Tag Archives: Careers

I’M A LATE BLOOMER

My parents were terrified of uncertainty. They had a hunkered-down mentality, as if they were spending their lives in a bunker. Taking any kind of risk was unthinkable. “Don’t rock the boat.” “Be careful–you don’t want to burn your bridges.” Being raised this way tends to give a person a slow start.

My parents had a skewed way of looking at things—college, for example. I was told that I had to go to college so I could get a job and pick up the slack if something happened to my husband. This was my mother’s reality; my dad had an accident and ended up partially disabled. Mother graduated magna cum laude from USC and after graduation, she went to work as one of the “girls” in a dental office. Every job she ever had was in a doctor’s or dentist’s office, and she seemed to believe a bachelor’s degree was required for these jobs. She never had a library card; for entertainment, she read the short articles in Reader’s Digest.

I, on the other hand, was a book addict. I always wanted to write. I wrote my first “novel” at age 9, about a horse. At university, I had lots of ideas for books and stories, but there was always an academic paper that I had to write instead. I don’t think they had degrees in creative writing in those days, so I majored in literature. When I graduated, I was expected to return home and get a job filing charts in the doctor’s office where Mother worked. I needed that degree in order to file the charts in alphabetical order.

I rebelled. I drifted from one place to the next, picking fruit, cleaning houses, pulling weeds, and writing in fits and starts. I never finished anything I wrote. I ended up a single mom, and like my mother, found myself doing doctor’s office jobs—billing insurance, transcribing chart notes and letters, and handling worker’s compensation claims. In my spare time, I started a novel set in Egypt’s First Intermediate Period. I wrote 300 pages before I got stuck. By then, my daughter had grown up, and I had moved up from working in private medical offices to hospital systems. It was a good living until I got laid off. Writing was still my passion, though, and I started another novel. I finished that one and wrote two more books. It has taken a lot of years, but I’m using my education at last! I’m a very late bloomer, but now I’m writing from a lifetime of experiences as a single mom working in the trenches. The good thing about being a late bloomer is having so much to draw on—bizarre work situations, hitchhiking, living in the woods, and so much more. I have lived it all.

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Breakfast with my old team

Had breakfast this morning with some of the people I used to work with. It’s been nearly a month since the latest layoff that we all knew was coming. My own job was terminated in this last “reduction of hours,” as they referred to it, and my final day was two weeks ago. Most of us were hired for a brand-new hospital that opened in the summer of 2005. Of that team, only three people remain, including our original supervisor. The rest are either unemployed or saw the writing on the wall and found new jobs ahead of time.

It was fun getting together with everybody in a non-work setting. We’re all going to stay in touch and keep meeting every two months or so. Martha brought Madeline, the puppy she’s raising for Guide Dogs for the Blind. I’ll reference her blog here; if you scroll down a bit, there’s an adorable photo of Madeline sleeping, just like she did at the restaurant while the rest of us ate.

A new software program at work had the unexpected side effect of giving me a hand injury. I’m getting better every day now without the intense keyboarding. I haven’t decided what I’m going to do next and am taking time to de-stress and give myself a break before I make any decisions. Meanwhile, I’m re-claiming my office and turning it back into the serene, cozy haven it once was in the days when I had to drive to work in Clackamas County.

Outsourced indeed.

Continuing on…

Two days ago, my work sent one of our department teams home without pay and sent the work out to an outside service. This morning, we got notice that those people are being laid off so the work they do can be sent to an outside vendor. All the circuitous, wordy attempts to sugar-coat the decision with corporate bleating about revenue cycles and the good of the organization can’t begin to mitigate the ugliness going on. The few of us who are still employed are heartsick for our co-workers. We’re all waiting for the ax to fall.

Outsourced?

Over a year ago, the company where I work bought a new software package that they believed would eliminate the need for most of the people in our department. Anticipating this, they laid people off, only to find that though it’s a decent piece of software in its own right, the sales claims about how much it could do were grossly exaggerated. To make a long story short, with fewer people, the work piled up, and rather than hire back the experienced old employees, they started outsourcing the work to another “service.”

Another software system designed to further automate our work went “live” yesterday. Each of us got perhaps 10 minutes of hands-on training. When it was my turn at the console, I asked an innocent question that turned out to be most awkward for the trainer. “How do I navigate from field to field when I’m filling out this document?” Ooops. Every answer he gave made things go horribly wrong. The cursor did not jump to the next field, and the field started to grow and began spreading across the screen. “I’ll get back to you on that, “he promised, “but your time’s up now.”

Today, ominously, our work trickled down to nothing. Most of the employees were sent home, forced to go without pay or use vacation time, because the company has a contract with the outsourcing firm. What work there is must be given to them instead of to the actual staff. I’ve never been in this situation before; in every other place I’ve worked, when we’re caught up, they discontinue the outside service.

I had to stay, though; it was my job to keep checking on the new application that is meant to replace me. It sat frozen on my computer screen like a bloated and very dead Frankenstein monster, expected any minute now to snap to life and start working, but nothing has happened for two days.  Other than that, there was very little to do; the work just wasn’t there.

I just got an email from COBRA about “affordable” medical coverage when I lose my job. It’s starting to feel like the Twilight Zone around here.

