Category: Career Chronicles

Career Chronicles: Putting It Out There

Let’s Talk About Oprah. During my last semester of college, I taught US Government and Economics to high school seniors at a nearby school in order to graduate with a teaching certificate. My mentor teacher was nearing retirement and had lost passion for the art of teaching many years prior. I learned a lot about how not to teach and that death by PowerPoint is very real and very painful. At this particular school, teachers would monitor the halls in between periods by standing outside of the doors of their classrooms. A particularly joyful and boisterous woman taught English across the hall from the room in which I student taught.

I would marvel at the dichotomy between her room and the one I stood outside of – the kids were actually smiling and laughing as they entered hers. She and I would talk a lot during those 5-minute intervals. Having been born and raised in the South, she asked a lot of questions about the Philadelphia area and seemed particularly interested in Revolutionary-era history. But more often than not, we talked about Oprah. She loved Oprah Winfrey. Loved. I was often treated to the recap of the previous day’s episode and found myself riveted by her infectious laugh and her ability to empathize with almost every topic covered by the Chicago-based show.

Years later, when the final episode of The Oprah Winfrey show aired, I couldn’t help but think of the cheerful English teacher across the hall. For as beloved as she is by her fans, critics dismiss Oprah as a promoter of positive-thinking rhetoric that lacks weight and real-world adaptability. Others call her dangerous – a promoter of pseudoscience and the idea that the universe punishes those with negative thoughts. But I can’t help it – I love Oprah’s message of finding your purpose, the need for a spiritual life, and living in gratitude. It’s no secret that I am on the glass-half-full side of the fence. I admit that I don’t devour the self-help books that were featured on The Oprah Winfrey Show – I’ve never read The Seat of the Soul, The Secret, or The Power of Now and I side-eye quite a few concepts presented in such books. But I do believe that there is something to be said for living an intentional life, the power of positive thinking, and the need for gratitude and visualization.

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Putting it Out There. A few months ago, I wrote about the Lloyd Dobler Effect and What I’ve Done throughout my hodgepodge career thus far, which resembles a scrap quilt. And you know what? Shortly after – I received an offer for an instructional design contract. When looking back on my storied job history, I am able to see a pattern – when I’ve declared my intentions and have literally shouted them into the universe, the universe has responded. Even though it felt vulnerable to write about my struggles associated with my so-called career and a bit icky to write about having the luxury to choose between working and staying home with young children – I hit publish. And what resulted was a fantastic conversation across various social media platforms that inspired me while also showcasing the grit, determination, and capability within the military spouse community.

When I decide to do something, my initial reaction is to keep it close and guarded within the confines of my own thoughts. There are many reasons why – embarrassment, fear of failure, feelings of inadequacy, etc… And then there is just the general uncomfortableness of talking about myself – which, don’t get me wrong, I realize is silly seeing as how I write a blog. I am always apprehensive that I’ll come across as self-absorbed or self-congratulatory and it can be difficult to balance those anxieties with confidence and self-esteem. But every so often – I push those ugly feelings aside and shout my intentions in the universe. I write about them. I talk about them. I don’t keep quiet about my strengths and I actively work to address my weaknesses. And then the universe responds.

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Appreciate Left Field. Being a softball player, I’ve been known to use baseball terminology in everyday conversation – Every game is game seven. Never go down without swinging. Hit it out of the park. You’re killing me, Smalls! It’s a brand new ball game… When I throw something out into the universe, the response may not be what I initially envisioned but let’s be honest – some of the best opportunities are the ones that come from left field. Keeping yourself open to unexpected opportunities while thinking positive, expressing gratitude, and practicing visualization will always lead to something. It may not be what you initially wanted but it will yield a result.

I’m still learning how to navigate through these responses that the universe is throwing my way. I accepted the instructional design contract. The particular subject area isn’t my passion but I do find tremendous value and fulfillment in the art of course design so I know that my experience with this project will yield results that will only benefit my journey. There is still much more that I want to put out into the universe. I want to write. I want to see the most remote areas of our planet. I want to live with less. I want to understand more. And I want a meaningful career that benefits others more than it does me. It’s a tall order. But you never know…the universe works in mysterious ways, after all.

Previous Career Chronicles posts –

Career Chronicles: What I’ve Done

Thank you for all of the great responses on the blog and on Facebook in regards to my first Career Chronicles installment. This post will explore previous positions I’ve held and what they’ve taught me about my professional goals. You know, it’s really quite astonishing that high school seniors are expecting to declare a major when applying to college. Is that how it still works? While I still feel young, I’m old enough to be completely blown away by how the college application process has changed. The common application? Genius. The SAT score increased to 2400 only to go back down to 1600? Confusing. Applying to 10-15 colleges? Craziness!

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I entered my freshman year at Clemson University as a Political Science major. I chose this major for a few reasons – I had interest in politics, US Government was my favorite class in high school, and I wanted to go to law school. While I may be currently living within very close proximity to Washington DC, I’ve never worked in politics. And despite my 18-year-old aspirations of sitting for the bar, I never even took the LSAT. I don’t regret abandoning my law school dreams. I actually did so by the end of my freshman year – I quickly learned that I had no desire to practice law. I like to thank Law & Order: SVU for helping me reach that life-changing conclusion. In my heart I knew that I could never be Alexandra Cabot or Casey Novak.

A few years later, Clay and I got married and I graduated college with a Political Science and Economics degree and a teaching certificate granting me permission to teach social studies to America’s youth. Unfortunately, I quickly learned that the area surrounding Fort Drum, New York had no desire to hire a first-year teacher with no graduate degree and a resume that was indicated I was only in the area because of the Army. I substitute taught in a few districts and began the process of submitting resumes and interviewing for jobs outside of my field of study.

