Thursday, March 27, 2014

Job Search Trippin

It’s been a week since I was fired.

It feels like everyone has moved on. I am trying to. But I haven’t yet. There are days when I’m still sitting in that office with my silent boss and two HR people worried that I’ll go postal. There are times where I’m still on that curb feeling like a sack of laundry, crying about my stupidity, but those times are getting shorter.  And a touch of my swagger has come back. Not a lot, but a touch.  Folks are still uncomfortable around me, hoping I’m not contagious. Some are angry about my situation and others are ambivalent.  Others have found that they should explain to me the rules for corporations and how I should logically just get over it. I usually just listen in silence. It’s cool. I’m not a performer and they’re not my audience. I’m fine with folks avoiding me.

The process of looking for a job hasn’t changed much from 2009, the last time I looked.  But even in this one week, I’ve been completely humbled. This process can make you feel like a complete loser, whether you are one or not. You sit at the computer, deciding what in your life is important to tell to someone you’ve never met. You look at the computer and wonder if you can create some sort of magical spell that will make your resume stand out over someone else’s. You look up the relevant person to send your resume to. You research salaries so you don’t come in too high and look like a jerk. You line your references up and hope that they’ll be home or at their desks 24/7 if someone happens to call. You even wonder if you’ll be able to afford a suit. And you revise, revise, revise, and throw away scores of resumes and cover letters because they aren’t what Forbes,, or even Cosmopolitan says is relevant for the job hunter.

What I’ve learned this week about job hunting is that the question isn’t, “How do I get a job?” it’s really “Am I relevant?”  Ouch. Proving your relevancy to someone, who probably has just as many insecurities and issues as you do is heart breaking. Your mind races if you get called for an interview or even a phone interview. What will I say? Will it make sense? What if they’re having a bad day? What’ if I’m having a bad day? Is 4 the only time they can talk? Where will I stash my three kids who are usually running around at that time? What will I wear that won’t make women hate me, and men disregard me? Will I be comfortable in the interview chair?

But I think the resume is the hardest part. Not because I can’t write up my accomplishments to fit a job description. I can, and I will.  I have a ton of accomplishments, that are all true by the way, that can get me a well paying job. But the resume is a funny thing. There are all these lines where you’re supposed to put what makes you the right candidate for the job. Where you have to prove your relevancy.

But relevancy doesn’t mean important.  And I don’t think I’m being subjective about this point. In order to find a job, you must split yourself into two, your personal and your corporate self.  But I’m not sure if there’s more than an hour where I’m not a mommy. I’m not sure how it works for dads because I’m not one. But for most of the women I’ve spoken to and worked with, the mommy channel is 24/7. (Even when their kids are adults). The jobs my corporate self is qualified for has never allowed for my resume to reflect the other side of my life. On my resume there’s no line for successfully taking a shower while taking care of a 4 year old and an infant. There’s no line for getting dinner together and taking care of math homework and driving to Michael’s Craft store at 8:45p to get that thing your 12-year-old told you about at the very last minute that they need in the morning. No lines for cupcakes made, or laundry washed, or coupons cut, gathered and distributed.  No lines on your resume for the counseling sessions for your family member who is having a hard time. Or trying to help manage your father who has Alzheimer’s from 500 miles away.  I’d like a line for making appointments and managing extracurricular activities while sitting in the carpool lane. Or arguing with the financial institutions your parents bank at right before the three parent-teacher conferences.

I did all those things sometimes while having had surgery, a torn meniscus (that I still have), having pink eye, and recovering from a hysterectomy.  I did those things while I worked outside the home almost non-stop whether it was checking emails outside company office hours, to talking to a client on my own time, to working when should have been on disability. Saying all of that on my resume would make my resume 20 pages long.  My relevancy would be obliterated. (Now I know a lot of you will say, “Erica, you just have to finesse those skills into your resume.”  Call taking care of three kids with pink eye, “Managing an in-house children’s ward.”  Or when cursing out your dad’s doctor in New York you could say, “Managing the day-to-day operations of a private care patient.” And when you have to ask your parents for a loan to fix your car you could say, “Negotiating a private line of credit for transportation investment.”) Look, I get it.  You have to put a little shine on the shinola, but I don’t want to get it.  And I’m sure the women who have children (and those that don’t) don’t want to get it either. They’d love for their organization, administrative (permission slips for every trip come to mind), and financial acumen at home to be counted for something exactly the way it happens.  That way the people who are interested in hiring folks would see all of me as relevant and wouldn’t compromise my career after I was hired when I had to take care of a sick kid, or fly to New York unexpectedly or see elementary STEM project at 8:45 in the morning.

I’ve been thinking that as interviewers and interviewees that we might be asking the wrong questions, and setting the wrong structure for job hiring. What if what was more important was not your accomplishments but your failures? And what you learned from these failures? I think that’s a damn good interview question,

Interviewer: Ms. Woods, what have you learned from your failures?

Ms. Woods: I’ve learned to never take anyone, anything, or any situation for granted.  I’ve learned that the only moment that matters is right now, and that the only way to live your life is through grace, compassion, and empathy.  Without those characteristics you’re sleepwalking through every relationship whether corporate or personal you’ll ever have in your life. I’ve also learned that when you fail, you’ll be alone in that failure; but the good news is that you can rise from it and become the person that you always dreamed you’d be with or without folks.

Interviewer: Well, your answers were concise, intuitive, and creative. Most importantly they were relevant to the kind of person we'd like to have with us. You’re hired!

That’s my kind of job search

Sunday, March 23, 2014

All about me

On Thursday, the first day of Spring, I lost my job.  I had violated a zero tolerance policy that like most people I thought would never apply to me. I had sent personal mail on the company’s bill. Not paying the bill was never intentional, but that doesn’t matter. What is intentional is that there are consequences for every and all actions and my consequence is that I no longer have a job in one of the worst job markets in my lifetime while being sole breadwinner for my family.

