Are You There Career? It’s Me, Ashleigh.

After months of asking the universe this question, it FINALLY ANSWERED.

I have now officially been employed for three whole days, and even though the world can’t get much brighter than November in Florida, it most certainly has. On Monday I got up at 6 a.m., made my safe a healthy protein packed breakfast, and dusted off my old work wardrobe. Heading out the door felt good. Really good. So how did all this finally come about?

I took a risk, that’s how. A huge, scary, life-threatening (okay, maybe not) risk. Long story short, I applied for a double-digit number of jobs, and at first, I was having very little luck getting through HR as I relayed in this post from a few weeks ago. My final big push of applications went through in the middle of August, with a few trickling randos to follow. I ended up getting four phone interviews and four final interviews for five different jobs, which was both amazing and amazingly stressful at the same time. However, things became really complicated as I learned more about each opportunity and met more people, and one particular position stood out among the others. It became even more interesting when that hiring process got pushed back and prolonged, while the others swiftly took off at breakneck speed. My greatest fear, of course, was not getting a job. My second greatest fear was having to take the wrong job.  One by one, the positions for which I completed final interviews called with offers. What came next was a full 24 hours of feeling honored and nervous breakdowns, trying to decide whether to take it or go full-out for the one I really wanted. My heart knew where it wanted to go, but my head was panicking. Ultimately, I chose to risk it, and as a former career counselor, I know full-well that these risks can go either way to the extreme. In my case…

It paid off.

I’m officially an Eagle.

FGCU Shirt

I’m so excited to report that after five painstaking months of unemployment in a state where I knew no one, I accepted a position as an Academic Advisor for Special Populations in an amazing office full of incredible people at Florida Gulf Coast University. A school that is well-known for it’s dedication to sustainability, service-learning and… Dunk City! Check it out:

Already I feel a sense of purpose, a life-permeating stimulation, a welcome exhaustion. Not to mention that after two years of major life changes (jobs, graduations, surgeries, getting married) and major risks (moving to Florida, quitting my job, you know, the usual), I finally feel a small sense of stability creeping in. I know where I am going to be in the next couple of years – a concept that is alien to me. We’re officially DINKS (dual-income, no kids) again, and although we have some catching up to do, we are off to the races. FINALLY.

So today I am thankful for my career. For the opportunities I am so lucky to have. For finding a purpose in helping others. For Bill supporting me through this rough patch and some very dark days.

Oh, and the teeny tiny, completely unspectacular, not at all awe-inspiring view from my office window.

Office View

How on earth did I get here? This is was gratitude feels like.

xo

Advertisements

Back In Action

I most definitely disappeared for a while there, didn’t I?

Well, I’m back. Like, right now. Here I am.

Things have been a little crazy lately, which unfortunately meant that writing fell on the backburner for awhile. Isn’t is strange how when life gets busy, the first things to fall on the priority list are those we love the most?

Speaking of failing miserably… One of the reasons I’ve been M.I.A. is that my computer died. And I mean OUT of commission. I’m talking crashing-programs, CD-drive-not-opening, zero-second-battery-life, cannot-even-connect-to-the-internet DONE. And get this – the little devil decided to do all this the week before the biggest presentation for the most important job interview since the beginning of all these Florida shenanigans. But there is a happy ending to this story, and it looks a little something like this:

IMG_6887

She’s a beaut, let me tell you. She’s a beaut. We’re going to do a lot of incredible writing together, if all goes as planned.

I do, however, have to pay tribute to my last laptop, may she rest in peace. That baby was a gift from my father after some freshman year debauchery led to a tragic accident in the living room of my first apartment. My roommates were interpretive dancing – one crouched low to the ground and waving it like she just don’t care, the other on her stomach on the kitchen island like a beached whale – and I backed out of the way a little too far and… well, to be honest, I sat on my computer. Enter my saint of a father with a new, cherished, not-to-be-messed-with saving grace of a laptop, which got me through undergrad, grad school, and two years of this blog. She managed to make it through the college years with grace, all parts intact. But her poor little letters started rubbing off during the era of graduate research papers, and scarcely a popular Wheel of Fortune letter does she have left. She got me through a lot. And then she gave up in the most dramatic fashion possible, right when she knew she’d be screwing me over the most. I only have myself to blame for that one though. She probably learned it from her mom.

