More time for what matters

I short while ago, I wrote a post about the demands of employers on their workers, such as expecting salaried employees to work regular 50 to 75 hour weeks. In an article written for Yes! Magazine, Juliet Schor shared an interesting perspective on why working less can make the hugest difference in one’s life. I particularly enjoyed her correlation between overworking and a need for more processed food, higher energy consumption, increased waste, and more expenditures. Are you finding yourself in that lifestyle (the hour commute each way, the take-out dinners)? Schor offers some easy actions to alleviate this dilemma, as well as terrific insights. I hope you will read the article.

And an argument for employers: imagine how much more dedicated, passionate, and energetic your workers would be if they felt they had quality of life aside from their jobs? I’d like to see thirty-two or thirty-six work weeks lasting four days! Any takers? 😉

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Rejection is a drag

I’ve been looking for a job in my field (art) for a little over two years now. Job-hunting during a recession isn’t really how I had envisioned my post-MFA years, but then I was a little idealistic (okay, a lot). My attitude six years ago somewhat reminds me of those Xtranormal animations that make fun of academic careers in the liberal arts (I finally understand all the weary looks!):

I like to think this hefty dose of reality (courtesy of the job market, the economy, and the nature of higher education) has improved me personally and artistically. It has certainly broadened my perspective.

This economy makes it especially hard for those in the fine arts to find work in their field. But on March 5th I saw a job ad that was so completely, absolutely perfect for me I couldn’t contain my excitement. I spent five days on my application, laboring over every sentence on every document the university requested. Everything had to be flawless. It was by far the best application I have ever assembled.

In early May the call came: I was invited to interview by phone with the search committee! This alone was a triumph. An interview! Finally an opportunity to show people what I can do! Not wanting to leave anything to chance, I prepped for the interview extensively. Over-prepared is more like it. But this obsessive research and rehearsal came in handy, because the next week I received the ultra-coveted invitation: an on-campus interview!

The interview went wonderfully. After nearly twelve hours of meetings and meals and tours, I was released back to my hotel feeling excited and cautiously optimistic. The feedback I received was incredibly positive, leading me to believe that indeed I had done well. Yes, I had made a few faux pas, but nothing serious. Of course, I would spend the next month analyzing those “mistakes” anyway, wondering how I could have done better. But in the end I knew I had done my best to convince the search committee that not only could I do the job, but I would do it with unparalleled passion and excitement.

I had already worked on visualizing the whole thing coming to fruition. I envisioned getting the phone interview, how it would go, getting the on-campus interview and how it would play out. Just to cover my bases I visualized both phone and email scenarios. Now, after the job interview had passed, I had to imagine receiving the job offer. That was where my hopes started to elevate even more. I could really see myself moving there, living there. I knew what salary I needed to justify the relocation. I imagined suitable homes and visualized packing and moving to my new town. And I dreamed of leaving my current job; packing up my desk, saying goodbye to everyone, handing in my building pass, walking out those doors of a place that would no longer feel so familiar. And though it is a job for which I am very grateful (any job is better than no job right now), it is also a place at which my skills are wasted – if not discouraged at times. A place where I stifle who I am so I can pay the bills. I really liked the idea of flipping that scenario on its head. At my prospective job, I could be everything I am and still pay the bills. Talk about win-win.

So, I waited. And waited. One week. Two weeks.

That’s when I became nervous. Had I told too many people about the interview? Did I jinx it? Did I fail to send something the committee needed but didn’t outright request? Was I too wishy-washy about some things, too certain about others? Was I too candid with my prospective boss? My excitement waned as the days passed. It began to seem unlikely I would get the job. Silence has a way of eating at my confidence. But I kept hoping. “You never know,” I told myself.

After three weeks I decided to check on the school’s progress. I emailed the department head and asked after the progress of the search. Four days later came her reply. She had just received an offer acceptance from a different candidate. I didn’t get the job. She wrote some very kind words about knowing I had a bright future ahead of me (which is very nice, as she didn’t need to say anything at all), but I was crushed nonetheless. Truly disappointed. Rejected. And back to square one on the job search. That discouraging, frustrating job search.

Some people say I shouldn’t have gotten my hopes up, but it was hard to do when everything seemed so perfect – serendipitous in fact. (And when so many people agreed that this job seemed the perfect match for my personality and skills. Consensus really killed objectivity on this one.)

