Mom’s Career Advice

I am just the mom, so my advice is not always taken. Having never been one to take a lot of advice from my own parents, I get that. Never the less, I do have the gift of hindsight.  With the bulk of my working life now behind me, I actually know a few things about finding jobs, holding jobs, and seeking fulfillment in a career.

Now my own daughters are about to embark on their career journeys.  Our youngest has declared a double major at an academically rigorous university and has a challenging plan for post-grad studies that are still almost two years down the road. Our oldest, at 23, has completed her master’s degree and is job hunting for the first time in her life. It’s a scary time for her, but it can also be a time for amazing exploration. Both of these young women have worked summer jobs and earned a little money during their college years, but that is not the same thing as launching a career.  So here’s my advice:

  1. Always be on the lookout for opportunities, and while you’re searching them out do something; anything. Answer phones. Sort mail. Wait tables. Wash cars. Sell shoes. But do not sit around waiting for something to happen to you. And don’t allow your joblessness now to become a habit or a pattern; it will only lead to unhappiness and a lack of self-worth.
  2. Keep your head in the game. Stay focused on what you really want and don’t let it slip away just because you may be earning your keep in some other way. Earning money is not the same as building a career or a life. Build on your passions and chart a career path then keep walking on that path. If your passion shifts to something else, chart a new path later on.
  3. You need to earn your freedom. Chances are that you want a certain lifestyle and that it will cost you something – usually money. That is a harsh reality of life. But there is also no better feeling than knowing that you have earned your own life; that you are entitled to a great apartment or a fun evening out or a decent car because you have worked hard to get it. There is enormous life-long satisfaction in paying your own way in the world. Your dad and I were not handed anything in life, so all that we have in our modest home and lifestyle is a reflection of what we have earned and the choices we made about how and where we would raise our family.
  4. Surround yourself with like-minded people: people who have a similar moral compass, who are passionate about things like you are, and people you trust. You will feed each others hopes and have a great support system to keep you moving in the right direction. If you hang with movers and doers, you are likely to become one. If you hang with the slackers, you are also likely to become one.
  5. Just as school has always been for you, your career life is a continuum. You will learn things from your first job that will carry you into your second and third. You will learn what you like and dislike about particular types of work and types of people. You will learn more about what you want out of life itself. When you stop learning and stop caring, it’s time to move on.
  6. Don’t let someone else’s definition of success define you. Success is whatever makes you feel useful and productive. Success can be felt in the achievement of small goals as well as big ones. It’s not always about the money, but success is almost always directly the result of hard work and very rarely the result of good luck. You have already gained educational successes and now it’s time to use your brains in different ways. Going forward you will be judged on your qualities as a person, your ability to get things done, and how you get along with others.
  7. Don’t waste a lot of time looking back. If you make a mistake, consider it a learning experience and move on. If you take a job and it turns out to be the wrong choice or in the wrong city, it’s not the end of the world. Very few people end their careers in the same place they began; physically, mentally, or emotionally. Changing jobs is very common. What you find right now may help pay your bills and show you that you have potential to do something different or better later on.
  8. Take some risk. I am not suggesting that you throw all caution to the wind and set yourself adrift. But there will be no better time in your life for risk-taking. Chances are that you will never again be as unencumbered as you are right now. You do not have a mortgage, a spouse, or children. You don’t have a pet or a car payment. Granted, you have some college loan debt, but so does almost everyone else your age. But you will never have more freedom than you do right now. You have the freedom to go anywhere in pursuit of something that satisfies you – a lifestyle or a career. By all means, weigh your options carefully, but taking a risk can be very rewarding.
  9. You don’t find yourself, you create yourself. You already know this because I’ve said it numerous times and will say it again. Finding yourself implies that you are somehow lost and that sets you up for perpetually looking for something. On the other hand, creating yourself puts you in the mindset of perpetually building something. This is not just semantics. It really speaks to the issues of determination and perseverance. It sets a very different tone for your life and the choices you make.
  10. Who you are now is not necessarily an indicator of who you will become. Your experiences will shape you in ways that you may not even begin to understand right now. And that’s okay. In fact, it’s more than okay. You don’t want your entire life to be planned out right now. You just need a short-term plan that will get you some little piece of satisfaction. You found it in your school work, and you will find it in your career and your life. If I was a betting person, I would bet heavily on you.

