Monday, August 27, 2012

Having it all, but what is "all"?

Back in July I mentioned that I had been to a job interview and had spent a good deal of time thinking about what I wanted from my career.  Since I've had some blissfully uneventful days lately, I'd like to go back and talk a little bit about that experience.

For those that don't know about my employment history, I worked at a publishing company in Minnesota before I married Zac and moved to Hawaii.  I did the kind of work that lends itself very well to telecommuting, i.e. sitting in front of a computer all day, editing.  When it came time for me to leave, I was completely surprised when my supervisor offered to make my position mobile so that I could keep my job once I moved.  This was surprising because this option hadn't been offered to anyone I knew.  I jumped at the chance to keep my source of income and I spent the three years in Hawaii continuing to work as an editor from the comfort of my living room.

I did apply for jobs while I was in Hawaii.  I had no interest in taking the Hawaii Bar exam, so practicing jobs were out.  (Not that I would have been considered for those jobs anyway - I have zero experience practicing in Minnesota, where I do have my license.)  Every now and again I applied for some federal jobs or regular jobs, both law-related and not.  I didn't look too hard, however.  My telecommuting job was perfect for me in terms of flexibility.  As long as I was producing the quantity and quality of work that my employer wanted, I was free to work when I wanted.  This was incredibly helpful for hosting family and friends who visited, and also allowed me to volunteer with different organizations that frequently needed my time during normal M-F working hours.  

The flexible part-time schedule was also invaluable to me as a military spouse, as I was able to take time off on short notice and had (relatively) no limits on how much "leave" I wanted to take.  If I didn't work, I didn't get paid, but I also wasn't drawing against a hard two-week supply of vacation time.  I will be honest, my work isn't exciting.  It's obscenely detail oriented and often repetitive.  I'd say that I'm bored with it about 85% of the time.  But while I was living in Hawaii, I was willing to be bored with it as I had a husband, friends, volunteering and a beautiful island to entertain me when I wasn't on my computer.

When we got to California I told Zac that I was going to spend some time and energy seriously looking for a "real" job.  Whenever I would talk to someone about job-hunting, I was always quick to say how I was looking for a "real" job.  Looking back, I'm not sure why I didn't consider my editing a real job.  It probably has to do with the fact that it is part-time and can be done in pajamas.  "Real" jobs require business casual attire, and are located outside the home.  "Real" jobs have co-workers you can get coffee with, not two dogs who bark incessantly that they want to go outside.

For the first few months I was in California, I was looking for jobs.  I went to an employment symposium for military spouses.  I signed up with a couple of employment programs.  I started looking for legal volunteering opportunities in San Diego.  I started attending a bi-monthly happy hour social gathering for spouses of service members that are attorneys.  (It's really nice having other people who understand the complexities of being an attorney moving about the globe, and who have spouses that leave for months on end.)  I felt good that I was at least starting to make some progress towards getting a "real" job.

Then, lo and behold, I got a call for an interview for one of the jobs I applied for.  I was stunned.  Usually I electronically file my resume with a online job posting, only to never hear from anyone ever again.  Initially I was ecstatic that I was being considered for the job.  I threw myself into prepping for the interview, which I was told would include a five minute presentation on one of four topics.  (I got to pick which topic.)

The job sounded awesome.  It involved working with Navy sailors and their families.  The job had a number of responsibilities, including teaching classes and, on occasion, being flown out to ships that were on the way back from deployment so I could teach some classes to sailors about reintegration and such.  Even now I get jazzed up thinking about the job.  Can you imagine getting to go teach on a Navy ship for a week???  How awesome does that sound?  It sounded perfect for me.  I love speaking in front of people, I love the teaching element of it, I love helping military families -- it all fit.  I really, really wanted this job.

