Category Archives: Job

Get Out of the Boat


get out of the boat 2 1

I fear failure. Other people might fear success, other people’s opinions, or losing control of what’s comfortable. But fear is evil. Fear is paralyzing. Fear robs us of the possible. So let me share the one thing that keeps me going.

“Get out of the boat.”

I just completed student teaching and am searching for a teaching job. The job market is grim. I wonder if I will be successful changing careers. I’m middle aged! I don’t have experience! It’s a hard profession. There are few job openings. What was I thinking?!

“Get out of the boat.”

Despite the self-doubt, the jerks that have told me I’m not good enough, the worry over spending money going back to school, and all the other decent reasons I should have given up or not begun in the first place there is one thing.

“Get out of the boat.”

I keep hearing, quite clearly in my heart, that I need to get out of the boat. And I know what it means. I’ve heard the story about Jesus walking on water and Peter asking if he could too. There’s much more to the Bible story, and this is less about Peter’s faith, and more about my fear to step into the unknown and begin again. I’m afraid I’ll drown. But I have to

“Get out of the boat”

because I’m more afraid of regretting staying in the boat than I am of drowning. In the past year I’ve been to the funerals of three friends. Which makes me wonder if I’ll live to feel that regret or not. Is it presumptuous for me to act as if I have time left in my life to have a second career? What I do know is that I enjoy being in a classroom with teenagers. I love planning what we’re going to learn together when the bell rings. And I have hope and ideas about how I can be a better teacher tomorrow and the next day. Because I feel called to change the world one disinterested teenager at a time. If I will just

“Get out of the boat” again.

So I will keep my eyes above the waves. I’ll ignore the jerks. I’ll embrace the optimistic idea that I might not drown. And listen to the voice that speaks to my heart when I breathe deep and listen carefully. The voice that sounds true and calm, and encourages me to be a teacher and

“Get out of the boat.”

Turning 40, GenX Style


(This is a rejected magazine article I wrote in late 2007, about GenXers turning 40.  Hope you enjoy.)

Boston Birthday Trip

“Happy birthday” to a small and often misunderstood group, the Gen-Xers.  Generation X (those born from approximately 1965-1980) is beginning to turn 40, and it seems this generation will do so differently that its predecessors.  I’m watching, I know.  I’m one of them.

My friends and I who crossed over the threshold of 40 since 2006 have recently completed our virgin year of middle-age.  We spoke of it in hushed conversations at first.  “Does this mean I’m officially old?”  “It seems like my parents were much older acting at 40.” “Why are those narcissist baby boomers still running everything?”  We worried.  We looked in the mirror.  We pondered the ideas of our youth being gone, too little accomplished, not ready for this mantle of maturity to be thrust upon us like a soggy crocheted poncho.

Many of us decided to celebrate, and NOT with over-the-hill parties.  One of my girlfriends invited friends and family to a weekend in San Diego.  A dozen women showed up and had a wonderful time.  A friend trained and completed a 150-mile charity bike ride to mark the birthday.  Another took their junior high aged son surfing for the first time.  There was an unfortunate trip to the ER, but the kid is fine.  I traveled to Boston enjoying the company of ladies dear to me as we discovered a city together.

I also updated my resume and got back into the workforce.  A layoff during the dot com bust had seriously hurt my professional ego.  I wondered if my career was over at 40, and plenty of people told me it was, when I could manage to get an interview.  But as the process wore on, I became committed not to let the business establishment that my generation had scorned as untrustworthy define my self worth.  I stopped apologizing and started sharing my enthusiasm about providing valuable experience to an open position.  And it worked.  Another Gen-Xer understood my story hired me.  I still don’t trust that I have any job security or hope for the gold watch in the modern industrial age, but that’s OK.  I enjoy my work and will put in a quality work day as long as the position lasts.  (PS: Sadly prophetic, this wonderful job lasted 4 years and now I’m into the next one…)

Perhaps turning 40 is different for us because of the cultural influences of our youth.  We were born after Kennedy and King and were children during the bicentennial.  MTV turned on and the PC entered our classrooms in high school.  The first presidential election we could cast a vote in was Reagan- Mondale.  College graduation left us in debt during a recession.  Cell phones and email accounts were rare until well after college graduation.

I think that waiting to marry and have children a few years later than the previous generation has helped Gen- Xers to feel younger at 40.  Very few of the people I know have teenagers yet.  Many of us just got done with diapers.  A friend just came back from China with a toddler.  It’s easier to feel younger when you’re still visiting the playground, zoo and ToysRUs on a regular basis.  With modern medicine, exercise and organic food from Trader Joe’s, there’s a good chance we’ll still be able to actively enjoy the grandkids when they arrive sometime around our 60th birthday.  By comparison, my parents turned 40 as I left the nest, and some of their friends were already grandparents.   No wonder 40 looked different for them.

