Career Chronicles: What I’ve Done

Thank you for all of the great responses on the blog and on Facebook in regards to my first Career Chronicles installment. This post will explore previous positions I’ve held and what they’ve taught me about my professional goals. You know, it’s really quite astonishing that high school seniors are expecting to declare a major when applying to college. Is that how it still works? While I still feel young, I’m old enough to be completely blown away by how the college application process has changed. The common application? Genius. The SAT score increased to 2400 only to go back down to 1600? Confusing. Applying to 10-15 colleges? Craziness!

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I entered my freshman year at Clemson University as a Political Science major. I chose this major for a few reasons – I had interest in politics, US Government was my favorite class in high school, and I wanted to go to law school. While I may be currently living within very close proximity to Washington DC, I’ve never worked in politics. And despite my 18-year-old aspirations of sitting for the bar, I never even took the LSAT. I don’t regret abandoning my law school dreams. I actually did so by the end of my freshman year – I quickly learned that I had no desire to practice law. I like to thank Law & Order: SVU for helping me reach that life-changing conclusion. In my heart I knew that I could never be Alexandra Cabot or Casey Novak.

A few years later, Clay and I got married and I graduated college with a Political Science and Economics degree and a teaching certificate granting me permission to teach social studies to America’s youth. Unfortunately, I quickly learned that the area surrounding Fort Drum, New York had no desire to hire a first-year teacher with no graduate degree and a resume that was indicated I was only in the area because of the Army. I substitute taught in a few districts and began the process of submitting resumes and interviewing for jobs outside of my field of study.

It was a humbling experience. For an example, I was the second choice for an administrative assistant position at a local news agency – I was told that their first choice had more ‘longevity potential’, which was code for the fact that he/she was not a military spouse. A group home informed me during an interview that if a patient were to attack me, I was not to hit or kick as a defensive response. They also informed me that I had the possibility (only a possibility) of earning 10¢ more an hour because I had a BA. However, the absolute worst interview was when I was ghosted by a hiring manager for a position at a technology firm that I verbally accepted but had yet to formally sign the employment agreement. I literally sat in an unused office waiting for her return, only to be told by one of her coworkers that she left and she would call me the following day. She never called nor never returned my phone calls or emails. It’s been 13 years and I still don’t know if she is okay or not. Or if I got the job.

I eventually landed a job that ended up being the most perfect job for me during that period of my life. I interviewed for the non-profit position a few days before Clay left for what eventually became a 16-month deployment and was offered it the day after we said see you later. As a Program Associate for a conflict resolution firm, I became a certified mediator, I facilitated team meetings for troubled youth with community stakeholders, and I learned all about restorative justice and the New York State Judicial System. During this time, I also started graduated school, studying instructional design with a focus on distance education based on my enjoyment of writing content and facilitating meetings.

I left my dispute resolution position two-and-half years later when we moved to Raleigh, North Carolina. My employment search after that move was thankfully a lot less perilous and I was quickly hired as a Content Editor for a social science research firm. I continued to chug along at my graduated school program and thoroughly enjoyed my first real experience with grant-funded research. And then Clay and I decided to add to our family.

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Throughout my pregnancy, I was unsure what I wanted to do when it came to my job that I loved. I ultimately chose to stay home (stay tuned for a Career Chronicles post about how I reached that difficult decision), reassuring myself that I would not regret it and I could jump back into the pond when it felt right. After our son was born, I negotiated with my organization to work part-time from home and come into the office for a few hours one day a week. Clay left for his second deployment shortly after our son was born so while I wasn’t willing to leave my position completely, I knew that working full-time, continuing with graduate school, and raising a baby on my own for the first time wouldn’t be the best fit for me. My mother-in-law came and stayed the night on Sundays (they lived about 2 hours away) and I would go into the office on Monday mornings. I worked part-time from home for about 6 months while our son was an infant. But then it came time to write my thesis, our son became a crawling machine, and we learned that we’d be moving shortly after Clay’s return from Afghanistan. So I made the decision to formally leave my position and focus my efforts on completing graduate school and enjoying my son.

