Friday, January 20, 2012

To Hell and Back

It's been awhile since I have written and not because I have not wanted to but because life took over all of my free time. By life, I mean a tornado of sorts, a storm of Biblical proportions. The best way to sum things up is through a timeline and not like the one on Facebook but one that puts order to a somewhat chaotic life moment.

Late June: While most people were preparing for the upcoming July 4th holiday, I found myself unemployed on a Monday morning. No warning and nothing was open for discussion. I cleaned out my desk and went home. I cried as all the thoughts raced through my head about being unemployed. Would I lose my house? How would I pay for gas? What about my savings egg? Mom came over, dusted me off and I went out job hunting only to find myself employed two hours later. I returned to my roots from high school...RETAIL! I worked in a resale shop surrounded by designer labels, high end handbags, and customers that I shared coffee appointments with before. I didn't care. My first week at the job, I was paid $7.25 an hour. Two weeks later, I became an assistant manager earning $10.00 an hour. I hustled hours to get enough monies to pay my mortgage and barely touch my savings egg. Customers yelled at me. I worked every weekend. I worked at night. I did not care. It was a job.

Mid-July: I was continuing to work at the resale shop, eating peanutbutter often, not buying a single cup of coffee, or spending one dime unless the purchase was absolutely necessary. Only the bare essentials were paid for and my job was not covering those expenses. My bills were few...a mortgage, a condo association fee, utilities, and basic living necessities (food, gasoline, phone). I could run the household on less than $1,000 a month. However, I was working full time and barely making $800 a month. I also was uninsured. It was time to look for another job.

Mid-July through Early August: I set out on a massive job hunt. Each night after work, I sat at home working on my resume, searching for jobs, networking my friends, and within two weeks, I submitted my resume for 18-jobs. Some of the jobs I was not qualified for but I knew if I was given the chance, I would work for a company and learn what I needed to become successful. I utilized my graduate studies and crafted each resume to the job I was applying for. There was NO blanket approach. As I sent each resume off (some by mail, many online), I knew I would begin a waiting process and I did.

Early-mid August: Tick...tock...tick...tock. Time ticked away, the summer heat sweltered and I started to worry if my resumes were received. I searched the mailbox daily to look for the thin number 10 envelope with a rejection letter. I did not see those. I waited. I called to follow up only to leave numerous voice mails. It made working at the resale shop painful. I would sit and calculate what I was making by the hour and what bill it was going to. Then, my phone rang. Interviews. Yes!!! Honestly, I did not care what the job was as long as it was solid employment with benefits. I would do hard labor, pick up trash, walk dogs. I was interested in whatever I could lay my hands on. In all, I interviewed for the following positions:

1. Meals on Wheels Coordinator for City of Louisville
2. Starbucks Supervisor
3. Grocery Store Manager for Aldi's
4. Grants Administrator for City of Louisville
5. Social Service Director for at risk youth in Frankfort
6. 911 Dispatcher
7. 3 other non-profit positions

The remaining 8 jobs I applied for responded with:
1. 3 rejection emails saying they had chosen internal candidates
2. A can letter saying they chose other qualified candidates
3. 2 emails saying they were unable to fill the positions at this time and I would be considered at a later date
4. A recorded voice mail saying the position had been eliminated
5. A post card with my name misspelled saying they had chosen other candidates

I set out on interviews with my only off day, usually a Thursday or Friday. Within two weeks, I was offered the assistant manager position with a non-profit outlet (Habitat for Humanity's retail outlet). Again, more retail but also more money and benefits. I put in my notice at the resale shop. Although, the job was not a career for me, it was not an excuse to burn bridges or leave them in a bind and walk out the door. I left that job on Friday, September 16th and started at Habitat on Saturday, September 17th at 8:30AM. I was excited, hoping to get my career on track. Oddly, I have never minded retail or non-profits, so combining the two seemed great.