I went in to the interview, trying to calm my nerves while letting my enthusiasm shine.  I rocked the interview.  I really did.  I got up to start my presentation to the interviewing panel and after about 90 seconds the hiring manager stopped me, saying, "It's clear you're excellent at this.  You don't have to do the whole five minutes."  He explained to me that they were interviewing four candidates, I was the third they had seen, and that they would be getting back to me either the next day (Friday) or the following Monday at the latest.  He praised my interview, said that I was exactly what they were looking for.  He mentioned to me that one of the four interviewees was an internal candidate who had been with the company for 18 months.  He told me that if for some reason I was not offered the job this time, that this type of position opens up regularly and he would hope I would apply again as soon as possible.  (This type of position is often filled by military spouses.  We tend to move on a lot, so there is regular turnover.)  I took his words of caution as an indication that the internal candidate had a pretty good shot of getting the job, but I was on cloud nine that I had impressed the panel and that they had indicated that I would be a great fit.

As I drove home from the interview, my glow started to fade.  Quickly.  The job was salary, 40 hours a week or so.  There would be evenings and weekends I would have to work.  I would get two weeks of vacation, one week of sick time, and the federal holidays.  And the salary (which is non-negotiable because it governed by an existing government contract) was about what I make working part-time right now.  So I'd have less flexibility, less time off, work more hours, work weekends and evenings and get paid the same.  Also, this job had nothing to do with my legal education.

By the time I got home, I was utterly confused.  This was a "real" job.  This is what I claimed I wanted to anyone who would listen.  Why was I suddenly feeling like I was suffocating?  I had been the one to tell Zac many times that "Once I get a 'real' job, it's not going to be like this - I'm not going to be available as much as I am now."  Zac could tell that something was amiss when he asked me how the interview went.  I had been so excited that morning when he had left, and now I was quietly stewing over things.  I listened carefully when I told him that I wasn't sure if I'd accept the job if they offered it to me.  When I explained my thinking to him, he told me that he'd support whatever decision I made.

I was a bundle of nerves on Friday, waiting to hear from the company.  I didn't know what to do.  If they called me and offered me the job and I accepted it, my life would radically change.  I would have a job that invigorated and excited me, but I'd see less of my husband, my friends, and I wouldn't be able to volunteer with COMPASS anymore.  If they called me, offered me the job and I declined it, I'm sure they would not look favorably on me as a candidate down the road, in case I did decide to apply for the job again, say maybe when Zac deploys and I don't care about being home.  I waited all day Friday, wondering what to do.

They didn't call on Friday.  They didn't call on Monday.  I took that to mean that I wasn't selected.  But I continued to think about what I wanted, what I really wanted, in a job or a career.  I had a lot of emotions.  I was embarrassed that I didn't want a "real" job after all.  I felt like I was letting myself down, that I was throwing away all that time and energy I had poured into my legal education and license.  If I didn't want to have a "real" job now, when it is just me and Zac, what if we have kids?  Then I will probably want the rigidity of a real job even less.  And what did it mean that the first job posting that I had been excited about in YEARS had nothing to do with my legal training?

Around this time I stumbled across an article in the Atlantic, titled Why Women Still Can't Have it All.  I read through it, fairly despondent, realizing that I knew where the author was coming from.  I wanted to have it all. I wanted to have a thriving career, a family, but especially as a military spouse, I saw the thriving career part slipping further and further from my grasp.  I shared the article with people on Facebook, and my Dad sent it back to me with comments that he had made.  He disagreed with a couple of the author's points, but one thing that my Dad said that struck me the most is, "How do you define 'all'?"  Dad's premise is that there is not one, definitive, correct definition of 'all', and that maybe there is harm in thinking that there is only one all.  Maybe, instead, we should all want "enough".  It hadn't occurred to me that maybe there are different kinds of "all" or that maybe there's something that's fulfilling that's simply "enough".  I just assumed that "all" meant a full-time job in the career of your choice, where you move laterally because of merit and achievement.  "All" meant having a spouse, kids, a home and being able to spend time as you wanted.  It was interesting to consider that I could determine what "all" meant.