I remember watching Star Trek as a child and my dad telling me that by the time I was his age, many of the futuristic gadgets would be reality.  Bluetooth headsets, space shuttles, a diversified workforce and microwaves have gotten us close enough to see the similarities.  Good call, Dad!  So I grew up with expectations that the world around me would change dramatically and I’d better get good at adapting.

It was no surprise that the degree I’d chosen as a freshman wasn’t useful for long and I needed to retrain.  It wasn’t a shock that the companies with dream jobs at graduation had changed names, been sold to foreign interests or disappeared all together by the time I tried to step into management.  We’ve weathered the emergence of the dot com era and the global economy as we built our careers.  Several members of our generation helped to create it.  Among our ranks are Michael Dell, the inventor of the personalized, affordable PC, Larry Page, the founder of Google, that revolutionized web search , and Pierre Omidyar, who founded the worldwide online marketplace, eBay.

Yes we turned our noses up at the dark business suit and the excesses of yuppie-ism.  I’m proud we did.  It allowed us to pursue work-life balance, start thinking green, make friends with the Joneses instead of competing with them, and wear more cotton.  We feel more responsible for our own futures, and in an age of wild stock markets and malfunctioning government programs, it’s wise to be working on a personal plan B.  We wouldn’t call it pessimism… we’d call it realism.   (PS: Am I right?!)

So for a generation that was originally labeled as “slackers” and “disillusioned” I think we’ve hit this milestone in a different state of mind.  Happy 40th birthday to the first Gen-Xers.  Light the candles and smile.

Musical pairing:”Birthday,” by The Beatles, 1968.

The Lawyer’s Tomatoes


Fresh veggies

I’d like to thank my first boss, Mr. Poole for the best summer job I ever had.  I guess it was a bit of a mercy hire, Mr. Poole and my parents worked down the street from each other.  It was really nice of him to give me the job for the summer while his regular secretary was on family leave.  Mr. Poole was the county attorney in the morning, and had private practice in the afternoon.  The job was simple: type up legal documents without making any mistakes, keep his files neat and organized, and answer the phone.

Most of his private practice was pleasant legal work such as real estate transactions and wills.  I was his sole employee.  I learned the importance of meticulous record keeping and discretion.  I liked the rigor of a lawyer’s office, that every file and paper clip was in its proper place.  And I liked Mr. Poole’s garden.

Mr. Poole’s office was a one-story, free standing building on the main street of a little Texas town, right across the street from the county court house.  The office had a fenced back property, and every spring Mr. Poole would plant an impressive garden.  By the time June arrived and I started working there, his crops were beginning to ripen.  Mr. Poole’s daily ritual was to set aside time for a coffee break in his garden.  “Hold my calls, I’m headed out back to counsel with the vegetables for a minute,” he’d tell me.  I’d cover the phones.

The garden was a glorious jumble of tomato plants, squashes, cucumbers, beans and corn.  That’s right, there were corn stalks growing back there.  Afternoon clients were often sent home with a few fresh, sun warmed tomatos or squash.  I’ll bet your lawyer doesn’t do that for you.

The mornings were a different tone and pace over at the courthouse.  The county attorney’s office was stately and old fashioned, with soaring ceilings, and heavy, dark wood desks, chairs and filing cabinets.  Mr. Poole had a theory about the summer heat.  He would solemnly enter the office after particularly sweltering nights, and announce “it’s going to be busy today, so get ready.  There’s nothing like 99+ degree weather to make this office busy.”  The first morning he told me this, I asked what he meant.  He explained that years of personal experience taught him that when the temperatures got too hot for several days in a row, crime went up along with it.  Men beat their wives, fights broke out between neighbors, etc., which in turn filled the jail, which in turn created a great deal of paperwork for the county attorney to process all the crimminal activity.  He was right.  My hands would ache from all the typing some days, but I was young, and happy to have a job and get paid.

So I’d like to thank Mr. Poole for letting me work for him those first couple of summers I was in college.  I learned invaluable lessons about the protocol and manners of a formal office.  I learned the importance of order, attention to detail, and triple checking documents.  And most importantly, I learned the value of taking a coffee break to step away from the work during a high stress day.  I prefer a crossword puzzle to a garden, but I still took the lesson with me all these years later and am happier at work because of it.

Musical pairing: “Ordinary Miracles,” Barbra Streisand version, 1994.

Footnote: This continues my thankfulness list – once a month I’ll post a thank you about someone I’m thankful for that’s outside my immediate family and close friends.  There are many people who have helped me that may not know how much their generosity, guidance or kindness affected me.