So I just mentioned before that I was just about to deliver the presentation of a lifetime when the technological soap opera began. That’s the other reason I fell off the face of the earth. One of the last posts I wrote (which you can find here) detailed the struggles I was having as a young professional who has found herself unemployed and housewifing it up 3000 miles from friends, family, and a little place called home. I was having issues breaking into my field on this side of the country, and for reasons completely beyond my control. Well, I am happy to report that I have had the longest three months of my professional life and have now completed a total of four phone interviews, five in-person interviews, three high-pressure presentations, and countless sleepless nights. I haven’t accepted a position yet, but exciting things may be just on the horizon. Fingers crossed! All will be revealed shortly, as things begin to solidify themselves. So with all that over and done with, my unplanned hiatus is up, as are my hopes.

So that’s my little love note to you. Big things are happening, little things are happening, and I’d love for you to stick around while I continue to navigate whatever life can throw at me when I least expect it.

And just for the record, that is not a challenge, Life. While I’ve caught the career twists and health surprises and the cross-country moves and the falling in love with extremely tall blond Midwestern men, I am officially letting you know I need a break, okay? I know, I know, I hear you laughing. I guess, it’s time to gear up and crouch down Posey-style.

(P.S. My Giants won the World Series. Did you think I was going to leave that unsaid?)

xo

Young Professional… Lost.

There is a part of this crazy journey that I haven’t acknowledged here yet.

Well, actually, that isn’t quite true.

There is a part of this journey that I’ve been too embarrassed to write about. Yes, embarrassed. Hard to believe coming from someone who has poured her heart into writing about anything and everything, no matter how humiliating, on a very public forum for the past two years, right? Well, this “thing” that I’m referring to is something that has always be a part of my self-concept, a key ingredient to my own perception of my self-worth. It has been a source of pride, of motivation, of identity. And now, in the last few months, that piece of me has vanished. So for the sake of the giant empty space in this Floridian room where an elephant should be, here it is…

My career.

Or current lack thereof.

I’m going to have a moment of self-pity. A giant, dramatic, cry-me-a-river-and-build-a-bridge, world’s-smallest-violin MOMENT and let it out: I’ve been struggling, I’ve been lost, and I’m not entirely sure what to do with myself.

I could say that I’ve made a lot of sacrifices for Bill and the unbelievable career move that brought us to Florida. I left my friends, my family, my beloved San Luis Obispo, my job that I loved and that loved me back. Not to mention my heart-of-hearts home state, for whom I cry grizzly bear-sized tears from the NorCal stars in my eyes and for whom I bleed In-N-Out special sauce through the map of my “5 to the 505 to the 80 to the 680 to the 101” veins. Oh yeah, and about whom no one in Florida really cares too much. I swear, I find myself wanting to go so SNL on everyone I meet that they know without a doubt I’m a “Californian”. 

I could say that I sacrificed all of that, but that wouldn’t be fair. Bill and I made the decision together, and this adventure is the bed we made. So I can either lie in it, tossing and turning all night, or I can put on my big girl pajamas and sleep well knowing there is nothing in this world I am lacking. I still have my family, I still have my friends. San Luis Obispo hasn’t moved, and neither has California.

However, there is still that pesky gnawing in my brain that just won’t quit. The unfortunate fact is that I cannot pick up the phone and call my career to tell it how much I miss it. It’s has been eating me alive.

So what’s been happening? First, a little back story. During undergrad, I had the privilege of studying what I loved. For me, that was Psychology and Theatre Arts, which in the real world is also known as Volunteering and Bartending. I’ve never known exactly what I wanted to do, per say, but I always knew that I would find it at the end of my passions. As a college student, I worked part-time at a local pet store, then Petsmart, followed by a brief stint at Victoria’s Secret, and lastly at the Children’s Center on my university’s campus while interning in the Gender Equity Center. Fast forward to right after graduation, and you’ll find me teaching kindergarten with some respite work on the side. The teaching job was on a 1000-hour contract, and when that ran out, well, I found myself right back to the drawing board. A random encounter with a former supervisor led me to a grad program, to which I applied. At the same time wanting to make a bit of money and explore my second major, I looked into jobs at our local news station and promptly landed a job in advertising sales. Right after starting, I found out that I got into grad school. In the scheme of things, I made a swift exit from sales and cracked the books again for my MA in Counseling and Guidance for Higher Education. During those two ragged, exhausting years, I interned with the sexual assault resource, the orientation program, the study abroad office, and Career Services, all on campus. Upon graduation, luck would have it that a counselor position opened up at the site of newfound passion, and I started my position as the Career Counselor for the College of Liberal Arts a few months after being hooded.