As much as I love my father, I still have reservations about what he was saying.  After all, he's a man.  He worked 40 hours a week for large employers for most of my life.  (Well, at least the first 25 years.)  Though he worked a full-time job, he was home for dinner, played softball Tuesday nights in the summer, worked on the house, attended our softball games, coached my sister's volleyball team, helped with homework, helped us with our pitching in the backyard, went on motorcycle rides, watched baseball, built a cabin, re-built a cabin, volunteered at church and made alone time for him and mom.  And all this while he was respected professionally by his peers and coworkers.  He had it all.  He certainly seemed to have enough.

I had told my mom about the job interview and I knew she was anxious to hear how it went.  I dreaded calling her.  I didn't know how to tell her, "Hey, Mom.  Guess what?  Turns out I have no career ambition after all and I don't want to have a real job!"  (That's how I felt like it was going to come across anyway.)  Not only is my mom my, er, mom, but she's also a career counselor.  You can see why this phone call was causing me stress.

When I spoke to mom, I gave her a play of play of everything that had been going through my head.  I used my best lawyering skills to justify why I didn't want the job, why I felt that I wanted, no, needed to have the flexibility of my current job.  I rattled off reason after reason, fearing that instead it was sounding like excuse after excuse, in that stream-of-concious-non-stop-talking way that I have.  I was worried that if I stopped to let her interject that I'd hear disappointment in her voice.  Finally, as I ran out of breath, I expressed that even though I don't have kids I wanted to be available to my family, like she had been for us growing up.

"Kate," she said, "why do you think I've had the same job for the last 25 years?  It's so I could be available too."  She went on to explain why, despite her master's degree, she had been self-employed and working part-time for 25 years.  (Though self-employed, she has been working for the same company for those 25 years.)  She said how she wanted to be able to get us off to school in the mornings and be there when we got home.  She said how she felt it was important to eat dinner together as a family.  She wanted to be able to volunteer in our classrooms and go to our softball games.  She enjoyed volunteering at church and having time with her friends.  She said that yes, she had made sacrifices in her career by not accepting other jobs.  She could have made more money elsewhere, but that wasn't what she wanted.  She wanted what she had: a fulfilling career, time for my dad, for her daughters, for her family, her friends and her hobbies.  

As strange as it sounds, I never really thought about it like that until she laid it out there in black and white for me.  I never would have said that my mom works part-time, though she does.  In my mind, she just worked.  She was respected by her coworkers and peers.  I always thought of her as a professional woman.  Putting on her business clothes, grabbing her briefcase and heading in to the office.  I remember the first day of Worker's Compensation class in law school.  When the professor was going through the roll, he came across my last name and asked if my mother was so-and-so.  I said that, yes, she was.  He nodded, and told me that she was an excellent expert witness at trial.  She was a tough witness to throw off her game, and her work was always thorough and accurate. (He had worked on a couple of cases where mom was retained for the other side.)  He commented that he wished that his expert witnesses were that good.  I burst with pride that day.  My mom was known in the legal community for being great at her job.  How cool is that?  And she had accomplished all that working part time, mostly on her terms.

My mom stressed to me that it was okay to not work full time.  That it was okay to have multiple priorities instead of just singularly career success.  That is was okay to be picky for now, to keep looking for a different job than the one I interviewed for.  And coming from her, that meant everything because I want to be like my mom when I grow up.  I want to have that balance that she seemed to figure out.  Because as I was growing up, I looked at her and thought, "She has it all."  And she does.  She has enough of everything she wants.  So I'm going to try to make life decisions going forward based on what makes sense for me, based on my values and priorities.  And for now, as a military spouse, my priority is flexibility.  

So I've decided to continue to work from home for the foreseeable future, keeping an eye out for jobs and volunteer opportunities to bolster the legal part of my resume but only as they fit into my life.  And all the while I'll be grateful that I'm in a position to make these kinds of choices.  

Friday, August 17, 2012

How do you blog about something without saying anything important?

A U.S. Blackhawk helicopter went down yesterday in Afghanistan.  11 people died, including two Navy SEALs and an explosives expert. So what do I say here, on a public blog?  I want to talk about it, but I don't want to talk too much about what Zac does, or where he works and, hence, why this is important to me.  

