Thursday, November 17, 2011

Without your Consent

"No one can make you feel inferior without your consent."

Eleanor Roosevelt said that, and you've probably heard it before.  But you know what she didn't say? 
She never said people wouldn't try to make you feel inferior.  It's about what you do with it, about how you fight it when people try.

Someone tried very hard to make me feel incredibly inferior today.  I lost my job about a month ago. My contract was ended unexpectedly and without any real explanations.  Since then I've of course been unemployed and looking for work.  That's something that can really impact your self-esteem and can drag you down into depression before you even know you're there.   If it sounds like I've been there before, I have. 

Today I spoke with the staffing agency that got me the contract that I previously mentioned, in hopes to connect with them on some opportunities in the area.  When I went to get my things from my previous contract I had met this woman once. At the time, I asked to sit down and talk if she had time.  She very brusquely said that she didn't and said I should set up a meeting at another time.  I forgave the brusqueness as the product of a busy day and continued down the employment road.  I had some promising interviews with several companies including a second staffing agency with a rep who was absolutely wonderful. She took time to get to know me, my resume, and is an advocate for me every day. She's an encouragement and the absolute example of professionalism and what any recruiter should be.  She's honest about what improvements can be made but absolutely positive and upbeat and actively shows excitement and confidence in me and my skills. 

After seeing some positions here in Libertyville where I live that were posted with the staffing agency I got my last contract through, I called to set up a meeting. I got the same person who I was assigned to. She remembered me, and when I asked for a meeting, she shut me down immediately. "No, we don't need to meet."  She then made a comment about me coming all the way over, even though if she'd have looked at my file like she said she did, she'd know I was in walking distance. No matter, I was trying to be professional, and I mentioned that it would be no problem to meet any time, because I lived in walking distance, and had in fact walked there the last time I had to be at their office. But she was insistent that she didn't need to meet with me. ( Interesting, since every other staffing agency I've ever worked with did). She said she had all the information she needed in her system "from when you worked at [redacted]." Keep in mind she said that specifically, it'll be important later.

This person proceeded to summarily dress me down, point by point, on my resume. Her opening was that I didn't "really have any relevant experience" to the "types of jobs we have here." 
This just astounded me, and so I politely brought up my years of experience in Customer Service (one of the types of jobs they posted), HR, administrative tasks, management and marketing.  This is an office that fits people in corporate roles.  These are all applicable things.  

Well, that didn't stop this ball rolling. She proceeded to tell me that I didn't have ENOUGH experience. I needed at least 7 years with one place if I was ever going to get a job over anyone else. Which, hello, I do have 8 years with Pizza Hut, during which I learned to train, manage, and got a position in marketing created for me.  Granted I had a gap in service, but the first 6 years were uninterrupted. 
She says she wouldn't even submit me for anything direct hire or temp to hire because I wouldn't get it, and she'd only submit me for temp jobs anyway. (Noteworthy is that if this is what is standard, then how do they expect people to GET that kind of longevity in service?)

Now, I'm a reasonable person. My work experience is varied, and some of it is short, and I understand that that can be viewed negatively.  I'm not attempting to insinuate that nothing she said had any merit, this is more about how she said things.  

From our discussion about longevity in roles, she starts reviewing my work history from when I was in New Mexico.  How does she begin talking about it?  She's not even halfway through her "You would never get a job over someone else without 7 years experience" rant when she goes..."and you worked for...some BAGEL place?"

At this point, it's become personal. I'm attempting to bite my tongue.  She continues.  "Village Arts....I don't even know what that is...." So here's my question.  If, say, someone said, hey do you want to go to Village Arts, would you maybe possibly in your genius brain figure out that it's an ART STORE? I thought so.  I thought maybe the ART part of the name would give it away.  Not to mention that in the description under the name of the place in the resume, I've put down inventorying art supplies, and framing appointments.  Arts...framing... it's clear Village Arts is a hospital that I worked for as a neurosurgeon!!!  Then, the honey on top..."is that...retail?" 
No lady, it's a hospital, I'm a neurosurgeon, I have a feeling you have a lobe that needs removing....

