Our View From Here

Perspectives of Five Women

Does anybody know what they want to be when they grow up?

Some recent conversations with friends have prompted me to wonder how many people truly love what they do. Not like, not manage, not deal with, but are truly passionate about the work they do and look forward to going to work most days. I like my job just fine and I learn a lot, but I can’t truthfully say it’s my life’s passion.

Life wasn’t supposed to be like this. Growing up, our parents, teachers and Sesame Street told us we could be whatever we wanted when we grew up. How many of you knew exactly what you wanted to be when you grew up? If you were like me, you always had a clear idea. It might have changed as often the weather, but if someone asked you, you knew you wanted to be a chef, or a dancer, or a nurse or whatever.  Where did that confidence go? Is it lost in the responsibility of needing to pay bills and keep a roof over our heads? Is our imagination and passion slowly being whittled down by the pressures of being an adult? It’s sad to me. I was always sure that I would never be one of those people who just tolerated their job because it paid the bills. I would be one of the ones leaping out of bed in the morning, eager to get to work and make a contribution to my chosen field. I don’t mind my work; it’s fine and given this economic climate, I’m grateful I have a job.  But I have to wonder on when I comprised on finding true happiness in my job. Maybe it’s just part of growing up.

Fortunately, I’m young yet and we live in an era where it’s expected that people make multiple career jumps. I have a great education and I’m gaining good skills that could be useful in almost any field. I have no plans on leaving my current job; like I said, I like it just fine. But I’m still hopeful that one day I’ll find a job that I’m truly passionate about, whatever that might be. In the meantime, I think I’ll go back to daydreaming and imagining my ideal job. That way, when it comes along, I’ll be ready for it.

I’m interested, kind readers, if any of you love your job. Are you doing what you thought you’d be doing when you were younger? If not, what’s your dream job?

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Settling In

I apologize, faithful blog readers, this post will be short. I started my new job last week and it’s gone fairly well so far. I have an office with 4 walls of my very own! I am a bit embarrassed by how excited this makes me. And I’m a bit ashamed to think of how much time I’ve spent thinking about how to decorate said office. Upon my arrival on my first day, a lovely bouquet of flowers and a sign welcoming me to the office was on my desk. My coworkers took me out to lunch. At my last job, I usually ate at my desk and didn’t venture out much. It was such a novelty to go out for a full hour…with co-workers even!

Over the past week and a half, I’ve been settling in, trying to absorb as much as I can. I started at a very busy time so the first few days no one was able to devote too much time to training me. I spent a lot of time reading everything I could on the common network. Getting my benefits and ID card proved to be a giant hassle but I think (and hope!) all that is finally resolved.

I’m a bit out of sorts this week. We are running a program, which has meant I’ve taken either the 5:10 or 6:30 am train every morning this week, which means I’m usually up an hour or so before that. I’m also getting home a bit later. It’s dark when I leave in the morning and dark when I get back home. I’m getting run down and cranky and frustrated that I still don’t know enough to really do much yet. I’m sure in a few weeks time, I’ll be looking back enviously at all the downtime I have right now, but I’m ready to get going and I’m getting frustrated that all I seem able to do is boring admin work. I know that will all change soon. I think I’m just going to chalk up this crankiness to needing a nap.

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Ambitious, Yet Vague

Special education classrooms (shown here at th...

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My mother bought my sister and I memory books that corresponded with each year of school. We diligently filled them out each fall with the start of the new school year. One of the questions was “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Each year it changed. When I was in first grade, I wanted to be a ballerina. It didn’t seem to matter that I had never taken a dancing lesson in my life and had no idea what that really entailed. In second grade, I wanted to be an astronaut. I think that ended when the Challenger blew up later that school year.

In third grade, I got really ambitious. I wanted to be a millionaire. I have no idea how I was going to make this million dollars, but that didn’t seem to matter. In fourth grade I upped the ante and wanted to be a billionaire. In fifth grade, yes, a trillionaire.

For the next few years, I don’t remember having any specific employment goal. I did well in my classes, but there wasn’t anything in particular that I was drawn to. I enjoyed band the most, but never seriously considered that as a profession. I was good, but not that good.

