If you had asked me during my college days what it meant to be an Operations Supervisor at an industrial supply company, I would’ve stared blankly at you. At Princeton it seemed that the only fields available to us after graduation were medicine, finance, academia, law, the arts if you were very good, or non-profit service. I assumed that as an English major, academia would be my path.
The summer before senior year I applied for the Rhodes and the Gates scholarships at the behest of the Office of Fellowship Advising. It was a privilege to be tapped but writing a personal statement explaining my English literature research interests was a Sisyphean task. I remember the dim Parisian hotel room where I cried to my roommate about the struggle. I was losing sleep and hair trying to convince scholars at Oxford that I was smart enough to research at their institution.
I thrived in the creative landscape of the English major. For my thesis, I spent months poring over short stories about the supernatural, psychoanalytical case studies, and religious conversion narratives to understand how texts about subjective experience operate. Acting on hunches, I dissected each narrative and meticulously diagrammed each plot. Yet even as I chased the ineffable in texts, I craved the opportunity to work on something tangible. Research was stimulating, but not as immensely satisfying as applying my analytical skills to solve problems I encountered as Station Manager of the campus radio station. I began to devote more time to overseeing the day-to-day operations of WPRB; ensuring that the program, tech, and business departments hummed steadily along was professionally gratifying and fun.
Though heartbroken when I did not progress to the Rhodes interview stage, I was also relieved. I applied for jobs in management. One evening in December 2013 I submitted my resume to an industrial supply company’s management training program. Just a few weeks later I found myself wandering through a warehouse off the New Jersey Turnpike, rapt and in awe of the rattling conveyors and towering shelves lined with pristine cardboard boxes housing thousands of types of fasteners, tools, pipes, raw materials, and objects I had never seen.
For the next three years I immersed myself in the operations of a large company that sells supplies to maintenance and repair operations. I learned about billing customers, market prospecting, maintaining customer accounts, tax and transportation billings, financial control, and contact centers. I managed teams of extremely smart, capable, hardworking adults. I discovered a love for database querying and manipulating large data sets in Microsoft Excel. I tackled process problems alongside managers and supervisors committed to shipping thousands of flawless parcels daily to customers all along the east coast.
How did being an English major make me a successful Operations Supervisor? What had become reflex over my years at Princeton—to read a text and diagram its functions—was an invaluable tool as I strove to diagram and improve physical, sales, computing, and financial processes at McMaster-Carr. Turns out understanding how a text works is not so dissimilar from understanding how a warehouse operates.