Work and Money, Money and Work

One of my New Year’s Resolutions was [redact redact redact]. No, literally, I put it on my (online) list that way because I wasn’t in a place I felt I could really get into how much I hated my job and how desperate I was to find something else.

But, new job secured, old job no longer giving me regular nightmares, I feel like I can finally delve into it a bit:

I mentioned the other day that for the last six months I have been in a job I absolutely loathed, it was horrible in every way and turned me into someone I hardly recognized. I knew about 2 weeks in that I would need to find something else, part of me hoped to be able to stick it out for a year for resume purposes, but part of me wondered if I’d be able to last another week without inflicting serious harm on myself or others.

Here’s some real talk, with all the kind of uncomfortable transparency about work and money: I work in higher education access; no one who works in education is paid well, that isn’t a secret. It’s also a pretty tight-knit industry, everyone knows everyone and what you’re doing and with whom. This is both a really great thing (collective impact for better success from partnerships across the industry!) and a huge issue (burn a partner bridge, and you’re black-listed forever). As I was looking around for new jobs I got pretty down-hearted, my experience and education levels would land me a nice, cushy job making $25k-$30k less than I what I was making working for the state (which, by the way, is NOT a high paying job to start with). And to get the same pay, I’d need a Ph.D. For me, that is, like, 7 or 8 more years of school. The jobs in my particular industry are kind of a racket, to be honest.

So, what does this have to do with resolutions? Well, I had resolved to increase my savings significantly in 2017, and also–the redacted resolution–to find a new job that a) paid me more and b) was better for my soul. I knew that in my industry, both of those would be a trick, and to get them at the same time seemed like the work for magical fairy unicorn dust or something.

But, a friend told me that you’ve got to put your wishes out to the Universe, so I wrote them down in full in my Resolutions notebook, and hinted at them a bit here. I have thought about almost nothing else for two or three months, to be honest. Find new job. Make more money. Save more money. Find new job. Rinse and repeat.

I honestly thought I’d really need to stay at the loathsome position until August, do my year of incarceration time and then be able to move forward with something else, most likely in the private sector and not related to education, (see above: jobs available, salary limits). I looked around constantly, applied to a few jobs here and there, but the position for which I was ultimately hired wasn’t actually posted anywhere. I heard a rumor that this non-profit was looking for someone to do something….and I took a shot and emailed their Executive Director my resume. I had a request for an interview less than 12 hours later. And within a week I had an actual job offer. It was all so…so very, very fast.

Also? My new boss used to work for Miranda Priestly/my old boss…she knows what I was up against, and she insisted on complete transparency on her management style, the company’s strengths and weaknesses, and everything else. I had HOURS of conversations with other people in the company, from the HR lady (informative) to the receptionist (more informative) to my boss’s boss. I asked direct questions, and I feel like I received pretty honest answers. They were not canned answers, or scripted, or really entirely 100% glowing. They all had struggles with one thing or another, and all told me that they were instructed to be completely honest with me on anything I asked. And, boy, did I ASK. I asked ALL THE HARD QUESTIONS, and spent some serious time with a Pro and Con column. I don’t want to be at this job for six months. I don’t want to be there for 18 months. I feel like I’ve done quite a bit of research on my new boss, both within the organization where she works, and with other industry contacts. I honestly can see myself here until I leave Arizona, and that…oh my goodness, people, that is such an amazing proposition. The pay and the potential to move up and increase my responsibilities and my salary are all there (and the pay is higher than what I’ve been making to start with, double win). The red tape of government bureaucracy and political job codes is gone.

I am 100% there will be issues and frustrations with this new position, as with ANY position. BUT, for me the biggest and most attractive difference is that my new supervisor manages people in the way I work best. Give me an end goal and a couple of stepping stone markers to hit, and let me have at it. I don’t need to schedule twice-a-week check-in meetings, I don’t need you to proof read my emails, or micromanage my day. I need you to answer your email and have a long-term plan, and I will execute my part of that plan. When I’m stuck, I’ll ask for help. But otherwise, I’m pretty capable and I’ve done this* successfully for years.

*Creating and implementing sustainable college readiness programs in high schools that specifically target low-income and under-served students, providing planning and support for students and families to be academically and financially ready for postsecondary education options.

This? I got this.


I quit my job and found my sanity

Six months ago I started a new job here in Arizona, I had interviewed aggressively and asked all the questions that should have revealed what was important to me in a workplace. I made a few concessions, but overall felt confident that a) this would be a really great move for me and b) I would be able to expand on the work I’ve done for the last 6 years and bring some real change to low-income and otherwise under-served students in Arizona when it comes to getting prepared academically and financially for college. College access is my jam, yo. And I felt that working for a state agency at the Director level would truly give me some leverage to implement best practices I’ve learned in a high functioning state.


