Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Fantasy vs. Reality

Had a distressing and disheartening career counseling appointment today. Almost started crying a couple times. I thought I was going to receive some direction in creating a job search plan. Evidently this session was for long-term career counseling. It wasn't until the end of the appointment that I figured out that we were not on the same page. So I made another appointment for Tuesday to get what I need.

Basically, this guy sat with me for an hour and told me that I am "all over the place" in regard to my looking for employment. Which I do not dispute. He advised me to really hone in on the type of job I am seeking because everything is specialized today. I tried to explain that I am not really specialized in anything specific. I was trained to be a generalist counselor. He gave the example of a woman he knows who finds her "greatest joy" in working with domestic violence victims. He asked me what my greatest joy or passion is and I replied, "Working at a job so I can provide for my children." Where would I really work if I could follow my bliss? A book store, yarn store or library. But we're not talking bliss here, we're talking survival.

This career counselor actually put me down for my attitude of trying to find a job (any job) as quickly as possible. He tried to talk me into putting my main focus into finding more professional work in my field of social services/counseling. He dismissed my explanations that when I looked for work in my field, I was only offered on-call or 10-hour-a-week positions. I firmly stated that as an only parent I must accept full-time employment - I don't have the luxury of just working 10-hours a week with no benefits. But according to this guy, I should consider them to get my foot in the door. This isn't practical for me. Hello - I am the sole bread winner in my family of kids fast approaching going to college.

Sadly, the reality of my situation did not seem to hit this guy. My reality doesn't allow me the extra time to spend months on the job hunt. I pretty much have to take whatever is offered me as soon as it is offered. And that doesn't bother me. I just want and need to have some kind of work to be bringing in some funds.

I was told not to act, appear and sound too desperate. But at the same time must be enthusiastic and sell myself. I need to be "the best athlete at the top of the pyramid." We won't even bother to go into the strain of playing the B.S. games that abound when job hunting. And that is on top of worrying about feeding the kids and putting gas into the van to get to job interviews.

We talked a little about networking and I explained that in the years I stopped working outside the home to care for sick family members, I'd lost touch with my former co-workers. I tried to relate how isolating widowhood is when raising school-aged children. It was recommended that at the next school activity I attend, say a volleyball game, that I "work" the bleachers and tell everyone that I am looking for that specific job - whatever that will turn out to be. Oh boy, I'm really looking forward to that. It is hard enough for me to attend school events on my lonesome. Now I'll have the added pleasure of "working" the bleachers. Right.

At the end of our session, I was asked what "groups" I am involved with. I said, none. "None? No church groups?" I tired to explain how tough it is to get through the laundry, make dinner and do the dishes much less socialize in any capacity. But there is that superwoman mentality rearing its ugly head again. Not only am I supposed to function as an only parent with virtually no assistance but also be out there off to job club meetings and the like. I did ask at the library yesterday if there were any book discussion groups and was told no. In my life before widowhood I was a PTA officer and committee chair. Activities and groups like that faded away as the reality of functioning as an only parent took over.

I did mention that I blog and was asked how many follow. I replied maybe a dozen. So now my homework is to try and find job contacts or connections via this blog. I said that this is a nationwide blog but apparently that isn't supposed to matter in this cyber age. Well, I am not combining job searching with this personal grief blog. I will join the Wed. a.m. job club that meets at the center and keep looking for a book club.

In the end, Mr. Job Counselor Guy, whom I should add is unemployed and a volunteer himself, was pretty critical of my "I can't do this attitude" that sometimes was exposed. I countered him by saying that I need to look for work in the here and now and long-term goals are on the back burner for now. Since when did working to put food on the table for your kids become a dishonorable goal? In fact, when I was going through hints for surviving hard economic times, one tip was to go back to school for a short-term program such as the CNA one I completed to get a job ASAP. I can concentrate on a more "fun" job later when the need is not so intensely dire.

I guess my whole impression about this encounter was how little people and especially the untouched fail to comprehend the situation I am in relating to my widowhood. I don't know why I can't be taken at face value. It is what it is, although I dislike that expression. I need a job. I need a job now. I'm willing to pretty much do anything for the time being. It is a necessity. I don't have much choice. My pension is not enough for us to survive on. We have to supplement it with food from the food pantry.

I was reminded that I'll hear the word "No" plenty of times while looking for working. And I suppose along the way I'll meet more than a few people who don't get it. There needs to be acknowledgment at least that my situation may not be the same as others. That is all I really want and have ever wanted. Just recognize that I'm living with circumstances that might require some tweaking or another approach. Give me some credit for where I'm coming from. Don't put me into that one-size-fits-all box.