It was a humbling experience. For an example, I was the second choice for an administrative assistant position at a local news agency – I was told that their first choice had more ‘longevity potential’, which was code for the fact that he/she was not a military spouse. A group home informed me during an interview that if a patient were to attack me, I was not to hit or kick as a defensive response. They also informed me that I had the possibility (only a possibility) of earning 10¢ more an hour because I had a BA. However, the absolute worst interview was when I was ghosted by a hiring manager for a position at a technology firm that I verbally accepted but had yet to formally sign the employment agreement. I literally sat in an unused office waiting for her return, only to be told by one of her coworkers that she left and she would call me the following day. She never called nor never returned my phone calls or emails. It’s been 13 years and I still don’t know if she is okay or not. Or if I got the job.

I eventually landed a job that ended up being the most perfect job for me during that period of my life. I interviewed for the non-profit position a few days before Clay left for what eventually became a 16-month deployment and was offered it the day after we said see you later. As a Program Associate for a conflict resolution firm, I became a certified mediator, I facilitated team meetings for troubled youth with community stakeholders, and I learned all about restorative justice and the New York State Judicial System. During this time, I also started graduated school, studying instructional design with a focus on distance education based on my enjoyment of writing content and facilitating meetings.

I left my dispute resolution position two-and-half years later when we moved to Raleigh, North Carolina. My employment search after that move was thankfully a lot less perilous and I was quickly hired as a Content Editor for a social science research firm. I continued to chug along at my graduated school program and thoroughly enjoyed my first real experience with grant-funded research. And then Clay and I decided to add to our family.

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Throughout my pregnancy, I was unsure what I wanted to do when it came to my job that I loved. I ultimately chose to stay home (stay tuned for a Career Chronicles post about how I reached that difficult decision), reassuring myself that I would not regret it and I could jump back into the pond when it felt right. After our son was born, I negotiated with my organization to work part-time from home and come into the office for a few hours one day a week. Clay left for his second deployment shortly after our son was born so while I wasn’t willing to leave my position completely, I knew that working full-time, continuing with graduate school, and raising a baby on my own for the first time wouldn’t be the best fit for me. My mother-in-law came and stayed the night on Sundays (they lived about 2 hours away) and I would go into the office on Monday mornings. I worked part-time from home for about 6 months while our son was an infant. But then it came time to write my thesis, our son became a crawling machine, and we learned that we’d be moving shortly after Clay’s return from Afghanistan. So I made the decision to formally leave my position and focus my efforts on completing graduate school and enjoying my son.

A couple of months after our little guy turned one, I finished graduate school and welcomed home Clay. A few months after we moved to Lawton, Oklahoma, I accepted a part-time instructor position and taught Academic Research to soldiers at Fort Sill through a local community college. I enjoyed designing the course and teaching adults and I loved how I was able to incorporate it into our family’s schedule without causing much disruption. Unfortunately – the childcare situation for Weston wasn’t ideal and I wasn’t 100% comfortable leaving him with the at-home daycare provider we determined to the best that we could find in the area. I learned during this time that in order for me to be comfortable working outside of the home, I must be completely at-ease with our chosen childcare provider – otherwise any position, no matter how professionally satisfying, just isn’t worth the added stress and worry.

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After 18 months in Oklahoma, we moved to the Washington DC area and we decided to add another child to our family. We found a wonderful preschool for our son and I settled into the role of a stay-at-home-mom-of-two-children-with-a-husband-who-travels-a lot. I picked up a few freelance writing gigs here and there but overall, I just focused my efforts on being a mom. I look back on this time in my life with a warm heart and have no regrets not putting more effort into my career. After three years in the Washington DC area, we moved to Fort Leavenworth, Kansas for a year. Because we knew we would be there such a short time, I did not search for a job and continued to stay home and not pursue work. Clay’s scheduled was insanely awesome and we spent so much time together as a family. Again – absolutely no regrets not working and I felt like we truly maximized our time together as a family.

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After our year in Kansas, we moved to San Antonio, Texas. Weston was in first grade and Violet attended preschool a few days a week so I started to put feelers out and refreshed my resume. I accepted a few freelance gigs and then entered the world of independent contracting. I worked from home creating content for online courses and learned a ton about time management and balancing deadlines with family responsibilities. Clay was a Battalion XO during that time so while he worked long hours, he rarely traveled and we had a routine that worked well. I also began substituting at Violet’s school and was offered a teaching position there for the following school year. Unfortunately, I was unable to accept because Clay competed for an amazing position and we received last-minute orders back to Washington DC. While I was bummed to leave behind an offer for a salaried position, I was looking forward to leaving Texas because for whatever reason, I didn’t feel like I bloomed in the Lonestar State. For the record, I do miss In-and-Out.

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When we arrived back in our nation’s capital, I accepted a few short freelance gigs but eventually, those contracts exceeded my area of expertise. I gave myself grace as we eased back into a routine that involved Clay gone a lot after having him mostly home for almost two years. But now I am itching to do something outside of the home. But I am also not wanting to sacrifice the stability that being home when they’re not in school provides our kids. When they wake up, they often do not know if their Dad will be home that night or where he is in the world. The military ensures that we answer “I don’t know” to a lot of questions asked our children. I may not be able to do much with what the military throws our way but I would like to offer them the reassurance that I will always be there waiting when the bell rings. And it may seem like a tall order, but I’d like find a job that works within those parameters. And if I can’t – well, then I’ll just have to get creative. I’ve done it before and I can do it again.