Dad and I are here to help. You can lean on us when you need us. But mostly, we’ll just be watching and waiting for the next moment when you will make us proud. You’ve done it many times already, and we’re expecting more great things from you to come. No pressure – just encouragement, and lots of love.

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Homecoming

Our oldest daughter is coming home. I am so anxious to see her, but my excitement is tempered slightly by just a little trepidation.

Coming home. To our home. It is the home where she grew up (well, one of two since we had a different house when she was younger) and the home she left when she started college. In reality, it may no longer be her home.

Hannah in LondonShe has been living abroad for a year, getting her master’s degree in London. In the meantime, we have dutifully been the keepers of her stuff. Her bedroom is full of her stuff, and a good portion of the basement contains stuff from her college apartments.

Now, as her homecoming is imminent, I may have realized what it doesn’t mean more than what it does mean. It doesn’t mean that this will be permanent. Far from it.

We know for a fact that her London lifestyle will not fit in our small city. We are reasonably certain that her career goals will not land her something she wants in our community, either. And so we fully expect to be a temporary stop for her on her journey to next adventure-time.

We also know for a fact that she is not the teenager who left at age 18 to begin her studies at a major university, nor is she the 22 year old college grad who over-packed her suitcases a year ago and flew across the ocean to bravely begin a quest for a post-grad degree in one of the world’s largest cities. She is an adult, albeit an unemployed adult at this moment, and we are prepared to treat her like an adult. Having been her parents for so long, these new roles may not flow easily for her or for us. But with a lot of love and respect, I believe we will work it out.

She is welcome to stay for as long as she likes. That will never change. As long as we have a home, our daughters can share it. At the same time, we are certain that it truly is a wayside stop for her now and increasingly for her college-age sister. Our goal for them is that their childhood home becomes a launching pad as they move into new phases in their lives. It’s still a hardship to watch them struggle, and a thrill to watch them soar.

We will stand by, ready to help when asked and to give advice from time to time. But her job search is hers to manage. We hope to give her a roof over her head for a little while, so that she can take off again in a new and positive direction.

It’s an exciting and scary time for her and for us. But for now I’ll be happy just to greet her at the airport. I’ll be the one with the tissues.

Weighing In

It’s a great feeling to reach a goal, but often success means just staying in the game. That’s how it feels when you’re on a long weight loss journey.

Even as a teenager I was not fully comfortable with my weight. It’s not that I was fat, in fact far from it now that I look back. But women really are indoctrinated from a very early age that if you’re not waif-thin like a super model, then you must be overweight.

During college and then over the next few years I gained a little weight. Then in my 30’s I had two children and then was diagnosed with hypothyroidism. It took a while to get the thyroid condition under control, and I have never been good at maintaining an exercise program, so I continued to gain. I tried some fad diets, but they only resulted in yo-yo weight losses and gains. Over a couple of decades, my weight ballooned up to well over 200 pounds on my 5’ 4” frame. It is incredibly uncomfortable to acknowledge that even to myself, so writing it here for anyone to read is really an unprecedented level of candor for me.

In addition, I live with a chronic illness/condition called Achalasia. Some people who have it lose dramatic amounts of weight, because, frankly, eating with Achalasia is not always easy. That did not seem to deter my body from gaining. It’s ridiculous, but true.

As a result of the weight gain I had high cholesterol and was pre-diabetic. My doctor had me on a cholesterol lowering medication and wanted to start me on meds for my blood sugar level and triglycerides. Because my father died in his early 70’s after complications from diabetes, I knew I did not want to go down that path, and my doctor made it clear that losing weight would help me reduce the likelihood of diabetes.

Left:  Before my weight loss (during karaoke at the neighborhood block party - my neighbors will be grateful that I cropped them out) and Right, with my eldest daughter after my weight loss.