Many folks say there was a reason I did not get the job (as in – God was looking out for you, or something better is in the future). The jury is out on that one. Meanwhile I am waiting for that wondrous thing called “hindsight” to kick in, but I have yet to get to a place where hindsight applies.

Others say, “This is how it works.” And they are right. It can take years (if ever) to get a position in the fine arts. But me? My thinking is a little different – and still very idealistic.

I’m convinced – based on many blessings in my life – that I can defy the odds.

I believe I can do what other people say cannot be done. (I have done it in the past. I can do it again.) And with that attitude comes a healthy dose of perfection paired with impatience. Not the best combination of traits for someone who feels like that one chance to prove herself lies somewhat in the hands of perfect strangers. Naturally, I needed some space from all this job business.

Lucky for me I had a vacation coming just a week or two after the big “no thanks.” Two weeks with family 1000 miles from my real life. Road trip indeed. Just what I needed.

Returning to work was difficult. Instead of handing in my badge, I was swiping it for another undetermined length of servitude. (Again, not ungrateful for the job I swear! Just hoping for a better one some day….) But a job’s a job, and I was lucky to have it.

Friends showed admirable amounts of concern and encouragement. It was heartening to know just how many people believe in my abilities to manage, organize, network and help others. It was important that I listened to them, not letting my disappointment drown out their encouragement. And of course, they wanted me to cheer up – because that is who I am: cheerful Jen.

So I put on my brave face. I noted the benefits of the whole thing: interview experience, new connections, the benefit of receiving that coveted interview rather than the cookie-cutter rejection letter. I pointed out the blessing in having a job to return to, a job I can do pretty well that also is flexible enough to let me be an artist (woohoo!). Health insurance, vacation time! Air conditioning! A decent pay that covers my day-to-day expenses (do I really ever need to pay off those student loans? Well, at this rate, it won’t happen before I’m seventy, but anyway…). A great apartment, a lovely landlord. An abundance of friends. My art work. My husband. My family (far away but loving!). My health. The lovely cool northeastern weather system. Proximity to NYC, Boston, the coast, Phili…. Yes, I have so much to be grateful for.

And I am.

But having the “right” attitude can be tiring when you feel disappointment. So how do you balance the conflicting emotions?

I’ll take a stab at it with my “Be Nice. solution at the end of the anecdote” moment. This is what I learned from the process.

When you get some unfortunate news (this could apply to other scenarios, not just mine):

Allow yourself to be bummed out. Cry, yell, journal angrily, play endless amounts of video games, live in your pj’s for days straight, become a vegan, dye your hair pink, develop a new interest in taxidermy, whatever. Do what you gotta do, but get the sad stuff OUT. Don’t bury it. Don’t burn bridges. Just feel your way through it.

Reserve the right to tell others you don’t want to talk about it. It’s your life and your bad mood is none of their business if you don’t want it to be (assuming you’re not being a jerk to them, in which case you’ll have more problems – so try not to be a meanie).

Give yourself a break from the job search for a few days, but then get back on it. People deserve the benefit of your contribution in the workplace, trust me.

Be receptive to others’ encouragement. Those words may not feel very great in the shadow of insecurity and disappointment, but they will be useful in the future. So tuck them in your memory bank for a better day, and whip them out when a pick-me-up is in order.

Once you get that crappy-sad feeling out of your system, find a goal to throw yourself into. Distraction is key. It will remind you of what makes you such a great “worker” in the first place. And eventually the distraction will become something else entirely, and you’ll find yourself once again tapped into your genuine energy.

I’ll leave you with something my mother said to me, which I think can apply to so many people who long for the day when their heartfelt vocation has become their work. She said, “That day is coming Jennifer. And when someone finally has the good sense to hire you, they’ll wonder how they ever got along without you!” I like that idea, don’t you?