Best. Job. Ever. 

I had found a calling. I loved my job, I loved my students, I loved my coworkers, I loved my office, I loved my WORK. It was the first time this had ever really happened to me, this whole “do what you love, love what you do” thing. It felt great.

Now, I know you know how that story goes. A little over one year from my official full-time start date, I am now unemployed and in Florida – two of the very last things I ever expected to be. 

Making the decision to move was a very tough one, especially for me but also for Bill too. A lot was going to change so drastically, and although he had a new and exciting job, he had to live with watching his wife leave many things behind. Now, I haven’t experienced that myself, but I can see it in his eyes when I mention missing my friends or work through not contributing financially out loud or fighting being the one responsible for all the cleaning and maintenance and cooking and stocking of the fridge. But here we are, and I am missing my friends and working through a lack of contribution and fighting being responsible for our everyday lives, all while applying for jobs and networking like crazy.

You see, things are not quite going according to plan. At least for me.IMG_6403

When we first started dating, we had talked about the day that would come when we had to choose between San Luis Obispo (and all that it represents for me) and Bill’s career. At that time three years ago, in the car on the way to catch a flight at the Minneapolis airport, I stated that once I graduated from grad school, I wouldn’t be tied down to a job, and I would have my master’s degree in hand. I could get a job, easy, and this all sounded like an adventure that I couldn’t wait to go on. So Bill renewed his contract for two more years while I finished up. We got married a month after graduation.

But then he didn’t get a job right away, and opportunities in California opened up right before my eyes. Opportunities that I wanted to grab but didn’t know if I should since we might be leaving, but that I grabbed anyway because we might be leaving and couldn’t know for sure. So I applied for that dream job and ultimately got it. Once I did, I worried about accepting it. What if I accept and Bill gets a call next month? It was stressing me out. I did accept, and I had an amazing, amazing year there. A year of experience added to my resume that, with that same master’s degree, meant that I was set. 

Or so I thought.

I resigned from that position on June 30th. It is now a week into September, and I’ve been job hunting since May. No job. It’s all been a mystery, really. I have been targeting all the higher education institutions in the area with major emphasis on two in particular. Of course, there weren’t any career counselor positions, knowing that of course I wouldn’t be lucky enough to continue with my passion after 26 years of searching, but there are some great schools around here. As long as I’m working with students, I’m happy. The jobs I first started applying for were the ones that I read the job descriptions and the minimum requirements and thought, “I just might be able to get this.” In other words, they were at the top of my reach with the qualifications I was bringing with me, and testing out the job market, I thought that Florida couldn’t be any harder to break into than Cal Poly. But then I kept getting emails stating that I didn’t make it through HR – the first step in the application process in the higher education. They look at your degrees and your experience, and everyone who meets those minimum requirements gets through to the selection committee, regardless of how good your materials are. You meet it, you make it. I could have written my experience out in crayon, and as long as I meet the basic criteria, I make it through the first round. So back to getting the rejection email, nobody read all that work I put into my many custom resumes, my cover letters, my awesome letters of recommendation… In fact, nobody even looked at them.

Well, I took those first couple hits as a reality check, and maybe the market is more competitive than I thought. Time to step up my game even more. So I didn’t get a director position? At least I tried. As other jobs started popping up, I began climbing down the ladder. Surely I’ll get this assistant director position. Or that one. Or this job at this obscure school over there. Or maybe at that one? What is going on here? Can I please have a job?!?!

Now, I don’t want to sound pompous here, but I’m a career counselor. My area of expertise is to help people clarify their life purpose, define their career goals, work through the job search, and much more – the very basic of which is composing a compelling resume and cover letter. I know how to do these things, and do them well. I spend hours crafting targeted resumes, rearranging my experiences in terms of relevance and scouring the job description for ways to substitute their language for mine. I have countless files on my computer labeled by institution/department/job title, each containing a separate document for every piece of the application. My cover letters are the stuff of which dreams are made. So with all of these pulled up, I’ve called HR many times for feedback. “Hello, I recently applied for ______ position and didn’t make it through HR. I was under the impression that I met the minimum requirements. Do you have any feedback for me?” Then we nitpick each part of my application and why I didn’t meet the easy-peasy minimum requirements, and then there is nothing left I can do so I hang up the phone and sulk for a minute before throwing hellfire and brimstone into the next application, practically burning a hole through my computer with fury as I compose that next magnificent cover letter. 

