Friday, May 13, 2016

The End of an Era (Really, How It Began)

In November 2015, I did something I had said I would do for years but never made the time to tackle: I competed in (and won!) National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo. The challenge is to write 50,000 words or more during the month of November; everyone who achieves this goal is declared a "Winner." I have a NaNoWriMo sticker on my laptop now as a regular reminder of the experience--the write-ins, word sprints, late nights, and more.

My old co-worker Kristy and I often discussed how we needed to write a book about our experiences working in residence life at a residential high school, because so much of what we go through is a combination of hilarious and unbelievable. I used NaNoWriMo to start chronicling my years working at LSMSA; with names mostly changed and my place of work renamed to Lots of Letters School for Smart Kids (LOLSSK) I scratched the surface of telling my story by writing just over 50,000 words in November.

Graduation is on May 21 this year, and I am regularly reminded of how quickly my time at a place that has become extremely important to me is drawing to a close. I plan to post several times next week about different aspects of what the first job of my career has meant to me and what I will miss as I move forward in the future. (Someday, I'll get back to more Rodan + Fields-related blogging, but right now there is a lot of time-sensitive stuff going on in my personal life that I feel like writing about.)

Last night, I opened my novel file for the first time since November 30 (one of the mantras for NaNoWriMo is "Editing is for December!"...nobody specifies which December, though) and read the first few pages. After some light edits, I am posting it here as a teaser for next week. As it turns out, other than some name changes, the first pages of my NaNoWriMo novel describe how I ended up in Dirty Natty pretty thoroughly.



Offer and Acceptance
I went to the Lots of Letters School for Smart Kids (LOLSSK) because I wasn't really sure what to do, and it seemed like it would be better for my career and my life than moving home would be. I graduated from college at a time when jobs were difficult to come by, or at least the types of jobs that my peers and I - wide-eyed in our early twenties - wanted were tough to come by. We had started college a few years earlier with the idea that if we earned a degree, a $50,000 job in the city, state, or country of our dreams would be waiting on the other side. In fact, $50,000 was just the beginning.

I had also grown up in a time where people told me I could do whatever I want with my life. And while I recognize that is true, what people don't always tell you is that you might not get the direct route to doing what you want. That was the case with me as I graduated from college with a bachelor's degree...and seven rejection letters from assorted medical schools.

Since medical school had almost always been my plan, I wasn't sure what to do next other than act defeated. On the last day of my undergraduate classes, I came home and crashed in my bed. I had about a week of finals to go before I was on my own in the world with my bachelor's degree and the contents of my room.

And by out in the world, I mean unemployed and living with my parents. In 2010, moving home after college and living with one's parents did not have the stigma it once had because everyone else was doing it too. In retrospect, I don't know what I was so worried about.

Fortunately, my friend Darrell, a flamboyant fraternity consultant preparing to start a graduate degree in Higher Education and Student Affairs, was on campus that day and wanted to see me as I was wrapping up my college career. In my overwhelmed state, Darrell pointed out that between my experience as a sorority member and a resident assistant, I had a decent resume to become a young student affairs professional myself. If nothing else, I could work in student affairs while I reapplied to medical school. Oh, and there was the whole bit about liking student affairs and being pretty good at it. In the search for vocation, those are two pretty important qualities as well.

“I don't have a Master's Degree,” I whined at the suggestion. “Don't those jobs require a Master's?”
“Not all of them,” Darrell said cheerfully. “Let's see what we can find!”

After he pulled me away from my bed where I was huddled up under some blankets, Darrell and I started looking for jobs to which I could apply. Just from one website, he was able to quickly pull eight positions for me. He pasted the job descriptions into a word document and instructed me to apply for all of the jobs before the weekend ended.

So I did.

I started rounding up recommendations and pasting my last five years of job experience – quite the task for someone who worked several small jobs throughout college – and the next week, I received an e-mail from Brittany Berry, the Director of Student Services at the LOLSSK. She wanted to interview me for a position as Not a Dorm Mom (NDM), which would entail me overseeing a floor of approximately forty high school girls. It was sort of like my job as a Resident Assistant (RA) in college, except that I would be legally responsible for those people. And they were high school students. So it was really like being a parent to people who weren't much younger than I was. Even though I had referred to the school as the LOLSKS in my cover letter (rookie mistake!) Brittany was interested. I guess my past experience looked good and relevant. We set up a time to talk, and I did my best to prepare for the interview.

When I had searched for positions earlier in the semester, I took my phone interviews seriously. I put on a suit and high heels and faced a wall so there was nothing to distract me as I talked through the interview and made notes of important facts I might want to reference when I wrote my thank you notes later – the hand-written ones I would mail as well as the e-mail note that would follow shortly after my interview.  On this day, I wore my baggiest pajamas, didn't bother to put on a bra, and loaded up my virtual farm game on my laptop while I waited for Brittany's phone call. She asked me questions about communication with my residents and co-workers, and we talked about programs I had done as an RA. She told me more about LOLSSK and what my job would entail if I came to work as a NDM. Just as I had done in my earlier interviews, I made notes of what to touch on when I wrote a thank you note. At the end of the interview, I asked questions – some that I actually didn't know, and some that I asked because I know you're supposed to ask questions in these interviews.

A few days later, I received an e-mail from Yvonne Byars, who was the Head Dorm Boss (HDB) and would be my direct supervisor if I worked as an NDM. We set up an interview for Sunday, which she forgot, so we rescheduled for Tuesday. I had an in-person interview at a family-owned insurance company – remember, my peers and I were willing to do anything for a job with benefits – earlier that day, so I did my phone interview with Yvonne in the driver's seat of my car at a Taco Mac restaurant where I would be meeting Darrell for dinner. My interview with Yvonne went pretty well, but I could tell things were getting serious when she asked me questions about what I would do to find private time for myself while living at my job and among my students. Yvonne flat out told me that the facilities were old and had their issues, and I calmly responded that I had spent several years in college living in old buildings, so I was used to it. When she asked if I had any questions at the end of the interview, I told her that I thought Brittany had answered my questions but asked if I could e-mail her if I thought of anything. She said that would be fine.

Over beers, Darrell enthusiastically inquired about my life over the past few weeks, and I discussed my progress in the job search. I told him I felt confident about both of my interviews that day. When I told him I had not asked any questions in my last interview, however, Darrell started flipping out. “You have to ask questions!” he exclaimed.

So when I e-mailed my thank you note to Yvonne, I also included some questions about operations of the building. She wrote me back with answers, and a few days later, I received the call from Brittany offering me the NDM position. If I wanted to, could move a few states away and be part of the LOLSSK family.

I told her I needed a few days to think, but what I really meant is that I wanted to hear back from the insurance company. I had really liked the people at the insurance company, and it seemed like a place with good values. If I couldn't go to medical school, I at least wanted to work somewhere that would treat me the way I thought I deserved to be treated. She asked me how long I needed, and I said a few days.

After the offer call, I told just about anyone who would listen that I had a legitimate employment option. In a conversation with Stefan, my university's Director of Residence Life, I told him I was waiting to hear back from an insurance company, and he remarked that I could work in insurance whenever I wanted, but this was the kind of job to take when I was young and could still do it. So, I went in an empty office, called Brittany back, and accepted the job. A few hours later, I received the call that the insurance company had gone with another candidate. Even though it didn't feel good to hear that – I really struggle with rejection – it seemed like things were falling into place.

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