I went to an ombudsman conference a couple of weeks ago, specifically for ombudsmen from commands that are Navy Special Warfare commands.  Special Warfare includes groups likes the SEALs.  The conference was a three-day affair, and two of the modules that we covered came to mind last night as I was watching the news: 1. Operational Security (OPSEC) and, 2. the events from last August 11th, when a Chinook helicopter went down, killing a large number of Navy Special Warfare members.

As a military spouse, you hear a lot about OPSEC.  You've probably heard about it in this form:  "Loose lips, sink ships."  The idea is that there are bad guys out there, and the easiest way for them to gather information about our military is to simply monitor their families and what they are saying and posting on the internet.  It's like putting together a jigsaw puzzle for the bad guys.  If they take little pieces of information from a number of sources, they can get a pretty clear picture what's happening in the fleet.  It also puts families at risk.  If some bad guys really wanted to crush the morale of sailors and their families, it wouldn't be hard.  All they have to do is find that invitation you posted on Facebook to a picnic for the ship's families.  A large concentration of families in one place at one time?  Sounds like a target to me.  

Does this make me sound paranoid?  Yes, some.  But it's the truth.  And it's not just the truth for military members.  Did you just post on Facebook, "Woo hoo!  Heading to Las Vegas for the weekend!"?  Well, you just told people that your house is empty. Social media is a wonderful thing, and I love using Facebook, but we all need to be aware that if we choose to share certain bits of information with the world, those bits of information can be used for good or bad.  You don't get to control that information once it is released.

OPSEC is even a bigger issue in the Special Warfare community.  With ships, it's pretty easy to have a bad guy posted at different ports around the world watching ships come in and out.  There are certain things that you just can't hide about ships.  But in Special Warfare, the very nature of their missions is clandestine and covert.  In order for them to be successful, there can be no information released about where they are going and what they are doing.  We, as family members, shouldn't be making the bad guys' jobs easier.

I am thinking a lot about OPSEC as I type this.  So if I sound vague, there's a reason.  

I originally saw the note about a helicopter going down in Afghanistan yesterday, before any details about who was on board was announced.  My first reaction?  "Please don't let it be our guys."  Maybe that's a horrible thing to think, after all, it's somebody's guy on that helicopter.  Someone just lost a husband, dad, brother, son.  But for selfish reasons, my first reaction was hoping that it wasn't anyone we knew.  As the afternoon went on, I received an email from another one of the Special Warfare ombudsmen out here in SoCal.  I felt my stomach drop when I read that, indeed, some of them were "ours".  And by ours, I'm going to purposefully be vague and say West Coast Special Warfare.  (At some point the news will release all of their names and where they worked.  That's not my job.)

Rewinding a couple of days, I went to an ombudsman training Wednesday night.  I ran in to one of my fellow Special Warfare ombudsmen there.  We made small talk for a few minutes, I'm not even sure about what.  Fast forward to Thursday afternoon.  It was her command that lost the two SEALs.  We all got an email from the commandant, letting us know what happened.  He mentioned that the appropriate people have been notified and that the command and ombudsman were taking care of the families.  Jesus.  24 hours prior to this, we were chatting about nothing and now she's helping two families deal with the death of their sailor.  It's hard to wrap my head around.  

This caused me to think of that other training module I mentioned above, the one about the Chinook crash last August.  Some of the ombudsmen that had to deal with that tragedy were also at that conference.  They talked about what happened and what role they played in helping the families.  But what struck me about their presentation was that moment when one of them said how hard it was.  Because as an ombudsman, you're a spouse of someone in that command.  That means that if it wasn't your husband that died, that it was probably your husband's friend.  Maybe his best friend.  And the wife that lost her husband?  That might be your best friend.  You might go get Starbucks together to pass the time while your husbands are deployed.  Maybe your kids play together.  What I'm getting at, is that ombudsmen aren't some disinterested third-party that provides information and referral services.  We're a part of the individual command family. And, on a larger scale, we're all part of the Special Warfare family.  

Yesterday we lost some of ours.  The grief won't be contained to just their individual commands.  It will be shared by all of us.  Hopefully that makes it an easier load to bear.  