When I was 15, things changed. I was in marching band with a rather intimidating band director. It wasn’t that he was mean, he just had high expectations and didn’t have patience for those who didn’t live up to their potential. As a sophomore new to the band, I was nervous around him. However, I found the courage to ask if I could move from the 10th grade band to the Junior/Senior band because there were too many saxophones in the lower group. At first he said no, but a few days later, he told me to talk to my guidance counselor to see if I could change my schedule. He gave me the boost of confidence that I needed and the idea of being a music educator was planted.

I actually applied to Penn State School of Music with the idea that I would become an instrumental music teacher. A number of things over the fall of my senior year forced me to pull my application and reapply to the Division of Undergraduate Studies, aka, The I-Have-No-Idea-What-I-Want-To-Major-In Major. I ended up a theatre major, but I by the time I had done academic theatre for four years, I had no desire to do it as a career.

The turning point was really when I opted to serve two years in AmeriCorps. I was assigned to a position at my old high school, working with students with moderate to severe disabilities, training them to work in the student store to set them up for future employment.  I wasn’t there for more than two weeks before I realized that I wanted to be in the classroom. I really could help young people by being a teacher.

I found a grad school that combined my theatre major and English minor into a dual certification program. I taught Special Education English for two years (New York City was so desperate for teachers that you didn’t have to be endorsed in Special Education to teach a specific content), general education English for two years in a different state, and then opted to go back to school to get my Special Education certification. This is my second year teaching full Special Education in a middle school and I love it.

Looking back, I shouldn’t be surprised that I ended up where I did – there were definitely signs along the way that should have made my trajectory obvious. I had volunteered multiple times with students with special needs, from the time I was 10 through college. Nothing I have done is as satisfying, and I am glad I ended up where I did.


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Finding my Calling

Similar to Isabel, growing up I had a long list of things I wanted to be when I got older. One of the first professions I can remember selecting was a chef. This is somewhat ironic when you review the number of posts I’ve had discussing how I don’t cook. But when I was little, cooking was fun. “Cooking,” mind you, usually consisted of stirring ingredients that my mom or grandmother put together. I specifically remember when I decided I wanted to be a chef. I was pretty little – probably not more than 5. I was “helping” my mom make scrambled eggs. She must have set up a stool for me to stand on because I have a vivid memory of looking at the stove top (which would have been above my head at that point) and stirring the eggs in the pan. I must have had an excellent stirring experience because I remember that was the experience that convinced me I would be an exceptional chef. I maintained this interest for a year or two, but then got distracted by other interests.

Once I got a bit older, I had a sustained interest in a science-related profession. In elementary school, science typically consisted of the physical sciences. I remember learning about forces and electricity and other things that did not hold my interest. While I was a good student, I always struggled with these lessons. I was devastated once when my teacher chastised me for not paying attention in class because I couldn’t answer a question related to the lesson. It’s not that I wasn’t paying attention – I just didn’t get it. Things finally changed in middle school when I had a life sciences class. Now this was interesting! Plants and animals and cell biology just clicked with me. I could totally get on board with this.  I think what really inspired me to pursue a career in science was a television show I saw about a zoo that had a polar bear that gave birth to two cubs. I believe the mother rejected the cubs so the zoo’s staff hand-raised the cubs. THIS is what I wanted to do. I would be a zoologist so I could play with baby animals all day long. Of course, once I realized that zoology would require many, many years of schooling and I would have to pay my dues doing un-fun things like cleaning out cages, as opposed to cuddling cute baby animals, I lost my interest. Still, throughout high school I explored being a biologist, a geneticist and finally a physical therapist.  I briefly talked about my stint as a physical therapist wannabe here

The stumbling block to all of these science-related careers was that I couldn’t just take biology in college. When exploring majors, I discovered I would have to take high level chemistry, physics and math classes, which were never my strong points. I realized that it would be incredibly difficult for me to succeed in any of these classes, and that I didn’t have a strong enough passion for these fields that would see me through these classes.

What I’ve always been good at, and what I’ve always enjoyed, is helping people and creating programs or organizing events to solve their problems. Once I realized that, transitioning to the nonprofit field was easy. I majored in business because the supervisor of my internship majored in business, and it seemed as good a field as any to prepare me for the nonprofit world. So, for nearly the last 7 years I’ve been working in the nonprofit sector. As I mentioned in a recent post, I just accepted a new position at NYU. While I will still technically be working for a nonprofit, my new clients will be businesses and universities and I will be helping them with business challenges they face. It will be a different industry with new challenges, but at the end of the day, I’m still going to be helping people with problems. I’m becoming pretty confident that’s my life’s calling, and I’m pretty ok with that.

