School of Fish out of Water

ImageI have never been ‘unemployed’ in my adult life, until now.  It’s been a couple months, submitting application after application, waiting for a phone call and living with the frustration of wondering when someone will see me as ‘value added’.

It’s true, I haven’t come up with the latest IPod widget.  I haven’t created some hip, new Web App.  I’m not nineteen years old, fresh out of college, or the next up-and-coming Steve Jobs.  I can’t sell myself as any of those things.  So how can I convince a prospective employer that I am worth something to them when I don’t have those credentials.

The truth is, I was there from the beginning, when the web was new.  I built my first site before you could take a community college course in HTML.  How did I do it?  I looked at the source code of someone else’s site and figured it out.  I downloaded a demo copy of PhotoShop and taught myself how to make an animated gif long before the advent of Tumblr.  Now it seems they are all the rage!  They are NEW!  They are AWESOME!  For me, well they are old news I read long ago.

I don’t have certifications that prove that I know what I know.  Why?  Because I taught it all to myself.  When lightning struck the phone system at the university where I worked in the computer center, it was my job to re-enter all the data into the new system.  That wasn’t good enough for me though.  I looked at the data and saw a the perfect opportunity to create a people directory.  I wondered how I could get it to talk to our website.  Wouldn’t it be nice for people to be able to get on our site and be able to find phone and office locations from anywhere?  Why yes, it would!  So….without anyone asking, without anyone even thinking of it first, I went out and taught myself MySQL and PHP so I could hook up that database to the site.  I made the first working online personnel directory the university ever had and it is still in use today.  In fact, according to Google analytics, it is the most visited page on the site.

I didn’t stop there.  I continued to teach myself more and more, to make the site bigger, better, stronger.  I taught myself how to edit audio so that when the marketing manager decided to post the president’s speeches, I could edit out all the “um’s” and “uh’s”.  I taught myself Sony Vegas to create videos for a great admissions department landing page at no cost to the university.  I used what I had taught myself about PhotoShop to make an interactive Flash campus map and saved them even more.

But…in today’s glutted applicant pool, I am treading water at best because I didn’t learn these things from some third party who could give me a diploma for it.  What’s worse?  I did what my mother and father taught me was right and actually had the audacity to stay at that job for ten years!  How horrible!  Everything I am reading now tells me that when companies see you in a job for more than four years they assume you have no ambition or are ‘dug in’.

It seems now that I am dug in.  I have dug myself into a hole built by caring.  I stayed at the university working as hard as I knew how to make things better there.  But every job I look at now wants me to have specific experience–retail experience, sales experience, medical experience or some amorphous characteristic that keeps me swimming in the shallow end.  There is a disconnect I haven’t figured out how to work around yet.

I guess I could tell them I have sales experience from the time I worked as a property manager, talking potential renters into choosing our apartments over the competitors, but that doesn’t seem very sexy when I did it almost twenty years ago.  I could tell them I have medical experience if they want to count that I used to read my mother’s nursing textbooks for fun back when she was getting her degree.  Retail?  Well I worked at a tire store for six years back when I graduated high school.  Somehow, in the face of ‘what have you done for me lately’ those things just don’t seem very relevant.

So…what do I do now?  Web designers are a dime-a-dozen these days.  Sure I know how to use WordPress and Joomla.  So does that nineteen year old who doesn’t mind working eighteen hour days in a cubicle for pizza and mello yello.  Why doesn’t real experience count against someone’s paid-for piece of paper?

Maybe I’m just too old.  I came from the land of ‘work hard’, ‘do your own dirty work’, ‘solve problems’, ‘be loyal’, and ‘good work is it’s own reward’.  Somewhere during that time things changed to ‘slow down, you’re making the rest of look bad’, ‘delegate’, ‘outsource’, ‘job-fishing’, and ‘follow the money’.

I’m a fish out of water.  Maybe I’ll go back to school.  Seems I need a diploma in been there, done that.

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Loose Ends

Once upon a time I was a woman with direction and confidence, one who knew the right thing to do at the right time.  I made changes with the feeling that they were correct.  Now, not so much.

