Sabbaticalette: Week Two

Whelp, my sabbaticalette is officially over and I am back at work, which has been exciting and wonderful in its own right. I intentionally took time off between my old job and my new one to try to decompress a little, get my heart rate and stress levels back to a manageable number, and to just be for a minute.

My first week, naturally, was JAM PACKED FULL of projects and activities and crossing things off The List. I don’t think I overdid it, I maintain that I needed to clear those things off my proverbial plate in order to get some relaxing in.

My second week? Oh man, those days were gloriously unstructured and downright slothful. The last two days I got a little antsy, but overall it was also exactly what I needed.

Slothing_feistyharriet_Feb 2017

I caught up on my 6-weeks-neglected feed reader.

I finished watching The Time Inbetween, one of the top-rated shows in Spain about a young woman during WWII who gets caught up in dressmaking and spying and espionage between Franco’s civil war and Spain entering WWII with the Germans. I mean, it’s in Spanish with English subtitles, so unless you’re fluent you do have to read the TV to figure out what’s going on. But it was wonderful. Recommended (via Netflix).

I went to lunch with a friend and I made fancy lunch at home–you know, an actual cooked meal instead of eating bits and pieces of leftovers while standing in front of the fridge. (I should note: I actually really love cooking for fun).

I continued to read and listen to audiobooks like crazy. I’ve finished 30 books so far this year and show no signs of slowing down.

I went shopping for pleasure for the first time in I don’t even know how long. Months? Almost a year? I didn’t go on a splurgy spree or anything, but I did buy a new pair of classy heels for my first day of work. At TJ Maxx. Ahem. My financial spending freeze experiments seem to be doing their job!

I planted some little seeds and puttered around with my flowers and vegetables.

I went on a really great hike at a state park near my house. I climbed/clambered/jogged 7.5 miles in less than 2.5 hours. There were zillions of cacti and wildflowers and it was cloudy and cool and, generally, perfect.

And the rest of the week? I slothed. I slothed so good! Part of me (the SUPER Type A part) is a little annoyed that I spent so much time doing essentially nothing; the rest of me, however, is thrilled about that choice. Good job, Harriet.

Love Where You Live: Episode 1

Love Where You Live_feistyharriet_March 2017

If we have had any semi-meaningful conversation in the last 18 months you have probably asked me how I am settling into Arizona. And I most likely responded with some variation of “I’m not, really.” This move wrenched my roots in a pretty violent way and the adjusting and reframing expectations has taken a toll on their already fragile and dangling state. I still get all choked up whenever I think about my home, my mountains, and seasons with months of cool and downright frigid weather. My heart doesn’t feel like it belongs here, although I am trying to fit here. I have made a few friends, my little vegetable garden is one of the happiest parts of my life, and my work directly places me in a position to help Arizona students succeed in a college or postsecondary education (and the vast majority stay in Arizona to explore those options). So, I’m trying.

A few months ago I read This Is Where You Belong: The Art and Science of Loving the Place You Live by Melody Warnick. I wrote MANY notes in the margins (and some rants and “See? Told you!” scribbles as well…I sometimes have one-way conversations with the printed page, apparently). Warnick has a seemingly simple list of things that, if tackled, will help you put down roots in a new place:

  1. Walk more
  2. Buy local
  3. Get to know my neighbors
  4. Do fun stuff
  5. Explore nature
  6. Volunteer
  7. Eat local
  8. Become more political
  9. Create something new
  10. Stay loyal through hard times

Ok, so none of those really seem that hard. Right? Um, apparently yes, they are kind of hard.

In church yesterday I kept thinking about how to go out of my way to help other people, to serve them, to love them. There is the obvious political move of a protest or rally, or making donations to organizations that support the work I care about. But I also started thinking a lot closer to home, closer even that attending my monthly legislative district meeting. I’m embarrassed to admit that I don’t know the name of any of my neighbors, people in my neighborhood, sure, but no one two or three doors on each side of me, or across the street.

Uh, what? I mean, I’ve lived here for over a year. A YEAR! None my immediate neighbors attend my church, so I haven’t gotten to know them by default of seeing them every week. But it surprised and then angered me that I hadn’t gone out of my way to introduce myself. So, goal for this week is to spend some time in the kitchen whipping up some homemade baked goods and then delivering plates of happiness to a half-dozen front porches.

I’ve decided to do better about incorporating these seemingly simple ideas into my life here in Arizona, in the hope that I will find myself fitting here just a little better. Some I’ve just barely scratched the surface, like local politics and exploring the outdoors. Some I’ve been working on for a while, like creating and tending a veggie garden in my backyard, and exploring local eats for date nights with Mr. Blue Eyes. In another week or so the raging heat will descend and stay until November or so (hi, locals, my heat tolerance is about 78 degrees, not 98 degrees, so for me, yes, actually, “summer” is 9 hellish months long), I really am hoping I can figure out some solutions to the months and months of air conditioned cabin fever. The last two or three months of normal-person temperatures have been glorious, I’ve been outside hiking and puttering around in the yard and just hanging out on the back patio with a book and a drink.