From there, she says "And you didn't even work in 2011."
Here's where I realize that I may have a knack for neurosurgery after all, as I've clearly identified something missing.  Like her saying she had "all the information" she needed in her system and yet overlooking....the almost 6 months of this year I worked FOR HER COMPANY at my last contract. 
She obviously didn't have my updated resume, either, but excuse for that.

I did finally speak my piece. I asked her why she didn't think there was anything she could submit me for. I pointed out my relevant experience, and I even asked her why it was she wasn't doing any assisting in this entire matter in the first place.  I corrected her errors and oversights, still politely, but firmly.  I asked her why she had asked for my updated resume if she wasn't going to submit me for anything. I pointed out that despite her saying there wasn't anything I'd seen openings on the site I knew I would be a good fit for.  I asked her to please look locally, though in retrospect, I should have told her I was reporting her to corporate, which I did.

Nobody deserves to be treated that way. Especially not when they are actively looking for work.  Nobody in a recruiting office should treat someone like the scum on the bottom of their shoes.  It's not right. She'd even managed a final jab at  the end when I asked her to look locally.  "Do you *have* transportation?"Not worded politely.  As in "do you even HAVE transportation?"

I hung up from that phone call feeling AWFUL. I felt like I could never get a job, like clearly my resume was a pile of crap, and like I was doomed to work temp the rest of my life.
Then I remembered what Eleanor Roosevelt said.

You know what my resume says? 
Yes, I did work at Pizza Hut for years.  In that time I learned to multi-task, to handle money, to give amazing customer service in person and on the phones.  I learned inventory, ordering, waitressing, delivery driving, cooking, managing, and when I wanted to go further, Pizza Hut corporate gave me a marketing position they DESIGNED for me that didn't previously exist. Because they believed in me and they KNEW that I was passionate about it and could do well at it.  And I did.  I learned to train, I learned to handle emergencies....

At my job in the HRO field, I learned all about employee benefits, legal issues, confidentiality, HIPAA, 401ks, and pensions. I started as a temp, worked my way to hire, and excelled. I started being a retirement specialist, handling death calls, and eventually taking escalations and being a leader to newer reps. I excelled at that, and I was made the lead of the team.  I handled very sensitive issues, issues for high powered execs of global companies, and was a liason between them and the insurance companies, banks and even government agencies.  In that role I learned about leadership, about the inner workings of HR, and most importantly how to handle heated and sensitive issues, which takes me far in life.  And I'm proud of it. 

And you know what? I'm proud of working at "some bagel place" too.  Very proud.  That was one of the bravest moments of my life.  I put it all on the line, and when it didn't work out the way I planned when I got there, I kept going.  I thought a million times I was going to fail, and while I had to come back, or thought I did, it was a success. I don't regret a moment of it.
When I worked at SOME bagel place, I apprenticed under a professional baker. I learned the tools and tricks of the trade. I learned how to function in a VITAL role.  As the baker, if I didn't do my job right, that bagel place had nothing to sell.  I worked EXTRA in that role as a prep cook on the weekends.  I was able to help create and problem-solve.  I worked with my hands before the sun was up and we made  the food that town ran on, at least in part.  Some of the loaves of bread I made were made into free sandwiches for firefighters working burns in the mountains.  Some of the bagels I made were donated at a race to benefit children's charities.  I learned perseverance, a trade, and followed a passion. 

At the art store I learned how to do things I always wanted to know how to do. And more importantly? I held down 3 jobs at one point.  I had 2 that kept me on my feet all day, slinging fish or making bread, and I did it.  My feet would ache so bad that I came home one night and cried on the phone to my mom back in IL, because I was so overwhelmed and exhausted. 

