Hi! I'm Cristi, the owner/artisan at The Element Bath & Body.
Not gonna lie, you should be prepared to read. This. Is. Long.
A Bit of History
So, for this story, we have to go back in time… Not that far back, but you know, far enough. This story started in 1993 – I know some of you may not have been born yet, and that’s ok. This story isn’t as much about the time period as it is about knowing yourself.
Actually, my journey of self-awareness and definition started when I was very young and it has steered my life choices…but, let’s get into it already. I graduated high school in May 1993 from a performing arts/magnet high school (BTWHSPVA, stand up!) My mother worked at the local natural gas company as a legal secretary. Every summer, the company had a summer youth employment program. It’s nothing in today’s times to hear of a 17 year-old being advanced in computer tech, but in 1993 it was almost unheard of. Most companies weren’t even experienced with the digital world, let alone individuals.
Remember this for later in the story. There wasn’t a computer in each home, and I learned computers in a time when the mouse wasn’t a common accessory yet (whoa!) – so you had to learn keyboard shortcut codes. Also, you saved your files on floppy discs or hard discs.
Introduction to Corporate Culture
My mom signed me up for the youth employment program at her job and they assigned me to the Computer Information Systems Department. I worked in a part of the department tasked with keeping inventory of all the new computer systems installed across the company and doing virus scans. To put even more perspective on how early it was in computer systems development, back then virus scans and removal consisted of a two-step physical process. First, we ran the disc with the virus scan software. If it identified a virus on the pc, we had to insert a separate disc to “quarantine” the virus. There were a total of six of us teens working in that department for the summer, and the company’s intention was to release all of us at the end of the summer.
I was a mature child and it carried over into my work. By mid-summer, I was driving the company car and helping to supervise the other teens in the program. At the end of the program, the company was so impressed with my work ethic and knowledge of computer systems that they created a position for me; I was the new “Database Administrator” and they paid handsomely! I absolutely adored the work and looked forward to doing my job every day. Unfortunately, I would learn soon enough about corporate culture and corporate politics.
So, my manager was brilliant in computer science, but she was engaged and spent most of her day on the phone with her fiancé. Most of the time when the department manager would put assignments on her desk, she’d put them on mine. I’d do the work and she’d take the credit. Mind you, there were tasks that I simply couldn’t understand how to do and she would do those. She made triple my salary (we were all salaried in that dept), and all she did was talk on the phone about wedding plans and use her shaker bottle to make weight loss shakes. I promise I can still hear that stupid shaker bottle rattling now, ugh! Once I realized that this was the norm and there was nothing I could do about it, I quit. I think I was at that job for almost a year.
Exit from Corporate Culture (1st Time)
I worked other corporate/office jobs until I was 20. My last corporate job before entrepreneurship was at a bankruptcy attorney’s office in a small country town. He hired through a temp agency and based on my work history, I was assigned to his office in the payment processing department. I was the youngest person in the office and most of the workers there had children my age. The courts in that town had just begun digitizing their files and court cases and since all the other ladies in the department were having to learn the computer, the attorney’s payment records were backlogged by three months.
Within three weeks, I was able to get all the backlogged payments entered into the computer system – on top of my regular daily tasks. The attorney offered permanent employment in my fourth week there, with a 25 cent raise. At the age of 20, I learned why people say don’t discuss your pay with your co-workers. Before, the ladies treated me like their daughter and they always looked out for me, bringing snacks back from the breakroom and offering life advice. I enjoyed that and was thinking about accepting the job offer. However, one day we were at lunch and I excitedly told the ladies about the job offer and the raise. To my surprise, they didn’t share in my excitement. They all had been hired in from the same temp agency, but none had been offered a raise.
This is when all the trouble started. They started reporting me to the office manager, saying that I was looking at magazines at my desk. When the manager asked me about it, I told her I was looking at magazines at my desk – but it was during my break time. All the ladies in my department were smokers and I wasn’t, so I didn’t go on break when they did. Most times, I took my break at my desk and they knew that. The manager apologized for the confusion and I returned to work.
The very next week, I was called in to the manager’s office again. She explained that the ladies told her I was on the phone for long periods of time. I told her that indeed I was on the phone for long times and explained how that helped me get all the backlogged payment data caught up. It was an essential part of our job to call the courts when we couldn’t find a file in the computer system. While everyone else would stop and call the court every single time they had a missing file, I set all my file folders with missing information in a pile by my phone and continued my data entry on the computer. Once I finished all my data entry, I made one phone call to the courts to locate and assign payments for all the files that were missing from the digitized court files. The manager apologized again and I went back to work.
At the end of that week, the manager called me in to her office and informed me that the attorney had extended a second offer for permanent employment. He needed an answer right now, though. I thought about it for less than a minute and explained to her that the events over the past couple of weeks helped me decide that I never wanted to be part of corporate culture again.
The Beginning of My Entrepreneurial Journey
After I left that job, I moved back home to Dallas. In my mom’s house, you either worked or went to school (or both), but you COULD NOT sit at home being unproductive. I loved work and school and had been playing around with hair since I was 15. One of my favorite aunts was teaching at a local barber college at the time, so I decided to enroll. August 31, 1996 was the beginning of my entrepreneurial journey. I started barber college and didn’t look back. That career carried me for over 20 years. The only reason I stopped working full-time in that industry was because I had physical deterioration in my joints from all the years of working. When I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2018, I decided to call it quits for good.
If you’re still here, thank you for taking the time to read this part of my story. There are a couple more parts, but they’ll be on other blog posts. Have a great day & find a way to do what you love! ;)