Soon to Be Formerly Unemployed

Remember that interview last week? I got an offer!

I am so f*cking excited! I didn’t just get a job, I got a job in something I’d like to be doing (besides writing, that is). It’s a career path that I think I could stick with long term.

If given the chance.

After saying, “Yes! I accept the offer!” and working out the details of starting on Monday morning, he asked if I had any questions. I said something like, “One teency tiny little one.  Um. What is the maternity leave policy?”

<crickets>

The HR representative was literally speechless for a minute before responding. While he gathered his thoughts, I explained that my bi-weekly (soon to be weekly) doctor’s checkups would require me to miss some work from time to time until I give birth, at which point I will need to have some kind of maternity leave.

He told me that as far as being absent during training and needing leave eventually, “That’s something you’ll have to work out with your trainer and, after 6 weeks of training, then your manager. It’s up to your manager on how to handle any of that.” Since I don’t qualify for FMLA leave, any leave I can get has to be personally arranged with my supervisor, and then that agreement is provided to HR – HR stays out of that discussion since it’s not FMLA leave. (Another aside: my friends are also aghast that I’m not guaranteed ANY maternity leave. At all. FMLA isn’t universal. It’s not. You have to have worked for your employer for the 12 months prior to your time off, and have worked a minimum number of hours within those 12 months. And that’s if you work for an employer that offers FMLA, because not everyone has to. News flash: Employers can do whatever they want in terms of giving time off for a baby.)

So I won’t know until 7 weeks from now if I can negotiate any time off for maternity leave. And no time off would obviously be a deal-breaker. I don’t mean to be an A-hole and take a job only to ditch it in 3 months if it turns out I can’t get any leave, but the reality is I need work, I need a paycheck, and I want this job. So I’ll do it for at least the next 6 weeks, even if I have to quit in order to get a maternity leave. So I start my new job on Monday!

Rollercoaster

I thought I’d take you along on the rollercoaster ride that I’ve been on lately. Between being laid off (booo!) and knocked up (woohoo!), it’s been a hell of a ride.

Would you rather get the highs or the lows first? Actually, as I type that out, I realize that part of the problem is that they’re pretty intertwined so they’re inseparable. Sound crazy? Well, it is…

  • A high: Why, yes, I am currently working part-time, but (here’s the low): only for 6 more weeks, then it’s back to unemployment (and by then I’ll be almost 7 months pregnant and who will hire me then?!).
  • A high: My part-time job affords me the opportunity to have a time set aside each and every week to look for and apply for work. A low: I haven’t found anything. At all.
  • A high: I did go on two interviews in the past couple of weeks. The jobs weren’t all that suitable given my skill set, but I was still happy to have a chance to practice my interview skills, if nothing else. A low: I got the “not the right fit” spiel for one of them, a “thank you for your interest, we wish you luck” form letter for the other.
    • It’s hard enough to find a job when you’re not pregnant. Nevermind a job that’s a good fit, especially in this craptastic economy. But when you’re pregnant, employers may not be able to discriminate against you because you’re pregnant, but they can find tons of *other* reasons why you’re “just not a good fit right now.” It’s like a time bomb – the sooner I find work the better – before I’m really showing, ideally.
    • The fact that I’m switching careers doesn’t help. Any little thing (up to and including the very little baby I’m carrying) can be used against me when I’m competing against folks who already have more directly applicable experience in [fill-in-the-blank].
  • The highest of highs: I am so excited to be having my first baby! Also thanks to my part-time job, I get paid to surf the web shopping for cribs, nursery décor, and strollers. The downside to that: I can’t afford any of it right now.

See what I mean? Is it the hormones, or the unemployment? Since I’m experiencing both, I don’t think I’ll ever know…

What’s Not to Like?

I’m sitting at my new job – this is my second week. And honestly? It’s pretty great! Not just because I’m employed (although that, in itself, is a relief) but the work, the work environment? I’m not sure I have been more content with work in a long, long time.

What’s the deal? Well for starters, this is just the confidence boost I needed. For years now I’ve been bouncing around from job to job, and, as a result, my museum career felt very wobbly or uneven since my employment has been so inconsistent. After years of that, and especially with my layoff last fall, I suffered from a crisis of confidence in my own abilities. A more competent person would still be working at one of the many museum jobs I’ve had. I must not be talented at my chosen field because otherwise, my employers would have found some way to keep me on longer than they did. Why did I get laid off when others didn’t? What did I do wrong? Why am I not good enough? It sucks when you work for employers who may not understand or make full use of your talents and abilities…but when you start to take THEIR opinions about yourself to heart? That’s just sad. I started to believed that the problem was not my employers, but me. When they didn’t see value enough in my work to keep me on board, I began to question my own work products, too.