Even at two, I was ready to enter the high-powered corporate world!

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When I Grow Up….

As a kid I wanted to be any number of things. One week a teacher. The next a singer. There was a step up in to our sun room that made an ideal stage.Another week and actress. That was short lived when I got the lead in the school play in elementary school and could only manage to remember half of my lines.

When the Summer Olympics came on I wanted to be a gymnast. Our living rug had a cream colored border around it that closely enough resembled the out-of-bounds line on the large floor routine mat. Never mind that I couldn’t do a cartwheel or headstand. I was certain of my gold medal future based on my ability to do the classic gymnastic power run with a graceful leap of some kind in the middle across said rug.

By the end of middle school I had decided I wanted to be a landscape architect. Even in to high school when applying for colleges I was certain thats what I wanted to do. I had nearly changed my mind in a career day in high school when a local landscape architect came in a showed us her design…for a prison parking lot. Parking lots? THAT”S what landscape architects do? Based on all the parking lots I’ve ever been in I HATED landscape architects. It didn’t sway me. I applied to various schools with good programs and got in to all of them…except the one I wanted. It was known to be a very difficult one to get in so I can’t say I was surprised. I was accepted for a different program at the school and decided that was maybe a better plan.

Did I make the right decision? My wallet says no as a landscape architect gets paid A LOT more than I do. But my heart says yes. I realized after the fact that a landscape architect spends less time outside than I was looking for.

As far as what I want to be when I grow I’m still undecided. My current career is ok but I’m not sure if it’s the most ideal job for me. This unsettled feeling makes me mildly disappointed in myself. when I was younger I had it in my mind that this is the age when I’m settled in to my career and settled in to my own nuclear family like the one I grew up in (except I’d have a dog).

So looking back, I didn’t become a teacher (unless you count all the times I trained new folks at my old job), singer (unless you get trapped on a road trip with me), actress, or even a landscape architect. I don’t have a little nuclear family ( I don’t even have the flipping dog). To say my life didn’t turn out as I’d expected is putting it mildly. I try to look on the bright side. One day it will all come together. My personal/family life will come together (admittedly from more effort from me than I’ve exerted to date) and I will find my ideal job/career that will lead to contentment. That is my hope. I’ll check back in around 20 years and see how different that life is than the one I expect it to be today.

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Turning Over a New Leaf…

Today (or yesterday, as you’re reading this) was a momentous today. I turned in my resignation letter. For those of you who have been reading this blog for a while, you’ll recall that I haven’t been thrilled with my current job. I suppose I’ve been looking for a new job on and off for the past 5 years or so. I was a very bad job-seeker. As I got frustrated with my job from time to time, I would throw a few resumes out into the world and hope something would come of it. I didn’t often follow-up and I didn’t do much to actively expand my network. All in all, if it was a good job-seeker practice, it’s likely I didn’t do it.

So imagine my surprise a few weeks ago when the HR department for the School of Business at New York University called me. They had a few Assistant Director positions open and my resume came to their attention. I’m still not entirely sure how this happened. I attended grad school at NYU and also applied for another job there in recent months. I guess somehow my resume floated in front of the right person. My first interview was 4 hours long and I spoke to 9 different people about 4 separate jobs. It was a bit intense. Fortunately, one of the jobs I liked the best of the 4 was interested in speaking with me again. I had a second interview, this time with 6 people over the course of 3 hours. I thought it had gone well but that feeling was confirmed when HR called me around 6:30 that same night to ask if they could start calling my references. I received the offer letter the next day and after taking the weekend to think about it, I signed the offer letter this afternoon and turned in my resignation letter. I will soon be the new Assistant Director of Custom Programs at NYU Stern, and I’m pretty excited about it.

Just the same, it’s a bit surreal. I’ve thought about leaving for so long, but now that it’s here, I’m a bit overwhelmed. My next two and a half weeks will be spent giving our Staff Assistant a crash course on my job. It’s a bit tricky because I’m the only one working on my program. It’s not like I can just hand the reigns over to someone else in the department, because the department is me. I just hope I don’t do my current clients a disservice. Despite my frustrations with my job, I’ve always wanted them to succeed in creating their own independent, vibrant nonprofit organizations. My fear is that I’ll forget something and leave one of them in a huge lurch. Or that I’ll not train my replacement on some critical, but easily forgettable, component of my job and my clients will be the ones to feel the impact. I’m making my lists and I’ll leave my contact information with my co-workers so if things get really bad they can get a hold of me, but I’m still a bit anxious. Guess I’m going to have to let go and trust that I’ve done all I can to put my clients in a good position to succeed….and get excited for my new job!


