People who know me are aware that in December of 2012, after nineteen and a half years at a position I loved (heading a program I had developed and grown) my work world changed dramatically on a Monday morning. The company had been operating somewhat in limbo for a few years after the death of the company’s owner, being run by a trio of trustees who opted to dissolve the trust and pass along ownership to a designated Foundation. I had been scheduled to have my first meeting with my new supervisor who I was anxious to share ideas with regarding changes that might be implemented to improve the operations of the student housing complex and the residential life program it housed.
Working in a college community, this had traditionally been among my favorite times of year, third only to staff selection and staff training week. I enjoyed it because of the traditions of purchasing Christmas trees for the building’s lobbies and decorating them with lights and candy canes that residents and guests were encouraged to take. The night prior to this meeting I had hosted my staff of live-in employees for a holiday meal and gift exchange. A favorite activity of mine was purchasing a book and writing a personal inscription in it for each of my employees. Over the years I had purchased hundreds of books that reflected the hobbies, interests, majors, career aspirations, or simply the humor of those I worked with. Each a memento with a message as unique as they were as individuals, intended to show my appreciation for their work. During this annual ritual I would verbally thank the group for their commitment and acknowledge that working for a company that operates 365 days a year requires sacrifice and hopefully a shared holiday meal with coworkers would not only prepare them for impending finals but also soften the disappointment of missing out on some of their own annual traditions. Somewhere among my things I have cards of appreciation from over the years that reflect that this gesture was as important to many of my workers as it was to me. Six years ago last Sunday, the event wrapped up about 9:30 pm.
The next morning at 9:30 am was my first meeting with my new supervisor and I was surprised by the presence of another person who was employed by the Foundation. It quickly became evident that they was not interested in maintaining the program that the Foundation had been gifted, viewing it only as a real estate asset and I was told to turn my keys in that Friday. It was then that I realized that even the wishes of a multi-billionaire don’t need to be honored once they are deceased. Not only did I have less than a week to pack up an office of nearly twenty years but I needed to step down from the business association I was serving my sixth term as president of and leave behind numerous associations, boards and committees in the community I had been an integral part of as well.
My eldest was a sophomore in college, preparing for a semester in Europe and my youngest was a high school senior who had already been accepted to college. This new reality was not only a shock to me but to them as well. I had started my employment as a live-in Resident Director when my daughter was just nine months old and we lived on-site during the birth of my son who came home from the hospital less than 24-hours after he was born. My work had not simply been a job but a lifestyle and the only one my kids had known. While our health insurance ended, the household income was slashed in half and the tradition of summer cookouts and holiday celebrations with my team abruptly ended there was also concern for how my staff members would fare in my absence. Hiring, training and developing University of Minnesota students for work opportunities beyond college had always been a top priority of my role.
Now that the history of how my un(der)employment has been covered I can share some of the amusing tales of what has been the most challenging six years of my life. Last year I had six W2 forms to earn about 10% of my previous salary. While financially this has been a devastating period for me and my family, it has also been an opportunity to appreciate what we have. Having both integrity and a sense of humor has perhaps made this easier for me but it has been a truly wild ride that can best be summed up with “you can’t make this stuff up!’. So fasten your seatbelts and prepare to be entertained by what opportunities have come and gone over the past six years.
I’d be remiss if I did not acknowledge the many people who have reached out with potential contacts, suggested employers and supportive suggestions. At an age where I am keenly aware of what my skills and assets are, I am also aware of what is not a good fit for me. While nothing has lead to what I refer to as “my next big girl job” I truly have appreciated every idea and offer that has been passed my way. The following are but a sampling of “Odd Jobs” not in the sense of occasional work (which some have been) but as in truly peculiar!
I’m going to dive in by starting with what is surely one of the most whirlwind bizarre opportunities I was given about five years ago. A friend put me in touch with a consultant that the large corporation she worked for frequently used. I was to meet her at 1:00 pm at a coffee shop in St. Paul. I met with a high school friend that morning for breakfast as the weather began to deteriorate into the first significant snowfall of the season. Rather than return home between breakfast and my meeting, I ran some errands and gave myself an adequate amount of time to get to the designated location and order myself some coffee. Once seated I texted the contact to let her know I had arrived and where I was seated. I immediately got a response “I left a message on your home phone regarding a change of location.”. So I transferred my beverage to a to-go cup and headed to the new meeting place where she introduced me to two college interns in suits. She explained that they were preparing a bid for hosting the World’s Fair and was hoping to use me for some communications work. She was taking calls, responding to texts and emails and instructed me to meet them at a building adjacent to the State Capital. The road conditions were now beyond horrendous, I basically slid over to the meeting place and found metered parking, climbed a snow bank and met up with the interns in a hallway. The woman explained that they would be filming a Russian delegation and I was to have them sign waivers permitting use of photographs and film from the event. As equipment was being set up I was shown to a table where I was given a pad of paper to take notes of the meeting. We were all instructed to silence our phones. In what seems like an almost dreamlike scenario, I was introduced to the Secretary of State and then a number of Russian visitors were introduced and seated at an adjacent table. I furiously documented the entire meeting from their review of their trip earlier in the day to the Mayo Clinic to the Secretary of State sharing the horrific story of the death of his daughter due to an accident with a drunk driver. Midway through the nearly two-hour event a cell phone (belonging to the consultant I was “working” for) rang on the table I was seated at, I silenced it while getting a dirty look from the Secretary of State. As the meeting ended, we regrouped in the hallway and I was instructed to send the meeting minutes and my hours to the consultant. It was the last exchange I had with her. I sensed that perhaps the Secretary of State instructed her to have nothing to do with the woman who left her phone on during the meeting and she never owned up to it being her own phone. I am the only person I know who has had a an uncompensated gig documenting Russians in a meeting with the Secretary of State. My only regret was not at least getting reimbursed for my parking.
