As a reminder for occasional readers, I quit my job, with my last day of work on June 1st. So I thought I’d give readers an update on how it’s working out, and do a little bit of processing-by-writing as well.
In a way, it seems strange that I spent 20 years at my job before walking away — that is, the corporate world now seems very far removed.
(Complaint: the workgroup I was in when I started made a big deal out of major service anniversaries, with the manager sending out an e-mail telling a few humorous anecdotes and thanking the person for the 10 or 20 years of hard work, and with a celebration including everyone bringing in pot-luck treats and appetizers, even though at the time the cafeteria — with donuts, bagels and toast for breakfast, a full hot lunch, chips in the afternoon, midafternoon ice cream twice a week, and self-serve sandwich fixin’s starting in the mid/late afternoon for those working late — was free at the time. My 20th service anniversary went by without any recognition at all, not even a few nice words at the team call, which may have had an entirely reasonable explanation but felt more like an indicator that they no longer valued long-service people unless you had climbed up the ranks and had a “partner” behind your name.)
Was it deeply fulfilling? No, not really. It was variable. There were parts that were fun, because I was learning something new and figuring things out and feeling smart. There were parts that were repetitive — sometimes in a good, “I can get in a zone and pound through this” and sometimes in a “my head is going to explode if I have to do this one more time.” The last couple years, in December and January, I found the coordination process to be very unpleasant, tracking down who had sent us what information, keeping track of who we needed to chase, having to decide whether then answers to our questions were sufficient, deciding when to bug local folks for additional information, when to say, “eh, it’s probably right.” And I was finding that things about which I’d said, “eh, it’s probably right” were getting questioned in the second level of review, whether by superiors or by peers — and in the latter case, there were instances where I wanted to say, “for crying out loud, it’s not material.” I was having fewer instances of “I’m in a zone, pounding through this.” And the young whipper-snappers liked to create excel files with monstrously complex formulas but at the same time (at least in some instances) missing steps required to put the project together in the first place.
Should I have left a long time ago? Maybe, maybe not. It’s entirely possible that this new journey I’ve embarked on ends with learning that I’m just too old — both in that my brain is no longer as able to adapt as it might have been (and too engulfed in the supposed fog of menopause), and that, however much everyone professes that in the new world of greater longevity, we’ll all have to work longer, I just can’t get people to take me seriously enough to move beyond submitting articles to The Federalist (hey, I’ve had three published since turning in my notice and three which I believe are in queue) because of my age. I may learn that think tanks want to hire people who are willing to move to DC and work long hours, to be molded as they see fit, and that other prospective employers likewise want to see a much longer resume of writing and research at my age, however much they might defend themselves with a line of “we’re not rejecting you for your age but just because you graduated from college so long ago and we want to hire recent graduates — of course we’d hire 50 year olds, if they had just graduated college,” and I may learn that however much time I spend reading and writing I’m just not good enough to get where I want to be solely on that strength alone, and that it all requires a lot more networking, and a lot more extroversion, than I’ve got.
But I’ve had some encouraging signs and have embarked on some projects that will keep me busy, if not well compensated, for the time being, with, again, the goal of being paid something. Is my effective hourly wage when The Federalist accepts an article greater than what I’d be paid if I just applied at Aldi? Maybe yes, at least sometimes, if it’s an article that I pound out quickly after inspiration striking. If you add in the time spent on all the reading that doesn’t really lead to anything, then maybe not.
And, again, my 20 years with my employer were not endless misery. It was for the most part a job like any other. Most people have those sorts of jobs where you come in, put in your hours, and leave again, rather than feeling fulfilled day after day, and I tried, with greater or lesser degrees of success, to push through and to try to create a more interesting job for myself than the description offered, for example, by reaching out and saying, “hey, I’m really interested in putting together that information on how retirement benefits vary by country.”
Plus, the flexibility of working part-time after my oldest was born, and later working from home, enabled me to contribute in a meaningful way to our household expenses (although, yes, that income was substantially reduced by daycare costs and marginal taxes), though it was clear that my husband was a much better fit for the job and was far more successful even notwithstanding the full- vs. part-time difference. And making peace with losing that income has not been easy, not (however preposterous it sounds to someone on weaker financial footing) because of the loss of family income itself so much as simply because I am no longer contributing to that family income, except for the smaller bits from writing for Forbes and articles accepted at The Federalist. When we knew that I was going to be leaving, and that my work cell phone would be shut off, we took advantage of the Xfinity cell phone service — unlimited talk and text, plus $12 per gig of data — using the cell phone that had been unused since my husband’s prior upgrade. And I had hoped that I would just be able to take the family laptop and put it in the familiar spot in the home office where my work laptop had been, but we made the unfortunate discovery that it was just too underpowered to be able to function as I wanted it to, with multiple browser tabs open, and word and excel and outook, as I write something referencing these various data sources — or rather, I made that discovery; my husband had expected as much all along and went online and pulled up a site and said, “this is the computer that you should buy,” but it took me a while to actually get into the frame of mind of accepting that I would not just be losing an income, except for bits and pieces, but that I would be incurring expenses as I continue along this path, and, in the end, the computer that I am at this moment writing on, which I purchased yesterday, was a clearance open-box Best Buy purchase ($400 savings) which I dearly hope I won’t come to regret.
