Serena: For Want of a Degree . . .

image of blackberry smart phoneIn her 22 years as a contracts manager in the health care industry, Serena spent most of her waking hours on the job. For her most recent employer, she commuted for three years 4-6 hours two days a week, and 1-2 hours three days a week, and was available 24/7 on her Blackberry smart phone.

“I sacrificed a lot for that position,” she says.

Serena, 45, lost that job 10 months ago. “What’s astounding to me is that after 22 years of doing contract management, and with all the contacts I have, I’ve gotten interviews but no jobs.”

After a particularly heartbreaking rejection, for a job at half her previous salary but for a small entrepreneurial company with great potential, Serena spent the rest of the day curled up at home, crying.

“I wouldn’t wish this on my worst enemy,” she said of the rejections.

photo of cats and dogsMarried for 21 years, Serena and her husband own their home in Northern California; instead of children they have a menagerie of two dogs, two cats – a kitten and an adult – and two lovebirds. Their home of 15 years has been lovingly improved and is filled with art, Buddhist prayers, and other living things.

“How lucky I am that I have a husband who’s employed, I have health insurance through him, and he’s supportive,” she says.

“We got the kitten to have some good news, 100 percent joy.”

But Serena doesn’t rely solely on her husband for support and sustenance. In the 10 months she’s been in the job market, she has taken advantage of the many resources out there, participating in two job networking groups, volunteer work, personal contacts, workshops, a life coach, and LinkedIn.

“There are pluses and minuses to everything I’ve done, but nothing has landed me a job, so I’m not sure if my experience is applicable,” she says. “The strategy that helps the most is tapping into my personal contacts.

“One job networking group gets me out and thinking in more of a business sense; it’s like having a job but not getting paid. My life coach has helped me heal some pretty deep wounds and regain some confidence. And I enjoy volunteering – I finally have the time to give back.”

job workshops imageAt this point, though, Serena says she’s “overworkshopped.” “There is such contradictory feedback on my resume,” she says. “I asked a hiring manager who didn’t hire me to give me feedback about my resume, and he said the exact opposite of what a professional organization said.”

Serena has also discovered coping mechanisms in her personal life. “It’s amazing how you can cut back and enjoy the simple things,” such as the public library. “It’s amazing how you buy stuff to fill a hole in your life. I don’t do that anymore.”

She’s been working out at the gym. “It’s the one area where I have control over my life, when I’ve lost control over the largest percentage of my life – my work life.

“I am a person who wants to work desperately, and what I find most challenging is that I’m not even given the opportunity to fight for a job.

Crocker Museum Kids logo“When I was 9 years old I lied and said I was 11 so I could give tours at a museum,” she says. “When I graduated from high school my parents gave me a party, and I left my own graduation party so I could start a job that day as a camp counselor.

“I want to work.”

Without it, she’s had time for family – helping out her mom, and nursing her dog after surgery – and for projects, from reviewing contracts for her husband’s planned business, to sanding and varnishing their cabin-shaped handmade camping trailer.

cover of Kiln Formed Glass bookBut she hasn’t done much artwork. Serena is a glass artist, making jewelry, wind chimes, and light-filled hanging art by fusing glass. “I feel guilty doing it,” she explains. “How dare I do something for myself. Even when it was homework from my life coach, I couldn’t do it.

“The thing that saved me is cooking. It’s like art: it makes me present, it makes me active, it gives me a path, it gives me an end goal, it gives me a result I can benefit from – I get to eat it! – and I get positive feedback from it.”

image of tamalesShe’s made tamales, lasagna, and Indian food from scratch, and she’s even butchered and ground her own meat as a cost-cutting measure. “My claim to fame is the 17 pounds of pork I butchered. It took me four hours.

“I didn’t really cook before,” Serena says. “For me this has been the best therapy.”

That therapy has helped when she’s lost friends because they’re uncomfortable asking her about her job search. “The hardest thing is that it’s all on you. Not only do you have the pain of being let go, you have to be positive and perky. How dare you show you’re sad and depressed.

“Even my life coach says, ‘So, what are you going to do?’ ”

With her main plan hitting roadblocks, she’s considering several backup plans. One is to go back to school for her bachelor’s degree – a lack that was never a roadblock until now. “I’m 70 percent confident it will help in my job search, but I know that in this market it’s not a done deal.”

Another possibility is starting a small business, either on her own or supporting her husband’s. “I’ve taken an online small business course in case his business takes off,” she says.

Serena mentions a recent suggestion from her spouse. “I guess you’d say my plan G is paying off the house.

“I think that’s the most romantic proposal my husband’s ever made.”

painting home is where the heart is

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