IMG_6404The last straw came a few weeks ago. I applied for a job at one of the aforementioned university that required a bachelor’s and two years of experience. Well, I have two bachelor’s degrees, a master’s degree, and four years of related experience. Sounds promising, right? Despite the meticulousness I put in to yet another set of materials, I got that dreaded rejection letter AGAIN, and this time I’d had it. I emailed the head of the hiring committee, who I had just shaken hands with the week before, and got no response. I called HR yet again, and I tried everything I could think of before the sweet, sweet lady on the other end of the phone lowered her voice and said, “Well, we actually don’t count master’s degrees or graduate internships as experience here.” I’m sorry… WHAT?!?!? 

I just about blew a gasket. Had an aneurysm. Broke out in hives. Exploded into a million tiny little pieces due to internal pressure.

You have GOT to be kidding me. She basically had just told me that instead of spending two years running in a goddamn hamster wheel of stress, exhaustion, and mental Iron Man competitions – you know, those two years where I gave up my social life and cried more than I didn’t cry and forgot what sleeping was and yelled at Bill for no reason and missed out on amazing things so I could sit at home in sweats and write endless research papers on waitforit HIGHER EDUCATION – and instead of busting my ass working 40 hours a week at the university where they can only pay you close to minimum wage for only half those hours and INSTEAD OF SPENDING THOUSANDS OF DOLLARS ON A PIECE OF PAPER THAT WOULD ENSURE ME PROFESSIONAL SECURITY… Well, I should have just gone to work. Welcome to the last few years of my life, invalidated. 

And then to make matters worse, she added, “You should start applying for positions that require less experience.” Wait, less than those positions that according to your website I should technically be overqualified for? I’m confused. 

Look, it’s not that I should have gotten those jobs. It’s not that I think I’m entitled and some sort of super-professional. A lot of them are now filled, and probably with people who could be a much better fit than me. I know this. But at least give me a chance to show you why I think I could be a great asset. At least read those PDFs that I poured my occupational heart and soul into. But no, I am being held at the gate while I watch everyone else walk proudly through to their new positions, paychecks, and health benefits.

So what now? Well, I’m at a crossroads, but not really, because none of those paths seem to be going anywhere. I did a phone interview that went well, and I’m waiting to hear back. I’m working on my real estate license again, which I’ve wanted to do for years. I’ve been hunting for the perfect fixer house to throw myself into, which proves difficult when you don’t know your area. I’ve been hanging out with some new friends, and I just went to brunch on a Monday. I’ve been reading all the books that have been piling up, decorating and redecorating, cooking (affordable) gourmet meals, and laying on the floor face-up staring at the ceiling.

IMG_6411Doesn’t that all sound great?

Well, it should. However, it seems I haven’t been able smack myself into accepting it. I’ve had this time to distress and relax and catch up, but instead I’ve been digging my heels into the ground and resisting what is. I’ve been worried about the gap on my resume and concerned for the leaps we aren’t making in our savings and buying into all the outsider comments of how this may be the perfect opportunity to start a family when we are not quite there yet. If I could just let go of all it – the anxiety, the guilt, the confusion, the embarrassment – this could actually be a very productive time. The most productive, even. I could get healthy again and accomplish cool things. I could keep educating myself and become a Pinterest rockstar. (Fishtail braids and gallery wall domination have already taken place.) And I could just keep trying and do the best that I can and enjoy life as it is.

But it’s just so hard.

If I’m being honest, though, the hardest part hasn’t been everything I’ve been ranting about for the last five pages. The hardest part has been looking in the mirror this morning and having to face who I really am. It’s been figuring out how to deal with the thoughts in my head and the feelings in my heart without having a deadline to throw myself into or a button-up and heels to hide behind. It’s been about defining myself by my personality, my intellect, and my spirit instead of my profession. Nowadays we really do identify our worth through what it is that we do instead of who it is that we are. I’m mean, think about it. The first question we ask when introducing ourselves or making small talk is “What do you do?” Shouldn’t it be “Who are you?”

So who am I, if not my job? Well, I suppose I am a wife, a daughter, a sister, a friend, a lover, a giver, a caretaker, an artist, a storyteller, an athlete, a big heart, a listening ear, and a kind smile. I am me.