For years I’ve been ignoring that my confidence in my abilities has been slipping away. I came out of grad school a confident gal. I knew I was smart, capable of doing so many different things, and ready to take on whatever task or project I was given. After the last 10 years, though, I don’t even recognize myself. I don’t have faith anymore that my talents and skills will see me through adversity, and I lack the tenacity to even try. I’ve been trying for so long now to make a go of a museum career and it hasn’t worked out – I’m unemployed despite years of trying to prove myself and my worth as an employee. And the problem became even worse – getting laid off has shown me that I came to equate my self worth with my value as an employee, believing that my employers’ assessment of me (as demonstrated by my sputtering around from one short-term grant-funded project to another instead of getting to work as a permanent employee) must be right.

But this work? Answering phones, greeting clients, and taking charge of general office tasks? That I know I can do. I have no doubts about it. This is the first time in years that I have not found myself second-guessing my abilities and glancing over my shoulder at every second of the workday, leaving exhausted and anxious at the end of every day and dreading the next. Instead, I find myself walking out of here with my head held high – knowing that I did a great job today – and not even giving a second thought to what challenges await me tomorrow. And I know that my employer fully recognizes that I’m doing a great job, too, but that’s not even at the front of my mind, and that’s the biggest change. I fully know that I’m doing a great job so I don’t find myself worrying at every turn what my employer thinks and if they are aware of my worth and contributions. A real shift from the mindset I’ve been in for years, where I’ve been seeing myself as my museum employers have seen me (Apparently expendable).

There’s another thing that’s totally fabulous about this gig, though. Freeing up all that head space that was occupied by constant worry and anxiety about job performance? All that space is now freed up so I can focus on other, MUCH MORE IMPORTANT things. Things like: I AM HAVING A BABY!!

I cannot express how excited I am getting about Baby. Until now, yes, I was excited. But there was a huge wet blanket over that, which was my ever present companion of “I’m never going to find a job. What am I going to do?” I may not have found a long-term solution to that, and I still can’t answer what I want to be when I grow up, but I’m starting to let my anxiety about that slip a bit. I’m just BARELY starting to show…and what this humble job is showing me is that maybe I’ve been going about about this job search all wrong. What if I let go of a possibly unrealistic pursuit of work that I find satisfying and instead focus on finding work that lets me rebuild my workplace mojo? That just might free up the space that I need right now to be able to fully experience the undeniable gratitude I feel for the blessings in my personal life as we prepare to welcome Baby.

A Small Break

I have some good news: I found a job! I’m working on weekends at a tax preparer’s office around the corner answering phones, filing, etc.

Okay, so it doesn’t exactly make use of all my skills and abilities…and it doesn’t pay all that well…and it’s only through the tax season…but still: a job. I really had to do some fancy footwork to convince the tax preparer that I would stick around through April 15 once she saw my resume. She was skeptical…and I get it. This kind of work isn’t exactly what I would have envisioned given my resume, either. But I was just honest: Look, I need work. And I saw your ad on Craigslist – your office is right around the corner from my house. And I’m not looking to do this long-term. I’m reliable, I can do the work, and I need a job. So maybe it was a pity hire, but it was just the break I needed. If nothing else, it makes me feel better that someone is willing to take a chance on me because so far, the jobs that do align with my abilities haven’t been calling me. At all.

And there are good things about it too: the tax preparer said (and I quote): “I don’t care what you do while you’re here – surf the web, read, work on other stuff – as long as you get the phones answered and the tax returns filed.” So I have 28 hours a week (Thursdays through Saturdays) when I get paid to surf the web looking for work and work on cover letters and resumes. And I don’t have to use gas money (that I don’t have) to get to work. The way I see it, the worst that could happen is I use the time to try to line up another part-time job for the workweek.

Work Less for More Happiness

I’ve always said that I would gladly work fewer hours for less money in order to have more time off. My favorite work schedule ever was a 32 hour workweek. Sure, I didn’t make a ton of money. Guess what? I still don’t!

