Archives for posts with tag: work

The weather was perfect. Waldo and I had a great walk. The Kid called me as I was driving to work, and we had a fine chat; she called me “the best mom ever.” I walked into the store with the sense that I was in charge; I could take it or leave it, and I liked my co-workers very much.

I had an excellent lunch- a beautiful soup made by Dr. T.  A friend from my last job sent me a message just to say hello.

I spent the afternoon off the sales floor, doing work in the office with my general manager (the big boss) at my side. We talked. I got everything I needed to do finished, and stayed a little late to handle a customer who was unhappy with somebody else. He and his wife were both satisfied by the time I left. My GM was happy too.

Dr. T fixed a nice dinner, we  watched some TV, and laughed at the dog and the cat.

Sometimes the smallest, most ordinary days are the best. I am very grateful to have noticed this one.

I’m doing well in my little job, so well in fact, that I am often first in various store metrics used by my company: sales, sales per hour, credit cards opened, etc.

The leads fluctuate among three of us. The other two top producers have worked at the store for years. Both of them have degrees in design, and have run their own companies. I am a criminal justice major who spent most of her working life in investigations.

My co-workers have formal training and experience that far exceeds mine. They can walk into a home or sit down with a client and quickly come up with product and arrangements that would take me hours or days longer, if I could do it at all. They deal with the store’s top clients, making presentations that lead to single sales in tens of thousands of dollars. I don’t.

It never occurred to me that I would be selling at the same level as our store’s top designers. But I do. Consistently.

So how do I manage to keep up? I’ve been examining this question lately.  The answer is that I just grind it out. I substitute effort for experience, and play to my strengths.  I keep my eyes open, and approach everyone. I engage. I listen. When I sense a lack of interest, I move on. When my customers display interest, I hang in, and respect their pace. My product sells itself; it’s my job not to get in the way.  And I truly enjoy what I am doing. I like helping people, and having fun. I tell them, “If you’re not enjoying this, we’re doing it wrong.”

Something tells me that if I apply this approach to my search for a “real” job, I may end up with one.

I have been at my little job for slightly more than a year and a half now. After a month or two of wondering if I was in the right place, I’m comfortable and happy there. The job was probably just demanding enough to keep me from being swallowed by the bad things that were happening in my life when I took it. In retrospect, it is probably just as well I wasn’t trying to establish myself in a full-time, “serious” position while I was dealing with the death of my mother, my dog, and various family health issues. I suspect that my current restlessness is a good sign: my life is calm and stable enough to seriously pursue something bigger.

Here are a few things I’ve learned that I am sure will help me going forward:

I can succeed at something new:  I’ve mastered the infernal computer/register/inventory system, and learned to navigate all four channels of our business. I am producing results comparable to those of two senior colleagues, both of whom have design degrees and have run their own design businesses.

I am not motivated by money: I earn a fraction (a very small fraction) of what I used to. I would make the same amount of money just by showing up, but every day, I put forth my best effort, and continue to challenge myself. The proof of this is that despite having been momentarily stunned and disgusted by my insignificant first “raise” I am still  working hard.

I can simultaneously accept my reality and change it: I had hoped that I might be able to eventually meet all of my needs in this  job. My first review and wage increase showed me that I couldn’t.  It’s just not that kind of job, and I might have known it, had I asked the right questions when I interviewed.  After some reflection, I realized that I enjoyed the job too much to quit, and that I could alleviate my resentment  by simply reducing my availability to four days a week from seven.  Saving Mondays, Wednesdays, and Saturdays for myself gave me a sense of control and  needed structure in my schedule.

I am most successful when I forget myself: Fully focusing on my customers and meeting their needs allows no room for self-consciousness and insecurity, and produces excellent results.

I am not my job title, or my paycheck: I knew that, but it’s good to remember.

It stands to reason that people who struggle with literacy face obstacles the rest of us don’t, and my student is no exception. B.R. has more than his fair share of problems, but he manages to maintain a surprisingly positive attitude. Despite the challenges he faces, he is remarkably reliable in getting to class twice a week. Occasionally though, the challenges affect our ability to stay on task.