Last Gasp of Summer

Back To School (8/52)

Image by a bored chica via Flickr

I don’t understand the hype about New Year’s Day. For me, my year hasn’t begun in January since I was four years old. For me, the year begins in September and likely will for a long, long time.

This is the last week before school gets underway out here. We start officially the Wednesday after Labor Day, but teachers report this Thursday. I, however, will start on Monday with building leadership meetings and parent meetings on Tuesday. Wednesday is a mandatory furlough day as part of the budget cutting at the state and district level – teachers are not allowed in the building and were told to not work from home (Seriously? When has a teacher not worked from home?)

So, this is the last bit of summer for me. And while I’ll miss not setting my alarm and taking the dogs for walks in the middle of the day when it’s not so busy out, I am actually looking forward to going back to school for a few reasons:

  1. This will be my 6th year of teaching and for the first time, I actually know what I will be teaching in the fall. I’ve taught at a few different schools, transitioning from one to the other during the summer. Even the two years I taught back to back in the Bronx, I didn’t really know what I was going to be teaching in the fall until I walked in the door the first week of September. I’ve never been able to plan out my first few weeks and set up routines that will help me throughout the year.
  2. I’ve been in trainings all this week and also a few weeks back and I’m excited to actually try some of the new things that I have learned about literacy.
  3. I’ve been dreaming about my students. Because I teach special education, I will retain almost all of my students that I had last year. So, as I’m learning these new literacy techniques, I have specific kids in mind with whom I plan to use the new strategies. They are on my mind a lot lately and I find myself missing them.
  4. My diet wants me to go back. Seriously, I am terrible at trying to stick with a specific food plan when I am at home all day. It’s too easy just to grab something, usually simply because I’m bored. I gained only three or four pounds while on vacation which I shed as soon as I got back, but over the course of the whole summer, I haven’t really lost anything more that I’d lost in June. A regular schedule and having the food not be as accessible should help me get back on track.
  5. Running Club! A group of colleagues and I go running at least once a week. While I don’t mind running alone, it’s so much easier with someone else there to push you and to keep you company. (By the way, it’s only 13 weeks until the Seattle Half Marathon!)

So, I will enjoy my last full day of freedom today. When my alarm goes off on Monday morning, I won’t be terribly happy about it, but only because I hate waking up, not because I’m not looking forward to going back to school.

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Eckstein Middle School, Seattle, Washington. T...

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If you haven’t noticed based on my past posts, I love my job. Working with students with special needs has been one of the most rewarding things I have ever done with my life. I love my kids and have a position at a school that I really feel that I’ve found a place for myself. I have never woken up in the morning and felt like I didn’t want to go to work (I’ve felt like I didn’t want to get out of bed, but that’s just because it’s 5:30am and my bed is warm and cozy).

However, as great and rewarding as my job is, it doesn’t mean that I’m not suffering from a bit of burnout.  It was a rough year at my school. Due to some redistricting and the move toward neighborhood schools, we had 100 more 6th graders than expected in September. It took until October to be able to hire more staff to lessen the load, so there were many classes with 36 or more kids at the beginning.

My position wasn’t even created until the beginning of September and I started September 20th. Starting three weeks into the school year is stressful and I felt like I spent the first three months of the year playing catch up. It’s not at all fun to meet all your students’ parents at Curriculum Night when you’ve only been at the school two weeks and the curriculum hadn’t been ordered yet.

Things got better until about March. I always thought high school was bad for spring fever, but middle school is worse. High schoolers just check out and stop doing anything. Middle schoolers just get wacky. My theory is that puberty is hitting them hard and since they are 12, they don’t know how to handle it. We also had a rash of kids possessing or under the influence of marijuana. These are 12 year olds!! It was crazy. Maybe I was a naive kid, but when I was 12, I wouldn’t have known where to get that if I’d wanted it.

Anyway, by the time June came around, we were all burned out. It was a tough year and we were ready to go away for awhile. I have one colleague who was off to Hawaii for a wedding, another going to India for 6 weeks, and I am heading to the NY/NJ/PA/NH area for nearly three weeks. I feel it’s a well deserved vacation after a long, weird school year.

