My work history is not particularly varied. Almost all of the jobs I’ve held have been in the career I embarked upon nearly 30 years ago. And the exceptions were jobs I held as a teenager (page in the local library) and while putting myself through college (working 37 hours a week at a department store). Since then I’ve taught anthropology (as a teaching assistant and summer school instructor), done archaeology field and lab work, and since about 1986 worked in the environmental permitting and planning field.
Although I had originally planned to finish my Ph.D. and become a university professor, I was completing graduate school at a time when there was a glut of newly minted PhDs on the market and a waning interest in the social sciences on the part of new college students. That meant there were a LOT of candidates for every position, even the part-time faculty at Podunk U jobs. As I’d been working as an archaeologist for an environmental firm in order to finance grad school I had my foot in that door and when offered a full-time position with good pay and benefits I decided to leave academia and go commercial. That was, for the most part, a good decision.
It was also a career trajectory that led upwards – away from field work and into management and with the added responsibility came longer hours and more travel. In my field managers were also ‘doers’ – involved in the research and writing of some sections of the environmental document as well as managing the budget and time of other staff members and providing oversight and editing of the document as a whole. There were meetings with staff, the client and the public and government entities involved in some aspect of the project. Depending on the client and the project issues it could be fairly cut and dried or contentious and requiring diplomacy and a lot of hand holding. For the most part I enjoyed my career and felt I was generally providing a good service.
As with most careers, the higher up the ladder one got, the more emphasis there was on selling and marketing. More and more time was spent bringing in work and less time was spent doing it. While a competent proposal writer, and reasonably good at presenting the proposal to prospective clients, I wouldn’t say that I was a particularly good salesperson. Perhaps I’m a little too blunt to be a good persuader. Schmoozing wasn’t my strong suit. My last job was stressful. With the recession well entrenched and construction projects drying up the pressure to SELL, SELL, SELL grew and the amount of work available to actually do was considerably less. Like lawyers we had to charge every 15-minutes of our time to a project – or to overhead – and the work just wasn’t there to support as many full-time managers as were employed. Our paid hours dropped.
At the same time that stress was increasing and morale dropping at work, I was fighting the losing battle against the squatter who inhabited our house in Colorado and the bank that wanted its mortgage payments. The months leading up to my layoff were probably some of the most stressful of my life. I could see everything I’d worked so hard for sliding off the precipice but I couldn’t stop it. I spend every waking hour feeling panicked. It’s hard even now to relive those months and think about everything that went wrong. There were the endless calls to my realtor and lawyer trying to find a buyer, any buyer and move up the court date to eject the renter. There were sales that fell through at the last minute because the buyer couldn’t get a loan. There were unanswered calls to the ‘friend’ who had recommended the renter, and the renter himself who avoided my calls and then left long rambling voice mails at 2 AM telling me that just as God had provided him with a house (my house), God would also provide for me if I’d just show some faith and stop trying to get money from him. There was work – where there had been several rounds of layoffs already and where we fought hard for every project still funded, knowing that every timecard was scrutinized to see how much time we were charging to overhead. There were trips back to Colorado to attend hearings and retrieve what I could of the possessions we had left stored in the garage – not knowing that I was bringing them to California just to dispose of most of them when we were asked to leave our rental housing after I lost my job.
It was truly an overwhelmingly miserable couple of months. And maybe those months have colored my view of my career. Or maybe I’d reached a point where the demands of the job, particularly the long hours and frequent travel, were negatively impacting my family’s life and I would have been ready for a change even without the painful events triggered by the recession. Truthfully I didn’t have the time to sit down and mull it over – when I lost first my house, then my job, and then our rental housing I was in survival mode. My only concern was keeping my family safe and fed. And when the first few months in the tents ended and we were reasonably safely ensconced in our little trailer, well even then I didn’t take the time to reflect on what I wanted to do with my life- I went into overdrive on the job search and I focused on jobs in the environmental field, doing what I’d always done – it was my identity. Of course since the recession was still in force there weren’t many jobs in my field and because other local companies had also gone through several rounds of layoffs there were plenty of candidates for each position that came open.
In the ensuing year we have settled into our situation and I’ve expanded my job search beyond positions in my field. Even so this just means I applied for jobs that are out there – things like temporary help at the department store during the holiday season – not that I’ve taken the time to really think about what I want to do, or what I can do realistically with the last few decades of my working life.
It’s time to do just that. I think it’s very likely that I will not return to the career that I’ve spent the past 30 years building. I no longer want to spend long hours away from my children. They are growing so fast – in 5 years my oldest will be off to college – and I don’t want to go back to the way we lived before when I’d drop them at the babysitter’s house an hour before school so that I could make the commute into work and then pick them up around 6 or 6:30 each evening. I like being able to attend their basketball practices as well as their games, and to spend an occasional lazy hour at the park in the afternoon after school. I know we can get by on a lot less money than I made as a project manager – we have had a lot of practice in frugality.
Even so I admit I’m a bit at a loss as to where to go from here. My resume is, as I said at the beginning of this post, rather limited to a lot of experience in just one career. And I don’t really know what to become next but I do know that I don’t want to just fall into a job without considering whether it will be the right thing for me and my family. So now, while I still have a little time, I plan to look into my options; what career is even open to me at my age that will support us while still providing some flexibility; what skills do I have that can transfer; what training will I need… So hard to make changes.