So I guess in the meantime, while waiting for this whole job thing to work itself out, maybe it’s time to shift my focus. Maybe this is a great time to concern myself instead with all those things that I am, instead of all of those things I am currently not. That, it seems, may just be the real secret to getting ahead – and the best kept one, indeed.

When It Floods…

You know those weeks when hardly anything goes right, nothing comes easy, and frankly, everything just kind of sucks? This was one of those weeks.

Like Thursday. Ohhhh yes, let’s talk about Thursday. A shining, pretty little example of the week in general. Before I get into details I want to establish that the week was one of those – and I know we’ve all had these – with too much to do and nowhere near enough time, energy, and patience to get it all done. Think on that for a second, and have a little sympathy. Now, that means that I needed to get into the office early. But lo and behold, the first time I slept through my alarm in all of 2013 happened to be, you guessed it! THURSDAY. Up, ready, and out the door with time to spare, but a girl’s got to eat, right? Of course this means a pit stop at Pete’s for Simply Oatmeal and Genmai Cha tea. (Sidenote: If you haven’t tried that tea, go do it. Classic Japanese green tea with roasted popped brown rice sounds weird, but it smells and tastes amazing.) Of course, the line is long and takes forever. I still get into the office early, but later than anticipated, and in general, I don’t enjoy inhaling my breakfast at my desk while trudging through email.

So then the day takes off, and it’s one thing after another flying in to push back all of the things I really have to do, like prepare for that speech I have to give to the higher-up’s advisory council and that huge presentation I have to give tomorrow and, oh yeah, that highly anticipated workshop I’m so glad I came up with two months ago that I felt was SUCH a great idea, and all the students I’m supposed to see in between. That means that even though I woke up to one of those days where I’m so constantly hungry that I’ve turned into an insatiable beast, I already know that a lunch break is out of the question. Good thing I brought the leftover Shrimp and Andouille Sausage Jambalaya that I was SO looking forward to… dropping straight upside down on the floor with a huge splat, not a single bite or ounce of integrity salvageable from the steaming ruined pile. And as luck would have it, as I’m a sniffling (read: crying at work) hunched-over mess in the middle of a main office thruway trying to clean up the disaster, an employer recruiting our students walks by. And so does an intern. The look of pity from the former and a confused look of awkward terror from the latter later, I’m left sans lunch with zero pride and no time to get a replacement  as I head back to my office to shut the door and sob while attempting to type and squint through tears at this stupid PowerPoint that’s ruining my life. If that weren’t enough, I’ll spare you the gory details of the extra hour I stayed late, the painful and emotional conversation, the unexpected dropping of money, and the changing of every stoplight in town just before I got to it when all I want is to JUST GET HOME that occupied the rest of the day.

Instead I’ll just tell you that right at the moment when I had absolutely HAD IT and fruitlessly started yelling at the asshole tailgating me in the middle of my small town just to take my anger out on somebody (ANYBODY), I also realized something else.

I realized, “This is water.”

This was water.

This is, was, and always will be… water.

If you don’t know what I mean, please watch the this video created by TheGlossary.com and inspired by a speech given by novelist David Foster Wallace:

For me, on this ugly Thursday, the realization that this was water cleared the way. All of a sudden I was able to remember the parts of my day that weren’t that bad, and oh yeah, the parts that were actually… GOOD.

The part where my husband showed up at the office with a plate of fish tacos to let me eat and work through lunch and our dog to get me to smile (if only just a little).

The part where an unprompted coworker told me I was rocking it, despite feeling like I was trudging through quicksand while trying to beat the deadlines.

The part where I actually had a job at which to have a bad day.

Or how about my favorite part, when I finally walked through the door to my home to find it warm and comforting, with pot roast and vegetables simmering on the kitchen counter, filling every room with their smell, and with the gentle humming of washer and dryer filling the silence upstairs. Indy was sitting on the couch, happy to see me. Bill came tearing down the stairs, a smile and humble pride at figuring out the Crockpot all over his face.

The funny thing about water is that the more you thrash and kick and fight it, the faster you sink. But if you stop struggling and just feel it, eventually you’ll float back up to the surface. So that begs the question… Are you going to let it all come flooding in to surround you and fill your lungs so you drown? Or are you going to stop focusing on the shit, and see the beauty and the peace and the calm lying just beyond the surface?

Your choice, love. Your choice.