Monday, August 6, 2012

Hopefully entering a period of calm

I woke up this morning and checked my work e-mail.  I was happy to see that they hadn't assigned me a new project just yet.  I'm sure I'll get the email at any time now, but it was nice to have a couple of hours this morning to (finally) unpack from the trip to Minnesota and do some cleaning around the house that didn't get done this weekend.

This is the first morning in many, many morning that I've felt relaxed and on top of things.  I am glad to say goodbye to July.  The last couple of months have involved getting the ombudsman program set up at Zac's command (yes, I'm volunteering in that role again) and July seemed to have a lot of ombudsman responsibilities that took up a lot of time.  I attended 20 hours of ombudsman basic training with my co-ombudsman.  Those were long days.  Since I was going on vacation at the end of July, I was trying to work as many hours as possible during the day.  So I'd put in six or seven hours of work, eat supper, and then go attend training from 5:30-9:30pm each night.  They were long, tiring days and I came out of training stressed out that we still had a fair amount of work to do to get our ombudsman program up and running.  (I've got a co-ombudsman at this command who is a rockstar.  I really enjoy working with her.)

I had one day between the end of training and leaving for Minnesota, so that day was filled with packing and cleaning the house.  That evening we went out with friends to celebrate Zac's birthday.  The next morning we up nice and early to fly to Minnesota.  We spend nine days there, came back late on Tuesday night and then Wednesday morning at 8:00am I started a three-day ombudsman conference.  Let's just say that I skipped the decaf and drank the real stuff that first day of the conference.  I also made the error of telling my employer that I was back on Wednesday, thinking that they would assign me a project that would be due in a week or so.  Turns out they had an assignment that they needed by Friday.  I knew there was no way that I could attend the conference all day and work enough in the evening to complete the project by their deadline.  I let them know, and offered to have it done by Monday.  Luckily(?) they agreed, so I spent almost 16 hours over Saturday and Sunday working on that project.  Like I said, I was happy to have a couple of hours off this morning.

In a perfect world I wouldn't have sandwiched our vacation in the middle of those two events, and I would have held off on reporting back to work, but Zac's schedule is limited as to when he can go on leave.  We've often taken 10-14 days of vacation in Nebraska, but never in Minnesota.  I've been home for a week or so here and there, but since I wanted Zac to be there for a long stay for a change, our choice of travel dates depended on his work.  It all worked out, and looking at August I think I might have a relatively quiet month with normal work days and relatively few other events.  I think it's safe to switch back to decaf.

Getting home to Minnesota was awesome.  It was so good to recharge my batteries.  I got to spend time with family and friends but not nearly enough with either.  I'm hoping that now that we're back on the mainland that at least I will be able to pop back to MN a little more frequently.  It's a lot easier to travel when visiting for three or four days is reasonable, unlike when we were in Hawaii and you had to come home for at least a week to make the expense and duration of traveling worth it.  

I was happy that I finally got to show Zac some things in Minnesota that I had wanted to share with him.  We were able to drive up to the cabin for a day.  It was too blasted hot to want to stay any longer than that.  We spent a night in the Nicollet Island Inn and hung out in NE.  We walked around Minnehaha Falls.  We visited some restaurants that I love.  We did some fun new things together too - we visited a brewery just outside of Stillwater.  We went to an archery range with Paul and Megan.  Zac has shot a bow many times before, but that was the first time for the three of us.  That was a lot of fun.  Mostly the trip was hanging out with my family and friends, and we tried very hard this trip to not schedule every waking moment.  I think it made the trip a little less stressful.  It also helped, I think, that we stayed over at the hotel on the Air Reserve station.  This gave all of us (Mom, Dad, Megan, Paul) a little bit of time alone during the evenings and mornings.

It was a great trip.  It was nice to be able to sit around and talk with people.  Really talk with them.  Not small talk for five or ten minutes, but actually have conversations.  I know that there are people that I missed, and I hope to catch them next time.  Hopefully that will be sooner rather than later.