A couple of months after our little guy turned one, I finished graduate school and welcomed home Clay. A few months after we moved to Lawton, Oklahoma, I accepted a part-time instructor position and taught Academic Research to soldiers at Fort Sill through a local community college. I enjoyed designing the course and teaching adults and I loved how I was able to incorporate it into our family’s schedule without causing much disruption. Unfortunately – the childcare situation for Weston wasn’t ideal and I wasn’t 100% comfortable leaving him with the at-home daycare provider we determined to the best that we could find in the area. I learned during this time that in order for me to be comfortable working outside of the home, I must be completely at-ease with our chosen childcare provider – otherwise any position, no matter how professionally satisfying, just isn’t worth the added stress and worry.

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After 18 months in Oklahoma, we moved to the Washington DC area and we decided to add another child to our family. We found a wonderful preschool for our son and I settled into the role of a stay-at-home-mom-of-two-children-with-a-husband-who-travels-a lot. I picked up a few freelance writing gigs here and there but overall, I just focused my efforts on being a mom. I look back on this time in my life with a warm heart and have no regrets not putting more effort into my career. After three years in the Washington DC area, we moved to Fort Leavenworth, Kansas for a year. Because we knew we would be there such a short time, I did not search for a job and continued to stay home and not pursue work. Clay’s scheduled was insanely awesome and we spent so much time together as a family. Again – absolutely no regrets not working and I felt like we truly maximized our time together as a family.

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After our year in Kansas, we moved to San Antonio, Texas. Weston was in first grade and Violet attended preschool a few days a week so I started to put feelers out and refreshed my resume. I accepted a few freelance gigs and then entered the world of independent contracting. I worked from home creating content for online courses and learned a ton about time management and balancing deadlines with family responsibilities. Clay was a Battalion XO during that time so while he worked long hours, he rarely traveled and we had a routine that worked well. I also began substituting at Violet’s school and was offered a teaching position there for the following school year. Unfortunately, I was unable to accept because Clay competed for an amazing position and we received last-minute orders back to Washington DC. While I was bummed to leave behind an offer for a salaried position, I was looking forward to leaving Texas because for whatever reason, I didn’t feel like I bloomed in the Lonestar State. For the record, I do miss In-and-Out.

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When we arrived back in our nation’s capital, I accepted a few short freelance gigs but eventually, those contracts exceeded my area of expertise. I gave myself grace as we eased back into a routine that involved Clay gone a lot after having him mostly home for almost two years. But now I am itching to do something outside of the home. But I am also not wanting to sacrifice the stability that being home when they’re not in school provides our kids. When they wake up, they often do not know if their Dad will be home that night or where he is in the world. The military ensures that we answer “I don’t know” to a lot of questions asked our children. I may not be able to do much with what the military throws our way but I would like to offer them the reassurance that I will always be there waiting when the bell rings. And it may seem like a tall order, but I’d like find a job that works within those parameters. And if I can’t – well, then I’ll just have to get creative. I’ve done it before and I can do it again.

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How We Chose Our Summer Vacation

A friend recently asked how we go about deciding where to travel and how we plan our trips so I decided to document the process of how we actually ended up choosing our summer vacation this year. Back in January, I daydreamed on National Plan for Vacation Day and brainstormed possible locations for our summer vacation. Due to Clay’s current position, he can only take leave during a specific week in July so we didn’t have the luxury of hunting for deals   and choosing a date and location in our usual manner. When we received the dates for Clay’s leave back in February, we sat next to each other on the couch with our laptops and started pricing out some options.

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Deerfield Beach, Florida

We first checked vacation airline packages. In the past, we’ve had great success with bundling flights and hotels directly on airline websites. We used Delta Vacations for our trip to Scotland, American Vacations for our trip to the USVI, and Southwest Vacations last summer for an extremely last minute trip to south Florida (I’m currently working on that post – we literally booked the trip the day before we left because we had to wait for our HHG to arrive).