Mid-September- Mid November: Habitat is a fun and sincere organization to work for and in terms of retail, a low stress one. They do great things for the community. Other than late nights, I had few, if any, complaints. The pay was "okay" and required me to dip less into my savings, which is always a good thing. However, in August, I had a breast cancer scare as I located two lumps. I raced to the doctor (still uninsured) to learn they are benign but those 2 trips to the doctor tore into my savings kitty. It scared me as I realized I was still uninsured and I postponed follow-up appointments because I did not have the money to pay the office visits out of pocket. Working in retail paid the bills but it did not allow for savings and at any moment I lived in fear if I felt the lumps grow or if I caught a cold. I knew I would have to look for another job and I hated that part. I really wanted a career. There was not a career path at Habitat nor more money for a raise. Like many non-profits, they need the monies to serve their clients. I was not in the position to make the sacrifice to work there. I was upset to say the least. In the meantime, JC and I celebrated our anniversary with a budget cabin trip to Red River Gorge. We got a cabin half off for coming mid-week. It was a much needed reprieve.

No cell phone towers here!

Once home, I began looking for new careers on my days off and I found myself called back for second interviews for the city jobs. The interviews went well and I knew the pay ranges of the positions. I could do either job well. They did background checks on me. They had me meet their staff but then, communication fell silent. The holidays approached and I worked to save enough to have a feast. I, along with my parents who have been my biggest fans, decided that we would enjoy a feast for Thanksgiving no matter what the financial future was. I had hoped I would hear something about either job but all was silent.

Mid-November-early December: I heard nothing from the city and had been told by friends that this is not unusual. Both supervisors told me they would like to make an offer but they were waiting for final approval. So, I too, waited and during that time had an interview with a large metropolitan hospital. The interview went well. I was invited back for a second. That too, went well. I was hopeful. In the meantime, I acquired health benefits (yeah!!!) and because I had stayed inside a small budget, I was able to afford a few gifts for the holidays. In lieu of things, I baked cupcakes, pies, cakes, and cookies, sharing them with whomever. I had others submit orders for sugary treats which afforded JC and I a rare night out.
Me, working retail, enjoying a rare coffee!

Mom kept tradition, finding a cycling ornament for Christmas

Mid-December-New Year: I was called back for a final interview right before the New Year. It was an all day affair. I enjoyed it greatly. I felt that at any moment, I would hear from someone! New Year's felt good. I knew 2012 would not be a year of feeling bad for myself or being sad. I refused to allow it.

New Years with friends
You can imagine my extreme excitement when I did get an offer on a Friday afternoon just after New Years. I felt tears. I felt like doing backhand springs. I felt like hugging random strangers. Now, on the 30th, I start my new job with benefits and a clear provided career path. Does this mean, we go on a mad spending spree? Invest in a home in the Hamptons? No, instead, on a rare January warm day, JC proposed to me. I cried, he cried, my parents cried. While 2011 closed out as one of the worst years in my life, 2012 has opened new and improved doors that I have worked so hard to open. I spent a lot of time this fall upset. I could not race bikes, I could not ride bikes because I had to work harder than I ever have. I lost a dear friend to breast cancer in April and I still live in fear of amassing great amounts of bills or the thought they will want to do more tests. Of all the workouts I have endured, this has been the hardest, emotionally and physically.

JC and Melinda enjoying a rare day off
My new job will allow for my frugal savings again. My new job will allow for a small, quaint wedding. Throughout this rough patch in my life, I have been able to provide just enough for myself to survive. My parents are not in a position to help financially but they have been sounding boards for me and a place for a warm meal from time to time. That is worth its weight in gold.

What have I learned from all of this? More than my years of college taught me. Things do happen for a reason. You have to ask for help and no matter how bad it gets there are still things to make you smile and laugh. I am lucky to have a supportive fiance, friends, and family. I have also learned, people cannot survive making minimum wage or barely above. Businesses cannot thrive or expect employees to have loyalty if they are paying them so little. I have always been fiscally conservative but I am a believer that there MUST be change. People cannot have a future on $7.25 an hour. I should not have to work one hour to cover the cost of a dozen eggs ($2.50, currently), and a gallon of milk ($4.00). I was proud to own my own home without the help of anyone and I was not about to let this little bump in the road slow me down or turn me into someone bitter. All along the way, I have worked with some talented, caring people. Many, I hated to leave as there was a quality working chemistry. But in 2012, you need a career path, money for retirement and feel secure. I have had some amazing supervisors. The next chapter is ahead.

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