Desk Surfing


Desk Surfing circa 1987

This continues my thankfulness list – once a month I’ll post a thank you about someone I’m thankful for that’s outside my immediate family and close friends.

For March, I’d like to thank my first coworkers, the staff at The University Daily.  Texas Tech’s student newspaper was one of the very few university newspapers that was self supporting.  It was staffed primarily by students with a few adult paid supervisors, and advertising sold covered all the costs.  It won journalism awards and functioned closely to a real world newspaper.  We were all still in college, but it was the first job I applied for and got on my own.  And it was the first job I had with coworkers.

There were about a dozen of us in the advertising department and about a dozen in editorial/photography.  We were paid small salaries and worked 20 to 25 hours a week.   The money was nice, but the big benefits were practical, hands on experience and an on campus office.  So while we were on the clock we were out seeing local advertisers who served the college community.  Off the clock, we used the office to do homework, eat, and hang out.  Most of us had at least one class together, often more.

The office had a million dollar location near the center of campus next door to the Journalism School, but it was otherwise nothing to write home about.  Military grade metal office furniture was crammed like sardines into one room.  Pods of multiple desks faced each other with one landline telephone sitting in the middle (google it if you don’t know what one looks like) that we shared to make sales call appointments.

Once on staff, as long as you brought in enough ad dollars and came to work every day, you could keep your job in the following years.  With graduations, there was a consistent turnover of faces each year.  But we were tight.  We critiqued each other’s homework. I met my best friend there, sharing a phone.  One of my room mates worked there.  We went to each others’ weddings.

In spite of or because of the workplace environment, I’m not sure which, we also taught each other a great deal about workplace dynamics and teamwork.  And so I’d like to thank those people I shared a phone and office space with for 2 years.

I learned:

  • to be polite and share
  • what the definition of TMI in the workplace is
  • how to be competitive yet supportive
  • to clean up my stuff when it overflows into someone else’s workspace
  • how to tolerate people I might not care for
  • when to be brutally honest and when to be plain honest
  • hustle and tenacity to be on time, complete tasks and contribute to the team
  • how to desk surf.

Now this last point about desk surfing is both literal and figurative.  Yes, one of the things we liked to do when we had a suger buzz on donuts was to jump on our metal chairs or desks that could not be harmed by army tanks, and pretend to surf.  Popular songs sung by untalented voices were involved.  Desk surfing is a sport of balance and thrill, fraught with danger if the boss walked down the hall at the wrong time.  And ever so rejuventating to the soul.  Desk surfing is also quintesential Gen X, no harm done and slightly unbuttoned.  I mean, there’s nothing in the employee handbook that says you CAN’T desk surf…  We always got our work done, we made quotas, we met the deadlines.  We also didn’t take work so darn seriously that we turned into the corporate robots and kiss ups so highly in demand.  Creativity was still alive and well at the time.

So I’ll always be thankful for those first coworkers.  Those who helped me smooth out the rough spots in my office behavior, who helped show me not to be so serious all the time.  Probably saved me from a heart attack or mental breakdown later.  Work hard, play hard, and hang ten.   Learn how to do this workplace this stuff right before it counted, although in my mind, it did really count.

The office mates: Mitzi, Ami, Bill, Lynn, Tracy, Terry, Katrice, Scott, Heidi, Carl, Malcolm.

Musical pairing:  “C’est La Vie,”  Robbie Nevil 1987

My first coworkers

The Simpsons Tell Gen X Jokes


Lisa

The Simpsons just aired their 500th episode, and Gen Xers fell in love with Bart, his family and Springfield from the very beginning.  Quality satire with pop hero guest characters spoke to our uneasiness with social institutions and the suspicious veneer of everyone trying to live like they were the Cleavers when in reality, we lived with parts of Springfield every day.

The show debuted in 1987 and quickly became a hit.  I was in college, and remember hanging out at the college pub on Sunday nights, eating burgers and watching The Simpsons on a small TV in the corner.  Week after week the entire pub was hushed with rapt attention for 30 minutes.  It was a show that played well watching as a group, enjoying the laughs together.

A Gen Xer could completely relate to that sickening feeling of not being able to get away from the things that made one’s life miserable or never escaping suburbia.  Like our parents getting laid off during the savings and loan crisis.  Like not being able to find a job out of school and working at the beer barn to pay the rent.  Like having a boss that called you ‘darlin.’  Like worrying over student loans.  Like not having health care.  Oh yea, we were living in Springfield, and somehow that got Gen Xers the label of slackers.  Gee, thanks.  It’s no surprise “Don’t have a cow, man” became a popular phrase for the time.  The most logical thing to do in the face of all this crap was to sullenly wait it out.

