The Retired Version of My Mom

November 3, 2008

My mom retired about 6 months ago.  I have seen her since she retired, but I hadn’t noticed how much more relaxed she is until she visited me the week before last.  She’s not a big fan of dogs and has been giving me a hard time about my dogs for years.

I was surprised to see her actually play with my dogs.  It almost seemed like…uh…she enjoyed it!

She delayed retiring for as long as possible, but finally could not take the stress of her job any more.  One reason she didn’t stop working earlier is because she enjoyed having “extra” money to spend.  She thought this would be the hardest part of adjusting to retirement.  My mom is quite a shopper.  She is also quite a giver.  I think the hardest part for her is not being able to spoil her kids and grandkids. 

The wonderful thing is that so far, she hasn’t missed the income.  She has been taking the time to recover from years and years of workplace stress.  She’s been doing what she enjoys…keeping her house clean and doing yard work…and savoring her morning coffee ritual at a local coffee shop.  She has not been bored.  Eventually, she will experiment with fun ways to earn money, but she is in no hurry.

It was so refreshing to see her more relaxed.  Yeah, dogs are dirty and messy and expensive and sometimes annoying, but they are wonderful and therapeutic creatures.  I am so glad she is finally at a point in her life where she can enjoy the smaller pleasures in life.


The Past No Longer Serves You

October 16, 2008

This is becoming my current mantra…Cremello shared this with me.  It especially applies in the workplace since I’ve had a number of bad work experiences that have left me nervous, unconsciously waiting for the next bad thing to happen.

Since 1999, I have been laid off from four different jobs.  Each time I was less surprised.  On occasions 3 and 4, I saw it coming (you learn after a while!) and bailed out before I was officially laid off.  After expressing gratitude for my current job and pouring all of my creative energy into it (shucks, at the expense of my blogging!), I found out that there is a possibility that our organization will not survive.

I still think it’s unlikely.  I’m still processing the information, though.  I think Dude is being very cautious and making sure that everyone understands the gravity of the situation.  There are a number of things in “the pipeline” that will get us through this rough period, but if they fall through, our organization will fall apart.

Once again, I am flooded with memories of past experiences and the horror of transition and uncertainty and unemployment and underemployment and falling even further behind…that has been what I have been dealing with for the last 10 years.  But, I am not really flooded with the thoughts, though, because I keep catching myself…at these moments, I remember…

The past no longer serves you.  Each day you decide anew who you are and what is important to you.

I need to remember today is a different day and this is a different job.  I cannot let (thoughts of) past experiences contaminate my present situation.  There is no room in the present for negative thought.  I will remain positive and do everything I can to contribute to the success of the organization.  Our organization is dedicated to the greater good.  This will work.

Researchers R Us

October 14, 2008

A couple of decades ago, a few liberal and well-educated hippies went into business for themselves.  They started a “research house.”  It grew and grew until it became a decent-sized company.  This is where I worked after I finished my Master’s degree: at Researchers R Us.

I had hoped to get a job and move to DC, but my only job prospect in DC went down in flames.  I had an interview, but as it turns out, they knew Sally from the Institute on Poverty and Hypocrisy.  Of course, I didn’t use her as a reference, but that would NOT be the last time people contacted “references” I did NOT provide.

So, two months after graduation and facing eviction from student family housing, I finally had a local job offer.  I should have been relieved.  I should have been ecstatic.  Instead, I cried.  After getting the offer, I hung up the phone and cried.  The salary was miserable.  Granted, it was more than I’ve ever made, but it wasn’t enough.  But I got over it.  I (informally) made a two year committment to the place, upon their request (even though it wasn’t legal for them to ask that of me).  I figured I would bust my arse and get promoted.

There were a lot of researchers, computer programmers, and toys…and not a lot of individual offices.  I shared an office with 4 other people.  That totally sucked.  I recognized one person, Kayla…we had both worked at the same drug store years earlier.  One of the people with an office, Bill, was really tall, had a mullett-turned-grey, and walked around in his socks.  I would work with both of them at the University a few years later.  It was fun telling people that Bill used to walk around in his socks at Researchers R Us.

