Monday, April 16, 2012

Duly Employed

Let's talk work.  Umm, not running or blogging... I mean "real" work.

I realize this is a public forum, but as far as I'm concerned, I don't find it horribly inappropriate to discuss my career struggles here.  In the type of economic climate we have had over the past five or so years, I think it's important to be familiar with the humility and perseverance that comes with employment.

Work is a huge part of my life... and most of our lives... for most of our lives.  It becomes part of our identities and is oftentimes our livelihoods.  Of course, because of the field I studied in graduate school (industrial and organizational psychology), I do believe that work is VERY important and is very much integrated with our own psyches.

So when people are out of work, it's like a charley horse to the ego.  We've all seen, or maybe experienced, this and its effects.  (I recently Tweeted THIS Harvard Business Review article on the subject... you should read it if you or someone you know is searching.)

I will say now that I am fortunate to have been employed throughout the entire recession, mostly "full-time."  However, what was missing from all of that was a sense of stability -- internships, a combination of part-time jobs, contractor assignments, etc. made up my working life for the past six years, since I left my college job in 2006.  Some of them had a vague promise of permanent work, while I saw others as quick stepping stones. 

While these positions did provide income, I didn't get paid for vacations, accumulate time-off, have retirement funds, or health/vision/dental insurances.  Plus, I was very much undercompensated for the work I was doing, often taking over the duties of other full-time-with-benefits workers for much less.  So as I watched my friends and peers take vacations and save for their retirements, I grew bitter because I had to work a certain amount to keep myself and my education afloat.  I know I shouldn't be so competitive or lustful, but I was.

My search for alternative jobs has ebbed and flowed over the years.  When I was particularly disgruntled, I'd apply to anything I saw in a burst.  Had a few interviews, but nothing materialized except new temporary positions.  I guess I wasn't ever in the right place at the right time, which is often how people end up where they do.  There were also periods when I seriously could not find positions that my skill set could cover without having to move far away.  And once I completed school, then I actually considered moving far away.  But I did not have the will to be that far away from my new niece, my love, and my immediate family, so I relented and accepted that I'd just bounce around temp-jobs forever.

This has never boiled down solely as an income issue.  I found it absurd that people would say that "The Ukrainian" could support me while I bounced around.  I love him, but no way.  I paid my own way through college and graduate school and would never take back that independence.

I have been ashamed.  I often didn't tell my parents what was really going on with work, as I didn't want them to worry or think less of me or think that I could not contribute.  You see, my main goal in life (since I was a teen!) was to get "that" corporate job with benefits -- that was pretty much it.  You could say that I was conditioned for that one life goal.  Embarrassing, but true, as I know many people out there have more ambitious goals such as starting their own businesses or making a true difference.  All I wanted was stability and to not be excluded from my co-workers at company-sponsored functions, feeling like I was an outsider when I did all the things everyone else did on a day-to-day basis.

And yes, I did obtain a doctorate in part to secure that fate for me.  However, I think it didn't help and probably hurt the cause.  All that sacrifice, wasted?

Now, after playing the game again, I am finally getting my stability.  It has been questionable; I don't think I'm coming out of this 100% thrilled due to the uncertain wait, but I happily signed that offer letter.  People will tell me that I could do better, but for now, this IS better.  This is what I want right now.  And besides, it's what I've been wanting to do since I was an undergrad.

My next worry is that I still won't be happy even though I've achieved my long-standing goal.  Maybe now I will finally feel like I belong in that place in which I spend more of my time with than in any other.  Maybe now I can be proud of the other things I've accomplished without tacking on, "But I still don't have a 'real' job."  My tangenital relationship with work and companies has been with me for so long that it had almost become a part of my identity -- wanted, but not wanted.  Neither here nor there.  Now, I guess I'm somewhere?  Can I proudly state my affiliations now?  Can I finally not have to drop huge parts of my income for health insurance?  Can I take a real vacation?

I am so lucky.  I realize that many are not, even those who have as much work experience and education as I do.  And I also realize that nothing is ever "for sure" in life, and I have to be prepared to move on if the need comes.

Bottom line... even though some things are somewhat out of your control, do NOT give up.  The path may not always be quick or direct, but as they say with running, you just gotta think about taking that next step.


  1. I really appreciate this post. I'm getting ready to graduate from grad school and I haven't lined up a job yet. I know I am employable and it will just take some time for my path to open up and I am open to it but it helps to read about other people who have graduated from grad school and are still working it out. I know the right path will work its way out and might not be the most obvious thing. Again, I appreciate hearing the perspective of someone who has been there.

    Also! My aunt is a I/O psychologist and I considered getting a degree in it (I was psychology/management student in undergrad with a focus in organizational behavior!).

  2. Great post! And congratulations! I this new opportunity provides you with stability, and that it is something that you will enjoy. All the best, and much success to you!

  3. That previous comment should have read..."I *hope* this new opportunity provides you with stability, and that it is something that you will enjoy." I hate my typos. :)

  4. First off, glad there's a little more certainty in your future.

    Also, I'm thankful for this post and your perspective. I'm not in the place I want to be career wise at the moment. I have no one to blame but myself. I've taken forever to finish grad school and postponed actually starting a real career. Fortunately, I've been employed the whole time at decent jobs that I enjoy. My fiancé is currently unemployed and having a tough time finding work. I can definitely see how it affects his outlook. It's even more stressful as we think about starting our lives together and having kids in the near future. Sigh.

    Even if you don't like your job, it's nice to have that stability.