Nope, nope, nope.

Not at all true. Turns out, my boss was Miranda Priestly, but without the Prada. Basically, the devil with a great haircut. She told me everything I wanted to hear in the interviews, but didn’t actually mean a word of it. Autonomy? Flexibility? Data driven change? Improvements of systems and processes? Nope. None of that. Six months in and she was still demanding to proof read my emails prior to my sending them. Ya’ll, I am not making this up. I’ve been a career person for 15 years, and this was without question the most toxic and soul-sucking environment I have ever encountered. Month after month I was slowly losing my will to do anything; I was becoming a government automaton without any of the passion and drive that has propelled me forward in my work in higher education. (No one goes into education, or state government employment, with the intent of getting rich or famous. It’s all passion.) Week after week I’d have anxiety attacks on Sunday night at the thought of going back to the office on Monday. I had dozens of conversations with my co-workers, all of whom function in some kind of career Stockholm syndrome, knowing things are completely outrageous, but choosing to put their head in the sand instead of fight the boss or find a new job.

A few months in I decided to try to start anew, pump up my attitude and find some previous scenario from my organization that I could use as backup for some real future change. If I could find some basis for what I wanted, I thought I might be able to convince my boss that taking a chance on a new idea would actually bring about some of the results she wanted. In my digging around for files to come up with some sort of record of what has been done I unearthed a lot of stuff that looked preeeeetty sketchy; state agencies are not supposed to run that way. Supervisors are not supposed to “function” that way. Programs will never grow if you don’t invest in them and measure their success. The more I looked, the weirder it got. (I probably shouldn’t say more than that, but hoooo boy, ya’ll, that organization is a mess. A MESS!)

I started job hunting, again. Two strategic emails, a half-dozen interviews with one organization, and I have again landed a dream job; they gave me everything I wanted and then some. I will be back to the access work I love; helping high school counselors and principals establish college-going cultures within their schools, providing them with the tools and support they need to help their students succeed in ACT testing/prep, college applications, and FAFSA/Financial Aid completion. I can work from home when I want to and will have a bit of travel (something I really enjoy). I have a loose job description and a couple of markers I need to hit, but I can figure out the how without anyone micromanaging me.

I resigned from the State a couple weeks ago and wrapped up my responsibilities there last Friday. It is telling that the security guard made a bigger deal of me leaving that my boss did; he held the door open for me, wished me luck, and gave me a fist bump. My boss didn’t even say goodbye.

I don’t start my new gig for two weeks, I felt some time to detox and unwind was necessary to my well-being and overall health. I have grand plans to relax the hell out of this sabbaticalette, it’s the longest I’ve been without work responsibilities for probably a decade. No summer break, no Christmas break, no lengthy vacations. I am thrilled to death to just be for a while, I’ve turned off all my morning alarms and brushed off the list of projects that has been stagnating for the last year. I’m sure I’ll plan the hell out of this break, because that’s how I roll, but even that will probably do me a world of good.

I’m two days in I already feel like a completely different person. I’m happy in ways that I haven’t been for months. I should have quit ages ago, but, then again, I wouldn’t have had the connection for this new position without my time at the Agency. So. Silver linings. Or something.


One Week In: The New Job

Firstly, thank you so much for your kind words on my somewhat surprise announcement last week about my new job. If you know me IRL you have definitely heard me talk a lot about my work situation in the last six months or so…if we are only Interwebs friends, I’ve tried really hard to keep all that stuff quiet, as you do. But! Here we are! One week in to my new position at a new agency and I have SO many thoughts and feelings. Because it’s work, most of those thoughts need to stay off the Interwebs, but there are some I’d like to share:

    • I forgot how much I love being with other people. I work for a small agency, and there certainly are plenty of quirks per capita, but HUMANS! I am with OTHER HUMANS all day long. Quirks aside, it is glorious.
    • I miss my Salt Lake co-workers something fierce; my team there is amazing.
    • I don’t mind the commute, I’m between 40 and 50 minutes each way, in heavy traffic. This is about four times longer than any commute I’ve had, and–so far–I really don’t mind. I listen to audiobooks and I know there isn’t any way for me to get there in 15 minutes in the best of traffic, so I sit and listen and try to zen out a little.
    • I do miss being off work at 4:00 pm, working Utah hours made for delightfully long evenings getting a TON of stuff done. (Arizona doesn’t do Daylight Savings time, so half the year it’s in the Mountain time zone and half the year in Pacific.
    • The office I moved into had sat empty for quite a while, it was dark and dusty and jam packed with big, black, metal furniture. I’ve managed to get rid of two of the big file cabinets, include the massive one that blocked HALF of the window and I keep the blinds pulled up to let in as much light as possible. That one change has made it feel so much bigger and brighter, my coworkers keep commenting that they had no idea my office was so nice, so not-cave-like. I’ve scrubbed and Clorox wiped everything, I’ve brought in plants and a not-flourescent desk lamp and a little art (more to come).
    • I don’t know if I’ll ever love it as much as my home office, which has already had a little makeover, of sorts, and will continue to transform over the coming months.
    • Officey clothes! Officey shoes! I have missed this part of my wardrobe! It’s been fun to resurrect my pencil skirts and peep-toe pumps. (Also? Fitting into so much more of my closet makes it easier to give up leggings and fuzzy slippers. Ahem.)
    • I am getting used to having an involved boss again. It’s been a little bit of a do-si-do dance for me, I’m trying to both do my job as effectively and efficiently as I can, but also not assert authority that absolutely isn’t mine. I know I will like having some larger guiding principles and a long-term plan for growth, those are things I definitely was looking for in this job change.
    • I feel like I should be totally overwhelmed; but I am not. Not at all, actually. Granted, it helps a LOT that I am in the same industry, and at the same type of company (state agency). There are a lot of similarities, and while I’m learning a ton of new things, I feel like I have a solid framework to hang all this new information on, I don’t have to build the framework while simultaneously juggling all the New Info at the same time.

I really think I will like it here. And that is a really fantastic feeling. Have you started any big new projects? How is it going? Are you swamped? Or do you feel like you’ve got this!? Tell me, tell me, tell me!

Harriet sig

Vague-Blogging: Explained

I did the thing. I dealt with the Really Messy and Difficult Thing I vague-blogged about a little while ago. I can’t get too much into it, but it was a Work Thing, one that has been fermenting and getting consistently worse for about 18 months and was slowly sucking my soul.

For many years I had a fantastic, supportive, demanding, inspiring supervisor. She left the company last spring, and her replacement…well…despite being the best candidate in the pool of applicants, the feet just could not fill the shoes my old boss carefully and thoughtfully left in her office. Initial feelings of “Oh, well, New Boss is new…give it some time, things will get better…” Things never got better.

[Redact. Redact. Redact.]

I have been tentatively looking for a job in Arizona since last fall, more in earnest the last few months. However, after applying to at least 3 dozen jobs I still hadn’t got a single call for an interview.

I was discouraged and I wrote a vague blog post about wanting to change everything in my life (but really, I only meant I wanted to change the one really distressing part of my life).

Literally, just a few hours after publishing that rant, the Arizona equivalent of my Utah state department called completely out of the blue, they had an opening, and they wanted me, and could I please come in for an interview? Oh, and also send them a resume? And fill out an application? (This is a case for networking, people! There is no other way to have this kind of head-hunted experience!) Two days later I interviewed, and a few hours after that I had a job offer with a title increase and a solid starting platform for salary/benefit negotiations.

Today is my first day as a Director. I am no longer a remote employee 700 miles from my colleagues, I no longer have a 15-foot commute and working in fuzzy slippers is not part of my government employee dress code. I have BOATLOADS to learn–people, programs, processes–but I am looking forward to the challenge. I have a beautiful view, a wall of windows in my office, and will be a downtown employee once again. Granted, this time “downtown” is a 30 miles (each way) commute with rush hour traffic, but even that will not be too terrible. I can drive 700 miles from Phoenix to Salt Lake without stopping, 45 minutes is nothing.

I will forever miss my fantastic colleagues and co-workers from my Salt Lake City office. I am already missing the idea of going back several times a year for visits and work meetings and evenings or weekends spent with family, friends, and my mountains.

But this is the right decision right now.

Deeeep breaths. Here I go!

Harriet sig

Arizona House Tour: Home Office

I have lived in Arizona for six months now and while my very first order of business upon unloading the moving truck was to set up my home office, I am only just getting around to taking photos of the almost-done version. It’s not done-done because, to be honest, I doubt any house project of mine will ever be truly finished, I’m always dreaming up new updates and changes, but at some point you’ve got to just say this is close enough and move on, right? I spent very little money on this room, like, less than $100 including paint. I am quite pleased that the leftover hodge-podge from my Salt Lake apartment translated so nicely into a completely different space and set-up here.