Time Clock

In the hospital where I used to work, the medical records department where they kept the x-ray files and patient charts was in a building called the Central Records Division. It was like a vast underground burial complex, or one of those secret nuclear test facilities somewhere out in the desert. As I picked up the phone to clock in, I began to feel stifled, as if a moldy, old wool blanket had been thrown over me, or a shroud. I kept saying this job was temporary, just until something better came along, but I’d been telling myself that for years. I was lucky to have a job at all; Oregon’s unemployment rate was about the worst in the whole nation. Clocking in was one of the bad parts; it was done on the phone, and a lot of numbers needed to be punched in. I’m dyslexic when it comes to numbers; I’ve always had trouble getting them in the right order, and sometimes it took two or three tries before I got it right.  Often, I got distracted and forgot to clock in at all until it was too late, setting myself up for defeat and frustration before the work day even began.

I had barely booted up my computer when Greta, the file room supervisor, called me into her office. “Go ahead and close the door.” Her voice was abrupt, businesslike.  “Have a seat.”

Greta’s office was a chaotic mess. The other chair was usually piled with papers and folders, but today they’d been cleared away so I could sit down. I had a horrible feeling this meant trouble. Greta wore a beige dress and pumps that matched her short beige-colored hair, giving her a monochromatic look like a faded photograph. “Welcome back,” she said, giving me what was probably meant to be a smile but was more like something between a smirk and a grimace. Her fishy, pale-ochre eyes glittered. It was a smile that made my uneasiness a lot worse. As soon as the door was closed, the smile disappeared.

“I’m so sorry about your father. Did the funeral go well?”

“Thank you. Yes, it was a very nice funeral.”

“I assume you don’t want to talk about it. I’ll send out a memo and tell the others not to mention it to you.”

For a moment I was taken aback; then I remembered that when Greta’s miniature schnauzer had to be put to sleep, she sent out an email to everybody saying she did not want to talk about it, and all the photos of the little dog disappeared from her office walls. “That’s okay. I don’t mind people bringing it up.”

Greta frowned. “Are you sure?”

“Yes, it’s okay.”

“All right then.” She picked up a file and glanced through it. It turned out to be my file. “To change the subject, we received the printout from the electronic timecard system today. During the last month, you failed to clock in properly three times.”

“I did? I try to remember, but I’m really awful with that.” I’d been a lot happier when we used to write in our hours and hand them in at the end of each pay period. Most of us just filled in the sheet once a week; there was no need to remember to pick up the phone twice a day and punch in endless numbers before the deadline.

“I’m going to have to write you up,” Greta told me. “This will go in your record as a first offense. After three offences, it’s grounds for termination.”

I was floored; she might as well have slapped me in the face. “But I’m one of the most productive people in our department!”

“That makes no difference. The rules are the same for everyone. This hospital’s mission is one of firmness and fairness; it’s a core strategic priority. The only way to implement fairness is to follow the rules consistently. Nobody gets any special treatment.” She slipped a typewritten sheet of paper into my file and glared at me. “Do you have a problem with this hospital?”

I wanted to say, yes, I have a problem–this is bureaucratic nitpicking, and I’m out of here! But then how would I pay the rent? “No, of course not,” I said, “but I do have a problem forgetting to clock in. I’ve been trying really hard, but it keeps happening.” Come to think of it, as long as I was groveling, I might as well go whole hog. “I’m at a loss. Do you have any ideas that might help me?”

She did show a hint of a real smile then and looked at me with what might have been genuine fondness. “Hmmm…  Well, a good strategy might be to try taping a big sign on your monitor reminding you, so you can’t even see your screen until you’ve clocked in.”

Of course.  It was so obvious, it was embarrassing–why had I never thought of that?

I used to imagine that place as a cocoon from which I’d break free one day, but that was before they hired Greta to replace our old supervisor. There are lots of things that have something incubating inside. Pyramids were used for initiation rituals: a symbolic death and rebirth. Then there was Jesus’ tomb where he lay wrapped in a burial shroud for three days before the resurrection. A volcano incubates explosions, and I felt like smashing something as I walked back to my workstation. It was time to look for a new job, and this time I’d keep at it instead of giving up the way I usually did. I needed to set a goal: I will be out of here by… but I had no idea what a reasonable deadline for finding a new job would be.

Sunday Scribblings: Deadline

Being career-changed…

At Guide Dogs for the Blind, puppies who don’t do well with the very specialized training are “career-changed.” Some become therapy dogs, and many are given back to their raisers as pets. I got the message at work that my own longtime career is fast becoming obsolete. This is very scary. I don’t have long to go before I reach retirement age, and when I got my current job almost five years ago, it didn’t occur to me that I’d be out job hunting again. I work at home doing medical transcription for a big hospital system, where our job duties are being replaced by a software program. Other companies are outsourcing transcription to other countries where they do it cheaper. The first round of layoffs was about a year ago, but sometimes it takes me a long time to get the message. There have been ominous rumblings and more layoffs over the last year, and just a couple of weeks ago, I made the decision to start looking for different work. It shocked me how liberating, wonderful, and right that felt! Usually after I make a big decision, I stew and agonize over whether I’m making a huge mistake, but this time, there’s no conflict at all. Just a day or two later, the announcement came that our own transcription team is next and we will be replaced by a different software package by summer.  It feels so good to have already made my decision ahead of time!

What I want to do instead, though, is a whole different question. I’m looking at jobs posted online. Then there are the messy practical matters of getting ready to look for a new job. My old resumes with information about things like the dates of my previous jobs have disappeared and are likely hiding in a box somewhere down in the basement. An inspection of my closet let me know that if I got a call to come in for an interview, I’d have nothing to wear; working at home has let me live in my jeans for the last five years. I’m fixing myself up now. I got my hair cut, and yesterday, I bought a new outfit. I’m so lucky to be doing this while I still have my old job and can afford to buy new clothes.  It’s exciting to be on the threshold of a new adventure.

Sunday Scribblings: Message