Last night B.R. apologetically explained that he was too distracted to concentrate, so we spent our time talking about what was going on. As much as I love to offer help and advice, there was no easy answer to his problems. I recognized that, and said as much. It was okay, really. Sometimes just having a safe place to vent frustration is all the help you need. Our conversation wandered toward happier subjects, and back to our work. I told B.R. that I thought it was about time for us to move on to the next section of lessons.

He asked me if I thought he was making enough progress, with such a look of concern on his face that I wanted to cry. In all honesty, I said yes.

I reminded him of how far we have come: he is easily reading multi-syllable words, and has lost his fear of writing and spelling. I told him that we have actually already touched on many of the lessons ahead of us, and I knew he was prepared to handle them. B.R. recognized the truth of what I was saying, and seemed to relax. He told me (and not for the first time) that having the lessons to look forward to, and the homework to keep him busy, helped him to keep him from being overwhelmed by his troubles. I reminded him (not for the first time) that working to learn to read was a very positive step, and that he should be proud of his commitment and self-discipline, regardless of any setbacks.

I know how he felt; I still struggle with the idea that I should be making consistent, quantifiable progress every day in my own life. It is very easy to focus on what I haven’t done, to the exclusion of what I have. Logic dictates that every day will be different, and the factors that affect “progress” are not always within our control. Sometimes everything seems futile, and sometimes, suddenly, it all seems to fall into place. Results can’t be controlled, but effort can. Trying is almost everything. I have promised myself to try every day.

B.R. and I ended early last night, agreeing that we will spend next week reviewing the main points of our current section, and start our next one the week after. I think we are both excited about moving on.

Sometimes just showing up is progress enough.

Under-employment offers some advantages, including the ease with which one can excel. In the first six months of my little job, my efforts have been formally recognized three times, and I have received lots of great informal feedback from my managers. I have also been allowed more responsibility. Rather than simple floor sales, I will be able to schedule appointments to sit down with customers and develop plans for bigger projects, and I’m excited about the opportunity.

I see this job as a long-term, but not necessarily central, part of my work life. It is fun, the people I work with (and for) are wonderful, and I am developing skills in an area that has always interested me. I’m also applying skills I brought to the job. And of course, there’s the discount. I sell beautiful things for the home, and I have a home that needs many things, which might as well be beautiful.

Being officially “part-time” also keeps things fresh, and leaves me plenty of time for…

That’s the problem. Even with my puttering and my projects, my walking and my Waldo, and my lovely family, I find myself searching for somewhere to direct the rest of my energy. The years of experience in my field are jingling in my pocket, just crying out to be spent. (wow, tortured metaphor or what?)

I’ve been diverted this last year by many things (details available in previous posts), but have been inching back toward the hunt for a “big girl job” with a big girl paycheck (I have not given up my dream of hardwood floors.)

I applied for the local version of my old job when I spotted an opening in early May.  I tweaked my LinkedIn profile. I asked the colleague I most admired at my last job for a recommendation, which he promptly provided. I perused LinkedIn, scanning for anyone  with whom I might have some tenuous connection, who might give me some insight into the prospects for the job. I didn’t know anyone who knew anyone, but I noticed the profile of a woman who had previously held my prospective position. We seemed to have a lot in common professionally, although she has already done things I am still aspiring to: certified mediator, mitigation and sentencing specialist. I’d love to talk to her. I started composing a message, and couldn’t find the right tone. Dr. T came home and off to lunch we went.

I did not receive a response to my application, which stung a little, but was something of a relief:  a full-time job could be hard to juggle with the parts of my life that are working well- studying with BR two nights a week, and my little job, and there was a certain “been there, done that” aspect to the job. Ideally, I’d  come up with something that allowed me to set my schedule around my existing commitments, and give me room to grow. This train of thought pulled up right back where I started last year: mitigation specialist, certified mediator, private investigator, graduate student, freelance writer. All highly acceptable options, but how feasible? Time to start getting serious again.

