Taking the Back Seat

When I was a young mid-career manager I was very engaged with my job. I was competitive, and wanted to be in the middle – or better still, front and center- of projects as they appeared on our horizon. I really wanted to be in the know. Sitting back and waiting to be told what to do did not appeal to me at all. I wanted to be in with the decision makers, and as I rose up in the ranks there were times when I got to do just that.

I worked on a lot of proposals and the constant listing of our team’s credentials and kudos made me internalize the feeling of competency and excellence. I was very self-confident and that’s almost a credential in and of itself in that world. A ‘can-do’ attitude could carry one a long way. I had a voice,  perhaps not at the highest level, but I was listened to.

It has come as something of a shock, if I’m honest, to realize that as I’ve changed careers, and, I sincerely believe this has something to do with it, grown older, I’m not viewed the same way as I was at the height of my career. I should say it’s humbling but it’s really annoying and a bit frightening. The STEM Coordinator position did not go to me, but to a younger, frantically energetic, intermediate school teacher.  And she does not necessarily include me in meetings or decisions. Instead I’m now one of those people who are expected to wait and be told what to do. Although I still speak up and speak confidently in meetings no one automatically turns to me to see what I have to say. My voice has been muted and I’m no longer in the loop.

For instance, a new lucrative opportunity has arisen in relation to a grant for which we are applying and it’s just assumed that this colleague is a shoo-in for it. A decade ago, before the collapse, I would have been doing some heavy lobbying and positioning for it myself. But not now.

I deeply resent what I view as a dismissal of my skills and talents and experience and as a result I feel less engaged and attached to my work. At the same time, though, I don’t always feel I have the level of energy that is required to fight my way back up the ladder. I’m working 2 jobs and still don’t make as much money as my younger colleague (who also has a husband to share financial and parenting resources) and honestly I can see the horizon from where I’m standing. I’m closer in age to the retiring teachers and administrators at our school than I am to my young go-getting colleague. It takes an inordinate amount of energy to stay on top of everything in my life – the myriad and various demands of the education job, the stress and physical demands of the late nights at the grocery store, the various health-related issues that continue to pop up and the joys and trials of parenting teenagers.

In my most reflective, as opposed to knee-jerk, competitive/reactive, moments I try to view this as a changing of the guard. I have had my day in the sun and my ambitious, hard-working colleague does deserve hers. She will find that climbing the ladder comes with sacrifices, such as foregoing family obligations (or dragging your kid along with you to those evening meetings), and burdens along with the improved pay.

Maybe it would be easier to adopt that reflective attitude if I could rest on my laurels and enjoy some relaxing retrospection but that possibility has been washed away and as Dory says, I need to keep on swimming.

Posted in 2nd Career, depresssed, education, jobs, retirement, work | Tagged , | 1 Comment

The Writing on the Wall

I have been heard to say that I would not recommend transitioning careers to teaching in one’s middle age. This is, predominately, because the pay scale and benefits are structured so that they really only work if one starts out in the profession right out of college, young, single and hopefully unencumbered by dependents (or student loans). You then must stay in the profession working diligently to be an effective, or better still, highly effective teacher, so that you receive annual ‘step’ increases in your wage and continue to put matched money away in the teacher’s retirement fund. I was, quite frankly, horrified to find out that some states require teachers to opt out of social security leaving them to rely on increasingly underfunded pension plans. Thankfully I do not live/teach in one of those states as social security will be my main source of income when I retire.

If you transition to teaching in the middle (or later) of your working life you start at the same salary as the 23 year old fresh out of college, regardless of your previous life or work experience. And you crawl up the ladder very slowly from there. Which, of course, combined with medical bills, car repairs, and a child who needed braces, was why I took on a 2nd part-time job cashiering at a grocery store. While this job pays slightly better than minimum wage, and even includes some minor benefits ($5,000 life insurance, 10% discount on name brand products), it only works as a 2nd job. You could not make a living doing this, even full-time (although I believe you would get more benefits).

And peering into the future, I would like to recommend young people against pinning their hopes on being a retail cashier for a living when they grow up. I have reason to believe that this job is headed towards obsolescence.  Earlier this year Amazon made headlines when it opened its Amazon Go store, a checkout-free store, to the public. And the CEO of Jack in the Box has said that he could foresee replacing human cashiers with robots within 4 years (if wages for those humans were to go up). A fully autonomous shopping cart (Dash Cart) that escorts you through the store based on your uploaded shopping list, deducts the total from your payment of choice and accompanies you to your car was unveiled by its inventor in January. “Once these robots are in the stores, we will not be able to imagine how we ever shopped without them,” says the CEO of Five Elements Robotics.

Closer to home there’s been a flurry of training at the grocery store, centered on a program that allows shoppers to check  out a hand-scanner when they enter the store, scan their items and place them in bags, and check out through the self-checkout lane by downloading their cart contents. No cashier or bagger needed. Yes, there will be an attendant to assist with items that require an ID check such as alcohol and tobacco, and gift cards but there won’t be a need for as many attendants as there currently are cashiers. I went through this training recently, and today was trained on the U-scan (self-checkout) and one of the notable things I learned was that the store currently (before the robots take over) has a goal that nearly half of all customers go through the self-checkout. And they track how well they are doing.

Between the online ordering/curbside pick-up, the self-checkout and soon to be implemented self-scan and bag program, the need for cashiers will diminish. The current stressful climate of monitoring how many items per minute each cashier scans (27/minute on average goal), along with ‘efficiencies’ that make that goal impossible to obtain (such as keeping the tax exempt forms at customer service instead of at each till so that the cashier has to run and collect the form each time a non-profit customer comes through – and let me tell you, a university town teems with non-profit customers), plus the recent cutting back of hours, will no doubt cause a natural winnowing of the number of cashiers as people leave for better positions.