But my current 40 hour workweek doesn’t leave me time for the things I used to spend my free time doing – long hikes with my dogs, trying out new recipes, exploring the library for something new to read. In part, all of that was a major lifestyle change that happened when I moved from Nashville to Flagstaff, where I learned to cherish the experiences that come from being in an outdoorsy small town over the things that money can buy. So while some might read the intro to this NYTimes article & think, “This chick be crazy!” I’m thinking I should follow in her footsteps…

Career Counseling Is Changing My Life

So I’m approaching the completion of my career counseling, and it has been an amazing experience. Just like the assessments I did for a job interview about a year ago, I’ve been surprised at how accurately and insightfully the assessments have pinpointed my skills and work style. Mostly, I’ve learned a lot about myself. Let’s review, shall we:

  • I am a highly creative person, who needs to be doing work that is based in creativity. The work has to have variety, be challenging, team-oriented with the ability to direct my own tasks and be flexible.
    • Basically, confirming what I already knew. I should be a writer. But how a writer makes money working for herself, I still haven’t figured out.
  • I have been unhappy & dissatisfied with work thus far because I have been socialized (as many of us are) that a single, “traditional” career is best. That does not fit my personality style nor my talents, and I need to be able to construct work that has many different components, whether that means part-time at two jobs or project-based consulting or whatever. Staying in the same work environment and rising through the ranks doesn’t work for me.
    • This has been a big DUH finding for me. I was brought up with the expectation that you go to college, then you go to graduate or professional school and you embark upon that career. Ta-DAH! Success! But that didn’t give me the opportunity to “play” with my interests and skills and led me to de-value the tasks and kinds of work that I enjoy because they weren’t “demanding” or “high-skilled” enough. Example: my favorite job of all time was when I worked in a bagel shop. I loved everything about it, and was happy as a lark. But because of my socialization, I didn’t question the assumption that of course this is just a part-time gig and why would anyone work in a bagel shop when they have other, more “professional” options available to them? Even if you take the financial argument that realistically, one probably cannot easily work in a low-wage food-service job long-term, let’s compare it to how my bank account has done gangbusters in the nonprofit sector. Ahem.
  • My MBTI Type is INFP. As an INFP, I have to do work I believe in (for projects or casues I care about), I need to work without a great deal of supervision (micromanagement stifles my creative flow), use my creativity to address problems, work among others, have the freedom and time to work on projects with plenty of reflection and quiet time to focus in depth, in a supportive work environment, and have the opportunity to continue to grow personally and professionally.
    • Breaking it down: Unlike what you may think, the I does not mean shy and reserved. The I means that I am focused on theories, ideas, thoughts, concepts. I reqiure the time to reflect and contemplate before I act and become renewed by solo time while social interaction takes energy & drains my focus. The N means I see the forest more than the trees, that I am able to generalize and interpret from facts to larger patterns and that I value insights and analogies. The F means I am empathetic, I seek to find what is most important and prioritize values, and lean towards acceptance and sympathy. The P means that I focus on options and possibilities, I enjoy starting (but not finishing!) projects (ahem), especially because I continually take in and consider new information (to the detriment of getting projects done!).

It explains a lot. I felt like crap about my work and work performance at the history museum becaues my personality type was discounted and not valued as a “legitimate” work style. I’m unhappy at my current job at this private art gallery because I do repretitive tasks that do not tap into my creativity and do not allow me to be balance out my quiet time with social projects and collaboration.

My Strong Interest Inventory indicates that I am best in lines of work that are artistic, social, and investigative. Museums could be a good fit for a work environment for me, but I’ve come out of this recognizing and reaffirming that writing is what I’d like to be doing.  How to get from here to there? I still don’t know. But I’ll start by marketing myself via a portfolio career that highlights my many talents & skills with the intention of creating my own work, either as a consultant or a writer, or balancing part-time work with poverty writing on my own. AKA poverty. At this point, I don’t care how poor we will be, though. I think it’s more important to do what makes you happy than what makes you rich slightly less impoverished.

Panic at the Workplace

Today I learned that my workplace has a panic room. Seriously.

It’s on the upper level, which I’ve only been on a couple of times. Okay, but here’s the thing about the overdesigned wonder in which I work. The upper level is all glass. The exterior walls are glass, the interior room partitions are all glass. Glass, glass, glass. And in keeping with the architecture, the panic room’s walls are also…you guessed it!