About two weeks ago, I received a LinkedIn invitation from my prospective contact.  Had I sent the message after all? I couldn’t find it, and decided I was becoming just that much more senile. I happily responded to the invitation, promising myself to contact her after the in-laws left. Before I got to it, she sent me a note today, saying she’d found my profile on LinkedIn, that she was interested in moving to California and hoping I might be able to offer her some information on how things are done there. She offered to provide any information I might need about working here. I expect we will meet for coffee soon. I am still grinning at the cosmic symmetry.

Good thing, too, since I am making a very small fraction of what I used to earn. I’ve been at my part-time job for four months now, and I have decided that I am enjoying it. Recently, my boss asked me, in a teasing way, “Isn’t this more fun than your old job?” I answered truthfully that they were both very fun, but very different.

The first couple of months were rough; I did not work many hours, and it seemed to me that I was forgetting everything I was being taught between shifts. I was shocked to realize I was finding my “little job” to be so stressful.  I’d been a criminal defense investigator, for crying out loud- going to the projects of San Francisco alone after dark, serving subpoenas on hostile witnesses- I was dealing with people at the worst times of their lives- how in the world was working a few hours a week in retail making me anxious?

I worked in retail off and on during my twenties, and felt I could easily manage it again. I had worked through my questions of whether I could be comfortable in such a controlled environment after the autonomy and responsibility I’d had during the last 25 years of my working life. I realized that I am not defined by my job title or my paycheck, and carefully considered where I might enjoy working. I applied at only two stores: a clothing store and a home furnishing store. My logic was that there was no point working anywhere I would not want to use my discount. This way I could either refurbish my wardrobe or refurnish my house, however slowly.

I did not hear from the clothing store (too bad for you, J.Crew!) I re-entered the time clock world in January. After adjusting to the changes in retail technology (computerized registers and inventory control, walkie-talkies and headsets) and generally getting the hang of things, I am having fun. I realized that a large part of my stress had less to do with the job, and much more to do with not feeling competent at what I was doing. I knew that feeling would pass with time, and it has. I remembered that even a menial task is more fun when attacked with enthusiasm, and made a conscious decision to give what I do my best effort, even if it is polishing shelves of glassware or restocking candles.

I spend about twenty hours a week in a beautiful environment, dealing with people who are about 98% pleasant. Every day is different, and I learn something. I help people improve their living environments. I have a reason to get dressed and somewhere to go. I move around a lot- back and forth across the sales floor, up and down ladders. After decades of working in fields where effort does not always produce observable progress, I am appreciative of something as straightforward as a sales per hour goal. And, to paraphrase Sally Field at the Oscars: “They like me, they really like me!”  In stark contrast to my previous job, the only way I take my work home with me now is in the form of pretty new bedding or  a comfy new sofa.

I know long-term I will want to earn more, and to be more challenged. Whether I find a way to do that within or outside of my present employment remains to be seen. For now, I am quite happy.

Quite a number of years ago,  I was sitting in the backyard of my friend Lynda’s house, after a high school reunion. Lynda was there, of course, as was my friend Carol. (Carol is a sage, by the way, and as you may have guessed, she, Lynda, and I attended high school together.) Carol was holding forth on the subject of “gifts”, as in the sort you are born with.  She identified hers, and I asked her, “what about mine?” (I have to confess that at this point, I do not remember whether Diane, who deserves her own post, was still with us or whether she had headed home to her family.)

I may not recognize  all of them, but my best gift  has been apparent to me for a long time: I have been blessed with the ability to make and keep friends. Like it or not, once you are my friend, you are my friend until you officially resign. The first person to bring this to my attention was my mom; she was visiting me in San Diego while I was still in my 20s, and observed, ” You make friends wherever you go.” I remember thinking at the time, “Why wouldn’t I?” In my youth, I took friendship for granted in the same way I regarded oxygen.

My friends are my oxygen. They sustain me. No joy, no sorrow, no aggravation or amusement would mean anything without them to share it. My worst job was made tolerable by my friendship with Thu. My best job was made better because of friendships with too many folks to name. (ok, except maybe Jill. And Phong. And Jen. Oh hell- so many great people there!)

And then there’s Missy, who uses a grown up name now. We’ve been friends for 45 years  (Missy was pre-embryonic when we met.)

