Friday, December 22, 2017

Fortune Favors the Bold

This year has held a lot of firsts. My first time running an office, my first time supervising someone, and my first time winning a fierce competition. It's been a busy year and now that it's winding down, I find myself exhilarated and exhausted. I've learned so much and faced so many challenges head on that I sometimes find myself overwhelmed by all that I've accomplished.

Nothing prepared me for the emotional roller coaster of this past week; however. The last few months have brought a few tragedies in the form of loved ones who have passed on. This past week, two people I knew and loved passed away. Between their deaths, I received some shocking news that brought so much joy and excitement.

First, a favorite performer at the local Renaissance Faire passed away following a battle, or "dance" as he called it, with cancer. He was inspirational and someone I greatly admired. The following day, I found out a competition I had entered back in October announced the results and I had won a spot! I will write more on that in a moment. A day or so later (the timeline is a bit of a blur), my husband found out his grandmother had passed. As I said, it's been quite the emotional roller coaster.

However, I am glad that the good news has helped me to balance out the bad. The competition I entered was a program called the Presidential Management Fellowship. It's a program that essentially helps graduate students get their foot in the door at the federal government. Grad students can apply within the year they are supposed to graduate and for two years following. Since I'm graduating in May, I figured I'd go ahead and give it a shot this year as after this year, I will have hit 10 years with the state and I will be less inclined to leave. The application period occurred around my birthday and the largest part of the application is an assessment that takes roughly 3 hours to complete. I had taken my birthday off, and I decided, somewhat begrudgingly, to take the test on my birthday.

After they had extended the test to allow individuals affected by the multiple natural disasters that had occurred this fall, the announcement date was pushed back a couple of times. I honestly didn't think I would be chosen because it is a very competitive program and when they finally made the announcement, they noted that they had received over 6,000 applications and had only chosen 425 people. I was astounded to discover I was one of the 425.

The battle isn't over yet; however, as finalists are not guaranteed an appointment. Now I have to apply for positions and attend interviews, just like a normal job application process. The program is for 2 years and after the 2 years, if you do well, most PMFs are converted to permanent positions in the federal government.

I have a year to find an appointment before my status as a finalist ends. I'm not 100% sure I want to leave the state because I am so close to my 10th year which will include an extra week of leave (I'm already vested with the state). The downside of switching to the federal govt. is that I cannot transfer my years of service. Apparently you can only transfer your years if you are moving down in government, such as from a state position to a county position. This is something to consider as I go through the process because right now I am set to hit 30 years around my 55th birthday, and I had planned to retire soon after. If I go to the federal government, I can take early retirement at 20 years with a penalty, or I can work for 30 years until I'm 65. Unfortunately, this won't really work for the plans my husband and I have as he is 7 years older than me and plans to retire at 65 himself. We want to retire to Mexico and I'd rather retire when I still feel young enough to really enjoy it.

Regardless of whether I accept a PMF position or not, I am honored to have been chosen as a finalist. I was looking at my last entry from this summer and I think this news is a nice complement to the Mediocre entry I wrote. I definitely do not feel mediocre now!

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Mediocre

Growing up, I lived in the shadow of my brother, literally and figuratively as I am a foot shorter than he is. He always got straight A’s, was involved in so many clubs and worked essentially a full time job in high school. My mother had a strong tendency to compare us, since we were only a year and a half apart in age. “Why can’t you be more like your brother?” was a constant refrain in my life. I resented him for a long time, though really, I should have put the blame on my mother. My brother rarely acknowledged her comparisons except for the time he told me he chose to take Theatre as an elective because he figured if I could get an A in that class, anyone could.

My sister was also a better student than I was. Being the youngest, I had a lot to live up to, both in the eyes of my teachers and my mom. My father was never really involved in our education or our daily lives as he worked long hours and was rarely home. In a lot of ways, I resented the comparisons both at home and at school and I wanted to make my own mark on the world. However, it was difficult to make my own mark when I was at the same school as my brother up until he graduated.
Both of my siblings went straight from high school to college. They finished in the predetermined 4 years and my brother went directly onto his masters and then his PhD. My sister worked as a school teacher while acquiring her masters. They have both completed their respective advanced degrees. My sister still works as a school teacher and my brother runs a large annual research project that involves interviewing the entering class of college freshmen. He also teaches a few classes at the college he received his PhD.