While the prospect of not having money is not cool. The hard part is remaining happy and not branding myself as an idiot. My true friends are fine with me being a sap, beating up on myself (for a minute) and having a breakdown. They’ve gotten angry, sent me pictures of chocolate to make me smile and indulged my newfound obsession of Elvis’ peanut butter and banana sandwiches, and asked me what they can do (send over a meal, help me find a job, take care of our kids). Others have just offered their ears (we’re grateful). One of my closest buddies said she’s willing to just sit with me in silence if that’s what I need her to do (why she says that when she’s knows we’d be giggling the whole time I don’t know, but I love her for saying it). Others are avoiding me.  They don’t want to get the funk of failure on their hands and do everything they can, not to talk to me. That’s cool, for now. There are others who have texted me or emailed me in order to see how they can avoid losing their jobs by finding out the juicy and spicy story and “commiserating” with me.  They lash out at my former company and say how unfair it is they would fire me in this economy and in my situation. In reality, they too want to know how they can end up not like me.

I don’t have their answers.  Hell, I don’t have my own answers. I’m too busy trying to breathe.

The real deal is, even though in my head I’ve been wishing for 2014 to be the year I changed my job, I hadn’t anticipated that I’d be sitting on curb crying in front of my former job after the final meeting. My five-year work record had meant nothing, the mistake was more important. But looking back, I now see that’s how many of us relate to one another. The one mistake prevents us from loving someone, trusting someone, or having a truly meaningful relationship with others.  If we as individuals don’t know how to forgive, or embrace mistakes, how can we expect institutions, or societies, or our children to move past these mistakes and take chances on folks?  So it should be no surprise that I’ve lost my gig. But it doesn’t make it hurt any less.

What hurts more is the shame. The shame is probably the worst part. Shame has not a damn thing to do with you, but you think it does. It has everything to do with people who usually mean nothing to you. NOTHING.  You worry for their feelings, you hope they don’t think bad of you or your work. Hell, you hope they don’t talk about your work to other people and badmouth you. You remember all the things you didn’t have a chance to do. You couldn’t even tell people goodbye so that at least that would be the last image they had of you. While I sat on that curb, I thought about so many other people who would think badly of me.  Amazingly, I thought nothing about my children, or my husband. Out of the twenty to thirty (yes, I counted) people. Only two people were my close friends. None were family. NONE.  I was (and I’m still fighting it) more concerned about my FB community, or my classmates at Duke knowing that I had failed than I was my own children. The day I was fired, three people wrote me to tell me how upset the department Supervisor was over my dismissal. One person said she almost cried in her office and I should know that. For the rest of the night I was worried about the supervisor’s feeling and how I might have failed her. I almost wrote her a letter telling her I was sorry I let her down. My shame was enough to fill my entire house. Later I dreaded telling my parents that I had lost my job. My mother who has never been fired from any job EVER what would she say? I held off for three days before I said anything to her.  The shame triggered a panic attack on Saturday while I sat Barnes and Noble. I was so afraid that someone I worked with would see me and want to talk about it. Afraid that the human resources person would come in looking for a book or the mailroom guy who knows everyone’s business, or even the cleaning lady might glance at me and they’d say “tsk, tsk, so sad” as I sat in the magazine section reading Vanity Fair.

But it’s all just shame taking control and trying to call all the shots. The reality is I made a mistake. A foible. You can call it a costly error. But that’s it, and I’m paying for it. But who hasn’t. That’s it.  It’s not rocket science.

This morning it dawned on me. How in the hell could my departmental supervisor be more upset than me? Who the hell cares if people who don’t even know my name see me at Barnes and Noble or the movie theater?  My classmates at Duke were going through similar trials and tribulations and had lived to tell the tale and were still doing wonderfully and were extraordinary human beings.  I even had someone who was in my program who didn’t know me tell me she wished me peace and knew that my presence in the program was evidence that I would do great things. And my FB community, they had already proven themselves time and time again to give their support through words but also through small significant actions that meant everything to me and to my family.  I am pissed that shame blocked me from seeing that almost nothing would dull my shine to my children, who wanted me home anyway.  My youngest had been asking for me to be home in the afternoons to read her stories and play tea party.

So if you’re one of those folks who think I have cooties.  I’m fine with that.  But I’m not fine with you putting your shame on me. I refuse to engage in your fear that you’ll end up like me, or your conceit (which is also fear) that you’ll never be like me.  If you come to me with love, that’s cool. But if you’re coming to get the juicy story, you’ll be sadly disappointed. Not because I don’t have a story. I have one.  It’s a story that has lots of depression, low moments, and bad decisions. It’s a story where I get my ass kicked on several occasions before I get the message and move onto a different path.  But that’s not the story you’ll get from me.

The story you’ll get is about me moving through that shit and coming out great on the other side. It’s about me redefining success to fit my brand of Erica, not yours. It will be about me seizing the day and trying this writing thing for real. Even with the haters whispering in my ear that I can’t do it. I’ll do it anyway. It might even be about moving back to New York City, or some other place. It will be about getting my PhD in my 50s and teaching women to be fearless. It might be about taking a job who’s salary is half what I used to make in order to get to the ultimate goal for me and my family. It will definitely be about producing compassionate and empathetic children who learn that failure is part of life, but it’s not all there is to life. It will definitely be about enjoying the time I have with my partner whether it be a quiet movie night, or a trip to Paris. It might be about going back to take care of my father.  It might be about adopting a Pug. It might be about opening a Peanut Butter and banana sandwich shop. I don’t know, what it will be. But whatever it is, it will not be about you.

It will be all about me.