Day 4: How Frustrations and Pitfalls Lead to Important Ah-Ha Moments on the Journey
Updated: Feb 12
Frustration is a common negative emotion I’ve experienced on this journey so far.
Two years before I applied for and got into an MBA program in the Twin Cities, I was frustrated because I already knew that to improve my financial situation, I needed to find a better career path for myself. The MBA may have been my attempt to rectify this issue. The process since has been both a journey and often times frustrating. Before I got to that point, though, I came down a path of twists, turns and dead-ends.
I’d gotten into admin work as a default, I think. I used to pick-up temp gigs in the San Francisco Bay Area on breaks from school at UC Santa Cruz Started off working as a receptionist answering phones at companies for $10 an hour.
Later, after some experience with that, I moved up to Administrative Assistant or did a bunch of filing jobs and learned applicable skills, whatever I could pick up. I did well at them and easily built rapport with hiring managers.
I was young, and probably more immature than my contemporaries. I didn’t really understand what it would take to build a career at that point. I felt as though I had time on my hands and the world was my oyster.
My family background
My father barely graduated high school, went to the Army and worked his way up in his company. He began as a technician repairing radio equipment and eventually, through a series of job titles and travel opportunities, made it to the Program Manager level, running satellite communication projects for Ford Aerospace.
My mother was a stay-at-home home until I was in middle school. She tried a short stint as a real estate agent (which she hated) before going back to college full-time when I started UCSC. She had spoken about a broken dream of being a nurse. I encouraged her to go back to school and she did. She retired earlier this year (2018). She loved her job as an occupational health nurse, a career she stated in her forties.
My career planning (or lack thereof)
I can’t say I got the best advice from my parents about career-building. Whether it was naiveté about my potential or simply that having risen to a middle-class lifestyle, they were ill-prepared for shepherding modern career development, I don’t know. My father was more worried about nepotism then skill-building. He expressly told me he wouldn’t get me an internship at Ford because he didn’t want to be perceived as favoring me.
Sadly, other students were getting internships at their parent’s companies and building a network or gaining the career understanding leading to further opportunities down the road. I did a bunch of odd jobs instead. Maybe in the end, that was my path. I’ll never know. If I wasn’t temping, I worked as a food delivery driver, as a ride operator later guest services at Great America and a bookstore sales clerk. One of my early temp jobs was a long-term assignment at a company called Network General. We had to enter faxed sales orders into their new database system.
When I returned from film school in Miami in 1998, my state of mind, as previously mentioned was broken. I could barely get up in the morning or function so trying for a high-powered career or moving to LA was not an option. I settled for my default of temping and soon got a contract at a pharmaceutical company called ALZA as an administrative assistant in the animal research department.
I performed well there for a time and won several awards. Unfortunately, my manager whom I had a great rapport retired. A reorganization took place as a result and suddenly, I was the subject to scrutiny about my performance.
The shift kind of threw me off. I was ill-prepared to handle the jockeying politics. I went after what I think would have been a great role in the marketing department, writing and working on technical manuals and marketing collateral. I was offered the job, but they rescinded the offer when the Director of my department provided a poor performance review (despite the two years of positive feedback by my previous manager). I didn’t take this well and started performing badly to match their perceptions, talking ill of management to other employees and not caring about my job. When they started performance improvement processes, I just handed in a resignation and quit.
I moved up north of San Francisco for a dubious reason at the time, I won’t go into here. Nevertheless, soon got an Executive Assistant position at Autodesk (also temporary) due to my previous skills as an admin. For some reason, I didn’t think to go after a marketing role. Disappointment collapsed my desire to try too hard. Or maybe I did and got too many rejections, can't remember.
The Autodesk role didn’t last too long. I started in February of 2001. By September 11, 2001, the fractured economic state of the California blew up in a several fire-y balls when terrorists attacked the World Trade Center. A week later, they let me go. No one was hiring. Companies all over the state either went out of business from a failure to handle catastrophic change to their model or a failure to be ethical in their practices.
The story that took place between 2001 and 2005 deserves its own blog. By 2006 I was living back home with my parents and restarting my admin career from scratch. While someone suggested an MBA, I didn’t feel equipped to go back to school. I let the idea go. Instead I focused on rebuilding my experience and reference list by doubling down as an excellent performer.
By 2008 I was about to be hired at a small start-up called Tidal Software, for my excellent performance as a receptionist/sales administrator. I loved that job. I thought I might have a chance of moving into a marketing role, if I just played my cards right. The Universe had a different plan. The company was sold to Cisco and I was out of a job (again).
In late 2009, I knew I needed something BIG to shift and decided (after a series of weird events) to move to Minnesota. The weird events also deserve their own novel series. Some of it involved a spiritual push or awakening to the idea that there was more out there for me than living with my parents the rest of my life. That maybe living with them and creating a default career may not have been my best choice.
I completed the first stage of my move east in March of 2010. Little did I know that I would be starting over from scratch (again) as I knew no one and had no network. Social and financial forces would be at play in my growth and development for the next several years. So, would the growing frustration that while I was an excellent office manager, project coordinator and executive assistant, I was bored and unable to move past the entry-level salary that those positions typically offer.
I got booted from a job at a non-profit in 2013. I was a job seeker – unsuccessfully from February through December, attempting to go after project manager roles or something else that didn’t involve executive calendars. My attempts were fruitless. That is when I saw an ad for the St Kate’s MBA program on the side of a bus. I had exhausted my unemployment and my give a damn was busted. While I’d put off the MBA at another time in my life, now I was ready. I applied, got accepted and started school in February of 2014. Still unemployed.
I did a series of odd temp jobs through the summer and finally got sent to Springleaf Financial in August of 2014. I returned to my roots as an Executive Assistant, working full-time for this growing company while studying for my MBA full-time. Finished my coursework in February of 2016 with a final four-week marathon studying Japanese culture and business which included a two-week trip to Japan.
Now I had all the skills and awareness of how one goes about building a career. Maybe it was 20 years later than everyone else, I don’t know. The frustrations are cyclical these days.
I have a list of volunteer assignments and an internship under my belt. A growing portfolio of professional published pieces. A series of informational interviews, a network that grew to the point of personal referrals, and a pretty steady slew of actual interviews for both contracts and permanent roles.
I decided after much consideration to leave my full-time job as an administrative assistant to pursue a contract role in December 2017. It was not an easy choice. I did love the company I worked for, but I needed professional experience on my resume in my field. The contract ended after two months, shorter than originally anticipated.
I’ve been job searching ever since. I work at two restaurants part-time and live on unemployment. Frustrating on days when there is not enough money to pay the bills. Frustrating that even when I get to a third round, in person, as a top candidate, it isn’t quite the right fit. Or, outside circumstances like the department reorganizations play a factor in my not getting hired.
In the end, I have been through these ups and downs many times. As I write, what seems like a long litany of career issues, I can’t help but realize how they all built who I am today. Even when I failed or turned down something, I learned and grew as a person. I became better, more grounded and centered.
My interviews for a career position in marketing are what they are, because my experience contains wisdom that can’t be found in an MBA textbook. I know myself. I am confident in a way that I was never. I understand the cost of missed opportunities.
I began Day 4 writing about my frustrations. Perhaps I just needed to get that out on paper long enough so that the real point could come through. Loving yourself is a journey. My career was a journey. I’m finally present, to win.
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