My friend Janet was one of the first people I knew to get a cell phone. She had the ingenious idea of leaving herself messages as a retrievable "to-do" list. She'd call her voice mail and begin, "Hi, it's me."
I feel that way every morning. "Hi, it's me."
I'm the one (along with a remarkable husband) who raised two thriving young women while working full time, taught English to thousands of students over 25 years, and put myself through college and graduate school. I'm the one who speaks fluent German and passable Italian and French. I'm the one who had the courage to leave an awful job last spring.
I'm the one who can't find a job.
I love Abigail Trafford's column in The Post's Health section, My Time, about people like me who have made a major life change. One column featured a 69-year-old man who found a new calling as a dancer. There have been women who founded their own businesses after leaving ordinary jobs, people who started foundations and raised hundreds of thousands of dollars. I wait for the column every week. It's so depressing.
In the past year, I applied for teaching, administrative, editing and writing jobs. I applied to edit the corporate magazine for the National Glassblowers Council. I applied to write a weekly column for a feral cat rescue organization. I learned to be picky: I turned down an editing job for someone advocating a new approach to curing back pain in 10 steps. (No 10: Get up out of that wheelchair and exercise. No 9: Stop drinking juice.) The pay: $50.
To change careers, you have to find something to change into. Changing into a writer is like wanting to change into a fashion model. Everyone wants to. You have to find a niche, a hook that no one else has found, that people want to read about. You have to comb bookstores and libraries to discover what is already written about: everything. Working women. Working women who do too much. Working women whose nannies take over their lives. Dads who stay home. Teachers who burn out. People who have overcome enormous emotional obstacles to write books about them. Trekking Nepal at age 80. It's all out there. Sometimes, as I browse the shelves, I remember going to a museum with my grandmother. When we'd get to modern art, she'd snort and say, "Puh. I could do that, Barb." I could write some of those books, but, really, who wants another book on the Empty Nest?
Then, there's trying to get back into teaching. A community college opening drew 150 applications. A local high school principal had an e-mail file of applications he hadn't even looked at, and a paper file a foot high on his desk -- for one opening. No one has said it, but why pay me more, when they can hire someone straight from college for half? Most schools can absorb newcomers, 22-year-olds who can coach, do yearbook, chaperon camping trips and still stay up half the night grading. No one has mentioned the age thing yet, either.
But after almost a year, I've discovered the secret of job-hunting: Zen. Make the search the experience. The search is now. But for searching, how would I ever have known about throwing away one's wheelchair to cure back pain? I didn't know there was a National Glassblowers Council, not to mention a magazine. I knew I could fill my days with work and driving and parent meetings, but I didn't know I could fill my days with job applications and phone calls and writing. Whenever I want, I can go see my kids. I go running at 10 in the morning, if I'm not going to yoga. I spend as much time volunteering as I want. I have coffee with friends, and dinners out any night of the week. I can read all day -- whatever I want -- once I've finished filling out job applications. I can let the answering machine take calls. I can look back over a day and see that I've spent it in ways I haven't done in 30 years, no deadlines, no boss, no pressure. I can celebrate this freedom, this luck, this life. I can realize that many others don't have choices.
Hi, it's me.