So on the most ominous of nights, the worst night of the week, Monday Morning Eve, we would steel ourselves for the coming alarm clock with Bart saying the smartalec things we couldn’t say, Lisa struggling to matter just like us, and waiting for Maggie to go postal.  It was theraputic to laugh at Mr. Burns knowing we’d see him bright and early in the morning at our own pathetic jobs.  The absurdity was wonderful.

Thank you, Simpson family.  Thank you Springfield.  We really needed the laughs.

Musical pairing: “Suburbia,” Pet Shop Boys, 1986 and “This Must Be The Place,” Talking Heads, 1983.

Hectic


How many days of the week wind up hectic?

Is it all of them?

Why are we hurried and rushed so…

It’s not the 80’s anymore, so why do I think I must still overachieve?

And my company expects the work of two men from just me.

And there’s hundred more channels than just a newspaper now.

Remember when the internet didn’t go so fast?

Some of the speed is really good.

I like my microwave and washing machine, cell phone and Miracle Grow.

But shouldn’t some slow things still be cool?

Like Sunday afternoons,

And kisses,

And root beer floats?

Kids board games,

And talks with neighbors,

And thank yous on real stationary?

There’s so much crammed on my itinerary.

Where’s the time for quiet or sleep or contemplation?

Or prayers.

Time to hold hands,

Listen to oceans and baby giggles?

Maybe it’s time to push back, say “no thanks!” to the extra

assignments and chasing other people’s expectations.

So me and you can start saying “Yes!” to the important stuff.

The lovely and the precious to our hearts.

If how we spend our time and money spells out what we love,

what are we spelling?

It’s OK for some days to be hectic.

Better the exception than the norm.

Man does hectic ever wear me out.

So let’s help each other find balance,

Get better focused, live calm.

Let a few things slide, get comfortable with less lofty aspirations.

Find joy and contentment in people rather than things.

Slow down, just a little.

One less day a week hectic.

 

Beauty and The Brain


1970's Hair

My little sister was always called ‘the pretty one’ and I was called ‘the smart one.’  We were stereotyped by family and the community, just like most other siblings.  I guess in a twisted way it’s a compliment, taking one of your strong points and then reducing a description of you to just one word that contrasts you from your brothers and sisters: smart, pretty, athletic, funny.  So people can tell us apart I guess.  Some people’s strong point isn’t flattering: slow, clumsy, plain, small.  My sister and I were sometimes also described as ‘the uncoordinated one’ and ‘the fast one.’  My sister won track meets.  I won scrapes, sprains and broken bones completely by accident.

So this is a picture from the 1970’s.  I was 9, my sister was 4.  She had spent the afternoon trying to style my hair with tiny plastic barrettes and hairspray.  As you can see, my sister is graced with a natural beauty, including long blonde hair, sparkly eyes and creamy skin.  I had crazy hair with waves that refused to behave and stuck out every which way.  And I unlike my sister who loved to wear girly clothes, I preferred my collection of NFL jerseys with Levis.  I don’t know why anyone around us needed little labels like ‘pretty‘ and ‘uncoordinated.‘  It’s obvious we aren’t twins 🙂

Being a little girl in the 1970’s was confusing sometimes.  The traditional stereotypes of what girls should wear, what toys they played with, how they should act, what they should excel at, and what they should do when they grew up, were still very much in place.  We were told that math and science was over our heads.  We were told that good girls wore dresses and bras and got married and were homemakers.  There was no Title X.  There was a glass ceiling and a lower salary for the same work.  We were supposed to go to college to ‘get finished‘ and obtain an MRS degree.  Pregnancy guaranteed problems at the office or retirement.  Women over 40 were over the hill and replaceable.  Madison Avenue dictated the narrow definition of beautiful (white, thin, busty, air headed) and promoted one of the most impossible ideas imposed on our generation: SuperMom.

Given the times, my sister’s looks and natural preferences made it slightly easier for her to navigate her way.  I still think she had to play dumb from time to time, she’s actually smart too.

Me, I didn’t do pink or ruffles.  I liked to watch football and Star Trek.  I rode a skateboard and won ribbons in the science fairs.  Teachers sighed and said I was a problem.  It was awkward to be me in the 1970s.  Fortunately, I had a daddy that told me it was great to be smart.  He said not to mind what people might say if I was doing my thing.  He drew football plays on a legal pad so I could learn the strategy of the game.  He said someday I’d meet a guy who would think a girl who liked football and science was cool.  Oh, AND crazy hair that didn’t obey hairspray would be alright too.  And you know what?  I did.

Musical pairing: “American Woman,” Lenny Kravitz version 1999, and “Lady Madonna,” The Beatles, 1968.