Sunday, August 28, 2011

Work Ethic

I have been stewing about this for about 24 hours and the only way I am going to let this go is to write about it. Writing keeps me sane.

My daughter is embarking on a career as a paralegal. She has a challenging, good-paying job with a former professor of hers—as far as I am concerned, the ultimate complement to your worth, skills and knowledge is being hired by a former professor. Heck, I’ve been lucky to have been hired for freelance jobs one of my former professors at SJSU, and he is the current department head! He’s asked me to do research for a mass communications textbook, and to prepare a collection of papers for the department’s certification process. I’ve also worked for another of my former professors, a practicing PR professional with her own business, providing written materials if she gets too busy and bogged down with work. I guess you could say having lived it, I know how meaningful it is to have a professor’s respect.

So I couldn’t be any more proud of this kid—she’s overcome a learning disability and has emerged into a good writer and researcher and problem-solver. In other words, she’s inherited some of my skills. She would never in a million years acknowledge this, but she did tell me once that her friend Sara said to her “You know where those skills came from, right? Your mom.” Quite the complement.

Yesterday she was working on something—she maintains confidentiality as well as I did when I was working as a nurse, perhaps even better. I have no idea what kind of cases she is working on other than sometimes she will say “People are disgusting.” Whatever it was, it was making her crazy and she had a hard deadline of 7 p.m.

Anyway, she called her dad, or he called her, to ask if a money transfer between his bank account and hers had gone through. She jokingly said to him, “I want to retire.”

His reply: “Well, I hope your work ethic is better than your mom’s.”


Okay, here is a bit of my personal and work history. I was married three months shy of being 19 years of age. No I was not pregnant, and I had finished only a couple of semesters at a community college, taking prerequisite classes toward applying for a nursing program. My college career was not an immediate success; as a matter of fact, I dropped out of San Jose State after about 10 weeks into my first semester a year and a half before I married. I was 17 years, 2 months of age when I started college, utterly unprepared and way too young. My grades were fine, I just was socially inept and terrified.

In other words, the only work I could do was in the fields (yes, farm labor) and assisting my mother with farm labor payroll. But that was in no way going to be my career, and my husband and I both knew that.

I hurt my left knee in November of 1976, dislocating my kneecap and eventually requiring surgery. After a couple of years (still working for my mother and working in the fields for cannery tomato harvest and chili pepper harvest in December) I was able to jump with both feet into finishing the nursing degree, driving 80-plus miles a day for classes five days a week. I finished the nursing degree in January 1982, took my boards in February, and reluctantly took a job at the local hospital in June, a dinky 42-bed place that I really did not want to work at. While going through nursing school, I worked hard to impress the staff at the hospital in Carmel, about an hour-and-fifteen-minute drive from where we lived in the hopes I’d be hired there. My left knee was slightly problematic pain-wise, so during breaks and meal breaks I’d ice the knee so I could finish the shift. The pain was not horrific and I did not need pain medication. We did not own a home, but my husband did not want to move from the city we lived in, so I compromised and worked where I did not want to work, ever.

I was hired as a part-time employee, because that is pretty much how they hired nearly all nurses. At times, part time meant three or four days a week, an 8-hour shift. After orientation, I found myself on the night shift, and did not adjust well. Every dime I made, we saved for a down payment on a home. Eventually we had nearly enough in savings to buy a home, and along with a gift of $8K from my parents, we found ourselves homeowners, and I was 5 months pregnant.

I was able to work until my 28th week of pregnancy, and was working nearly full-time hours, when I woke up one morning with a horrific headache. I was supposed to go to work that afternoon but thought I should have things checked out before I was to go to work (by then I was working the 3–11 shift, much better for me, and I really wasn’t needed on the night shift as there were some nurses who actually preferred that shift). Instead of reporting to work at 3 p.m. that day, I reported to the hospital as an inpatient with pre-eclampsia. No more work for me until delivery, which was accomplished at 37 weeks. I was back to work six weeks after my daughter was born.

For the next several years my knees got worse and I suffered a few back strain injuries, but I was one of the go-to nurses, living less than 10 minutes away from the hospital I’d frequently be called in to work different shifts if things got busy with labor and delivery patients. There are too many times to count when I’d receive a phone call at 1 a.m., be asked to come in to help out, and then be asked to stay for the day shift, or be asked to work a p.m. shift after working the 7 to 3 shift because of multiple laboring women, consequently working anywhere from 12 to 16 hours.

Not bad for someone with no work ethic…

Because my back and knees were getting a bit worse (at the tender age of 32), I went to work at a nursing job that was a bit more sedentary, one where I would not have to do bedside care nursing or any janitorial clean-up work (on the p.m. and night shift, because there was no janitor on duty between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m.). I’d hurt myself a couple of times slipping in amniotic fluid and lifting and moving heavy equipment. At my new job I had inmate workers who did patient care and custodial duties; all I had to do was vital signs twice a shift, pass medications, change dressings, and chart. Easy job, and finally a full-time job with great state benefits. Except I got hurt one night, blowing out two discs effectively ending my career in April 1989.

The next several years are a blur, three major spine surgeries, dealing with disability pay and eventually a permanent disability settlement, and three years driving to Seaside on nearly a daily basis to take my daughter to a private school. I did manage to get a job in nursing, sort of, as a worker’s comp case manager, which I did for about 18 months as a part-time worker, perhaps 20 hours a week. The job required lots of driving, something that irritated my back and caused much wasted time, as the bulk of my work was an hour north of where we lived. There was no talk of moving. Our daughter started club swimming after she finished at the private school, so that was a daily trip 80+ miles roundtrip every day after school for three years or so.

