New year, new job

I think I've already written four or five versions of this post because I feel like I'm over-sharing or being too detailed and personal. But this work-related milestone is worth noting because I started this blog when I was always working at home (before it was a trend or a social-distancing necessity) and needed an expressive outlet, and now I'm not working at home all the time anymore.

Okay, so after many rewrites and revisions is this: the bottom line is that I have gotten a full-time job after 30 years of not having one. I've only had one since becoming a post-college adult, and that wasn't even in the USA. I've been working for myself, then eventually as a one-person business (established in 2009), since the mid-90s.

Even though I have written the amount of years more than a few times in previous posts, I still feel uncomfortable about stating that because in some industries, there seems to be a bias against people who are older than 35 in the workplace. But don't worry, ageists; I'm technologically savvy, exercise regularly, have good references, a solid work ethic, and am adaptable. I wouldn't have gotten the full-time job or have been so busy, even during the pandemic, if I weren't capable. 

I'm one of those people who has benefits that seem to make up for the pay. And I'm not being falsely modest about my deflated situation; I should get paid more for my experience and attention to detail, but let's just say the cash doesn't seem to be flowing that much, so I am still doing other jobs in addition to my full-time one. I always thought that if I took a full-time job, I'd quit freelancing and teaching, but I've spent too many years building up that equity to stop doing it. So right now, I'm simultaneously working in academia and in the non-academic world. I was even asked recently if I could teach yet another class, but I have no time left. I wish I could do it all, but I can't.

Even when the take-home pay doesn't seem like that much, having benefits seems like a luxury. For several years, if I didn't work, I didn't get paid. If I got sick, I didn't get paid. If I wasn't given a class to teach or wasn't given hours at a part-time job, I wouldn't get paid. Now I can take paid time off, can get sick, and can even take a personal day. I'm still getting used to it. Over the years, between all my gigs, I've called in sick only once in over a decade and have rarely gotten sick because I've figured out how to stay healthy. I'm not going to become a slacker, but at least I have that buffer now. 

Before I took this full-time job, I was offered five full-time jobs, and I didn't have to apply for any of them; they asked me to work there after seeing what I could do. Even though the money was better, I didn't take them because I really liked working for myself and living on the edge, essentially. It was an adventure to stay in the game and stay sharp. But when this full-time job came up, I had a good feeling about it and applied. I had already done the job temporarily, so I knew what to expect in terms of responsibilities, but I was worried about office politics and mean girls/guys. I hadn't grown up with such people in my sphere, but now that I've encountered them in my adult life, they're enough to cause me to avoid the whole scene. I was also worried about going to the same place every day, sitting at the same desk, doing the same things. My days used to be complex and different; many times I'd wake up and forget where I was going. Now I know that eventually I have to go to that full-time commitment, even if I have to do one of my other jobs before that. 

But so far, it hasn't been bad, though it took a month to get used to it. The first couple of days I closed my door and didn't talk to people because I couldn't believe I'd committed most of my hours to one place. I can't make appointments or go to the gym at random times during the day any more, so I have to do things after business hours or take a chunk of day to go to the doctor. I used to do freelance work, play tennis, then resume the work. I don't even know when I can play tennis again, or if I'll be able to meet people to play with who are at my mediocre level. I need to explain to people why I can no longer join their Zoom groups during the day, and if I want to meet up with people, or just talk on the phone, I have to do that on weekends or at night. My part-time schedule, where I had to show up at a physical location, was random, but I worked around it and it added to the thrill ride-type of existence. Now my days are solid. I feel more calm, but I can't let go of having to have a backup plan in case the situation dissolves.

I was just talking with someone who worked at other places full time, so they didn't have to adjust like I did to showing up five days a week. But we both agreed that because the environment is professional, the job is enjoyable. No drama like at other places. Plus, my boss is probably one of the best I've ever had, maybe the best. They allowed me to keep teaching, trust that I will put in the forty hours (which I do), and trust that I will meet the deadlines. They leave me alone to do what's needed, and their constructive feedback is polite. I'm never yelled at or demeaned, and I can discuss issues when needed, and work independently successfully. I also don't feel like I have to dumb-down my speaking style with them, end my sentences with question marks or vocal fry, or act like an airhead to get their attention. It is very hard to find good bosses and non-toxic workplaces, and here's where I highly recommend the Asshole Survival Guide, which is a must-read for anyone who is working anywhere. 

What I realized working full time is that I like to be in control of the process and work flow. Previously, I was in control of how I was shaping my work life, but I always had to follow what someone else wanted, and if I implemented it to their liking, I stayed employed. I couldn't really speak freely to suggest another way because the other person had already set a process that worked for them, or they basically didn't like people and didn't want to engage in unnecessary conversation. As long as I could effectively fake introversion and stay subservient, I was fine. I even had to be careful about what my emails contained; they could not include any personality. Now, even though I'm still working alone, which is what I've done for years, I don't have to fake bland introversion in emails as well as offline; I can add a smiley face, and it won't be held against me.

Now I'm the one in charge, and it's fantastic. No one works for me, but I'm still in charge of my occupational slot. I work with wonderful people who are conscientious, friendly, and deadline-oriented. I really appreciate them because I've worked with people who blow off work and don't care if other people have to pick up the slack, and others who mock the idea of having a work ethic. Since I can get work done on time or according to an optimal plan that I've created, people rarely bother me because the system I've set up goes smoothly. It's satisfying and seems nerdy because the accomplishment is in the details of implementation. Overall, I'm treated well, not nitpicked, and not perceived as weird, intense, or serious. At the end of the day, I essentially feel like I haven't worked. Because I have other gigs, I am tired, but I feel a lot more grounded and am really enjoying life.