I *am* a fighter. I have an amazing work ethic, I have fantastic skills, relevant to office work, and you know what? More importantly, relevant to LIFE.  Most people will never pack up everything they have and give it a go somewhere they don't know.  I got my scars, literal and metaphorical, from it, but I wear them proudly. 

Is my resume pristine?  Did I constantly work 15 years for one company? No. 
Did I hold some "odd jobs"?
Odd to whom? I learned valuable life skills and working skills from each and every one of those roles. I would never have had the ability to field the escalations and the high pressure environment of the HR role without the experiences I had at the restaurant.  Because I knew what it was like to have your heels to the coals already. I knew what URGENT meant. I knew deadlines, and I knew how to multi-task. 

So you know what? You say odd jobs. You say I won't be able to get a job.
But YOU can't make me feel inferior without my consent.
I am the 99%
And I'm a fighter. 

Saturday, November 12, 2011

So Far Away...

Winter's almost here. I can hear the winds howling against the windows and the late fall rainy days are getting more frequent. It's definitely starting to be soup weather. I was thinking about this the other day. When I lived out in New Mexico and I was really really broke, I used to buy a big tub of green chile stew from a place called the Hill Diner in Los Alamos.  I'd couple it with hunks of baguettes that were "day-old" from the bakery I was the baker at.  The stew was amazing and comforting and warming (especially with that good ol' chile!) and it was satisfying biting into the nice chewy bread I'd made with my own hands. I miss it.

I got wrapped up in a conversation last night that made it impossible to think of anything but this.
The holidays in the desert, back when I lived, well....right there, where this picture was taken.  There was this outcropping at the overlook where the picture was taken....if I could have slept there every night I think I would have.  I sat and watched both sunrises and sunsets there. I got caught there in a huge storm, and I rushed there the night of the first real blizzard I saw in NM up in the mountains. It came on strong and the snow on the yucca and cactus was so strange to me.

I'm a holiday person at heart.  Most people who know me know that I love Thanksgiving.  It's near my birthday, but even if it wasn't, I think I'd still love it.  It was always full of family and great tradition.  The big creaky house in Jacksonville and my aunt making the huge huge meal while all of us talked or watched movies or pretended to be our own spy ring. My cousin Laura and I both have November birthdays, so our mission usually involved spying what our presents would be.  She was the closest thing that I had to a sister, and since we were so close in age we used to have a great time palling around and making up adventures.  When the meal was over, there was always movies and the next day, we'd go to see a movie instead of trying the Black Friday thing.  It's always fun, and I even enjoyed the four hour drive out there and the stops we always make along the way.

The first year I was in New Mexico, though I loved the new state and the exploration, I remember feeling really strange about Thanksgiving.  I had plans to go down to Socorro and celebrate with my friends there, but I knew that it was going to be hard not to get homesick being somewhere unfamiliar and without the cozy trappings of tradition and family.  Still, I was excited to be a part of a Friends Thanksgiving.  A lot of our friends at the time were bartenders and we were going to be celebrating with them at the bar, since they had to work.  I admit, to me it sounded kind of depressing, because they didn't want to be working I'm sure and I figured the people who came in would be sad too, not being with their families or not having anyone to be with.   I was a baker at the time, and I brought some rolls to contribute.

That turned into one of the best Thanksgivings.  My birthday was the night before, I think.  I'd had an amazing time, everyone made me feel special, one in particular made me important and so loved.  So the next day just seemed like it'd go well, and it went better than I'd ever though.  There was no turkey initially, just steak expertly grilled.  The bar started out a little empty and we sat towards the door, chatting and laughing and playing music.  Something crazy happened though.  People started to come in with more and more food, like a progressive dinner, sharing what they had with us.  They'd come from their family dinners or walk in from somewhere....we'd tell them to grab a steak at the local grocery store before they closed.  And they did. By the end of it we had green chile mac and cheese, turkey, stuffing, steak....someone even got me the cranberry sauce in a can.  I can't even say how much that meant, as silly as it sounds.  Because it was a part of *MY* traditional Thanksgiving, and I needed a touch of home. Soon it was a group of at least 20 people, happy, sharing stories, toasting the holiday...