(Yeah, actually, that’s a story of its own. I drove down to a Best Buy that’s a little over a 1/2 hour away to pick it up, then got home and discovered that the adapter was not the correct one. I then went into the local Best Buy and they couldn’t help, but I was able to talk to someone on the phone and they swapped out the adapter and brought it up to the Best Buy which is a short drive from home, so that we were able to set up the computer last night. And then this morning I was idly watching some Youtube video that was shared in my Facebook feed and the volume control wasn’t working, so I was visualizing all sorts of trouble trying to get this fixed, or giving up on the dream of Open Box Magic and sucking it up to spend $400 more or accept a less-powerful computer, but then I restarted it and it works just fine now, so I’m hoping that it’s just a remnant of the “updates are inevitable when you set up a new computer” and not a sign of bad things to come, though I do have a 15 day return window and then the same manufacturer’s warranty as if it was new, afterwards.)
But that means that I really want to break out of my own mental silos as I think about where I’m headed next. I don’t just want to be able to write about a variety of topics but I want to be able to do so in a silo-free way by incorporating historical and global context (I need to go back to reading French and German, too) and incorporating statistics and fitting everything in together, and that’s a tall order.
One final thought: I spent the last couple days reading a book called One Beautiful Dream, by Jennifer Fulwiler. Basically, it’s a “book about writing a book” which is an odd sort of genre, but she tells the story of juggling life caring for her growing family while trying to carve out time to write the book (a story of her conversion to Catholicism as a young mother). She and her husband felt called to have a large family (6 kids in 8 years) even as she struggled to keep her house clean and laundry washed, and to carve out those moments for writing. (Multiple of the Goodreads reviews complain that she should have stopped at 2 or 3 kids because she clearly couldn’t handle six, and took it as a sign of stupidity that they didn’t just abandon NFP, and said that people critical of her family size choices were messages from God, when she’s said that she can’t use hormonal contraception for health reasons and, quite apart from religious beliefs, didn’t want to get sterilized, and, again, she said repeatedly that the large family was a choice, not a sign of bad family planning choices.) But there were two main messages she tried to convey in her book: the first, that having children doesn’t mean putting life on hold but living out your life together with your family, and that personal achievement (in this case, finding the time to write the book) isn’t something which is in opposition to family life but that it all fits together, and she describes an instance in which she had an idea for a chapter and she enlisted the whole family to work to keep the fussy toddler happy while she wrote. Oh, and she also talks about all of the ways in which she had to learn to be open to help from other people, from family (who all live nearby) to friends to the neighbor girls who roamed the neighborhood ringing doorbells and running off but who she eventually befriended and who helped with babysitting.
To be sure, there are some things that don’t hang together. Money is always portrayed as being extremely tight, but they ultimately hire a 3-afternoons-a-week babysitter, which I guess means that “money is tight” is a relative sort of thing, but fine. I don’t need to know their family budget. But she homeschools, and yet, subsequent to half a page on this decision, there are virtually no references to it. Yes, I get that it doesn’t fit in with her narrative, and throwing in extra detail about homeschooling would just bloat the narrative, but it still feels “off.”
But there are some parts that I really “got” — especially a few pages on retreat that she though would be, well, retreatish, but was designed by and for extroverts, with a dance contest to Christian music and all manner of other socializing and it reminded me of the what-have-I-gotten-myself-into CRHP retreat where we were all supposed to sit down next to someone we didn’t know, at meals, and I turned out to be the only one who did so, and was in that unpleasant situation of the women on the left talking to their friends on their left, and the women on the right talking to their friends on their right, and there may or may not have been someone directly across from me but she was engaged in some conversation with someone else, too. And she talks a lot about overcoming her insecurities.
So anyway, it was supposed to be a confidence-booster; except that I go to her website and she’s picture-perfect. She has a radio show on Sirius XM, and there are videos uploaded of talks that she gives, and she’s thin and pretty, and she has a perfectly-curated Instagram account and I tell myself, “what did you think? were you really expecting to find pictures of cluttered kitchen counters and overflowing laundry baskets on her Instagram account to make you feel better?” but there it is. And she’s a self-described introvert but sure seems to be the sort that’s an introvert by preference but has tip-top social skills when she needs to put them into action.
And now I have to go back to a Forbes article that just isn’t coming together the way I had hoped, and send out some e-mails and check some other things off the to-do list.
Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ASecretary_at_work.jpg; By Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, Thousand Oaks, California [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
this is not me. But I identify with this picture, and I’ve spent too much time writing to hunt down a better one now.