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The Madonna Timeline: Song #123 – ‘Jump’ – Fall 2005

{Note: The Madonna Timeline is an ongoing feature, where I put the iPod on shuffle, and write a little anecdote on whatever was going on in my life when that Madonna song was released and/or came to prominence in my mind.}

THERE’S ONLY SO MUCH YOU CAN LEARN IN ONE PLACE.

THE MORE THAT I WAIT, THE MORE TIME THAT I WASTE.

This is one of those songs I wish I’d heard during my first days at any number of jobs. It turns out I’ve had more than my share – beginning with a decent retail stint at Structure and a first office job at John Hancock. Obviously, the retail one was the more fun of the two, but I didn’t know that at the beginning. In fact, as I started on my first day (just an early Sunday meeting to try on the new fall line) I wondered if I could do it. So much so that escape plans played out in my head, ways I could politely exit before I had to talk to people or step up to the register. That’s always how it is in the beginning.

I HAVEN’T GOT MUCH TIME TO WASTE, IT’S TIME TO MAKE MY WAY.

I’M NOT AFRAID OF WHAT I’LL FACE, BUT I’M AFRAID TO STAY.

I’M GOING DOWN MY OWN ROAD, AND I CAN MAKE IT ALONE,

I’LL WORK AND I’LL FIGHT TIL I FIND A PLACE OF MY OWN…

Standing in the dressing room at the Faneuil Hall Structure, on the sixth floor of its stand-alone building amid an island of historic cobblestone, I look at myself in the mirror, almost trembling with nerves. The new crop of employees is changing into the Fall Collection of Structure. Each of us had been given an outfit to try on and model. One would think I was in my element, but I was just starting to learn about fashion, and only just realizing that my own style was not necessarily something that would fly in the mainstream retail world. (Structure was, after all, an off-shoot of The Limited Company, which ran just about every mall store that existed in the 90’s.)

I did what I did best and put on my game face. I pulled on a pair of silk and wool pants, adjusted a crisp white shirt, and eyed a gray jacket hanging behind me. As I buckled my belt – the final piece of armor for this battle – I took a deep breath. Stepping out and strutting down the middle of the store with all the attitude and swagger of a super-model, I overcame my shyness and pretended to be someone else. Someone confident, someone who didn’t care. To the amusement of my colleagues and managers, I worked it like RuPaul taught us from the time of Star-Booty. This wasn’t something that came from my wardrobe, this wasn’t about the sillage of cologne left in my wake or the perfectly-coiffed hair that sat upon my head – this came from somewhere deep inside, something that I didn’t even know was there. It wasn’t from my parents or my family or my friends, it wasn’t from my upbringing or past or anything I learned at school. It was a spark that was mine and mine alone – the start of an adult life that I could and would control on my own terms. It was one of the first times I jumped, and it was scary and exhilarating and nerve-wracking all at once.

ARE YOU READY TO JUMP?

GET READY TO JUMP

DON’T EVER LOOK BACK, OH BABY

YES, I’M READY TO JUMP

JUST TAKE MY HAND, GET READY TO JUMP.

Soon, though, I rather expectedly came into my own, excelling at all things that had to do with retail. I was one of the top sales-people, and the one who consistently led the (literal) charge, opening up the most store credit cards every week. My average sale was reliably high (and when it wasn’t, there was always the next-to-the-register special of three pairs of socks for ten dollars to bump it up a bit). But more important than the prowess I gained as a retail worker was the real sense of confidence and self-worth I felt from doing a job and doing it well. No one had handed me this position, and no one there knew what I had, or hadn’t, done with my life up until that point. I made myself into someone, and I did it on my own. People may scoff at the silliness of a sales-person job, but it was everything to me. I held onto it, working several shifts at various locations throughout Boston – Boylston/Newbury Street, Harvard Square, and a couple of inventory days at Prudential and Natick. I even moved to the Rotterdam Square location when I had to go home for the summer. My Structure family accepted me for who I was, and because I had proven my worth, there was respect there too. That emboldened me for my next job, even if it didn’t take away all my nerves.

WE LEARNED OUR LESSONS FROM THE START, MY SISTERS AND ME

THE ONLY THING YOU CAN DEPEND ON IS YOUR FAMILY.

LIFE’S GONNA DROP YOU DOWN LIKE THE LIMBS OF A TREE

IT SWAYS AND IT SWINGS AND IT BENDS UNTIL IT MAKES YOU SEE.

A few years later, and a few days into my new job at John Hancock, I still had butterflies. The girls were snickering as I returned to my researching figures on microfiche. I had finished my lunch and started working a few minutes before my lunch hour was officially over. One of them, Angie – a loud and boisterous woman – sat next to me and said something I’ve never forgotten: “Never give up your lunch. It’s not a lot of time, but that’s yours. Don’t give that up.” Normally a wise-ass, joking about everything and everyone, she was unquestionably serious as she said that to me. (To this day, I will almost always take my full lunch, and it makes a definite difference.)

It would take a few weeks to feel comfortable in a new office, and I remember gauging how long it took me to overcome my nerves at Structure, comparing it to how many days I had been at John Hancock. (This was a game I would repeat at every new job I’d take over the years – trying to figure out when I would be truly comfortable and have a few friends.) I stuck with it, and when I was asked to be one of the research managers on the floor I realized I had stopped counting the days and had already made a number of friends.