To be fair, this guy did say I have a lot of great job, volunteer and life experience and that I need to harness this and really sell it. He also was complimentary of my achievement of having a Master's Degree for which I will always be grateful. And I will not totally dismiss everything that was discussed. Job counselor guy made some cogent points and I need to filter in everything that is offered. I'll reflect on his suggestions. But I don't think he'll give me or my situation another thought.


  1. Well, that was quite an experience. I don't blame you for feeling the way you do. It sounds like they are more focused on career, and you are focused on job.

    Unfortunately, people don't always invest the time to really hear what we are saying. If they can't do this simple thing, how can they begin to help us? You are good to take what you can from this situation, and keep your message clear to them, "I need a job."

  2. You hit the nail totally on the head here. People really don't listen, pay attention or hear. They think and say what they want to. Experiencing grief has put me in the position where this is more apparent. I guess being trained as a counselor to listen impartially and be empathic makes it more frustrating from my end.

    Sometimes it is okay to just want or need a job. We need different things at various points of our lives. I'm not going to feel down about myself because I'm willing to work a "job" right now and put my "career" on the back burner.

  3. i was always asked what my career goals were--when I had to go to work--and I always said, "To keep my daughter and I alive." None of those people wanted to hear that. I was supposed to want to achieve being an office manager or accountant or such thing I was not really interested in. I started out with Kelly Services and after two jobs, got hired full time by the company I went in as a temp for. That was back in the late 80's when supposedly we were in an economic depression--which was no where like today's is. I wish you good luck and know exactly the fear you feel in trying to provide a life of mere essentials for you and the boys. Remember my PB&J and popcorn with milk for suppers? I couldn't even get food assistance because I owned my home--a house that was putting me in the hold every month. It has to get better for you--it just has to!!!

  4. Wow, that was quite the meeting. Eegads! I have a feeling this guy is a tad out of touch with reality. Jude had a great thought though, what about a temp agency? I too know several people that found permanent work from what started out as a temp job. The employer liked them so much they fired the temp agency and just put them on the payroll. The other good thing about it is you may go to several different places but you get one check from the agency. So in a way you are getting yourself out there and showing off your potential while getting paid.
    As far as 'working' the bleachers. I almost choked when I read that. Are you kidding me? I can only imagine how embarrassing that would be given the status you have described in your community. Not only that, did the guy ever stop to think how it might make your children feel to have you handing out cards asking for help finding a job at their school functions? He doesn't have a clue.
    The fact that you stayed and listened for the entire time is incredible. I would have given the guy a piece of my mind and left. But then again, I have no patience for people like that. Wanting to work to help your family survive IS honorable. Anyone suggesting anything less is out of touch with reality and this economy. Maybe that's why he still doesn't have a job? It's great and all that he is volunteering however is he really in a position to be handing out advice when he clearly isn't having success himself? Just playing devil's advocate. It bothers that this guy was talking down to you.

  5. Jude - Thank you as always for your positive encouragement. I have never been a high career achiever. That aspect of working isn't important to me. I never expected to have to work as the main bread winner. But here I am and now have to adjust as best I can.

    Kelly - I did cry when I left the appointment because it is hard to always seem to feel misunderstood and put down. I'm so glad that you agree with me that working the bleachers is silly. When I get in these situations I am polite and respectful. I tried to redirect the meeting many times toward my specific needs. When that wasn't going to happen I gave in and figured I'd try to get the most out of it as possible. But then afterward, I kick myself for not being more verbal and not saying something at the time.

    Hope everything is going as best it can at your end right now.

  6. Things here are going fairly well. Everyone has come to the conclusion that this may be a lengthy process as Hospice often is. They are going to go back home tomorrow knowing that they will not see him again. They will return for the eventual service.
    Adding more stress, my own father, whom I am not close to, but he's still my father, is back in the hospital again. My stepmother has called and kept me abreast of all the details. This is also another 'matter of time' situation. Emotionally, though, I am pretty detached. I hope it stays that way. He left when I was 5 and I've had virtually no real relationship with him. It's a feeling very similar to that of losing an acquaintance except for I am related to him. I am a very caring person and if his wife needs my support I am happy to provide. I would do that for anyone. But I am just not attached to the situation.

  7. Hi -- that career counselor definitely did NOT sound like a good fit for you. I'm sorry you had such a bad experience ... forgive me if you've explained this already, but was he your only choice in a counselor? Could you choose someone else who might be a better match? A good career counselor can really set you in the right direction, but a not-so-good one (as you've seen first-hand) can make you feel like you've had a setback in your job search, and I hate to see that happen.