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This room gets some truly lovely light due to a well-placed north-west-ish facing window, I actually have not been bothered by the lack of overhead lighting here, yet. I have some task lighting, but I rarely use it during the day. The natural light is soft and white and lovely. The before of this room was a boring builder-brown box, but a coat of pale smoke-blue paint (Flint Smoke by Behr) transformed it into a cool, soothing space. To be honest, I kind of wish I’d gone with the shade slightly mintier, but I’m not so torn up about it that I want to repaint.

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This full-wall desktop (and dual screen set up!) has been glorious, it’s actually two IKEA table tops put together, one trimmed slightly to fit the space. I wish they were purchased at the same time and were actually the same color, but I wasn’t willing to throw the perfectly acceptable, 2-years-old version out and then pony up another $60 for the EXACT same thing. I use the left side for my work and writing, the right side (a bit smaller) is my little painting space with some storage underneath for files and paperclips, camera equipment and painting supplies. I had all the artwork already, it was just a matter of pulling the most fun, brightest pieces from my stash and getting them arranged into a gallery wall. I clearly am still missing some pieces, that Target frame definitely needs a photo in it and the blank canvas on the right could probably use a little paint. But! I love that these are the images I look at every day: a big Matisse (left), a few of my own paintings and photos, a Picasso print (black/white portrait in the middle) that could have been based on my profile, Andy Warhol’s butterflies, and a few family snapshots.

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The opposite wall from my desk is all bookshelves, most layered two rows deep of novels and non-fiction on my favorite subjects. I had these Expedit/Kallax shelves from IKEA in my Salt Lake apartment, which is why they don’t all match either. (I’m trying really hard not to be bothered by the 1″ taller center section and just go with it, but honestly, it sometimes really bugs me.) The art on top was also pulled from my collection, some prints, some original oil paintings (by me or legit artists), one watercolor done by my niece when she was 3, all in the bright colors I wanted for this room.

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That chair is from my grandparents and is ridiculously comfortable. One day I will actually take the time/money to recover the mustard-yellow cushions instead of tuck a gray fleece blanket around them, but today is not that day. A big pillow and this little corner turns into my most favorite research spot during the day, and reading corner at night (with appropriate task lighting). A diamond-print fuzzy rug covers up almost all of the brown carpet, which one day will be replaced by something….less brown.

And there you have it, the 80 square feet where I spent the vast majority of my time. I have never actually gone to a coffee shop or library to work, most of my day-to-day projects revolve around document creation and data research, and that is just SO much easier to do on a dual-screen than a single, tiny, laptop screen. In fact, I have difficulty functioning when I have to use my laptop screen only to work, I guess I’m super spoiled with the two big monitors to move windows/spreadsheets around and check and triple check facts and figures as I create documents and write reports.

A few words on working from home: Six months ago I started working remotely for my company. In some ways, working from home has been absolutely fantastic, but in others it has been really, really hard. I have been really careful to maintain regular “office” hours, to get up and get dressed and “go to work.” I take a mid-morning break for 10 or 15 minutes, a solid hour for lunch, and another 10 minutes in the afternoon to do some stretches or make a smoothie  milkshake  smoothie, or whatever, but for the most part, I am at my desk during regular business hours, just like I would in my office in Salt Lake. I don’t work from my bed, or the couch, nor do I stream Netflix on the side. In that respect, actually, working remotely hasn’t bee that different than being in my corporate office, I just wear fuzzy slippers a lot more often. The functions of my day-to-day job are easily accomplished via a remote situation, but I miss being in an office, I miss the in-person interactions with my co-workers, I feel like I am losing out on a lot of spur-of-the-moment projects and initiative, and I spend the vast majority of my time completely alone. That part really really sucks. Yes, we have conference calls and video chat and instant messaging and a variety of social media channels where I can connect with some of my more favorite coworkers, the ones who really are personal friends at this point, not just colleagues, but for me, it’s just not the same.

I also feel like I should point out that I am missing out on the opportunity to find and make work-place friends or meet colleagues, and that has been hard too. When you work 700 miles from your co-workers, but are not at all in an industry that translates across state borders (I work for a state agency, my colleagues are ALL state employees in other Utah agencies in some way, very few are outside of state government or administration), how do you make work friends? It’s been a lot harder on me than I thought, not having a group of friends nearby.

Do you work from home? Do you have a dedicated office space? Are there any tips I should definitely know about that seem to be missing in my working-remotely situation?

Harriet sig