We went out to lunch together, as well as to a number of after-work gatherings at The Pour House or the Hard Rock Café. I also hosted parties and occasional Saturday lunches when we worked overtime. It was only a temporary assignment, for some years-long financial settlement in the making, and we came together for a few months in our youth, which somehow made it all mean more. Most of us were in our very early twenties, but a few teenage college interns were there as well, and a couple of older temp people shifting to another job in between life-events. A mixed bag, to be sure, one that was as entertaining as it was dysfunctional.

Fights would flare up, a few minor flirtations would result in some random drunken hook-ups, and a nude photo scandal once erupted ending up in two people getting fired on the spot, but I was largely uninvolved with the drama (not even the nude photo fiasco, which was less a result of the naked photographs and more due to the fact that the two ladies involved had threatened to physically, and violently, resolve the issue on the research library floor). In other words, I soon felt like a member of the John Hancock family, and I’d stay there far longer than my original plan of six months. It was only when I moved to Chicago with my boyfriend that I broke those ties. Still, I’ve held on to two dear friends from that time – JoAnn and Kira – and I keep them close.

ARE YOU READY TO JUMP?

GET READY TO JUMP

DON’T EVER LOOK BACK, OH BABY

YES, I’M READY TO JUMP

JUST TAKE MY HAND, GET READY TO JUMP.

A few more years passed. I ended up living in Albany with Andy, and I needed a job. A couple of his friends suggested taking a government exam, and in a few months I had procured permanent employment with the State of New York. In that first job – a Grade 5 Date Entry Machine Operator – I went back to counting the days. In my second state job – a Grade 6 Keyboard Specialist, I kept counting. By the third, a Grade 9 Keyboard Specialist 2, the days seems to go quicker, my comfort level rebounding at a faster pace, and my confidence less shakable. By the time I advanced to a Grade 18 Senior Personnel Administrator, my nerves and jitters at new jobs had dissipated, and rather than dread the feeling of being the new guy, I almost missed it in the nine years I maintained that position.

When a promotional opportunity for a Grade 23 position came up two years ago, I had to take it, even if it meant leaving the agency where I had spent more time than all of my previous jobs combined. I would have to start over again, almost from scratch, and as much as I knew I could do it (because I’d done it so many times before) it was a daunting prospect. I was almost 40 years old, and about to go back to the beginning. By this time, ‘Jump’ – the song – was in my library, and I hastened to retrieve it. No matter how many times I’d done it, I still got nervous.

THERE’S ONLY SO MUCH YOU CAN LEARN IN ONE PLACE.

THE MORE THAT YOU WAIT, THE MORE TIME THAT YOU WASTE.

Yet whether it was all those years of practice, or the simple maturation and letting go of the silly worries that had plagued me in my youth, I found myself quickly comfortable, and surprisingly valued, at my new job. In fact, I didn’t even have to go back to my previous practice of comparing how many days it was before I felt at home, and I remarked to a few people how it was the fastest I had ever become an integral part of an office. It helped that I was old(er) and married and comfortable enough in my own skin not to pretend to be anyone else. The biggest, and longest-to-learn, lesson I’ve taken from my years of employment is that people aren’t ever going to be truly won over until you reveal your genuine self to them. Most of us can read when someone is hiding something, when they’re trying too hard or pretending to be someone other than their authentic selves. As the jobs progressed, so did my experience in the world, and the various quirks that made me who I am were no longer something to be hidden, but something to wear proudly on my peacock-colored sleeves.

I’LL WORK AND I’LL FIGHT TIL I FIND A PLACE OF MY OWN

IT SWAYS AND IT SWINGS AND IT BENDS UNTIL YOU MAKE IT YOUR OWN.

The last single from Madonna’s disco-ball inferno ‘Confessions on a Dance-Floor’ is a highlight of that album, with its Pet Shop Boys ‘West End Girls’ nod and theme of self-empowerment. It is also one of those Madonna songs that works on different levels, for different moments, giving it a timeless aspect that echoes its multiple-decades of influences. There’s nothing groundbreaking about this one in Madonna terms, but it’s a perfectly crafted pop song by one of the genre’s finest, which makes it groundbreaking compared to practically anyone else.

It’s also a great song to pump someone up for beginning a new endeavor – whether that’s a new job, a new relationship, or a new anything. It’s one of those crossroad songs – an indicator of a life decision that may or may not change the entire trajectory of your existence. That gives it a certain bit of tension, but the good kind – the kind that propels you to move ahead.

I CAN MAKE IT ALONE, I CAN MAKE IT ALONE

I CAN MAKE IT ALONE, I CAN MAKE IT ALONE

We all have those moments, when we have to decide whether to jump or whether to stay put. Timing is everything. Sometimes you have to be pushed a little, but a jump is a jump, no matter how it happens to happen.

ARE YOU READY TO JUMP?

GET READY TO JUMP

DON’T EVER LOOK BACK, OH BABY

YES, I’M READY TO JUMP

JUST TAKE MY HAND, GET READY TO JUMP.

And sometimes you have to leave to find your way home again.

ARE YOU READY?

SONG #123 – ‘Jump’ – Fall 2005

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