What did I learn here?  Academics don’t make good entrepreneurs.  Three months into this gig, they laid off a dozen people, including myself.  They had lost their biggest client.  Apparently, they did not have a legal contract with this company and they decided they would do their customer satisfaction research in-house.

I also learned that employers expect a lot from employees, like expecting them to make 2 year committments (which I had every intention of fulfilling) and laying them off 3 months later.  Workplace loyalty is usually a one way street.  I’ve learned that lesson again and again.  In fact, I’ve learned it so many times that I need to unlearn it, since not ALL employers are like this.

This experience marks the first time I realized I should pay attention to how my employers run their businesses….and that the days of working anywhere for 20+ consecutive years are over.

The Institute on Poverty and Hypocrisy

October 10, 2008

As a graduate student, I was required to do a field placement.  Not all of these gigs were paid, so I strategically (only) expressed interest in being a research assistant (the kind that get paid).  I had a 6 month old baby to take care of.  Working for free was not an option.

The work itself was fairly interesting.  I learned some new “skills.”  More important than learning how to “do” anything, I learned some other lessons.  Here are the most important things I learned:

The easier the job is, the more it pays.  The more you sit on your butt, the more money you make.

Women can be their own worst enemies.  I worked on three projects for three different women.  The oldest one, Sally, was the only one who had children and they were almost grown.  She was also the least compassionate about my status as a single parent.  Sally did not believe it was appropriate or “fair” to give me any flexibility in the workplace as a parent (not to mention a single parent with NO help from the father, no child support, subsisting on student loans, WIC, and food stamps).  She claimed that the point of the internship was to simulate a real work environment.  She proceeded to inform me that in the “real world,” flexibility is not given to people who also happen to be parents.

(Fast forward 11 years and I have never had a boss as inflexible as she was, except for Colleen at RITG.  My other employers have been happy to give me flexibility in the workplace.  It’s called the work/life balance.  I found it completely ironic that we were doing poverty research and she had no compassion for me taking care of a 6-month-old while going to school, living in poverty, and fighting to make a better life for myself and my son.

Sometimes your neighbors hear more than you think you do.  I had a LOT of anger towards my son’s father for failing to contribute anything to the physical, financial, and emotional responsibilities of parenting.  I experienced the worst hell during that year-and-a-half, trying to complete a graduate degree, work, and take care of an infant who was only in day care part-time (when I was in class and at work).  I couldn’t afford day care for the rest of the week when I was supposed to be studying.

One night, I spewed all of my (then) hatred towards his father in a verbal tirade to his imaginary presence.  I ripped him a new @$$hole and then some.  I realized from something one of my neighbors said a few days later that he had heard my “conversation.”  How freaking embarrassing.

It’s not how hard you work or how good of a job you do, it’s your bosses (or their bosses) personal opinion that matters.  Once again, the only time I ever experienced this was with Colleen at RITG ten years later.  Fortunately, the rest of my work experiences have been vastly different.  With Sally and Colleen, they were the kind of people who needed a degree of “ego massaging” to get on their good side.  I don’t do ego massaging.  It goes against everything I believe in.

I’m better with computers than most people, despite a lack of formal training.  This has been a major strength for me over the years.  Wherever I work, I quickly earn a reputation for being the best computer person in the group.  Only the “IT” people know more than me and they are always in short supply.  I have gotten many jobs because of my unique range of skills.

I’m a better writer than most graduate students and I’m great with theory.  I discovered this in two different classes…both were rumored to be the hardest classes with the most impossible-to-please professors.  I got A’s on every paper I wrote for both classes.  I’m not trying to brag here.  This was a refreshing experience given I’ve gotten lower grades for the same quality of work in “easier” classes.  I’m still perplexed by the grade I received for one of the best papers I’ve ever written.  It was for an urban planning class.  I honestly don’t think the lecturer (the “famous” professor who was supposed to co-teach the class only showed up once) understood the paper.

Also, this is important because I didn’t think I was smart when I was growing up.  When I first attended this university as an undergrad, I assumed everyonewas smarter than me.  And here I was in graduate school, kicking everyones butts.  After being misunderstood for so many years, this was the universe telling me I was going in the right direction.  This was the universe showing me a life, and a future, with possibilities.

