Friday, August 26, 2011

First Week on the New Job


I've put in my first 40 hours on the new job.

I can tell right now that having to be in the office at 8 and having to put in a "true 8" sitting in a chair on a computer on an office network that blocks anything not work related is going to seriously cut back on my blogtime (posting and commenting), facebook status updates and podcasting. My life is over.

I discovered after three days that my office wardrobe was seriously under stocked. All of my old office-worthy clothing was nearly 30 years old and 4 inches of waist ago. The only time I've had to dress up in the last 30 years has been for two weddings and a couple of funerals. At the last wedding I had the pants from the previous wedding let out two inches so I wouldn't have to buy a whole new suit. Other than that, everything I've had to wear to anything formal has been hidden under a black cassock. As long as I was wearing decent black shoes I could have been nekkid and I was good to go. So, it was off to Goodwill.

Way back when, I was a bit of a clothes hound. Maybe it's the old "art major" in me but for some reason when I'm shopping clothes I scan a rack and inevitably my eye is drawn to the most expensive pair of pants, shirt or accessory. I admit I've owned $75.00 ties and $200.00 pairs of pants... way back when I was making the kind of money you weighed instead of counted. But for 20+ years I've been counting, and I don't have to count very high these days. So I have to somehow reconcile my "eye" and my "wallet".

One word: Thrift stores. (OK, two.)

Not that I'm into "labels", I just know what I like... but I found a little over a week's worth of worthy office attire at Goodwill for under 80.00. Pants, shirts, ties, most of them indistinguishable from new off the rack. Because I've never needed brown shoes for the last 20 years, I did have to buy a pair of new brown shoes that cost me the same as my entire wardrobe. I know enough to know the same wardrobe at Macy's or Dillard's would have been well over a grand. I actually had to spend more on my construction clothes because those kinds of things don't make it to Goodwill and I had to buy them new.

Anyway, that was an anticipated part of the career change. It's kind of mundane for most of my readers I'm sure, but when you've been wearing carpenter jeans and a white T-shirt and tennis shoes to work for 30 years it's a big change.

Years ago, I would have bristled at the thought of having to dress up for "the man". But I've come to realize that a certain amount of "chameleon competence" is not a bad thing when navigating life and the various environments one finds one's self in. The issues of fitting in are far deeper than what drapes your body. If a piece of cloth offends or creates a barrier then I've created a hurdle that has to be overcome before I can begin to address the deeper issues of what separates human beings.  Of course I realize I could dress like a homeless person and press an issue on that level, but if that is a huge issue I won't be around long enough to influence any change anyway and the relationships are lost.  But that's not the point.

I haven't really escaped construction.  I got in the office early Monday morning and no one else was there yet. The offices had moved the week before and furniture and boxes were still stacked all over the place.  I moved some stuff around and found an old wooden desk in one of the offices. The center drawer was in three pieces from the move. I went out to my truck, got my tools and glued and clamped it.  It turned out it was the CEO's desk I fixed.  I went in to remove the clamps and put the desk back together and he asked who I was.  I told him and said this is my first day on the job, I had gotten there early and decided to make myself useful since I didn't know what else to do except what I used to do until my boss showed up to show me what new thing to do. We had a nice talk.  Not a bad first impression, I suppose.

I also started a job last Saturday that should have been a one day project.  It has turned into a week plus another 2-3 days next week because of changes and complications.  I've been working through my lunch break at the office so I can leave a half hour early to go work on the remodel project.  In the meantime this week I've gotten a half dozen calls from people wanting me to do construction stuff for them.  So I've been putting in 14 hour days this week and will continue on into next week.  That's not all bad since we need the money.  I can make more for a few hours after "work" than I will for the eight hours at my desk.  But I know I can't do that for long.  It's Friday afternoon and I'm fried and I have to go to work all weekend.

It is interesting being a total "newbie" at something once again.  I have basic computer skills which are essential for the new job. What I don't have is familiarity with the software and educational environment I am working with.  It is intimidating to be given a link to a website that you have no clue what it does, means, contains or how it fits with what  you are supposed to be doing.  Then you given 3 more of the same and you have to just play with them, click around all the dozens of menus and sub-menus to figure out how they all fit in the big picture and integrate all the information you get from each of them and put parts of each of them back into those same websites.  Of course I have a mentor, but he has his own job to do and part of my job is to take some of his job, so along with the learning curve I was handed a few dozen students and had to set up my own record keeping systems and get all of these kids started in all of the schools' programs in the meantime. Needless to say, even with a mentor there were plenty of opportunities to feel stupid and overwhelmed.  I know I had to ask several times stuff like, "Ummm.. WHICH website is it that you sign a kid up for/get this information from...?"  I've always told my employees there's no such thing as a stupid question, but it's still easy to FEEL stupid when asking one when you KNOW you've been told how to do that before.

Of course nothing is as simple as it looks.  "This is the procedure to do this..." Then the first batch of kids I got happened to be "exceptional cases" in the software and procedures. What should have been straightforward processes ended up taking me deep into sub-menus and different administrative procedures to get them enrolled and on track. It wasn't until the middle of the week that I got a true straightforward process. But, now I already know the hard stuff.