I am grateful to have maintained friendships with the neighbors I had when we were here in Durham for the first time, and to have recently made my first “work friend” at my part-time job. Tonight at my literacy class, I ran into a woman I trained with, and we made a plan to connect soon.

Tomorrow I will walk the neighborhood trail with my next-door neighbor. She was there when I moved into this house in 1997, and I am so glad she was still here when I came back last June. We will walk and talk about our other friends, and I will just keep being grateful.

According to a list I cribbed from a blog post to the SFGate on February 9 about how to triple your chances of being hired,  employers most value the following traits:
  • honesty,
  • trustworthiness,
  • commitment,
  • adaptability,
  • accountability, and
  • flexibility.

First of all, the math escapes me. There are six traits listed, not three. Besides that, who trusts anyone who talks about how honest they are? It seems to me that any description of a job candidate with those words would be far more credible coming from a reference, rather than the candidate. I have all those traits (trust me!) and I am still looking, possibly because I haven’t mentioned them in any cover letter I’ve sent.

Ironically, in my own case, those traits are pretty much demanded in my chosen field (investigation,) so I suppose I can easily tweak my language to better reflect them in the future. In the meantime, the pretty bubble I inflated last week by finding and applying for 3 interesting positions was deflated somewhat by my husband’s well-intentioned assertion that according to what he heard on the radio (NPR, so you know it’s true) you should never apply for a job until you have networked with the employer.

I have long been aware of the reported value of networking, and have long avoided it. I don’t understand my aversion; I have spent my working life making cold calls, face to face and on the phone. It seems a small step farther to do it on my own behalf, rather than for a client. At the risk of climbing back on that darn couch, I have to suspect that I suspect that I don’t deserve the effort. I must say that my feeble attempts at “networking” in my own very specific field were met with resounding indifference from my professional peers, and I was surprised and unsettled by that- I mean, I was volunteering, for crying out loud.

Well, boo-freakin’-hoo, as they say. Maybe I was doing it wrong. It’s time to try again. So I will, turning again to my two friends, the library and the internet. I will commit to making some effort to connect with someone in my field every week. I will make the same effort with someone outside my field, in a related area of interest. I will document those efforts here. I will also be reviewing current writing on the job search process, and commenting on whether I find any of it helpful. And I will clear the final hurdle of completing my Linkedin profile.

Finally, I will re-commit to this blog. For a minute, I thought I had run out of things to say, but I am happy to report that simply completing this post has recharged me in some way.

Having failed to immediately find a job by rushing directly at one, I resolved to invest serious time and thought into what I really want to do and what I need to get there. Then I avoided taking the time and thinking about it.

Now, I am committed, one tentative step at a time.

For the first time, I have clearly identified what matters to me, and articulated it:

 Health:  I enjoyed what is referred to as “Rude good health” for the first 50 or so years of my life. I considered it rude in the sense that I made no particular effort to maintain it, and in fact risked it by doing dumb things like smoking cigarettes. I have been reminded in several ways that I cannot assume such a level of health will sustain itself without increased effort on my part.

Happy and Healthy Family: This is harder to achieve than it looks, since they seem to have their own opinions on the subject, and arguing about it seems somehow contra-indicated.

Comfortable and Welcoming Home: On the upside, I am finally in my “forever” home, with time to accomplish the things I have spent years planning. I have been painting and planting and rearranging. On the downside, my missing paycheck slows this process down considerably. This is a huge general goal, composed of an infinite number of steps. I am happy to realize that while I can’t necessarily get near the big steps (new flooring, bathroom renovations, etc.) I can manage many others with little or no expense.

Meaningful Work: It’s not all about the money, although I certainly hope to make some (hello, hardwood floors.) I have been lucky enough to know that my past work has made a real difference to some people. It’s a great feeling. I’ve come to realize also that I enjoy teaching/mentoring in any capacity. I am also a far better advocate for  others than myself. I hope that by continuing to tease out the general elements that I enjoyed most in my  previous jobs, I can eventually guide myself to the right place for me now. I also understand that my ideal job may turn out to be “jobs” given my interests, the current employment climate, and my ability to market myself. At this point, I have two planks in my work platform: a volunteer position that inspires and gratifies me, and a new, part-time job. Ideally, I will add a “bigger” job, and pursue some additional volunteer interests. (Next volunteer gig in the hopper: Kitten Whisperer! Okay, that’s not the official title, but the local Animal Protection Society  does use volunteers to socialize adoptable dogs and cats.)