When looking at vacation packages, we focused our search on the Caribbean. We looked at resorts on a variety of islands but the more we researched, the more we realized that we just weren’t feeling the beach for our big summer trip this year. We also looked at some cruises but none of the dates worked and to be honest, a cruise vacation just doesn’t appeal to us right now. We decided that we wanted to go somewhere we’ve never been before and spend the bulk of our vacation exploring. We kept referring to one of our favorite family summer trips – our New England road trip with stops in Newport, Cape Cod, and Ogunquit. We explored, we relaxed, and we ate delicious food. That is pretty much our trifecta for a perfect vacation.

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Marginal Way, Ogunquit, Maine

Okay – so we knew that we didn’t want to go to the Caribbean, we didn’t want to go on a cruise, and we wanted to go somewhere we’ve never been before. We briefly looked into going to Alaska again because we only scraped the surface when we went seven years ago but we only have a week. When we go next, we’d really like to spend at least two weeks exploring America’s last frontier. We also looked at Wyoming, Montana, and British Columbia but nothing struck our chord for this summer. We also thought about going to Maine again and combining it with a trip to Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island but we just weren’t getting really excited – which is surprising because we do really want to go to all these places!

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Ben Lomond, Scottish Highlands

Just Do It.

Frustrated that our search wasn’t turning up anything that we were super crazy excited about, I remember turning to Clay and saying, “You know what? I just would really love to take the kids to England this summer.” And he immediately responded, “Me too. Let’s do it!” Back when we were brainstorming, we initially ruled out Europe because we’re hoping to get stationed there and reasoned that it makes better financial sense to wait and travel throughout Europe if (if!) that happens. However, planning our lives around the if’s isn’t really how we want to live.

We immediately began researching flights and hotels and realized that a week in England would cost us less than a week at an all-inclusive resort in the Caribbean or a 4-day Disney Cruise with a balcony room. It was decided – for our trip this summer, we would be going to England! We spent the next few weeks researching flights and found that our cheapest option was to fly into Manchester Airport in Manchester, England and out of Charles de Gaulle Airport outside of Paris, France. And that is the story of how we incorporated Paris into our trip. We bought our airline tickets and then began researching various lodging options.

Rough Itinerary 

We didn’t finalize our lodging until last week. Up until then, we didn’t really know how we’d be spending our time after landing in Manchester and leaving from Paris. First – we made a list of our must-sees/dos. We determined that our non-negotiables are London, Bath, Stonehenge, and Paris. We are not approaching this trip as a once-in-a-lifetime trip – we know we will be back so we’re not going to put pressure on ourselves to see everything – especially with two young kids in tow. It will be their first international trip so we’re giving ourselves grace when it comes to seeing all the things!

Once we had our must-dos, we read hotel reviews, figured out how much we are willing to spend, and found some options that worked for us. Hotel rooms that sleep four are few and far between in Europe so a lot of people find Home Away and AirBnB more economical for families. We looked into that option but ended up choosing three different hotels for our trip. In order to save money, we pre-purchased all three reservations (i.e. no refunds). We saved about $500 by not choosing the higher-rates that allowed for a refund should we cancel our reservation. We’re comfortable doing this because we figure that if something happened that would force us to cancel our trip, it would be so catastrophic that eating the cost of our lodging would be the furthest thing from our mind.

So what’s our plan? We will fly into Manchester, England, rent a car, and drive down to Cotswolds, and stay in a little country estate hotel for three nights. During our time in the Cotswolds, we will explore the English Countryside and go to Bath, Stonehenge, and anywhere else our hearts desire. We will then drive to London, return our rental car, and spend two nights at a hotel near Paddington Station. After our time in London, we will take the Channel Tunnel (Chunnel) to Paris, stay at a hotel near the Eiffel Tower for two nights, and fly out of Charles De Gaulle the following morning. While we’re not huge planners when it comes to vacations (we prefer to see where each day takes us), we will be pre-purchasing tickets to Stonehenge, the Eiffel Tower, and the Chunnel because we are traveling during peak season and we’re not masochists.

