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Archive for February, 2010

Yesterday I had a phone conversation with a colleague-of-a-friend-of-a-friend (got that?) at a federal agency that does the kind of work I’m interested in doing.  It was a very good conversation, really, but I must admit I was a little disappointed.  I hadn’t really thought about it, but I must have had some kind of fantasy going that he would tell me not to bother with going to school and that he thought I was perfect for a role in his agency right now!  Yeah, not so much.

His background is as a field wildlife biologist, so, not unreasonably, he has something of a bias for people with field experience (which I, of course, lack).  He wasn’t in least bit discouraging, mind you, but the conversation did bum me out until I figured out what I had been thinking way back in the recesses of my mind.  Once I did that, I had a good chuckle at myself and focused on the advice he gave me.  He had some suggestions for what I should do with the master’s curriculum and gave me good information about some of the programs the feds have for students and recent graduates.  And he did send me some other names of people to contact in other agencies.   It was a very productive half hour and an excellent reality check.

But there’s still nothing wrong with a little dreaming…

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Pants with a zipper

When I was preparing to be unemployed, a woman I know gave me some advice.  She said to make sure to put on pants* with a zipper once in a while instead of hanging out in sweats all the time.  I think she really meant – don’t get out of the habit of being presentable.  You feel differently dressed for work than you do hanging around in sweats.   You act differently.  Well, I do, anyway.

So today I put an pants with a zipper and spent the day at the outplacement center, among actual live humans.  It was an interesting day, really.  There was a Career Assessment workshop this morning and the afternoon was taken up with a Resume Development workshop.  The Career Assessment thingie was designed to review the self-assessments I mentioned previously.  It appears I have more in common with psychologists and ministers than I do with IT professionals.  That was a little surprising, but not that much when I thought about it more.  My brother’s a minister and I have a fair amount in common with him.  The IT professionals they’re talking about are the Skittles-chomping, Mountain Dew-guzzling hard-core programmer types, with whom I really do not have all that much in common.   And the kinds of things I think people in environmental policy roles do are things that are some of my strengths.  So, maybe the assessment info and my current thinking are not totally out there.

And in the “hmm, that’s an interesting development” department – a former colleague of mine emailed me last night to find out if I was interested in a consulting gig.  It would be an hour+ commute each way, it’s for 9 months and I’d have to bail on them if I did decide to go to school and it isn’t really the kind of work I enjoy, but it’s nice to be considered.  I’m going to talk to him, though, in case he knows of anything shorter-term and closer.  Doesn’t hurt to think about it, anyway.

* for the gentle readers across the Atlantic, pants in this context equals trousers, not undergarments.  I’m thinking that the UK kind of pants with a zipper might be a little, um,  painful.

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So I got the first of my two severance payments today (I’ll get the other one in 2011).  35% went for taxes.  Apparently, they withhold extra from the severance payment.  And in the “ok, this is a little odd” category, they took out for unemployment insurance.  A little like closing the barn door after the horse is out, but, hey it’s the government.  It’s not meant to make sense.

One of the things that surprised me was how it hit me to see “Pay Rate:  $0.00 Annual” on the statement.  I sat and stared at that for a while.  Except for two years of my fulltime college career, I’ve had a pay rate at one job or another since the summer of 1973.  I’ll admit to a moment of panic and the thought of “maybe I should get a job at Wegmans or something.”  Then I took a deep breath and reminded myself that this is what I want and what I’ve planned for and I’ll be just fine.

Still, working at Wegmans might be fun…

(p.s.  the title is a quote from Muppet Christmas Carol.  It’s our family tradition to watch it every year.  It’s my personal tradition to fall asleep while watching it every year.)

