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If it’s not one thing, it’s another

September 17, 2009

Over the past few days, I’ve been gradually building up to a personal and professional meltdown that hit this morning when I received an email in my inbox from my generous and well-meaning brother-in-law about a part-time job as the secretary for a Catholic church in a suburb 45 minutes from here.

It made me cry.

Because it’s come to this: I need to find a job. I need to find one soon. And it needs to come with health insurance. I can’t take the uncertainty and precarious of our situation any longer. I just can’t do it. It’s not so much that we’re in a terrible state (although it’s been better) as that my own psychology can no longer deal with checks arriving unpredictably (a freelancer’s lot) and the vulnerability and ever-increasing expense of health insurance for the self-employed. It’s a combination of money troubles and ubiquitous health care talk and I can’t take it anymore.

But faced with the job description, I wept. I did. Because I feel like after all these years, I’ve gotten absolutely nowhere. I feel like I have no skills. I’ve been out of the traditional workforce for so long, I don’t remember how to organize a job search. I haven’t done it since I was 21. Since then, all jobs have come to me. I haven’t had to go to them. And the reasons I’m in this position are entirely of my own making. I can say, if I want, “Mistakes were made,” but I know in my heart of hearts that I am the one who made them. And poor Mr. Spy has been shouldering the lion’s share of the burden for far too long.

My two primary fields of experience have all but dried up in this economy. I am looking as broadly as I am comfortable. But every description for a new job requires me to talk myself off a ledge I built myself. I spend a lot of time giving myself Stewart Smalley-style pep talks. I sat down this morning and wrote out a description of my skills and experiences that, on paper, sound great. I’ve drafted and redrafted emails to friends letting them know I’m looking but I can’t seem to hit the send button. It seems like asking too much. I never like asking for favors. In college, I didn’t even like going to talk to my professors because I didn’t want to waste their time. I’ve always thought of myself as pretty self-confident, but I’m realizing more and more that I’m not so much, at least not anymore. And I’m having trouble figuring out how to connect the dots from where I am now to where I want to be.

In the middle of my crisis this morning, I got a call from the guy who ambushed me about the pool taking half of my salary for teaching this summer. I am usually unflaggingly polite, but he caught me at a bad time and he is such a bullying jerk, that I really let him have it. Then I hung up and documented exactly how much I made this summer, how much the pool’s cut will be and, just to make my point, I calculated my hourly wage. It came out to $1.44. I made more babysitting when I was 12. But of course, I don’t teach that class for money. I do it because I want to, because I enjoy it and because it’s a service for my community. The pool will be getting a full accounting and a check for about $50 from me. They are also likely to get a bunch of angry letters from my outraged students. And the promise of hundreds of dollars of lost membership fees for next year.

Tonight I will hopefully calm down enough to behave myself at the orientation meeting for AJ’s gifted program. I’m actually looking forward to it. But now there are cover letters to write.

11 Comments leave one →
  1. freshhell permalink
    September 17, 2009 3:50 pm

    I was the same way as you – never “bothering” anyone and never asking for help but you don’t get very far that way. Does you alma mater have a career center? You might call and see what they do for alumnae/i. Some colleges do a lot and others do nothing but networking is key. Also, I wonder if the nice school librarian would know of something. You’ve been helpful to her and it’s who you know that gets you halfway through the door. Best of luck. This is not a perfect time to look for a job but it’s also the best time in that you don’t have to offer any excuses or reasons why you’re looking. Lots of people are in the same boat. And, once your diss is finished and you’ve got that PhD, things will change. Think about this a temporary necessity. One many people face right now. It’s a human problem. We all have to work in one way or another, we must support our families however we can (paid or not). So, push the button and make some phone calls. Tell people to look out for you.

  2. September 17, 2009 3:56 pm

    Yeah, bother everybody. People like to be of help. Sometimes it’s flattering just to find out that someone thinks you might be able to help them.
    And think carefully about part-time work. I can’t imagine it offers health insurance, for one thing, but for another, it’s a terrible time-suck. Two part-time jobs are always way more than one full-time job.
    I won’t say don’t settle, because sometimes you have to, at least for a while. But don’t settle too soon.

  3. September 17, 2009 4:51 pm

    I think the nice librarian is an excellent idea. I wish I’d thought to ask when I was in there this afternoon, but I’ll be there tomorrow too. Figuring out who to ask for references is really hard, since so many of mine are old (the references, that is. Not the people I’m asking). Talking to my alma maters, both of which have excellent career offices (particularly my undergrad alma mater, whose career services have served as a model to other universities), is on my to do list. I have a lot of contacts. I just need to get over myself and start asking people for help. I hate that.

  4. Hugh permalink
    September 17, 2009 5:43 pm

    Going through a similar patch myself, Harriet. Either being hugely overqualified, or producing the dreaded “why do you want this job?” question. It is small comfort to know that many, including those with better bona fides and more career-focused resumes are in need of employment as well. Good luck, and the ledge is much wider than you think.

  5. September 17, 2009 7:19 pm

    I don’t think I could say it any better than everyone else has. Good luck to you, friend.

  6. September 18, 2009 8:37 am

    Assuming your references are who I think they are, it may not look so bad. They’re at the same jobs they were at when you left, so (for example) the reference from the Executive Director of Organization X will discuss what you did for her at Organization X — the dates won’t stand out the way they would if she had moved on. And you’ve got pretty good reasons for having been out of the workforce. Good luck.

    Also, as for the pool man — missed the original story, but it sounds like he needed the grief you gave him.

  7. Eleanor permalink
    September 18, 2009 9:23 am

    Just recently, I asked myself the difficult question: If I suddenly needed to make a living, what would I do? I’m good at all sorts of things, none of which would earn me a living wage. I really feel for you in your predicament. Good luck!

  8. September 18, 2009 3:25 pm

    My goal for this school year is to start the job process. My teaching certificate is expired. What do I need to do to get it back? Do I really want to get it back or work at a private school that doesn’t care? Do I want to work at my kids school or is private ok? Could I handle more than part time? … yes, the questions go on and on and are working to prevent me from getting started. I understand.

  9. crankygirl permalink
    September 18, 2009 6:37 pm

    Let me know if there is anything I can do. I’m with mr. unfocused–it’ll get easier once you start. don’t forget what moonface martin says, “it’s always darkest just before you turn on the lights.”

  10. September 18, 2009 6:59 pm

    Hit the send button. I’ve worked with you. Hit the send button.

  11. September 27, 2009 3:41 pm

    I’m late on this but wanted to chime in on the support and empathy for your situation. As a fellow freelancer whose second-largest client just lost the grant that supported my work for them, I definitely know the feeling of having had it with precariousness. I just added my newborn son to my health insurance, bringing my health insurance spending up to over $9K a year. I sent out a job application last week and am also prospecting for new freelance clients. I’d really rather continue to freelance with a newborn (was hoping to pull it off until he’s three and can go to preschool) but I may have to get a regular job just to assuage my anxiety about our situation. You have plenty of talent and many connections willing to expound on your skills and talents–don’t be shy about putting all that to work. Good luck!

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