I, on the other hand, dropped out of college after my first year. Part of that was because I hated my college, which was located in a beautiful city and seemed like it would be an amazing experience. Instead it was like a boarding high school, with more rules than one would expect at a liberal arts school. The other part of my decision not to return was due to my mother being diagnosed with cancer. I was young, na├»ve, and I couldn’t deal with the reality, so I ran from it. I lived for a brief period of time in Georgia with a boy I met at college, but once my mother’s illness was declared terminal, I started making plans to move back. She pulled a lot of death bed guilt trips about going back to school in the short time between her cancer diagnosis and her death, but in the end, I knew I needed to follow my own path.

For a few years, I went to school at night at the local community college while working for a large law firm in the city. I stopped going to school when I met my first husband and I eventually quit the job in the city. My life really hit rock bottom with my ex husband as we were already broke and then I got pregnant. Our marriage quickly deteriorated after the arrival of our daughter and I moved back home with my dad.

After everything that had happened, I finally felt ready to really pursue my education, and not just take a few classes at night with no real direction. I finished my Associate’s at the community college while working part time for the state and I did well. I got mostly A’s and my GPA started to climb. I finished my Bachelor’s degree online through the state university system and managed to graduate cum laude. I was so proud of myself! I had aspirations to go to law school and I was sure I’d do well!
But then I took the LSATs, and my score would have limited my law school choices. And then I got married again and the idea of spending 10+ hours a day away from my family between work and school just didn’t sit right with me. So, I went searching for a degree program that would work with my schedule and would allow me to continue working in government and law without requiring a JD. That’s when I found my masters program.

I have a 3.83 right now and if I continue at the rate I’m going, I expect to graduate with at least a 3.8 or a 3.9 GPA. I’m excelling in my current class and I’m really enjoying the experience. As long as I continue at the pace I’m going, I will graduate with a masters degree in May of 2018. I have ambitions to be invited to join the honors society for my degree program in the coming months.
I was a late bloomer, but I think more than the college experience, I needed the life experience. I needed something to push me, to drive me to want to better myself, my life, my future. My daughter gave me the initial motivation because I wanted to do right by her and to give her a better life than I could offer her when she was born, but now, I’m driven because I want a better life for me. I want to give myself a new life experience, a successful life experience, and I’ve found that.


I am no longer mediocre.

Monday, May 1, 2017

Career Moves

My predecessor was retiring and I wasn’t sure what my future at this agency would be. I am going to school for a masters degree which will take me on a different path than my bachelor’s degree did, and that meant that at some point in the future, I would definitely leave this office. So the question was not if, but when. With that in mind, I applied for a position with another agency in October. It was listed as the same grade and classification as my predecessor’s position, and I didn’t want to put all my eggs into one basket.

They finally called me in March. I had honestly forgotten the position by that point. At the interview, I was told that they were looking to reclass the position by combining two positions of the same classification and grade. I was told that a part of this process would involve reclassifying the position to a higher grade as well. The CEO seemed to like me, and I left feeling like this was a position I really wanted and a place I could really grow.

Less than a week later, I got a verbal job offer; however, it wasn’t what I was used to. The HR director was vague on the details. Some of that had to do with it being a state position and needing to confirm my current grade and step level, but in my experience, agencies do not typically offer you the job until they have all those nitty gritty details. This was where the red flags started.

 It took over 2 weeks to finally get the offer in writing, and my concerns had been growing in that time. The CEO had told me it would take about two weeks to get a reclassification, so why had the agency already called me to offer me the position if they weren’t even sure the reclass was going through? The offer confirmed that while it was clear they were combining the two positions, it was not clear that a reclass had gone through. The offer listed the same grade and step for two positions that they had offered for one position. So, essentially, they were paying one person to do two people’s jobs. I was already doing that in my current position, but I had received a raise in the form of acting pay for my efforts.

I tried contacting the HR Director, but received no response. I scheduled a meeting with my two bosses to go over general office updates and to let them know about the job offer. At this point, I was torn in what I was going to do. On the one hand, I really wanted to take the job because it seemed like it would be a great transition from my current line of work into the  work I’m looking to get into with my masters degree. On the other hand, I didn’t want to leave my current office in a bind with no support staff and I definitely did not want to go to a job where I was not going to be paid adequately.