What’s more, is that since the panic room is in the center of the building, it’s basically a panic fish bowl.

Unfiltered Thoughts: Architecture

So my new job is in a private art gallery in someone’s home. And by home, I mean overly designed architectural marvel. And by marvel, I mean that it’s, uh, special. Unique. Ok, it’s just straight-up fucked up, really. The building is shaped like a parallelogram. Well, actually, it’s a rhomboid, not just a parallelogram. So there are no 90 degree angles anywhere in the building, and everything, from the furnishings to the fixtures, is custom-made. It may sound pretty cool, but there are some pain-in-the-ass quirks about it for someone who works in such a contrived and unusual structure.

For starters, I work on the basement level. On the south end of the basement level, the ceiling (or the floor of the ground-floor level) is actually a series of plexiglass skylights that let in a lot of natural light. So much light, in fact, that they had to install custom sunscreens on all of them. Not only because of the light and resulting heat, but more importantly because the homeowners store their textiles on the south end, and textiles are easily damaged by light. Meanwhile, the north end of the basement level, where the offices and kitchen are, and where someone like me works 40 hours a week, has no windows or natural light of any kind. It’s a mind-boggling arrangement. Valuable textiles’ exposure to light should be minimized as much as possible, whereas natural light is good for a healthy work environment for people. So why they didn’t just flip the arrangement, and put offices on the south end and textiles on the dark north end, is beyond me. I would say it’s just a decision that the owners made after the architect left the scene, but I know how the owners work. They stay on their help employees, contractors, groundskeepers, and architects like a hawk. And there was a clear and conscious decision to place the office spaces on the north end. There are no rooms at the south end – the textiles are displayed along partitions, not walls or within interior rooms.

Beyond the appropriation of space on the basement level, there’s also an issue with the furnishings. Every single furnishing is a built-in. While my office is beautiful – sleek glass and dark black countertops – there are some problems. My desk is also a rhomboid to remain parallel to the interior and exterior walls. Have you ever tried to cut a perfect 90 degree angle on a surface that’s a rhomboid? Give it a go and tell me how that works out for you. And everything is fixed. Also, the surfaces are all at a fixed height (which is exactly the wrong height for me), so I’m developing carpal tunnel. When I adjust my chair height so that the seat has me at the appropriate spot, there’s only a couple inches clearance under the table. And try as I might, my thighs are not a mere 2″. Finally, there are some major oversights in terms of accommodating basic needs. Because all storage is also built-in, there are no wall hooks, no closets. Where am I supposed to hang my jacket or put my wet umbrella?

It’s utterly baffling, because I’m left to think that either the architect missed some key details in terms of thinking about how people would work in and use the space (as this level was specifically designed for the homeowners’ hired help), or that the architect’s attempts to incorporate such improvements was entirely overridden by the homeowners.

Please to Explain, NYC Edition

Can someone please enlighten me as to why NYC is so great? Maybe it’s awesome for people with money, but for me?

It took me over 2 hours to go from JFK to my hotel in Manhattan by subway.

It smells.

It’s so, so dirty. I’ve seen piss, vomit, and all kinds of bullshit on the streets. Everywhere I go, all I can think of is of all the filthy nasty hands that have also touched the door handle I have to touch.

For $250 a night, I expect a goddamn coffeemaker in my hotel room. Or at least free coffee in the lobby. Assholes. And a shower with hot water.

It just cost me $9 to get a bottle of water & an iced coffee.

The world does not revolve around you, NYC, as you clearly believe it does.

$23 for lunch?! Seriously??

I can’t even breathe. There’s so many people, there’s no space to spread out, no space to carve out for your self. Like at cafes, bookstores, restaurants, it’s just stools at counters or sharing a table with complete strangers.

Must. Escape.

In Which I go Through the Open Window

Today was my last day at my museum job! On to another museum-ish job. Not exactly a museum, but a private art collection, where I’ll be managing the collection and doing research. It’s going to be different in a lot of ways, but the one that I’m looking forward to most is having a clearly defined role that will enable me to concentrate on one project at a time and do each well. I wasn’t able to negotiate putting off the start date, so I’ll be starting after a long weekend, rather than after the years weeks of vacation I actually need to rest up & recover from my museum job, but at least I landed a job in my general field. And that is a feat in and of itself in this economy.