Creative Outlets: Perhaps I will finally use the water colors I got for Christmas too many years ago to admit. In the meantime, there is my little blog, and any number of those projects around the house, so I am feeling pretty satisfied in this area of my life.

My challenge at this point is to direct my energies in service of these goals. They are related, and many of my actions should further more than one: for example, I expect my part-time job to allow me to exercise some creativity, learn something new, and be of some use to people, although in a new way. The money I earn can be allocated toward making my house a cozier place.

Many future posts here will be around my big 5 topics in some way or other. I may even go crazy and try to develop a Mission Statement– do you have one?

By now, my imaginary readers (their number is legion) are beginning to ask questions: “Waaaaaait a minute, didn’t you say this blog was about your search for work? HMMM?”

Me (head bent, kicking at phantom dirt clod): “Right. uh…”

I had big ideas and high hopes when I came back in June. I’d take a couple of weeks off to decompress from the demands of quitting a job and packing a two bedroom apartment within a six week window. (Although there was no doubt I would be doing this “someday” the  decision as to when was fairly abrupt.) Then, refreshed and relaxed, I’d start contacting people and agencies in my field, introducing myself and offering to meet to discuss what I might do to be of use, including volunteering my time as I began my search for full time employment. I would also consider what else I would like to do in my new and improved life- start a blog, work part time in a job that tapped into one of my other interests, volunteer as a literacy tutor, go back to school, whatever. And in the meantime, there was plenty to do around the man cave  house. I was sure I’d be working by August.

The R&R part of this plan was easy. Immediately after the 4th of July, I started sending my letters and resumes. Crickets. I made a few follow up calls. I trolled  internet employment sites and sent some more letters and resumes.  I started focusing on the house, and spent some time inventorying what needed work and determining what I could accomplish right away. And then it got hot. I mean, “I don’t remember it being this bad, who gets dressed in this weather?” hot. I began suffering aches and pains I’d never experienced. I didn’t sleep well. I was over-sensitive and emotional.  I was overwhelmed, and beginning to doubt myself. Somehow, my focus shifted from the positive: I am home. I can choose the course of my life from this point. I have time to do what I enjoy- read, paint, sew, putter around the house…to the negative: I’ll never find a job. No one wants to hire someone my age. There is nothing in my field. I have nothing to offer in another field. This house is falling apart and I will never make enough money to get it the way I want it. I became paralyzed by indecision- what should I do first? What if I pick the wrong thing?

I didn’t give up, exactly, I just slowed down. I have realized in retrospect that I  had unrealistic expectations of what I could manage, or at least of the time it would take. Even good changes carry stress; I knew that, but occasionally  suffer the delusion that I am exempt from certain unpleasant realities that apply to others. I have also realized that I couldn’t do what I wanted if I did not know what that was. Rather than continuing to blindly rush headlong at what I thought I should do, I started to circle around the idea of what I wanted to do. I also decided to order myself to just do something.

I have spent the last six months with my family, without having to buy plane tickets. I have become a tutor. I have finished a few projects around the house, started others, and planned even more. I have picked up a part time job that I think I will enjoy (more on that- maybe- as soon as I have digested my new employer’s policy on social media.) I have resumed my old habit of walking, both by myself and with my next door neighbor. And I have started this blog.

This blog is my job, to the extent that it helps me structure my time, and compels me to address what I am doing to identify and achieve my goals. It’s something of an ideal job, because it is fun, but it is clearly part time.  Next week, I attempt to identify the components of my ideal full time job.

George Lakoff

George Lakoff has retired as Distinguished Professor of Cognitive Science and Linguistics at the University of California at Berkeley. He is now Director of the Center for the Neural Mind & Society (

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