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Pikes Peak, Colorado Springs, Colorado

I’ve learned something over the years that I tend to repeat to myself as a mantra in many facets of life – if it were easy, everyone would do it. Yes, traveling on a budget requires time, effort, and a certain amount of sacrifice. Over the years, we have never regretted spending money on travel. At all. That being said, we do not have an unlimited vacation budget and have to get creative in order to make our trips happen. We’ve flown economy in middle seats, we’ve taken 3000 mile+ road trips, we’ve stayed in the smallest room a nice hotel has to offer, we’ve only eaten two meals per day, and we’ve chosen many free activities (hiking, swimming, exploring cities) in foreign lands over ones that require admission. There is nothing I love to do more in this world than exploring a place I’ve never been before. I absolutely cannot wait to experience England and France this summer with the people I love most in this world. To me – that is what life is about. To love and to explore.

Are you going anywhere this summer? How do you go about planning trips? Do you enjoy planning travel?

Career Chronicles: The Lloyd Dobler Effect

tumblr_inline_mp42jiUMZR1qz4rgpThere were a couple of summers of my youth when my mother would load us into the minivan on Tuesday mornings and schlep us to Video Showcase. On Tuesdays, all non-new releases were available to rent for $1 and we were allowed to each choose three movies. During those Video Showcase years, I discovered many movies that I continue to love today to include Say Anything. Thanks to Cameron Crowe, it’s impossible to hear In Your Eyes without picturing John Cusack holding a boom box outside of Ione Skye’s bedroom window. While I am forever indebted to the movie for serving as my gateway into Peter Gabriel’s progressive catalogue, I can’t think of Say Anything without reciting Lloyd Dobler’s monologue about what he wants to do with his life:

“I don’t want to sell anything, buy anything, or process anything as a career. I don’t want to sell anything bought or processed, or buy anything sold or processed, or process anything sold, bought, or processed, or repair anything sold, bought, or processed. You know, as a career, I don’t want to do that.”

A few readers have suggested that I write about my desire and struggle to return to the workforce after taking time off to stay home with my young children and putting my husband’s military career above my own professional aspirations. As such, I’ve decided to create a regular feature on this blog that I initially titled I Went to Graduate School for This? but then changed to the more benign Career Chronicles in order to show potential employers that I have the ability to keep my sarcasm in check.

But let me address one thing first – I realize that whenever I talk about my career (or lack thereof) frustrations, I do so from a place of privilege. I do not need to work for our family to function – we are comfortable living on one income alone. That doesn’t mean that we haven’t made sacrifices along the way but I get it – why am I even writing about my struggles to feel fulfilled when so many are struggling to make ends meet? To be honest – that is part of the reason why I’ve hesitated about exploring this issue in depth on this blog. Not only does it feel self-indulgent – it also seems a bit out of touch. But then again, I know that I am not the only mom out there who is struggling to find her professional voice.

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When it comes to my professional aspirations, I feel like I’ve been sharpening my pencil for years but I have yet to write a word. Like Lloyd, I know that I don’t want to sell anything. I’d rather chew off my own arm than be part of a pyramid multi-level marketing company. And no – I don’t want to join your team. I’ve considered going back into the traditional classroom but with how often we move, I’m not sure if that is the best way to utilize my skills. Having experienced independent contract work last year, I learned that I am not at my best when on the computer at home 8+ hours of the day. Looking back on the various jobs I’ve held over the years, I am happiest when I feel like I am making a difference – I am not motivated by money, but rather by purpose. I enjoy public speaking and facilitating meetings. I’d love to be part of a collaborative team – I thrive while learning from others and working together to create something better than we could have imagined individually. And I love creating content.

What does this all mean? Well – I’m not quite sure. But I’m determined to find out.