Dream Job: Jarek Steele, Co-Owner Of Left Bank Books

Meet Jarek

jarek with word quote

Co-Owner of Left Bank Books

Are you someone who sees the potential in others? Do you enjoy interacting with others to help them succeed and look for ways to challenge them? Perhaps you believe all individuals are a work in progress, alive with possibilities. Increments of growth may be invisible to some, but to you, small steps are signs of growth that give you strength and satisfaction. You may be someone with the talent of Developer.

Jarek is kind, thoughtful, and full of courage. I first met Jarek at a diversity and inclusion training event hosted at Left Bank Books. He self identified as shy and introverted yet still stood up in front of a group of strangers to tell his truth about struggles he was facing. I eventually ran into Jarek again while I was working and introduced myself. The brief interaction ended in a warm embrace, because although I was a stranger, Jarek cared. Jarek sees the best in people, is understanding and patient. He reaches beyond what he sees is possible in hopes of a building something greater for us all.

Please enjoy the beauty in struggle and wonderful tale of how Jarek got to his dream job. Even further into the article, Jarek shares insightful advice for those interested in a similar career.

What does the phrase “Dream Job” mean to you.

A dream job projects to the world the person you aspire to be and gives you the freedom to grow by doing it.

What’s your title? What do you do? How long have you done this?

I’m Co-Owner of Left Bank Books.

Everyone here is a bookseller – owners included.  It’s the first and most important job in the store.  In addition to that, I do all of the financial management, most of the graphic design and website management, and on a larger scale set the tone and message for this store with my partner.

left bank books
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What jobs or past experiences have led you to the current thing that pays you money (your job)?

I had no idea what was supposed to come after high school.  I mean, I had a vague idea that people with money went to college and people like me went to work, but I loved school.  It was one of the only solid, dependable things in my life and I was good at it.  After I graduated I cleaned rooms in a Days Inn and played the bass in a band until I met my son’s father.

I had my son when I was 19 and spiraled into a pretty severe depression.  I was struggling with my gender identity and sexuality and feeling pretty trapped.  We lived in a garage my (then) husband had converted into an apartment, but it was only marginally livable – concrete floor, wood stove, well water, sketchy plumbing.  I wanted more for myself and for my son.  We moved to Edwardsville, Illinois, so that I could go to college.  I worked several jobs so that I could pay for it.  I still had no idea what I was doing.  All I knew was 1. people who succeeded went to college and 2. I loved reading and writing.  So I got a degree in English Language and Literature with a Creative Writing minor.

My family fell apart and I worked many, many more jobs from cemeteries, to oil fields to over the road truck driving.  At a low moment, when I was living on my sister’s floor with no car I went to the library and wrote a desperate note to a former professor who suggested that I apply at Left Bank Books.  I had always loved the store, so I applied.

My vast experience in all sorts of other jobs and my love of reading prepared me for stepping into a small business. It required everything from cleaning the cat box, to managing an event with Hilary Clinton. The responsibility began and ended with the small staff of the store.  I loved it.  I knew immediately that this was my home.  The store has saved my life in so many ways & I feel very fortunate to be here.  It has given me the room to be the person I am and grow into a much better person than I was.

jarek reading

What occupation did you imagine having when you were 5? What about at 25?

I thought I’d be a welder when I was five. (I have no idea why.)  At 25, I wanted to be a writer.

The Best: Tell us, what’s the best part of your job?

Today I got a phone call from a closeted transgender person who came to the dedication of the country’s first transgender memorial garden – a project I was largely responsible for.  This person called because they were able to admit after 65 years that they were transgender because of the communication and inspiration of that garden.  This job, this community, this store, and my position in all of them allowed me to do that.  I can define what I do and what this bookstore does and it can only limited by a deficit in imagination.

transgender sign
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The Stink: Tell us, what’s part of the job that you really wish were different? 

I wish I didn’t have to convince people that bookstores and other locally owned businesses were worth the effort to stop shopping at Amazon.  I wish I didn’t have to explain why that’s important.  I wish I could pay my staff what they’re worth.

Outside of your job, how do you spend your time? 

I binge watch Netflix, do woodworking in my garage, volunteer with the Metro Trans Umbrella Group and pay a disproportionate amount of attention to my pets.

jarek cat pic
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Who is someone you look up to for career inspiration?

My partner, Kris Kleindienst.  She’s worked here since 1976 and is hands down the smartest person in the room.

What is your advice to people who are interested in a similar career?

Expect to not be rich. Expect many days when you don’t think your business will last. Expect to defend its existence.  Prepare for overwhelming support from those who get what you do.  Prepare to work with people who are smarter than you are, and seize the moment to learn from them.

If you could read these questions about someone else, who would you want to see answer them? (can give a job title or name a specific person).

Someone with St. Louis Effort for AIDS or Women’s Safe House

Thank you Jarek, for your wise advice and candid story. Be sure to visit your local book stores and visit www.left-bank.com for more information on Left Bank Books.

Work Theory is a blog designed around the idea that humans should have access to jobs that they enjoy and can make a living doing. The Dream Job series gives us a glimpse into the lives of people who have managed to achieve consistent satisfaction and happiness in their career. The jobs they work are as diverse as the lives led by these individuals. “Like” Work Theory on Facebook to remain a part of the story.

If you, or someone you know is living their dream job and are interested in being interviewed, please contact Annie here.

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