That late fall and winter was amazing. I learned how to make biscochitos at the bakery, a part of a traditional New Mexico Christmas. I saw farolitos lining the streets, and it was SO beautiful. The winter nights are so quiet. So many stars and then the glow of something as simple as a candle in a paper bag with some sand, but it transforms everything, bathes it in this soft, flickering glow... I still remember the drive from Los Alamos to Socorro on Christmas Eve. I'd thought I was going to have to be alone on Christmas, something else I wasn't particularly relishing, though I'd made up my mind to go to Santa Fe and see the farolitos and hear the carolers, and then go to the midnight mass at the Cathedral....
Instead I grabbed some posole (new to me at the time) and tamales (another NM Christmas tradition) and headed out.

I drove on these lonely roads with the familiar mesas and mountains, but it was all new with the farolitos. I remember passing this mission I'd never seen before when I was coming down through San Ysidro, all lit up for the was so amazing.  And everything really did seem silent. There was something about that moment, and I pulled over to take a picture which eventually wouldn't turn out. It didn't need to anyway.

That Christmas, I watched all the Die Hards back to back, didn't go anywhere at all, shared tamales and posole and learned all about what Christmas in New Mexico was like.  And it wasn't what I was used to, but it was amazing.  A million stars, perfect silence, and new traditions.
I realized that even though those traditions I had back in IL were great and the family time was wonderful, the new things could be just as homey.  Another Christmas when I lived in Socorro I remember taking a walk by myself at night with my camera over to the San Miguel mission and listening to the flames of the candles get tossed by the breeze on a clear night so you could see all the stars.  That's something you can't forget, and it's something you certainly can never hear or see in Chicago outside of the pages of the New Mexico magazine I got today, which brought me all the way back, at least in my heart.
Maybe one day, I'll get all the way back.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Waiting in the Wings

Feeling a bit blue tonight. It's been lurking somewhere in my head the past few days, and the quiet has coaxed it out of its hiding place.

I'm missing someone, someone I both don't normally miss and it's someone I feel like there's a different distance than normal with.  I really don't like that feeling.  What I've tried to do though, is just wait.  Because this isn't a person that tends to let me down.  But that makes it that much worse when it feels like there's a bigger-than-geographic distance.

It's also tied up in my concert tomorrow.  It's one that my mother and grandmother both won't be able to make, and that makes a difference.  I might have two friends show up, which would be a first-in-a-long-time situation. In my heart I always want to see people I love there.  Not because I need to be lauded for my performance or because I want to look important, but because music is the absolute direct line to my heart and soul.  I want to feel like people understand that.  And in my heart, I've always wanted to know people wanted to see me at my best, my absolute best, you know?

When I'm on stage, and when that baton drops and we fly into the first song...that's me at my absolute best. That's focus and strength and skill from years and years of study.  It's something that's important to me, and close to my heart.   When you put in years of your life to something, I feel like it's ok to want people to witness it, you know?

And maybe classical music isn't really everyone's main interest in life, but I really think in a hall where the sound echoes like that, it can be enjoyable.  I might be strange, but when a friend's passionate about something, really passionate, I just immediately feel like even if I don't really know anything about it, it's something I want to see, because I think that's the moment when people are at their best, you know?

Recently, someone close to me responded the same way to my asking them to the event as they did to someone asking to something they hated, and it stung.  So I guess it clung to my mind a little harder this time.

Here's what I ask of anyone reading this...
Take time out to discover why the people you love love the things they love.  It'll bring you closer.

And here's my own medicine: If you miss someone, tell them. Don't mope about it.
I'll fix that, and I'll hope eventually, there will be someone I love waiting in the wings for me.  It's been a longstanding desire of mine to see someone there, happy to see me, after a concert.  That we could both get enjoyment from.  And I don't think that's too high a bar to set.