Side hustles and second jobs have become regular vocabulary these days as a great opportunity for debt repayment and wealth building, and my part time job was wonderful for both of these reasons.
The idea of working multiple jobs has been second nature to me. I worked both an on campus job and an internship to minimize my student loans and then worked two jobs right out of college because my full time internship paid less than minimum wage. Once we moved back home, I got a full time job as a park ranger for the summer that paid reasonably well, so I was “only” working 40 hours a week for the first time in a long time.
Working as a park ranger was fantastic. A large part of the summer ranger program was patrolling all the 80+ parks in the city. This meant driving around in a truck, hopping out, and walking through nature trails, which is something I would have been doing in my free time anyway.
The occasional rainy days were less enjoyable, but they were still better than a lot of other jobs I could have had instead. In our down time in the ranger station, there were tons of books on plant and animal identification and related information and I was able to really expand my knowledge of the area I lived in.
Environmental education was a big part as well, and I got to lead nature walks and kid forest scavenger hunts, which were a lot of fun. And again, I got paid to talk about and explore nature.
However, that job was only full time for the summer, so I continued applying for a career position elsewhere. This was right after the recession and jobs were pretty scarce, so I spent a LOT of time job hunting. I started looking months ahead of time to make sure I didn’t find myself unemployed at the end of summer.
I ended up finding a job (which I’ve worked at ever since) before the summer was out, and they needed me to start right away. Since I enjoyed my park ranger job so much, and I didn’t want to leave them short an employee during busy season, I decided to work both full time jobs for the month and a half they overlapped.
My new job worked more standard office hours (7:30AM – 4PM), so I changed my park ranger shifts to 4:30PM – Midnight. The parks job had midweek days off, so I worked 7 days a week and 3 of those days 7:30AM – Midnight. It was a rough six weeks, but well worth it, especially when I got double paychecks during that time, which went straight to paying off my student loans.
The end of summer finally came to a close, and I expected my days of two jobs were finally over. Instead, I found myself staying on for a couple weeks past the rest of the summer rangers because the work was still there, and then I was offered a semi regular weekend position beyond that.
I was so used to working a lot, and I really enjoyed the job, so it was easy to accept and continue my time as a park ranger. I got to continue leading the Woof Walks I had created (is there anything better than nature walks with lots of dogs??) and I got paid to spend my weekends outdoors in the woods.
I scaled down quite a bit and only averaged a shift or two a month (and sometimes less than that), but it brought in an extra couple hundred dollars a month to pay down our student loans, and Later was an asset when applying to buy our first home on an entry level salary.
When I got pregnant years later, I expected my time as a park ranger was finally coming to an end. I knew I would be keeping my career job, and I didn’t see where I would have the time or desire to be away from home more than that. I worked what I expected to be my last shift at 8 months pregnant and told them I wouldn’t be available for at least a few months, but left my options open just in case. I really did enjoy the work and wasn’t ready to give it up if it was at all possible, though we didn’t need the money it brought in.
I had my son that next month and two and a half months after that, I got a call asking if I would be up for a shift. I told them sure, but since I didn’t have any childcare, I would be bringing my infant son with me. I didn’t lay it out as a request, because if they had said no, then I would have been willing to quit the job. They did say yes, though, so I brought my son to work.
Since he was so young, he slept most of the day, and staffing the visitor’s center was easy. It was actually better than sitting at home alone, which was what I probably would have been doing otherwise. Instead, I got paid, and I got to be around people. At this point, I’d only put in a few hours here and there at my regular job and was itching to be out doing things.
From there on out, I continued to pick up the occasional shift, and I always brought him with me. As he got older, he got to explore the trails wtih me and listen as I gave lectures during the nature walks. There are few jobs you can readily bring your child, and I was really lucky to have one.
As time went on, I ramped back up at my regular job until I was working full time again by the time my son was 6 months old (half of it from home). Life got really busy and really stressful, and I started working fewer park shifts because I felt like we never had any down time or time to catch up on household chores as it was.
And then I had a conversation at my main job and cut my hours by twenty percent. Suddenly, things started to feel more manageable and life was fun again. I really applaud parents who work full time plus out of the home, because it makes it really difficult to do anything fun. The week is filled with work and dinner and bed, and the weekends are filled with catching up on chores and appointments. By regaining 2-3 hours each day, I had time to do chores – and some fun things – during the week, which left our weekends free for adventures and fun. We travel a lot, usually on long weekends, and we’re only able to do that because I have the time to keep things running during the week.
I still kept my parks job though, and my son and I would hop in the car on the occasional weekend and work a shift together. I found myself saying no more often though, so we would have time to breath and play when my husband was off work as well. I kept putting off quitting though, because the peace and beauty of the parks were usually worth it once we got there. Plus, an extra hundred bucks never went amiss.
Eventually though, the city changed the part time employee rules to where I would have to work a shift every set number of weeks to stay employed (and they would even “make work” of a couple of hours so I could go in and they could keep me on staff). After a couple of these manufactured work days, I decided it was time to release myself from the stress of making sure I worked the right days to keep the job.
Last December, six and a half years after I started as a park ranger, I called my boss and told her I was leaving. She and I have become friends over the years and she has become a mother as well, and she told me she was surprised I had continued to come in for as long as I had after having a baby. We parted on great terms, and I know I could always get a job there again if the time came that I was ready for that commitment in my life again.
It was a bit sad to finally close that chapter of my life, and it’s a little strange now to say that I WAS a park ranger, but I’ve not regretted leaving the job once. I may be a bit wistful looking back on it like I am today, but like college, I don’t want to go back again. As I’ve gotten older, I’m slowly getting better at saying when I’ve had enough. Being busy and overcommitted isn’t a badge of honor. I’d rather go camping.