Posted by: Kate | February 26, 2008

Just a Job

I didn’t want a job when I went out and got one. I wanted to stay home with my kids a bit longer, to nurse a few remaining wounds from a surprising, and surprisingly painful, failure to complete my doctorate, to stop for a while and think about what I wanted to do next. Did I want to write? Take in kids and run a little daycare? Go back to school? Dabble in mental instability a bit longer?

I didn’t know.

But I needed a job. We needed me to have one. We were living at the federal poverty level, the kids were on Medicaid, we were receiving WIC and food handouts… it wasn’t okay. My not-wanting could not outweigh the greater good of the family. Not to mention, I had slipped a disc in my lower back doing absolutely nothing that I knew of, and had been in chronic, excruciating pain for two months. I needed health insurance in order to be able to treat it any farther than the meds and wait-and-see model I could get from the low-cost clinic.

So I started looking. I sent out resumes, in hopes of getting a job in my field, in mental health assessment or psychotherapy. A few nibbles, a few chances, but nothing seemed to materialize. I gave myself until June 1; if I made it to June 1 without a job offer in my preferred area, then I would go get a job in a bookstore or childcare, almost anything as long as it provided a certain minimal salary and health insurance.

In mid-May, I got a call back from the local community mental health center. They were looking for an Emergency Services Clinician, someone to go to the two nearest emergency departments to perform crisis assessments, provide telephone support, offer crisis stabilization therapy appointments as needed. I could do this work, and I could do it well.

They made me go through four separate interviews before they gave me a final answer. Apparently someone else was applying at the same time, I don’t know. I asked once, and no one seems to remember another candidate, but I was told that it was between me and someone else. The world may never know.

Throughout the interview process, I was as true to myself as I knew how to be. I didn’t want to project an attitude that I didn’t really feel, either being too eager to dive on in or too unsure about my clinical skill or too ready to sign over my undying loyalty to this position and this agency. “This is a good opportunity for me,” I said, “but I’m just looking for a job. A place where I can do good work here and then go home to my family at night.”

I received varying degrees of acceptance and delight to that statement, depending on the audience. Some coworkers were thrilled because it meant another person not willing to let work be the primary reason for life, and others were disapproving because it meant another person not willing to let work be the primary reason for life. My new supervisor withheld her opinion, though later I was referred to as a “lone wolf” in a 30-day review.

Time passed, and I learned that I had been right: I could do this work, and I could do it well. I continue to find it a privilege that people allow me into their lives at such scary and sad moments. I think I get the chance to touch people’s lives, one at a time. I’ve never, in almost two years, received a single complaint, from clients or from coworkers, and please believe that people are very willing to speak up when they’re unhappy.

I don’t look for extra projects or attend meetings I’m not expected to attend, because, again, this is just a job. A way to a paycheck and insurance. I’m not on a career trajectory or looking for the management track. Just a job.

I’ve repeated this sentiment at my annual review, and then a number of times again this morning. This shouldn’t be news to anyone. But apparently it was, because Supervisor N, who is painfully conflict-phobic and conciliatory (perhaps not the greatest possible attributes for a manager of a group of narcissistic fairly strong-minded individuals), acted like this was the first time I’d said it. I reminded her that I’d been singing the same song since I was interviewing, and she agreed. “Oh, yes, but I always kind of thought you’d come around once you’d been here for a while.”

Sure, maybe, because some people are less sure of themselves or more prone to changing their self-perception and long-term plans. Not I, said the Lone Wolf.

“Oh,” said Supervisor N. “Well, that’s disappointing.”

Disappointing?

How, exactly, is two years of good work, of making an impression on people and giving my complete and undivided attention and knowledge and concern to someone in crisis and trying to figure out the next best step, how is that disappointing? How is my unwavering honesty, of defining my priorities and communicating them clearly and repeatedly, disappointing?

Sigh. I know how. Because anyone can apply their judgment to my actions, and find me lacking. I can’t control that. The whole conversation came about because she has suddenly handed down a mandate that we can no longer work from home; that we are expected to be in the office during business hours, every clinician, every day. We’re expected to work in total isolation, with sole responsibility for every decision falling upon our shoulders, complete personal discretion about how we do the job, and yet it’s to be dictated where I sit while I wait for calls. After a year of being explicitly allowed to work remotely and independently, this feels punitive and arbitrary.

I so want to leave. I so want to be home with my babies again, working on another baby, moving toward the next step. I would rather work a menial transcription job where I am appreciated and respected than a skilled position where I feel disrespected and unsupported.

And under almost any other circumstances, I would be on the hunt already. I suppose I already have been, a little bit; I’ve been peeking around online to see what’s out there. But the reality is, we’re down to a year or so in this house, only a year until we move to another state and start a new phase. I can live through another year, and am grateful to be employed and insured. I have vacations to look forward to and friends and family to keep my spirits up when I’m not at work.

Whatever. I’ll quit whining and settle in, because I’m really not willing to try to start over when we’re so near the end of our time here. I have a gorgeous family, fabulous vacations planned, exciting hopes for the future. I’ll be fine.

And you’ll all get lots more stories of Perfect J, if I’ll be subjected to her face-to-face 16 hours a week.

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Responses

  1. I think every person who interviews for a job is told that there are other applicants. If they say “It’s down to you and one other person,” then they can always tell you the other person got it and you just accept it. Rather than them having to tell you that you just didn’t measure up to whatever X factor they were looking for.

    This is my theory, anyway.

    I love that you were very upfront with the whole “this is a JOB, not my life” idea. More people need to be okay with themselves for feeling that way. And employers need to be okay with it, too. As long as the employee is doing their best work during work hours, why is that not enough?

  2. I hope the next year goes by FAST for you. The Evil Twin’s work has become really awful too, but he’s got 9 years to retirement and wants to just stick it out (thank goodness). Good luck with everything!!

  3. A woman calls her boss one morning and tells him that she is staying home because she is not feeling well.

    “What’s the matter?” he asks.

    “I have a case of anal glaucoma,” she says in a weak voice.

    “What the hell is anal glaucoma?”

    “I can’t see my ass coming into work today

  4. That is my take today…feeling a bit out of sorts I guess. I hope the year speeds by Kate.

  5. That really sucks. And I completely understand where you’re coming from. I work at a job to provide insurance, but I’d rather be home with my daughter…..preparing for baby #2. Some people don’t understand that choice.

  6. Here’s to a quick year then!

  7. It’s important to work for a living, not to live to go to work. I guess some people get their jollies from work alone . .It’s a sort of power trip – personally I hate my job and can’t wait for the day I can tell them to shove their patronising attitudes where the sun don’t shine!

  8. Ug, I am sorry that this newest glitch has come up in the whole work thing. But I am looking forward to perfect J stories, just because I find them funny. Hope the time goes flying by. Hugs


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