Need a job done well? Hire a Mom to do it.

wordleRemember that old yarn–a woman over 40 is more likely to get killed by a terrorist than remarry? Try being a 50 year-old mother returning to the workforce after a ten year hiatus.

I’m thinking of going back to work, so I did some research. There’s this thing called Google. Who’s antiquated and behind the times? Not me. I have mad skillz.

Articles describing the post-motherhood job market all indicate that having voluntarily left my seat at the table, I’m not welcome to come back. Employers, however, are advised to bend themselves into a pretzel to hire Millennials, who, according to these same articles come to the meal with the eating habits of a toddler. No onions, mushrooms, or green things. The food must not touch. The crusts of the PB&J must be cut off and only cut diagonally.

In the interest of balanced press, here are a few reasons employers should consider hiring a Mom returning to the workforce.

1) We are the market. Studies show women control 80-85% of all consumer purchase decisions. The millennial market is estimated at $200 billion. The Mom market? $2.4 trillion. No one understands the mind of a mom better than another mom. These are my peeps, yo.

2) We are the embodiment of can-do. A mom will never say “that’s not in the job description.” Sometimes you just have to get shit done. The job might be messy, demoralizing, or just plain disgusting, but in my house, the cat vomit is invisible to everyone but me.

3) We are used to working without appreciation, validation, or any form of recognition for working above and beyond the call of duty. One glitter and macaroni covered card a year and I’m good to go. The cats don’t even do that much, and I still feed them.

4) We have long attention spans and a high tolerance for pain. Ever hear a 5 year-old give a synopsis of the Spongebob Movie? It’s longer than The Odyssey and has no periods. A monthly forecast meeting is a cakewalk in comparison. As for my pain tolerance, walking on coals is for wussies. Try walking on Legos. I dare you.

5) I bake cookies. A cheap ploy, yes, but we’re talking cookies, people.

6) We are fast learners, and even faster re-learners. I get it. I’ve been away for a while. I’ve been away from high school even longer and managed to relearn logarithms well enough to tutor the child. I suspect he’ll need them just as much in his life as I have in mine. As for social media, even my son’s friends find my feed amusing from time to time. I also have more followers than they do.

7) We can manage complex assignments. Assembling Cybertron Primus requires PhD level skills and the patience of Job. So do most PTO assignments. Triage isn’t just another skill for mothers, it’s a way of life, and we’re used to putting other people before ourselves. As for complaining, we only do it behind your back.

8) We invented multitasking. Don’t even try going there. I have a can of multi-purpose whup-ass in my purse and I know how to use it.

9) It’s one less person on Social Security. I’m trying to be part of the solution, but I need someone to hire me first.

10) Finally, and most importantly, if you want to test my managerial skills, meet my son. He’s the best, most amazing thing I can ever take credit for, and like most things in life, we made the rules up as we went along, because that’s how life, and business, rolls.

I did what was right for me, and my family, and I have no regrets. Not once, however, did I stop being a badass. I did not put my brain in a lock box or my ambitions on the shelf. I did what every good manager does. I trained my son to do the job without my help, so now I’m free to do the same for someone else.

So next time you see my resume cross your desk, take a chance and call me. I’m worth the risk. There might even be cookies in it for you.

You can have what you choose

moutainpathIndra Nooyi caused quite the ruckus with her comments at the Aspen Ideas Festival. I was glad to hear her finally say the words out loud–You can’t have it all.

I joined the same consulting firm where Ms. Nooyi worked shortly after she left. I have to wonder if she heard the same mantra I did, over and over again–You can have it all, just not at the same time.

At the firm, once a woman ascended into the ranks of management, she was invited to a luncheon where the female partners discussed how they negotiated the demands of career and motherhood. It was meant to be helpful.

It was total bullshit. That was my reaction to it, anyway.

What I heard at the time was, you can have it all, but not at the same time, so give us what we want from you right now, and you can have what you want later, if there’s still time left over. What they were really saying, however, was if this is what you want, this is what is required to make it happen in a real world.

The woman shared what worked for them, what gave them the life they wanted, and if I wanted what they had, it came at a price. The firm would own my now if I wanted to achieve the an equivalent later.

What wasn’t made explicit was the larger question–Was this what I really wanted? My reaction to the presentation should have been a wake up call. The answer was no.

You can’t have it all. You can have what you choose. They’d each found ways to navigate the challenges while encountering the inevitable obstacles, but they couldn’t change reality.

Ms. Nooyi’s remarks have been characterized as negative and pessimistic. I think she’s a realist. When I tried to have it all, I constantly juggled elements of my life, responding to the demands of the universe.  It was tantamount to letting my circumstances make my choices for me. I chafed against my constraints until I decided couldn’t fight anymore.

I chose, knowing that by choosing one outcome, I had to forgo the other.

There is no one right way to live. You can scale a mountain a multitude of ways. Some are harder, some are easier. Some are more treacherous, some are torturous and some take forever. Each has their challenges and their rewards. In the end, however, they all lead to the same place.  The path between is everything.