I’m hoping to be one.

Mamas, don’t let your children grow up to be retail cashiers! Instead I recommend they take computer science classes!


Posted in Future, jobs, shopping | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Maybe a Move?

Contemplating the doctor’s suggestion to cut back on stress, I quickly pinpointed the two areas that topped my stressor list.

  1. Money (always). Teenagers are not cheaper than infants or toddlers even though they no longer require diapers, daycare or babysitters. They tend to be involved in extracurricular activities that often come with a significant expense (show choir, anyone?), and to need things like braces. They start driving and your insurance bill doubles, or they don’t drive and you have to chauffeur them. And, of course they are known to have prodigious appetites! Even the 10% discount I get (on store brand products) at the grocery store is no match for the bottomless pit of a teenager’s stomach. Add on things like repaying student loans, paying the insane ER bill ($5,000+ billed to the insurance company ($1,000 my share) for the 5 hours I spent there while they ordered expensive tests and did absolutely nothing to lower my stroke-threatening blood pressure in January) and the not infrequent car repair bills and you can see why we are always stretched to the limit.
  2. Time, lack thereof. Between working two jobs and commuting my day has little down time in it. A typical two-job day is getting up a bit after 5 AM, hitting the road at a quarter to six, arriving at school by 7:00 AM working until 3:00, driving to the store, working there from 4 to 10 PM and arriving home by 10:45, in bed around 11:30. If I am only working at school but have to pick up a kid for an orthodontist or doctor’s appointment I will spend over 2 hours on the road and drive more than 80 miles making the trip from from home to school, back to the kids’ school, backto town, and then home again. This happens at least twice a month. Throw in meetings in Indy (computer science workshops, professional conferences, coach training) and that’s another long day once or twice a month. Even my best day, Saturday, my only day off, is spent running errands -hauling trash and recycling, filling water jugs, taking clothes to the laundromat, running a kid to play practice or a friend’s house, returning books to the library, doing grocery shopping… I generally do not get enough sleep and I do not have time for a social life at all.

So, money is not an easy problem to solve. Although average teacher pay in Indiana is around $50,000, pay for a beginning teacher, even with a Master’s degree, is about $35,000. Even though I’m now a STEM coach not a  classroom teacher my pay is still on the teacher’s scale. Indian teacher pay has actually gone backwards – according to a news article quoting the Department of Education “Pay for Indiana teachers has suffered the biggest inflation-adjusted drop since 1999-2000, according to the Department of Education. They now earn almost 16 percent less.” In other words, I shouldn’t expect a big raise any time soon!

So that leaves job #2, my part-time gig. I’m actually making less money at the store than when I started because they are cutting back hours. They are also about to implement a new procedure that will cut out the need for cashiers! They plan to have a “Scan, Bag and Go” program where shoppers will get a hand scanner, scan groceries as they pick them up in the store, put them in bags and pay electronically. No doubt this will be slow to roll out and there will be problems to work out before they stop needing cashier entirely but I wouldn’t recommend anyone plan on being a retail cashier as their life’s work!

I’m looking at finding a better paying 2nd job and have applied for a 20-hour a week position at the local library that pays $3 more an hour (and I have an interview in 2 weeks!). I’ve also inquired about transferring to the pharmacy at the store. That pays an additional $2 per hour and, since it requires more training, is a more secure position. Both possibilities would incrementally improve my income.

As far as time goes – well, quitting the 2nd job would certainly add more hours to my day but it would make the money situation worse! That leaves moving closer to the places we need to be. And, coincidentally I recently came across an ad on Facebook Marketplace for a fixer-upper in town. A 3-bedroom, one bath house needing repairs. Only $5,000 down and low monthly payments (which would eventually equal about $50,000) and in 8+ years you would own the house. It seemed worth checking out so I emailed the seller.

Days went by and then out of the blue the seller responded with a note giving the key code for the door and saying that there was a new ‘even lower’ down payment. I told him we’d go take a look. This is what we saw. Not a lot of curb appeal but that’s OK.

The next thing we noticed was that the door was moving. It wasn’t closed. My daughters refused to get out of the car but my son and I decided to check it out. We thought perhaps another prospective buyer was inspecting the place. When we got to the door we could see that it was being blown in the wind because not only was there no lock box attached to the door, there was no regular lock!

The seller (who by the way turns out to be located in Texas) characterized the house as needing some work. That was an understatement.


Holes were punched in the ceiling and walls and wires had been pulled out and cut and stripped. Most of the outlets adn switches had been pulled from the walls.


The roof was leaking and there were puddles on the floor and soggy carpet.

There were piles of trash – mostly old food containers littering the floor and broken windows in several rooms. The toilet was full to the brim with foul smelling congealed liquid.



On top of all of that, the neighborhood had little to recommend it. The area behind the house was home to numerous shabby mobile homes with ‘yards’ littered with broken down cars and miscellaneous trash. Across the street were the trash dumpsters belonging to several two-story apartment complexes.

We left and I emailed some of these photos to the seller and wished him luck in unloading the property. Demolition would be my suggestion – at least it would keep the squatters out.

Still the idea of moving into town has taken up residence in my mind – the soon to be smaller family (daughter number 2 leaves for college in August) could possibly fit into an apartment- one with a paved parking area, running water, decent internet and phone reception. Close to my work and opening up possibilities for the teenagers who want jobs and mom who craves connection with other adults. I’ll be keeping my eyes open!

Posted in apartment, houses, money, moving, stress | Tagged | 7 Comments