From the moment my job ended I made it very public that I was looking for work and eventually a high school classmate reached out with what he described as an opportunity “beneath my skill set and pay scale” that I could do remotely for his Washington-based company. For two years I checked my email nightly and reformatted resumes to a specific company criteria and had them back to them by opening the following day. While the work was exacting, it was not difficult and I appreciated not only the income but additional insights regarding resume formatting which I have used in helping friends and family in their job searches as well. Eventually he sold the company which ended the opportunity.
A few years ago another high school friend suggested that a temporary gig working for a local business run by another graduate from our high school might be a good fit for me. That is how I began selling dog bandanas at a Minnesota State Fair booth (a position my husband affectionately refers to as “barking for the Yak woman!” a nod to the career trajectory of Cousin Eddie’s son in the movie Christmas Vacation). As an extrovert, I enjoy talking to customers and as a dog lover I never grow tired of hearing about the recipients of the amusing and clever bandanas or legendary Dog Biscuits on a Stick. As a Minnesotan I appreciate the tradition of the Fair and it’s been a great place to annually meet up with people from all areas of my life; with visits from a high school friend who resides in Hawaii, a college friend visiting from California, old neighbors who now live in North Dakota and many others. The accompanying photograph is from this year when the parents of two of my former staff members stopped by the booth for a visit. Not only available at The Great Minnesota Get Together, treat your canine friends and family members with gifts available at http://www.fundogbandanas.com
Currently I am overlapping a couple of seasonal positions. Wrapping up a season at a local garden center that closes when Christmas tree season ends and starting out a season at the local ski hill where I work in the retail shop and food court. There is an irony that I neither garden (beyond containers, hanging baskets and window boxes) or ski (I can fall pretty well on my own driveway which is flat) but I do enjoy talking to people and welcome the chance to work alongside high school and college students, as well as retirees. Both locations offer ample room for a favorite pastime which is simply the observation of people. While the State Fair is the epicenter of people watching, the ski hill allows for me to watch the awkwardness of budding middle school romances and the garden center has its own supply of amusing regulars. It’s certainly not the kind of work you take home with you and if I were to put a notch in my belt every time a customer said “Well it must be free!” when an item doesn’t register on the till or is missing a tag, my pants would be at my ankles. Every position leaves me with some sort of insight, be it profound or mundane. My most recent epiphany being that pine needles are merely “nature’s glitter”, equal parts beautiful to look at and annoying to deal with.
While nothing I have done over the past six years has truly utilized my skill set or provided me with any real challenges or growth opportunity, there is one job that I am literally reminded of daily that I found to be particularly soul-sucking. A temp agency hooked me up with a “Brand Ambassador” position which is a glorified name for “Consumer Harasser”. As someone who dislikes being approached while shopping, I found myself in the unseemly position of being the perpetrator of that very activity. After many hours of online training provided me with more information about a dog food brand than I ever cared to know, I worked shifts at various pet store chains, wandering the aisles and suggesting reasons that pet owners should try “my brand”. My shift ended with the completion of “call reports”, including all interactions and documentation of the “conversions” I’d made during my shift. While I enjoyed interacting with people and their pets I often found that the most rewarding part of my days were cleaning up the occasional accident of a puppy or senior dog, as it seemed to provide me with the greatest sense of accomplishment. The most awkward part of the role was the training with a ten-year veteran, which took place in the back storage area of one of the stores. The location had a motion sensor for the lights which meant every ten minutes my trainer and I were plunged into darkness, which caused him to spontaneously rise from his chair and flail his arms to trigger the lights. My company shirt and name tag never came, despite the reminder I submitted with each time sheet. The promised lap top for company use also did not materialize. It was work I did not look forward to, often scheduled over Viking’s games. This meant not only was I missing the game but that few people were in the stores. The upside to the job was I got a lot of steps in, occasionally ran into people I knew and interacting with the representatives from other brands, who were easily identifiable by their company shirts or lab coats (I needed to report which ones were present on my end of shift paperwork). I eventually found out why my own insignia wardrobe never was sent, the brand was changing temp agencies. I can think of only one previous job I was happier to have end. It’s been over a year now and I still get a DAILY reminder to submit “late call reports” and the automated request can’t be responded to, so I have that to look forward to for the rest of my life. While the temp agency was quick to find another dog food brand for me to rep, I simply could not justify using any more of my memory-capacity to retain ingredients, kibble sizes or other pet food jargon! A career move that went to the dogs.