After talking to my bosses, I felt better about my future with my current office. There were discussions on how to increase me workload that would allow me to apply for a reclassification of my position to a higher grade. And they confirmed that their intent was to move me into the position I had been doing for the last 6 months permanently. I was still torn, but at least now I had had a frank conversation about my current position and I was more confident in what I would be giving up, even if I wasn’t sure what I’d be getting at the new job.

I went home that night to think things over. At some point during the evening, I had a bit of a letdown and I realized that I had made the decision. As excited as the new position sounded, I had to admit that in the interview it had sounded almost too good to be true, and with the lack of communication on the reclassification and frankly, the lack of trust on my part that it was even going forward, I decided to turn down the new offer.

I admit, I was sad, as I was so ready to leave. However, all the anxiety and stress I had been feeling over this decision disappeared as soon as I realized what my choice had to be. I couldn’t gamble with my future in the hopes that maybe the reclass would go through after all, after I had started. I felt acceptance and I know that the people I work with were relieved to know I was staying.

There will be other jobs, especially once I complete my degree program next year. It just wasn’t worth it to take a job I wasn’t confident in taking. The more time that has passed since I turned down the job offer, the more confident I am that I made the right decision. My office is moving towards having me permanently in the position and we’re looking into beginning the hiring process for a second support staff person, so hopefully I won’t be on my own for much longer.


The day after I turned the new offer down, I received an email from the HR Director asking me to contact her to discuss my decision. In the end, I never contacted her. I can see how that was probably a mistake; however, after all the anxiety I felt over that decision, I wasn’t looking to rehash it. And as one of my co-workers pointed out: it felt like they were doing some game playing, and I wasn’t really looking to participate.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Promoted

A little over a year ago, I transferred jobs from one in a big city to one in a smaller city closer to my home. The salary didn't change as I was in the same position (title/class/grade), but with a different agency; however, the benefits were numerous: my husband works down the street, I didn't have to rely on public transit anymore, and it was in a notably safer location.

All that said, I was miserable for most of my first year in this position. My office had never had a paralegal before and I spent a lot of time performing tasks I hadn't had to perform at my last position because that office had a substantial support staff. This office has two support positions, mine and the office manager position. Despite my efforts, I struggled with convincing the attorneys I worked with that I had the skill set to do so much more than what they were asking of me and I spent most of my days bored and, to be honest, rather resentful. One of the reasons I took this position was because Eric and I had planned to have a baby and once he came to terms with the fact that he didn't really want one, I started to feel like I made the move for nothing. When I was offered this position, I had also been offered a position in the big city that was a higher salary by two grades, which meant my salary would increase at least 12%. I turned it down because I wanted to leave the big city, and I had started to regret that decision.

Then in May, the office manager announced that she was considering retirement because her daughter was pregnant and she wanted to help her daughter out with the baby. Six months later, she officially retired and as the only other support person in the office, I assumed all of her duties and began receiving acting pay. It has been made clear to me by the hiring attorneys in my office that their intent is to move me fully into the office manager position and then decide what to do with my position.

This has led to a lot of good things, and some bad things. To end on a positive note, I'll start with the bad things: my office manager checked out long before she actually retired and she left me quite a few exasperating surprises that I've had to take care of in my first few weeks. The future of my current position is at stake as we have to demonstrate the need for two support staff in my unit. Even if we do manage to convince the department that my position is necessary, the state remains under a hiring freeze and it will be a while before we can hope to fill the position.

The good things are that I was able to catch up on the work my office manager neglected in a relatively short amount of time, I'm receiving more money in my acting capacity and have a better idea of what my salary will be once I'm fully moved into the position. Moving into this position will better prepare me for moving on once I finish my masters and start looking for a position in policy. I'm able to learn both through school and through hands on experience the different aspects of running an office. For instance, this semester, my first class is on budget and financial management, which will come in handy as we move into legislative session and I'm faced with maintaining the budget for this year and making our requests for next fiscal year's budget.

So, in the end I guess the old saying of "good things come to those who wait" is very true. I may have obtained a higher salary a year earlier had I stayed in the city, but I don't think I would have been satisfied with my position or would have found the drive to go back to school. Now I'm earning the same salary I would have earned there, but with 2 semesters of grad school under my belt and a solid plan for my future.