June 19, 2007

[WARNING - This post? Long. Also? Long. In an effort to liven things up, I've broken it up into installments. A cliffhanger! Whee.]

Olivia and I spend a good deal of time downtown during the week, on our way to the library or a museum or the riverfront. We weave in and out of the working folks, creating little eddies in their hurry back and forth from lunch or meetings. We are outside the rush, not expected back to an office or a call or a deadline.

I've been thinking a lot lately about working...or not working...or working really hard but not getting paid for it. Let me just state from the beginning that I am so grateful that I am not in a position that necessitates me working outside my home right now; I know that this is a luxury. My daughter needs me and I can be with her. I am thankful every day. But it is occasionally startling to look around and realize that I and so many of my contemporaries have opted out of our careers and are at home while our partners "go out into the world" and then "bring home the bacon." Suddenly, I am my grandmother, without the cooking skills.

I did not anticipate this in my life, but part of that might be because I didn't really have a plan. After college, my jobs were chosen mostly on the basis of what they weren't: I couldn't stomach a corporate job; I wasn't interested in business or computers; I wasn't artistic; there was no family business to run. The criteria really seemed to be that at the end of the day, I had spent some of my working hours doing something that felt personally meaningful. I ended up in Social Services working as a Case Manager for children in mental facilities, children in the foster system, and adults with severe mental illnesses and drug problems. I found this work fascinating and at times fulfilling, but it was also heartbreaking and depressing. And there was always the issue of money and advancement...it will come as a shock to few when I say that finding meaning does not always mean finding a good livelihood.

Not entirely certain that another degree was what I wanted, but knowing that it could only help expand my options (or at least give me time to stall), I went back to school and got my Master's Degree in Counseling. Here's the thing though: by the time I finished, I knew that it wasn't for me. I didn't feel like I was helping any more. I didn't feel like a good counselor. I was no longer sure of my faith in The System. I wanted to do Something Else, so when the opportunity to move to New York immediately presented itself, I started making plans.

If I had known then what I was getting myself into in New York...the fierce competitiveness of the job market, the number of resumes I would send and interviews I would go on, the number of times I would be rejected...I would have really given pause. But I didn't know and so I plunged right in. And just as my money began to dry up and I seriously began to think that I might have to somehow beg or borrow enough to reverse my trek and come home, I found a job. It wasn't a perfect job, only because I had a horrible boss. Everything else about it turned out to be a great fit. I was working for a foundation with substantial assets which were used to support the arts, educational programs, libraries, after-school opportunities, etc. As a Program Officer, I read proposals and reports, made recommendations to the board, and evaluated grant expenditures. Best of all for someone brand new to the city, I had to visit the programs we supported across all five boroughs, giving me an opportunity to get to know the city in a way that I never would have done on my own. It was perfect.

When I was laid off after 9/11, I took a job with UNICEF; this time it was fundraising. This turned out to be the best job I ever had. It was fascinating work and piqued my interest in international politics and conflicts. I really enjoyed working with my boss. I was able to build on my experience and familiarly with grantmaking and was asked to do a lot of writing. In addition, the organization offered major opportunities for advancement and I anticipated that I would be able to actually make a career of that work. And then I got pregnant.

What happens next? Does she quit her job? Is it a boy or a girl?
Oh, never mind. Just come back tomorrow.

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Anonymous alish said...

spoiler: it was twins! where are you hiding the other one???

4:20 PM  
Blogger David said...

What does one do with one's life? Always an interesting question. The answer is never the same from person to person. My favorite post you've written thus far.

7:58 AM  
Blogger Nicole P said...

Paige - I'm a professional fundraiser myself. Incredibly rewarding, incredibly educational work it is. And you know what? I came into it in much the same way - sort of 'by default.' This is a great post. Hope all is well with you otherwise. Looking forward to hearing more. - Nicole

3:32 PM  
Blogger Paige said...

alish - sometimes I do feel like I had twins - the sweet one and the screamy one. today, we it was Screamy who rolled out of bed.

david - aw, shucks. thanks.

thanks, nicole. I do miss the work sometimes. hope all is well with you, too!

4:20 PM  
Anonymous alish said...

mc screamy?

5:22 PM  

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