Dude is Stressed

October 8, 2008

I just gave my boss a nickname today.  Dude.  I didn’t put much (if any) thought into the nickname, so don’t read much (if anything) into it.  Just a random generic way to refer to him in cyberspace.

Today, Dude is stressed.  I’ve seen him stressed a few times over the last 6 months, but today was extra special.  My coworker told me afterwards I shouldn’t have joked about x situation.  So true!  When things like this happen, I definitely make a point to avoid x situation (an oops that’s too boring to warrant description) in the future, but I interpret that as a sign that someone is stressed…in general.  He is so nice and gentle and subtle in his communication that he has to go out of his way to communicate concern.

He is stressed about our organization (finances) and stressed about the economy and stressed about a member of our (very small) staff leaving last week.  He is so 110% dedicated to this organization.  It’s his baby.  He’s been here since the beginning.  He’s one of the few experts in the up-and-coming field.  He lives and breathes to fulfill the mission of the organization.

He freaks out when we do or say things that make it appear as though we are not as committed to the success of the organization as he is.  Sometimes he catches my attention drifting and reminds me to focus.  Fair enough.  Other times he gets stressed when he hears us chatting it up like people in normal workplaces do.  I don’t happen to agree with him on this one…I can be chatty and still get work done.  I can’t sit in my office ALL day staring at the monitor because my eyes will eventually cross (if they don’t pop out of my head first).  But, since he’s such a wonderful boss in so many other ways, I’m willing to spend more time IMing my coworkers (instead of talking in person) if that helps alleviate his stress level.  I know.  I’m generous like that.

But seriously, I’m realizing we need to find ways to assure him that we are committed.  We are dedicated to the cause.  We are not going to up and leave (like the last person).  That was a total surprise to him.  But, since the rest of us spend time chatting regularly, it wasn’t as shocking to us.  Anyway, back to my point.  He is such a great boss and I want to do what I can to alleviate his stress levels.  We need to assure him that we have things under control, which may not be 100% true at the moment, but we need to get things under control ASAP and inspire him to be confident in our abilities to be counted upon as coworkers and employees.

A Life Divided by Jobs

October 5, 2008

I’ve been procrastinating on proceeding with my work history.  I want to get it out of the way so I can move on to other things, but it’s not all that interesting or fun to relive a series of jobs that cause me to remember not only some good times, but the bad times as well.

Whenever I reflect on a particular work experience, I am flooded with memories related to what was going on in my life at that point in time.  Since I’ve had so many jobs, reflections of each one capture a distinct moment in my life.

There are no easy or official beginning/ending points in life.  It may be that a certain song or a certain smell brings you back to a specific time period in your life.  This happens for me, but each job “neatly” breaks up segments of my adult life.

Now that I have begun to push through this “work” writing block, I’m realizing it might make sense (or at least be more motivating/interesting) to include some “non-work details.”  Other wise, I will feel like I’m recounting my resume, which is BORING.

Maybe I will talk about what I learned at each job that had NOTHING to do with the actual practical skills gained.  In a way, these are the things that are more important…or at least AS important.  For example, if you can perform your job duties, but don’t always get along with coworkers, you’re not going to get very far in life.

How Do You Define Work?

October 2, 2008

As I have been reflecting on my past work experiences, I have been thinking about what work means to me.  I think it’s worth thinking about since we spend so much time (whether we like it or not) doing it.

My goal, since I was young, has been to have a job that does not FEEL like a job.  I’ve pretty much succeeded.  My current job is the most fulfilling (and best paid) job I’ve ever had.  I plan on staying here indefinitely. 

At the same time, when the day is over, my work is not done.  I was reminded of that by a recent child abuse case.  There are too many cases to count, but this was a particularly gruesome situation that took place within close geographic proximity.

I have been struggling with my feelings about this particular case.  I feel so sad and there are moments where I feel hopeless because these things are ALWAYS happening.  No matter how good of a day you might be having, there are people suffering at that exact moment.  I decided that, rather than letting this get the best of me, that I am going to do something about it.

This is what I call WORK.

No, I can’t end child abuse, but I can do something.  I am playing around with ideas right now.  I just know I have to do something.  I can’t spend another day of my life ignoring the suffering of others.  I feel a sense of responsibility to use the unique skills and experience I possess to make an impact.

This helps me turn my despair into love…and hope.