I quit the worker’s comp job around the time my father died. All of the driving was not good for my back, so I returned to my mom’s business for a couple of years doing overflow work for her until I decided I had to do something with my life, build on my education and perhaps find something new to do. I started as a full-time student in September 1997 at the same community college I’d earned my nursing degree, attending classes 5 days a week, and transferred to San Jose State in September 1999. I graduated in May 2000, taking 18 units a semester and one winter session in order to get out of college quicker, driving 100+ miles 4 days a week, and maintaining a 3.75 GPA. My degree was in PR, and there was no work in south Monterey County. I needed to move north, but again, not happening. I did get a part-time job editing for a transportation study department associated with the university; the job was do-able by telecommute but they were happier having me onsite. That job started the month I graduated from SJSU.

While I was attending SJSU, my daughter was attending community college. She was desperately unhappy at the local high school where she was getting no assistance for her learning disability and was failing from school. She was much happier being able to take only two or three classes at a time in college, though math remained a problem for her.

Finally in the summer of 2001, I was sick of driving several times a week to San Jose, and my daughter needed to go to school without the distraction of two hours in a car every day. I elected to move north, leaving my home, and I am sure a not real upset husband (other problems in play not worth discussing here). Ever since I moved up here, I have been looking for full-time proper work, and until the economy tanked, I was able to pick up enough work to pay rent and keep a roof over our heads and food in the ‘fridge. I returned to school in December 2003, graduating with a master’s in sport management in May 2005, that degree coming from the University of San Francisco, and again with a stellar GPA.

I apply for jobs at least once a week, and have applied for so many these 11 years I cannot possibly count. I do not get interviews, and the one I did get, I was passed over for a person of the correct ethnicity who could not do the job, but she was Latina, and that is what it was all about. I apply for PR jobs, writing/editing/desktop publishing jobs. Things I can do. I let my RN license lapse last year, I could not afford to pay for required fingerprints or the licensing fee. Yes, all under $200 but I did not have it to spare.

Meanwhile, whenever any freelance opportunity comes my way, I grab it. No job was too small, and I’d even edit grad student papers. But this spring with the budget crisis work came to a screeching halt around June.

Not that 2010 was a great year. I earned less than $20K, supporting myself and my daughter, who was in school full-time and not employed. Her father claimed her as a deduction on his taxes. I haven’t done my taxes in several years because I can’t afford to pay anyone to do them for me.

I have pushed my body to do things it has no business doing, put off dealing with health problems because I cannot afford to go to the doctor even with insurance. I have gone without medication for weeks at a time—and one really should not take chances by not taking medications for asthma and high blood pressure. But I have, and I am about to do it again in a couple of weeks.

This year I will be lucky to earn $12 to 15K. I made it this far with help from my mom and stepdad, something I feel really guilty about. I earned enough to pay rent through July, and that’s about it. There is no work available to me until October at the earliest because of the federal and state budget crises, unless of course I manage to get another job before then. My daughter does not get her first paycheck until early October.

On a regular basis I go without meals. I have not bought clothing for myself, other than redeeming gift cards from my mom, since March 2008. I need new bras. I need new shoes. My cats need vet visits and dental cleanings. My car needs new tires and an oil change, which doesn’t matter, because I am not supposed to be driving a car with a clutch and I know it’s not safe for me to do so. With my daughter finally getting a job, there is hope for paying rent. In the meantime her dad has had to help, as many of the paralegal jobs are in the Bay Area, as are my daughter’s friends and her life—and he doles out the money, enough to pay rent, enough to keep us a month behind on utilities, and a food budget of $100, maybe $200 for two people. My daughter eats elsewhere, and her social life is utterly unaffected. I was able to buy groceries myself until early July.

I am usually hungry, in pain, perpetually looking for work and I have no work ethic (I was given some money to get some groceries, so I bought brain food for my daughter as she's going to be working from home for a couple of weeks). I am not looking for martyrdom, but all of a sudden he’s Mr. Perfect, the victim in all of this? I am sure he’s not missing any meals, gets his prescriptions when he needs them, and enjoys his paid vacations going gambling God-knows-where. He has sacrificed so much to get our kid through school... if he had his way she'd have struggled at Hartnell, dealing with the driving like I did, never finishing a course of study, and probably getting married to some local chump. So much easier.

Karma is a bitch … and I do hope I live long enough that my daughter gets what I have done for her, to ensure her success, to make sure she has a great career and a fulfilling life.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Exercises in Frustration

I really don’t know why I believe any economic news coming out of Washington, D.C. nowadays. All I have to do is look at my situation and I can say with all honestly I am not better off than I was in 2008, and I am probably worse off this year versus last, and last year was a real stinker! I’ve not bought groceries since just before July 4; there is no milk in the ‘fridge, and I’ve not had a loaf of bread in the apartment for three weeks now.

I’m self-employed only because I cannot get employment from someone, anyone, other than contract work. Yes, working from home allows some flexibility but it is so full of uncertainty and frankly, at times it is just not fun working alone! There are times that I wonder if I had known the future—that I would still be under- or unemployed after earning both a bachelor’s and a master’s degree—would I have worked to get those degrees at all?

My answer is still yes—my brain enjoyed the challenges of college and as an older student I was eager to learn and better able to sift through the bullshit that college can be. I enjoyed being a mentor to 20-somethings and being mentored by 20-somethings. I made friends in college who remain friends today. Working with others is what I miss most about this self-employment crap.

I am beginning to wonder though—will I, and the millions of talented under-and unemployed people over 40 who are just waiting for a chance to rock a job going to have to wait until January 2013 for the pendulum to swing back and hopefully change the job hiring climate to looking for experienced and motivated workers, and those job applicants becoming a prized commodity?

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