What neighborhood (or municipal/county) things do you participate in? What do you love? Wish you did more of? How did you fall in love with your city? Or, do you WANT to fall in love with your city? If so, perhaps we can form an online support group to figure out how to love where we live.

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.


Sabbaticalette: Week One

Salt River Arizona_feistyharriet_February 2017

It has been only one week of my sabbaticalette yet three people have commented that I seem like a completely different person. I feel more myself than I have in months, and despite a very strange crop of zits all over my face (the hell, face!?) I feel like I look about 5 years younger than I did 3 months ago. I sometimes break out SKIPPING or GIGGLING for no apparent reason. It’s weird, yo.

So, what have I done with my newfound freedom and head space? Well, you know me (or you don’t, and the rest of this post will be very telling of my personality); I made a huge list and started checking things off one by one.

I painted the last room in our house, banishing the cardboard-box-brown paint that is ubiquitous in all Arizona homes forever. It is a lovely, soothing gray now and waiting for the last touches. (Check that off my New Year’s Resolution list!)

I pulled the millions of weeds in our yard, the rain lately has turned the gravel into a jungle. I also replanted a bunch of veggies and started two pallets of flower seeds for the front yard. I spent an entire afternoon pulling a WHEELBARROW FULL of concrete bits and rock out of the window box in our front yard. It needs some topsoil and then I can plant the lovely fuchsia bougainvillea bushes and bright yellow daisies in there. I potted a bunch of ranunculus for the front porch and back patio and am loving those little splotches of color.

I scrubbed all the corners of the house that have been neglected, I opened the windows and let the breeze blow through the rooms and air everything out.

I pulled up some nasty industrial-grade carpet that the previous owners GLUED to the side patio cement…I think a few months of the blazing southwestern summer sun on the remaining glue-gunk, with some strategic spraying and scraping will get rid of that stuff quite nicely. I’m just so glad to have it gone, I don’t like thinking about what was probably living/lurking in that nasty nasty carpet.

I’ve been to the gym, or on a walk, or a bike ride, almost every day. It has been GLORIOUS to move every day! My FitBit hardly knows what to do with me.

I did a mountain of laundry (see: deep clean everything) and watched some of my Netflix list for the first time in…weeks? (I’m watching The Tudors which is about the history of Henry VIII, because even my Netflix stuff must be nerdy. Hashtag: Harriet Life)

I’ve finished reading two books, started two more, and listened to three others while doing all my chores.

I went grocery shopping at Costco (for the FIRST TIME EVER! (I know.) (I SAID I KNOW!)) did some large-batch cooking, and filled up the freezer with some meals I can reheat later. I also bulked up our nearly non-existent pantry storage with a few cases of canned foods.

I unpacked the last of the moving boxes and have made a towering pile of things to send to Goodwill.

I’ve spent several hours on the phone with family and friends I love and feel I’ve neglected the last few months. I’m so grateful for technology, and simultaneously annoyed that I’m so far from the people I love.

I volunteered at a church event for young girls ages 8-11, we had a blast laughing and giggling and, uh, being super spiritual and stuff. Ahem.

Things I haven’t done, but intend to: hiking; painting on canvas/panels; a little photography spree to catch some early morning or pre-sunset light on the big rocky formation down the street from my house; take the pile in the garage to Goodwill; tidy up my side of the garage, especially the piles of project pieces that need to be corralled or recycled or finished up already; lunch and a movie matinee with a friend.

A few friends, upon hearing a little of what I’ve been up to, have commented that I don’t quite know how to “relax.” And…well, partly that is true. But the other part is something my friend Saskia wrote about, inspired by this article: There is a different between “self-care” and “resourcing.” Self-care is the spa day, or the massage, or the relaxing night at home. Resourcing is taking care of all the “life” stuff that you’ve somehow been neglecting. For me, before I can get into the self-care piece (hiking, painting, photography, etc), I need to take care of that resourcing bit that has eluded me for months. The resourcing part is almost done, I’ve got a few little projects I’d like to wrap up, and then I’ll have a few days truly to spend on myself, and then it will be time to go back to work. And for me, that sounds like the perfect sabbaticalette. (You know, because “two weeks in Europe” wasn’t quite in the budget/cards.)

How do you replenish yourself? Does the “self-care” and “resourcing” thing look different for you? If you had two weeks off, but limited funds for big adventures, what would you do?


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.