Left: Before my weight loss (during karaoke at the neighborhood block party – my neighbors will be grateful that I cropped them out); and Right: with my eldest daughter after my weight loss.

I had just turned 50, was facing the prospect of sending my oldest daughter off to college, and had these health issues staring me squarely in the face. It was then that one of my best friends called and said she was joining Weight Watchers, again. Neither of us can really count the times we have joined and then quit, but when she asked me to go with her it was like the stars were aligned for this to happen. In fifteen months we each lost about 60 pounds. Then, over the next two years my weight crept back up by almost seventeen pounds. I have spent the past couple of years taking them back off and am happy to report that as of this week I have taken those pounds off and have reached my goal weight.

Five years ago I started this journey because I wanted to be healthier, to have more energy, and to make sure that I can be around to watch what comes next in my daughters’ lives. The real goal is not just to live a long life, but to have the quality of life that allows me to remain somewhat active and to not become a burden on my children later in life. It is now possible for me to take a walk without pain in my knees or getting too winded, and it’s much easier to climb stairs and work in the yard.

I will never be skinny and that’s fine, but I am in this for the very long haul. So I will watch my portions and try to make healthy food choices as much as possible. Of course there will be times when I choose to eat ice cream, or potato chips, or cookies, or potato chips, or cake, or potato chips. Actually, potato chips are practically banned from my home because they are just too tempting.

Weight loss is a deeply personal journey. It can’t happen unless your head is fully in the game. It comes down to a series of decisions every single day. So each day I remind myself that I am choosing to be healthier; not a health freak and certainly never an exercise nut, just healthier. As for my own health stats, both my cholesterol and blood sugar levels are now perfect, with no medication required. And that, for me, is so much more satisfying than being able to buy a smaller size skirt, though that’s not too bad either.

I do not judge others on their weight. I have been there and know full well that there are all kinds of reasons why we gain and don’t lose. Now, five years into this journey I feel like my life can be both longer and better, so I am sharing my experience just in case there is a slim chance (pun intended) that it could help someone else. I sincerely wish you good health.

Write On

When I started writing this blog one year ago I had absolutely no idea what I was doing. It’s true. No idea.

One year later I have looked back on some of the things I have written and learned some things about myself and about life, which may be reason enough to continue.

In my former life as a reporter, writing was something I did every day. I didn’t give much thought at all to the craft of writing at the time, I just did it. Now, I think about writing as anything but a job – it is a way to help me organize thoughts and focus my mind. It’s a way to tell a story, celebrate a success, mourn a loss, consider next steps, and capture personal history.

This somewhat regular return to writing has unlocked some forgotten boxes in my brain. It has made me start to think like a writer.  I have started writing other things, and started thinking about things I want to write. I have made notes on several writing projects I would like to tackle. When I’m alone in the car I sometimes make notes on my phone’s voice recorder to remember things I’d like to write about later.  I have started writing two books, and have almost finished one of them. I am not ready to share those projects with anyone just yet, but I am getting there. In addition, the very recent passing of our beautiful perpetual puppy dog at the not so old age of eleven has given me fodder for yet another writing project – a tribute to her very important role in our lives.

Life is a continuing stroll through the autumn woods.

Life is a continuing stroll through the autumn woods.

I equate autumn with fresh starts. We still have back to school days in our home, though they come earlier now as we packed our youngest back to college several weeks ago. A return to cozy sweaters and the leaves turning to my favorite colors are comforting, while also offering a nod toward change. This fall, new challenges await us as our eldest returns from her year-long master’s degree studies abroad. We expect to be just a temporary stop in her life journey now; a place for re-entry and launch towards her next adventures.

This fall, I expect some evenings will be devoted to time at the keyboard. There are words in my head that I simply must write down. When I write them here for you to read, I am inviting you into my life. You may choose whether you will accept the invitation.  If you do, thanks for reading and all feedback is gratefully accepted.

Honestly, I still have no idea what I’m doing. But I’m okay with that and I’ll keep writing about all kinds of things that make up This Autumnal Life, as I make peace with the days that seem to be growing shorter by the moment.