On Monday, I crashed. I slept in, I barely got to the shower, I didn’t work out, and I sat on the couch watching movies all day. It was fantastic. Tuesday, I ran some errands, did a two mile run, and took the dogs for a walk. I finally started feeling normal. I’m heading east in less than a week, and I know that when I get back at the end of July, I’ll be just about ready to return to school.

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Spring has Pounced

I have a unique view of Spring. It is a beautiful time of year. Spring bulbs and early flowering trees are blooming, birds are chirping, and me and others in my industry are working like crazy people. When you do 70% of all your business for the year in two to three months, hectic is putting it mildly. This year is a little worse than usual for me since I’m still getting in to the swing of my new job and properly honing my time management in it. As of tonight (Wednesday) I’ve worked 36 hours. Tonight being the worst.  To say I’m tired is putting it mildly. It reminds me of one my favorite Buffy Quotes from the finale of Season 3 – Graduation Day Part 2:

Giles: Are you all right?
Buffy:I’m tired.
Giles: I should imagine so. It’s been quite a couple of days.
Buffy: I haven’t processed everything yet. My brain isn’t really functioning on the higher levels. It’s pretty much: fire bad; tree pretty.
Giles: Understandable. Well, when it’s working again congratulate it on a good campaign. You did very well.

Buffy: Thank you. I will.
Giles: I ah- I managed to ferret this out of the wreckage. Now, it may not interest you, but- (reaches into his jacket and pulls out a high school diploma) I’d say you earned it. (looking around) There is a certain dramatic irony that’s attached to all this. A Synchronicity that borders on- on predestination, one might say.
Buffy: Fire bad; tree pretty.

Two more days to get through and I can relax for the weekend. Well clean, do laundry, and restock the groceries that I currently don’t have. So along the lines of “Fire bad; tree pretty” I can’t form thoughts much past “Tree pretty. Oh please get me to Friday afternoon.” Enjoy the rest of your week folks. I’ll leave you with one of the many songs that runs through my head this time of year.

Announcement: The week of April 25, Our View From Here will be holding its first virtual book club!  We will all be reading, and commenting on, the book Water for Elephantsby Sara Gruen.  Read along with us!- If in these crazy hours I’m working I can still fit in a relaxing book so can you!
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A Return to the Daily Grind

This week marks the beginning of my new job. I’m just over halfway through the week and am completely wiped out. It’s amazing how quickly you can get used to doing nothing all day. Sleeping in late and staying up until the wee hours of the morning. Now I actually have to get up when my alarm goes off. Over all its a good feeling. It’s nice to have someplace to go in the morning.

My first day was good but slow. I’d forgotten what it’s like to completely start out new somewhere. I’d been at my previous company for over 8 years. Even when I changed jobs, I was still familiar with the system and the people around me. I feel like I’m learning a foreign language now. I went from an old DOS based system to one that functions in windows. You can actually use the mouse to click on things…sometimes. There’s a lot to learn. I have my own office…well “office”. I think they were using it as a storage room and there was plenty of room left over for a desk. The last time I had an office it was a converted storage closet so really it’s nothing new. This one is bigger though and it has a bigger window and a better view. The view really is nice. It not only over looks the farm but there’s a small mountain range as a backdrop. It reminds me of why I wanted to move up in to New England in the first place.

Today I was able to spend the entire day going out and looking at crops. It was so nice to go walking through the plants again. Even if some of them are frozen solid to the ground making walking a little difficult. For the first time in a long time I put in a full 8 hours of solid work. No training, or getting used to the system, or killing time because there’s nothing else to do, just work. I felt like I was going to keel over when it was time to go home. Fortunately my work habits were easy to slip back into but the energy required to make it through a full work week will take some getting used to. I have a feeling this weekend will be filled with mostly sleep and sitting.

Over all its been a good three days. Everyone I’m working with seems really nice and there’s a cute office mascot. An 8 year old poochie named Abby who loves to play fetch with her tennis balls and is spoiled by everyone. I have a lot of work ahead of me but I’m looking forward to it. It feels good to be productive again.

Oh! I forgot the best part! And it’s not the indoor plumbing. Although having a bathroom and a full kitchen with a sink is awesome. The office kitchen has a Keurig! My kind of coffee whenever I want? Yes please and thank you.

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