It's amazing how much of the same information needs to be stored in different places. I think I've cut and pasted more stuff than I have total in the past 15 years.  I've discovered more than a dozen Excel tricks and discovered two dozen more issues that I need to figure out what the tricks are to fix.  I can already see that keyboard short cuts are the key to survival in this job.  

So far I like what I am dealing with both in terms of the technical aspects of the job and the interaction with parents and kids.  I can see I'll be doing some "hand holding", tech support, coaching, encouragement, tough love and just ordinary information giving about the educational system/requirements.  It's not too much different than running a crew of 55 drywallers, really.  

Things I can see right now:

I need to change my eating habits. I'm going to be a blimp in about two months if I don't.  I sit down in my chair at my desk and except for bathroom breaks I don't get up again for 8 hours. If it ever drops below 110 I'll walk to work. My new office got moved to four blocks from my house. 

I need to say no to "side work".  One day a week, two in an emergency.  All work and no play makes s-p a dull boy and a bad blogger.

We need to budget.  The Wifey got a teaching job this year. Between the two salaries we can make ends meet if we're careful. Cool thing is we are both 10 month contracts, we could actually take vacations in the summer if we're careful.

I like the people I'm working with. I liked them in the interviews and staff training.  They get better every day. 

So, there's 40 hours in a nutshell. The nice thing is, no regrets and no red flags.  Yeah, I can do this.

Thursday, August 04, 2011

Getting Older and Pithlesser

I'm turning 59 in five days. I've never been much into birthdays and milestones and "passages". My 20, 30 and 40th birthdays went pretty much by without any sense of "gee/wow-ness" or movement toward or away from anything. My 50th birthday was an existential awakening. I'd been through the standard Red Bugatti mid-life crisis (yeah, I really had one), divorced, blended family etc. etc. (not that all that is normal, but it is the fodder of a John Updike novel).  But even during and after all that life did not seem particularly finite or "particular" in any real way.  I walked through it with the sense of appropriate angst, guilt, shame, joy, apprehension and uncertainty that one should feel when life is all akimbo, but it was just "life".

When I turned 50 I stared at the number and it was as if I stepped outside my door thinking it was midday and saw the sun setting.  The dusk of my life was in front of me, undeniable and darkening.  No matter how I cut it, my life was more than half over, more than likely I had about a quarter of it left to me, if that.  "The days of man are as grass, as a flower of the field so he flourisheth... Our days like a spider have spun out its tale. Our years number three score years and ten, and if we be in strength mayhap fourscore years, but what is more than these but toil and travail?"  I was old enough to see the truth in that, I just never thought it applied to ME.  But on my 50th birthday it did.  My life was on the downhill slope and I was still sheet rocking and lifting heavy stuff for a living.

For 30 years I've been doing construction because my college degrees would land me a 13.00/hour job.  When you're 35 and invincible, construction is a good living.  When  you're 58 and have been doing it for 30 years it is a hard living and one false move can mean a torn tendon or ligament that will put you in bankruptcy.  The frequency of "six ibuprofen and three beer" nights increase.  You just learn to live with chronic pain, move slower and don't "be a hero"... you ask for help to lift and move stuff.  Without any health insurance and another option to buy groceries on the table you live in fear of an accident, a miscalculation, an untimely muscle spasm or just plain exhaustion that will end up in a career ending injury. 

A month ago I interviewed for a new job.  It was not just a "job", it was a new career.  Actually it is more like my original career working with "at risk" kids and families.  At 59 my youngest has graduated from high school and cosmetology school.  The Wifey has finished her teaching recertification for Arizona and found a teaching job after 30+ years of staying home with the kids.  Between the two salaries on paper it looked like we can pay our bills if I do a "side job" here and there.  I got the job.

It was somewhat of an affirmation that after 30 years in construction and pushing 60 someone thought I had something on a "professional level" to offer an organization other than repairing their drywall or building them a new office.  But the reality is, I have been self-employed for 30+ years.  It will be an adjustment to be working for "the man", punching his time card, asking him for days off and taking his allotment of vacation.  I can't just pack my tools up and go build a Church or a monastery for three weeks anymore.  I know it will be an adjustment, but I also know I pretty much HAVE to make the adjustment, just like I made the adjustment from ministry to construction 30 years ago out of necessity.

Fifty nine is a strange birthday. It has an anticipatory facet to it that is sobering in a way that actually turning 50 or 60 doesn't.  My parents are in their mid 80's and we're waiting for "the phone call" about my Dad. I'm his age when his parents passed away. I get AARP's magazine and it tells me every month that I'm on the cusp of the "retirement decade" and I have nothing.  The past 30 years have been spent on groceries, house payments, electricity, stuff to raise our kids and a trip to visit family now and then (but not nearly often enough).  The only things we have of value are memories, a wonderful bunch of kids and a couple of cute grand kids.  Everything else is a liability and worth less than we paid for it.  But in the grand scheme of things, if I make it another eleven years to three score and ten, I won't regret investing in those things instead of a 401k. 

So, here is to change.  I know there are more  changes on the close horizon that I did not apply for, cannot fully prepare for nor predict.

So, here is to having more life to remember than to anticipate.  It is an odd place but thankfully I do not find it frightening or depressing.  The dusk breaks into a new dawn and I'm looking forward in peace to the last and eternal dawn.  There's something to be said for that, even if I'm punching a time card for the man.