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One of the things I’ve been doing during my employment-free period is decluttering and cleaning out.  Today’s target was a closet in my home office/craft room/auxiliary guest room.  It was chock full of stuff.  Craft stuff, wrapping paper, old halloween costumes and fabric for projects I will never start, let alone complete.  I got 3 big trash bags of stuff that neither I nor anyone else will ever want, plus a couple of boxes full of stuff I’ll sell a a yard sale this spring or donate.  Cleaning out closets reminds me of a cartoon my father brought home from work decades ago.  It said “Doing a good job here is like wetting your pants in a dark suit.  It gives you a warm feeling, but no one notices.”

One of the hazards of having a house that’s far bigger than I need is the tendency to just keep everything, just because I have the room.  I mean, why not – I might need it someday.  Well, you know, a lot of that stuff came with me when I moved here 6+ years ago and I hadn’t even looked at since, so I don’t need it.

It’s a good feeling to declutter.  It feels somehow symbolic of what I’m going through.  Casting off the shackles of stuff, like I cast off the shackles of a job I no longer liked.  It gives me a warm feeling.

(Oh, and by the way, today is my official termination day.  After today, I am officially unemployed.  Weirdness.)

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Old habits die hard

We’re in the middle of a blizzard warning.  We got about 6 inches of snow overnight, with another foot predicted.  I woke up this morning and before I realized what I was doing, I’d reached for the phone to call the company site hotline to see if the site was open.  It’s good to start the day laughing at yourself!

A friend of a friend of mine works in the field I’m interested in and he introduced me to her (well, by phone anyway) before I left.  She’s starting to connect me with others in the field, so I can talk to them about what the work is like, what kind of skills and qualifications you need to get into it and how to actually find a job in it.  Most of the positions available are in government, which can be very difficult to get into if you don’t already work for the feds.  I’m really looking forward to talking these folks.  It’ll really help me decide if this is the right path.

By the way, the site is, in fact, closed today.  In 21.5 years working there, I remember only twice when it was closed.  I feel cheated 😉

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A musician? Really?

I took the first of the career assessment quizzes from the outplacement service.  The occupation that came up highest for me is musician.  Um.  Yeah.  That would be nice, if I had actual talent or skill in that area.   Then it said I have the most in common with people in what it calls the “Knowledge Specialist” fields.  Apparently, this includes people who are Psychologists, Employee Relations Professionals, College Professors, Ministers/Priest/Clergy  and Physicians.  I’m not altogether sure I trust this test.

My soon-to-be-officially-former company made some disturbing announcements this week.  They’ll be closing a bunch of sites and terminating a lot of research projects.  This will, of course, mean more job losses.   I feel so badly for my friends who are still there and suffering through the uncertainty yet again.  Just when will it end?  How much more do they honestly think people can take before they simply roll up into little balls?

In other news, with the STORM OF THE CENTURY on its way, it’s really nice not to have anywhere I must be.  I was even able to make the required bread, milk and egg run during the day yesterday – no crowds!  Exactly what is it about snow that makes people crave french toast?

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the outplacement service I’m entitled to as part of my severance looks like it would be awesome.   I went to an orientation yesterday and they went through all their services.  I get a personal consultant to help through the whole process and they cover everything from figuring out what you want to be when you grow up to negotiating offers.  They have seminars on a huge variety of job hunting topics, offices you can use, along with word processing, printing, copying and fax services.  Plus, you can put the service on hold at any time and pick it up later, so the 6 months of service can take almost as long as I want.  So, that’s pretty cool.  I’ll probably start in the next few weeks and at least go through the figuring-out-what-I-want-to-be-when-I-grow-up part and see where I go from here.

It was pretty sobering being there, though.  The session I was in was full and they said that every one they’ve been running has been full.  People were there from every field you can imagine.  The folks ran the gamut from a couple like me, who are looking for opportunities to do something completely different, to one guy who seemed totally panicked by his situation.  He pretty much wanted every service they have right.this.very.minute.  Most were somewhere in the middle – not particularly happy about their situation, but determined to work hard to get out of it.

There was a remarkable amount of hope in the room.  Hope is good.

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