I’ve often mentioned to people that one of the hardest parts of being out of work is that unlike when you are employed, there is no “time off”. You go to bed unemployed, you sleep unemployed and you wake up unemployed. It’s all-consuming and not quite the “extended vacation” that those working imagine it would be. The world keeps turning, the bills keep coming, people are born, while others die. There are weddings, there are graduations and anniversaries. The milestones continue but you remain somewhat frozen in a state of the unknown. In no way am I implying that I have been living in an endless sea of misery, in fact events and occasions to look forward to have been highlights of this period of my life.
Girls weekends and cabin getaways have provided me some “normalcy”. During one such occasion, a trip to my best friends cabin (a year ago this fall) we sat fireside while she scrolled through neighborhood websites where she had often found used furnishings for her lake place. She came upon a listing for a person near her community who was looking for what can best be described as personal assistant. She contacted the person with my information and the following week after a phone conversation I went to meet with her. I located the somewhat remote home and pulled up to the three car garage. I sat at the island in the beautiful kitchen while she went over the contents of a file folder which listed some of the things she needed assistance with. She then toured me through the lovely home where I was fascinated by the idea of having enough space in a Master closet for a washing machine and dryer. In the lower level were the bedrooms of her two teenaged daughters and across the hall their own laundry room. As she showed me the indoor swimming pool we exited through the adjacent bathroom which had an additional washer and dryer. The palatial home had a complete downstairs kitchen as well. Her husband owned a company and she homeschooled their youngest daughter and managed the books for the family business. They spent their winters in Florida and she suggested that perhaps I could collect their mail, check on the pool and perform other tasks in their absence over the winter months.
After reviewing her needs I set about tackling the tasks at hand; contracting a dumpster, booking a plumber to install a garbage disposal, arranging to have the carpets cleaned, contacting the pool company for cleaning and maintenance. I then moved on to organization of the pantry, cleaning of the refrigerator (it’s the third week of October, so I got rid of the meat that had expired in July). She asked if I could move my car so she could get out and asked that I park in front of her husband’s garage door in the future as he left for work by six a.m. daily and was rarely home before 10 p.m. I then watched as she headed out for lunch in her Maserati. Her homeschooled daughter took off on a four-wheeler to take care of her horses. I then moved on to breaking down boxes from Amazon, not simply a few but perhaps thirty. After that I went down to the piano room where she suggested some things be pulled out to go in the dumpster that I had ordered. All of the boxes and wrapping paper from Christmas the previous year were there and some gift bags with items still in them and a beautiful two piece dress which I hauled upstairs and placed on a table. The daughter returned and said she needed cash for gas and then called her mother. So I gave the 13-year-old a twenty-dollar bill from my wallet and wondered to myself if it was even legal for her to pump gas or be on the road. I was starting to experience the same dreamlike weirdness I had experienced while chronicling Russians meeting with the Secretary of State.
Eventually the daughter returned, a brother inlaw dropped off some neices for piano lessens, a piano teacher arrived and the oldest daughter returned home from school. None of them seemed to find it unusual at all that a stranger was in the kitchen, as though it were totally normal for an unknown person to be present in the home.
By the end of the day the mother had returned and wondered where I had found her daughter’s Homecoming dress that was lying on the table. “In the piano room armoire with the discarded Christmas wrapping paper”. I had also created a menu for dinner the following day and suggested to her that I grocery shop on my way over the next morning, which she agreed was a good idea.
The following morning I headed to the store and texted her at 8:45 that I was on my way. I let myself in and she shouted from the master bedroom “I’ll be out in a few minutes!’. I cleared the breakfast dishes, met the plumber and got him the “spare” garbage disposal from their Florida home that was in the hallway closet and set about prepping the white chili to go in the crockpot. I then met the dumpster delivery driver and made several trips from the garage with the boxes from the previous day. The youngest daughter and a cousin came into the kitchen and began making slime with glue, food coloring and glitter. By noon, with still no sign of the mother emerging from the Master the girls asked if I would make them pizza, which I did. Midway through day two and I’d seen no sign of “homeschooling”. By 1:00 the mother emerged and I updated her on the status of the day and she promptly left for lunch with the eldest niece. I was uncertain if I should feel flattered or concerned that she so nonchalantly left her daughter and niece with a virtual stranger or that they were seemingly so comfortable with the situation as well. I set about prepping side dishes for the evening meal. Upon the mother’s late afternoon return she grabbed her checkbook and wrote me a check for the groceries, the gas money and my sixteen hours of work and said “I’m meeting with a couple of other people who responded to the ad.” Somewhat perplexed, I left and the only contact I’ve had since was twice when I texted her to let her know “Your pool service is on their way” and remind her that all furnishings needed to be moved in the basement because the carpet cleaners were scheduled.
Nice work if you can get it. Albeit brief as it was!
So the search continues and as I often told my employment counselor “every day when I wake up brings me one day closer to my next job!”. Perhaps my next blog will be about the things I have applied for and the interviews I have had, the jobs I was excited about and didn’t land.
In the meantime don’t hesitate to send me job opportunities suitable for a creative, good-humored extrovert!