I think one great characteristic of solopreneurs like moi is that we are used to being super-productive because the consequences of laziness or lying include losing hours, a class, a project, and our reputation. If we're jerks, people won't want to work with us. If we're high maintenance and can't learn things on our own or work independently, people won't want to keep us around. We are constantly being assessed because if we fail, we won't make money. So I should be able to be well-employed for the rest of my life because I bring a lot to the table. And as long as employers are open-minded to hiring Gen X'ers like moi who don't take anything for granted, I should be considered for future work as well.

p.s. Amazon Kindle book and print book at the Eckhartz Press site, www.wickerparkwishes.com 


I finally took a vacation

I recently went to Southern California for a family event, and I made it into a mini-vacation that was very different than the life I live in Chicago. Even before the pandemic, I didn't travel much, so I wanted to be sure that the few days away would be enjoyable.

We (husband and I) had unused credit-card bonus points, so we decided to use them to get business-class plane tickets to LAX. It was easy to get through O'Hare because they were organized about checking documents, etc., and it wasn't as scary as I thought; most people were wearing masks, were polite, and were social distancing. There was no obnoxious behavior that I'd seen in viral stories about airports and airplanes. 

When we got on the plane, we settled into our business-class seats. A flight attendant asked if I wanted champagne or water. The choice was clear: champagne of course. Everyone on the plane was great; again, no screaming passengers or people refusing to wear masks. Since it was early in the afternoon, I figured we'd get to California in time to see the beautiful sunset over the Pacific Ocean before joining the family later that night. But the plane just sat there. Then we heard an announcement saying that we had to wait until they made some repairs. No problem, got another champagne. Then they told us to get off the plane and wait for another one. I figured it wouldn't take long, but it took over six hours before we were on a fresh plane. So our vacation started out being stuck at the airport for seven hours. We got a free meal in the food court, but Day 1 of California was gone.

If you care about virus precautions in addition to good weather, beautiful scenery, and delicious food, Los Angeles County is the place for you. Most people at the airport wore masks, even at the car rental place, and I've heard the vaccination rate is more decent than other areas. Since we were traveling in January, there weren't a lot of tourists around, so the mindset of those around us seemed to be of people who were used to following public health measures. 

By the time we got to Redondo Beach it was past midnight, and no one was outside. Since we rarely travel, we decided to make the trip more special by staying at a resort in a bay by the ocean. There were no ambulances or sirens that I usually hear in my neighborhood, just seals making noises on their lounging platform. I could see twinkling lights in the distant hills and smell the ocean, and I felt like I'd landed on another planet. 

I only got a few hours sleep because we had to get to Rancho Palos Verdes in the morning, and I wanted to wake up early to enjoy what we'd missed the day before when we were stuck at O'Hare. Our room faced a small bay that opened up to the Pacific Ocean, and the seals were continuing their party on the platform, diving into the water as if they were also fluid. Birds kept their wings open as they glided onto the water, then turned in their wings to float neatly on top. I watched them whenever I could, and wanted to take a picture or video of their elegance, but I didn't. I decided to enjoy the animals and the sea in the moment to keep that feeling with me, because I knew I'd leave that planet and would want to retain its sparkle with no barriers.

Stand-up paddle boards, sailboats, and motor boats passed by, including the fire department and other water authorities. Even though I never took any pictures, I will never forget what I saw because it was so different than what I experience every day. I saw large, beautiful homes in the hills of RPV and neatly cultivated and grown flora in the area. The plants and flowers are different from the Midwest, adding to that otherwordly experience.

It was hard to leave all that nature behind to go to the City of Los Angeles. After we dropped off the rental car at LAX, we had to get a bus to Union Station to take the Amtrak sleeper back to Chicago. Even though I love cities, especially downtown areas, I wasn't expecting much from downtown LA because I'd been there before, and it seemed to be gritty desolation. Once I got there, though, I was pleasantly surprised. The Union Station building is incredible. I live in a fantastic architectural city, but there are no buildings like that one. In the front are beautiful flowers and trees, and it's located in the old part of town, pretty much where the city began. 

And the area was lively. There was Mexican music in the historic area across the street (El Pueblo de Los √Āngeles Historical Monument), and because our train wasn't leaving for a couple of hours, we walked over. Several people were dancing and listening to the music, and there were stalls selling handmade items and jewelry. I bought a colorful purse that I will definitely use once the weather in Chicago becomes warmer. The atmosphere was lively, and the historical buildings were well-preserved, which added to the quaintness of the square. The weather was perfect and I had a great time, especially because I didn't expect all that festive activity and cheerfulness.

Then we rode the Southwest Chief for a couple of days until we arrived at Union Station in Chicago. The pandemic had affected Amtrak staff and travelers, so the train was smaller than usual (I'd taken it a few times before) and there weren't as many people, so social distancing was possible (and most people were wearing masks). On the way to LA, Arizona is featured more during the day, but on the opposite trip the train goes through a lot of Arizona at night, so we ended up seeing more of New Mexico during the day. Both Arizona and New Mexico have awesome, in the true sense of the word, red rock formations that look like supernatural  sculptures, making the desert look like a planet related to Mars. All the nature that I saw from the train was humbling. And a positive aspect of winter is that I could see more beauty beyond the leafless trees, whether in Colorado or Kansas. When I've taken the train in non-winter months, all I've seen was green and flatness in the Great Plains. But winter adds another dimension, and the snow that I usually see in patches in my area creates a borderless blanket in the countryside.

I got back a couple of weeks ago, but I'm still thinking about my vacation out West. It was probably one of the best trips I've taken in recent years. I was tempted to take pictures or videos, but I decided to totally live in the present in every moment, being a participant or real-time observer rather than removing myself to try to capture what is best seen as-is.

p.s. Amazon Kindle book and print book at the Eckhartz Press site, www.wickerparkwishes.com