So happy for YOU

Eeyore is a Trademarked/Copywritten character of Disney. This image source: http://www.fanpop.com/spots/disney/images/1348371/title/eeyore-fanart

My three-year old nephew is in the stage where he’s learning to monitor his own behavior – namely self-control. After not getting his way at Grandma’s house the other afternoon, Cruz launched into an adorable, yet fairly familiar, “Eeyore” phase. He moped, he sighed, he pouted. Head down, lip out… there was no way this three-year old was going to budge from his gloomy disposition. My mother saw it as an opportunity. She knelt to the ground, looked at Cruz and said, “Now Cruz I know you’re upset, and that’s okay. But let me ask you something. Do you want to be a sad little boy or do you want to be a happy little boy?” He looked up at his Grandma and said, “Happy.” Mom replied, “Well then all you have to do is put a smile on your face and go be happy.” It was that simple. Instantly his frown changed to a grin, and he trotted away to go have fun again – a real life Christopher Robin.

Could it be that easy? Can we just decide to be happy? For the most part, I say yes. In the face of tremendous pain and discomfort, human beings find reasons to smile as surely as they need air to breathe. It is not that we are incapable of being happy. It’s just difficult to feel happy sometimes.

Often it is difficult for people to find joy within their lives, and it can be even harder to celebrate the happiness of others. When confronted with the good fortune of their friends and colleagues many people prefer to remain securely in their “Eeyore” phase, rather than give in to the good feelings resonating from their companions. After all, isn’t it safer to be in the dredges of their misery – a place safe and familiar? Why feel joy for someone else, when they feel none for themselves? If anything, they feel resentment, right? Won’t it just make them more acutely aware of their misfortunes by rejoicing in the goodness within others’ lives?

Not really.

In this economic climate, it is difficult for even the most seasoned professional to procure suitable professional employment. Most artists participate in a constant battle with their esteem and determination in their attempts to access better professional opportunities for themselves. It could be easy to become resentful of others’ successes. But what good would that do for any of us?

A colleague of mine just received a coveted position at an excellent educational institution in the Northeast: a two-year visiting professor position in art. Having received his MFA in 2010 at the same institution I received mine, his invitation to teach at this school was a beacon of light to those in our field. Surely there will be a few of his colleagues or acquaintances who secretly grumble with envy and resentment, but the majority of us met the news with great enthusiasm. A “win” for him is a “win” for all of us.

And for some of us (er… ahem… ME), it was like our own dreams had come true. When I heard the news, I could not stand still! I was like a child – clapping my hands, bounding through my apartment with unfettered exuberance. That night it didn’t matter that I still worked a mind-numbing data entry job. I didn’t feel an ounce of resentment or jealousy. I felt hope, because someone I knew had just received the kind of news we all dream of getting: a job in our field!

Like my little (nearly!) four-year old nephew, we have a choice. We can decide to be happy. We might not always get our way, but we always have control over our perspective.

Think of it as good karma. Think of it as good manners. Whatever works for you; be happy for others.

After all, when it’s your turn to share your good news you’ll want everyone to be happy for your good fortune too!

What you make it

My fiance and I are going through some growing pains right now. Here we are, newly graduated, newly unemployed, and both pretty stressed and scared. To help, my mom sent me a  prayer to St. Jude for employment, and I pray it every day. I asked Jake, do you ever pray it? He said he never got into the habit of praying. So then I asked, “Well, how do you view good fortune? If it isn’t a God-thing, is it luck, random good fortune, odds, knowing the right people, or hard work?” And I had to chuckle when he said, “Oh, I think it’s a combination of hard work and dumb luck.”  We have such divergent attitudes about luck (I view it as a life path, synchronicity, blessings, purpose and destiny), but we both have the same outlook: it will all be okay. As long as we have each other, and we’re healthy and happy, it will be okay.

When one faces a difficulty, an obstruction, or an impediment, it important to remember: the situation is going to be exactly what one makes it to be. This can be said about how we receive information, how we choose to react, how we present ourselves professionally or socially. When it comes down to it, our outcomes are often dictated by our outlook.

If times are hard (which they are for many people right now), remember to stay as positive as you can. Don’t succumb to negativity. It will do more harm than good. Positivity will carry you through. When you feel like you can’t do anything more, remember: you are stronger than that. You have persevered before and you can do it again. When it seems like a hopeless cause, spend some time with people who make you feel great for who you are and what you do. When you feel like no matter how hard you try you won’t get ahead, make a list of all the things you’ve done to try and then make a list of the things you can’t control. If you can’t control it, let it be. But if you can do something to make a difference, do it.

Everything is what you make it.

 

© Be Nice. Creator and Be Nice. (somethingsonice.wordpress.com), 2008-2009