenging yourself until you do?

    1. Actually, I’ve never been offered a full time job! I graduated into the Great Recession and just have never been able to land something full time. Hopefully next year is *the year* and my non profit gig will turn full time. I’ve just been trying to make it all work (read: pay off my loans, gain experience and save) for the last couple years.

  2. Wow, you’re quite tenacious. You should be extremely proud of your work ethic, it will get you far in life. I’ve been at my same, stable job for several years. Though I “moved up” in responsibilities and income, and I can certainly sustain myself on my one income, I feel like I should explore more and gain new experiences.

    1. Thank you! That’s what I tell myself when I’m feeling like a weirdo for not ever having a full time job. I think it’s a great idea to explore and push yourself if thats something you really want. I’m sure your capable of a great many things and would kick butt at a new job!

  3. As someone who has been always told that a full-time job is the only way to make it in this world, I am impressed and commend you for your work ethic all these years. It’s incredible to see that you’re able to avoid or get out of the most common financial traps that a majority of Americans struggle with by just part-time work alone.

    You, ma’am, are an inspiration. I hope to be just as diligent as you when I enter the workforce (still in college!)!


    1. Thanks so much Fred! While I certainly recommend getting a full time job if you can, I think as long as you have a clear vision of what kind of life you want for yourself you can make it work in any situation. I was able to pay off my loans with part time work and now I’m saving aggressively for early retirement. Just keep after it!

  4. This is a great list of lessons, and I think most of them apply to full-time work as well. With a full-time job, it’s much harder to separate work and life, even if you work in an office and live at home (which we don’t — we’re always at home if not traveling). You’re always expected to be connected and responsive, which is a huge part of what’s motivating our desire to quit our jobs ASAP. It’s just so unhealthy! But I do think the mental space required to juggle multiple part-time jobs is more taxing, and you must always have some schedule anxiety — or at least I would! I really admire what a hard worker you clearly are, and also how positive you’ve kept your outlook through the tough times that have followed the great recession. Fingers crossed that you find a great full-time job soon!

    1. Thank you! I came to a mindset of ‘if this is my life I’m going to rock it!’ I do have schedule anxiety- I live off my calendar. I just wish I could get away from the food industry. If I could survive without catering I would be so much happier.

  5. Don’t tell me you’ve fallen for the ‘white privilege’ nonsense.

    1. While privilege is 100% real and not in any way nonsense.

  6. While I’ve held full time jobs most of my career, I have switched employers on a number of occasions. You hit the nail on the head – it’s scary. However, I think the stigma attached to job jumpers is incorrectly applied. I think it can be valuable to put yourself in new roles and learn new skills. Oftentimes, it is probably better than staying in one position for 40 years when you know you’re burned out after 5 years!


    1. I agree that new roles and skills can benefit you. Risks are worth taking sometimes!

  7. I’d like to see you get a FT job with benefits; on the other hand you have the luxury of multiple income streams which is a good starting point to design your lifestyle.

    1. I also would really, really like benefits. It’s nerve wracking to be without them. I will always have a side hustle, even when I have a full time job because I really appreciate the security that comes from knowing even if one job dries up I have another.

  8. Thanks for this article it was uplifting.. I have worked PT for a while now and there is definitely good and bad sides to it. The retail job I currently have is pretty mind numbing but I am paid well for it. Even if I wanted full time work for this dept store they do not offer it. The only one that has it is the store Mgr. Everyone else gets 33 hours or less. They used to offer part timers bennys.. They took that away last year and with that several coworkers who had worked there for years up and left. Its nice to see someone elses take on PT life.. It can be done but you live and breath by your calendar for sure.

    1. Scheduling is so important. I’m glad you make good money at your work but the lack of benefits for PT workers is shameful. I’ve never had benefits of any sort and I feel it’s put me at a huge disadvantage.

  9. SO much admiration for your hustle.

    1. Thank you! I’m a fan of your site and I’m so happy you found you’re way to mine ☺️

  10. Interesting read; I left my first full-time job for part-time work and that’s allowed me lots of flexibility for volunteering, time with friends, and now raising my family. It’s also allowed me to have different jobs during different seasons and that’s been great. I do hope your nonprofit gig goes full time this year since that’s your hope!

    1. Thanks Kalie! I’m actually diving into the freelance waters this month. Traditional work has just never hit a groove for me, so I’m making my own job up. We’ll see what happens!

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