Let Me Tell You A Story About Work
[Listen to an audio version of this blog here.]
I moved to California in July of 2017 with my ex-fiancé and our very verklempt cat. We moved for my fiancés job and I wasn't able to nail one down before we left. Once we were somewhat settled, I spent hours every day applying to jobs, scouring LinkedIn and Indeed, crafting and re-crafting cover letters, taking phone interviews, and driving to in-person ones.
My ex didn't make super great money, and paid for part of the move out of pocket. We were financially strapped, and I felt enormous pressure to earn a somewhat descent wage. My job that I left in Chicago paid me a dull $35,000 annually, and I knew I needed to earn more since the cost of living in Orange County isn't exactly low. When I got that job, I accepted the salary without even negotiating.
Lesson 1: Know your worth.
A couple weeks into my frantic job search, my fiancé suggested I get a job at Starbucks, where I'd earn about $12.00/hour. We had a hairy fight, in which he insisted that something was better than nothing and I insisted that working at a coffee shop was not only a waste of my time but a roadblock to a better job. About a week later, I landed a marketing job at a tiny company vaguely involved in the automotive industry. The man who owned this company was slimy and rude. He routinely berated and insulted my manager to the point of her breaking down in tears. He degraded everyone's intelligence, made uncomfortable comments about my body, and routinely shifted his focus. Nobody could predict what he wanted us to work on, and nobody could predict his moods. I continued to spend every waking minute scouring the internet for jobs. Anything, I thought, would be better than this.
Lesson 2: Bad workplaces affect every facet of your life.
While I was working at this tiny, mismanaged company, I was interviewing for other jobs. I went through a 3-month process with Gallup for an editing job, only to make it to the final round and be passed over for someone with over a decade of experience. What mattered wasn't so much my ability; Gallup conducted several different tests during the interview process, all of which I scored highly on. But life doesn't always go the way we want it to. I was devastated that I wasn't chosen, but less than two weeks later, I was hired at the American Red Cross, where I happily still work today.
Lesson 3: The job you want might not be the job you need.
After I was settled in my job at the Red Cross, I still felt a bit stuck. It wasn't always creatively stimulating and despite being a good job, I disliked being chained to a desk in a grey office building all day. I was left wondering if I was on the right trajectory. But this time, instead of looking for yet another, different job, I picked up more freelance work. I started this blog, and wrote a book of poetry. I did my job well, and looked for opportunities to expand my knowledge and experience outside of the workplace. Moreover, I realized that work is just one of the many things that constitute my days and my life.
Lesson 4: Work does not have to be how you derive joy/meaning out of life.
One of my good friends teaches high school Freshman, and the other day, I spoke to her class about my education and career. Some of them were unbearably bored, but some were interested, "Did you always think you would work for a nonprofit?" one asked me. "No," I answered, "I didn't know what I would do. But I pursued what I was curious about and it led me to a good place."
Another asked, "Is it hard to raise money? How big are the grants you win?" "Yes it is hard," I answered, "and my largest single grant recently was $100,000. I also worked on a $2M grant from HUD when I lived in Chicago." Their eyes widened.
They asked a lot of questions about blood: could they donate? What are the restrictions? How can they find our their blood type? What does it mean to have positive or negative blood? (I didn't know the answer to that one.) How long does it take? Finally, a boy sitting in the front row raised his hand, "Does it feel good to give back?" he said.
"Of course," I answered.
Lesson 5: Pursue what makes you curious and find work you can feel good about.