This has been one of the worst years of my life.  It started with changing jobs.  I left the university I had worked at for ten years to go to a start-up that promised me plenty of money…money I felt was needed to make life better for me and my children.  I had a good job at the university, one where I felt valued and could exercise my creativity, but after years of trying to climb the ladder to where I could afford to pay the rent, they kept telling me they couldn’t give me what I knew I deserved.  In a small town where connections mean more than capability, I had reached the ceiling.  So when a new company came to town with the promise of changing our lives, of making it possible for me to give my children what I worked over twenty years to give them, I took it.

It turned out to be a living nightmare, each dream crushed by a dark and dangerous confusion of conflicting images, ones that made me cry every night and sleep all day.  I was working for someone who had no idea what it meant to be good to people or to communicate.  He would give directions and if you followed them he would blame you for doing so.  There was no right, only wrong, and in the midst of this fog, my brother died.

Now, most of my life I listened to other people tell me how they fought with their families and I didn’t understand how that could be.  My family was close.  They played together.  We had sword fights in the front yard with homemade weapons carved from trees that grew around my mom and dad’s cabin.  We sang and danced the time warp, drunkenly holding each other up on pedestals of loving perfection as we laughed and cried together through life’s trials.  But with my brother’s death came a turmoil that defied every notion of familial love I ever held.  Suddenly, we were at each other’s throats, using old underwear as bargaining chips in the battle of who loved him more.  Sisters who had once clung to one another, who had celebrated each other, now referred to the others as monsters without souls, and in the end we still don’t see eye to eye.

My mother and father are collateral damage.  They sit in dazed wonder at the ashes of their close-knit kids, wondering when we will come together again around the thanksgiving table saying our traditional prayers again with conviction.  The love, well, it’s still there, and we have managed to find our way to reach out and forgive, but I don’t know if it will ever be same.  How could it be?  Our brother was the glue that bound us, he was our stronghold of faith and our go-to guy.  His absence is still keenly felt even as we gather with surface smiles.  I miss what once was and so do they.

I weathered my grief while at that nightmare job, trying to navigate the stormy waters of chaos and an abusive superior, trying to find a way to make him happy while I sank in my sea of tears.  In the end I failed.  I didn’t fail to try, I simply failed to find the place in his battlefield.  I was a captain without a fleet and I didn’t fit in.  As he threatened my life and livelihood, the one I had worked so hard to establish, my blood pressure soared.  I become convinced the only reason –the only reason –God had me there was to keep the other poor souls in his employ from the welfare office.  Each day I went into the fray with new resolve to make it through another eight hours, to keep my spirit intact, to find a way to make myself valuable to someone who saw me as valueless.  But there was no satisfying this sadistic soul, so I quit.

Now…almost a year later, I have no brother and I have no job.  I still have a family though.  My children are keeping me from drowning in my depression even though every day I feel I am failing them.  As I search for the job that doesn’t exist, they encourage me to keep singing, to keep dancing, to keep creating.  They help me find some hope when it seems not to live inside me.  Each day when I wake up from the sleep that cocoons me in the only peace my brain will afford, they tell me of their first Etsy sale, or the next book that they are writing (they really have the bug!) and in those moments I have just a little hope that I have done something right.  It keeps me trying.  We are looking for jobs together, looking for a new adventure, taking toddling steps toward a future that looks only bleak to me, but still looks bright to them. So, it looks to me like I have to find a new definition of family, my Ohana on earth.  It’s little and it’s broken, but it’s still good.  And while I am still at loose ends, I am yet waiting for that happy ending where I can take care of them in good faith and do right by them.

I don’t have to be happy, I don’t have to be right, I just have to be their mom and they love me.  So, maybe I am at loose ends.  So what?  Loose ends can be tied up in a bow.  I hope someday I can make it a pretty one.  I’m still praying the same family prayer, each and every day…”Father we thank thee for the night, and for the pleasant morning light.  For rest, and food, and loving care, and all that makes the day so fair.  Help us to do the things we should, to be to others kind and good…in all we do, and all we say, to grow more loving every day”.  The rest…well the rest is up to fate and to our good intentions and efforts.

I used to tell someone I cared for very much that God had one lesson he wanted me to learn in this life.  Persistence.  Don’t give up, keep trying.  Okay.  I’m trying, still, every day, trying, trying. trying.  Please God, help me make that bow?