Making my peace with leaving some paths unexplored is not always easy. I feel regret and envy. I second-guess my decisions, wonder about what might have been, or what I could have avoided. I worry how my path effected those who traveled with me. The best remedy for me is to fully appreciate the path that I’ve chosen in all it’s messy, chaotic beauty.

That is a choice as well, and it is enough.

Photograph : Mountain Path, by Jessie Owen © 2011 Creative Commons/Flickr

Can’t take the road if you don’t know it’s there

dreamWhat do you want to be when you grow up? We ask children the question all of the time. With the Dude getting ready for college, it’s sort of omnipresent in our house.

I was chatting with a young composer and his parents over coffee a few weeks ago. I asked his mother if she had any sense that he might be musical when he was young. She told me that when he was small, he’d  cover his ears and cry when the choir sang at church each week. She asked him why, and he said “because they are out of tune!” When he told her that she was humming a song in the incorrect key, she knew he had a gift.

I think my husband was that way. He liked to build with Erector sets and gears and engines. His father tells me that he was always methodical and driven to get things just right. he always loved the concept of space, and alternative worlds, and science fiction. Not surprisingly, he has a PhD in Computer Science. He builds worlds with programming languages, and systems. He is brilliant.

How great it must be to have a sense of who you are and what you’re meant to be from such an early age. When I was little, I remember playing house, and school, and nurse. I remember wanting to be an actress, or a singer, or an ice skater. I wanted to be an artist, and a writer, and an interior designer. Maybe a chef, or a teacher. I haven’t changed much. I still want to be everything, to do everything. I don’t want to choose.

When my son was little, he wanted to be an excavator (yes, an excavator), then an astronaut, then a garbage man, then the guy that waves the cars forward at the car wash. Dream big, little man. Then he wanted to be a soldier, a filmmaker and then a teacher. Now he’s interested in advertising and marketing.

When he gets to college, assuming he’s still interested in business, he’ll have his classes pretty much set for him. Undergraduate business programs look more like MBA programs these days, with tons of prerequisites that need to be completed in the first two years. It doesn’t leave much time for exploration. Luckily I wasn’t locked in too early–I went into college as an accounting major and it took two years to figure out that I really had no interest in accounting. I switched over to Marketing. I’m not even sure there way any paperwork involved.

I know that it’s practical, all of this specialization. But if I don’t know what I want to be at 48, how is my son supposed to know at 16? I feel like I’ve redefined myself over and over again–shifted and blurred and come back into focus as something new. It’s part of what makes life interesting. I worry that our culture pushes kids to make mature, adult decisions before they are ready and mistakes it for progress. I wish my son had more time to dream, and ponder and see alternative futures. Right now, he wants to get done. Get to the answer, move on to the next question until whatever he’s doing is over, so he can get back to playing basketball, or X-box, or watch videos on YouTube.

There is so much more to life than being done. The doing should be the thing, yes? The joy in the doing?  The roads may look pretty defined at the moment, but I hope my son keeps an eye open for a hidden trail or two. You never know what you might find. Could be a case of poison ivy. Then again, it might be some quiet tranquil spot where stories grow. Oh wait, this is his paradise–a KFC and an X-Box. At least for now. Tomorrow it might be something different. Like I said, dream big little man. Dream big.

Words by J. B. Everett

Photograph – “Dreaming” by H. KoppDelaney © 2008 Creative Commons

 

Fast Times at Farmington High

This weekend is my thirtieth high school reunion. I can’t attend, as I’ll be bringing the beloved monster home from camp. Can’t wait to give him a big hug. I just hope he’s showered this week.

As the geek-in-residence of my year (or at least one of the top contenders for the title) reunions evoke memories of my most cringe-worthy self. It was, however, a time when my friends were family and I spent countless hours with some of the most wonderful people I’ll ever know. You know who you are. You also know what I’m up to.  This is for everyone else.

Since I can’t be there in person, let me take a few moments to answer the inevitable questions that arise at occasions like these. It’s just like being there, without the plane fare, the banquet hall food, or having to listen to unnamed people sing. It also allows me to edit.

After high school, I did what most people expected. I went to college and kicked butt.  After that came a whole lot of working and some more school, and then a whole lot more working. Probably sounds familiar. It’s what we all did.  After twenty years of doing what people expected, I decided it was time to do what I wanted. According to LinkedIn, I’m a writer at Self Employed, Inc., where the salary sucks but the benefits are unmatched. Ms. Pieron would be proud. Mrs. Gearhart, not so much. My grammar is still awful and I use passive voice all of the time.

I’ll have you know that I didn’t marry an English professor. My husband’s PhD is in Computer Science. We have a teenage son who is a popular, extroverted, jock-student. I know. It surprises the heck out of me, too.  We have a habit of moving every five years, strategically selecting cities with a high cost of living, perpetual gridlock and an overinflated housing market. At the moment, we live outside of D.C., which elevates gridlock to a whole new level and adds humidity. I don’t have to shovel snow or wear hats in the winter. That makes up for a lot. If only the Nationals didn’t suck.

I still wear glasses, but I’m guessing a lot of you do too. I run miles every day, and not because anyone is chasing me with a snowball. I still play violin.  Adults call this creative expression and view it as a enviable character trait, not a “kick me” sign. But I’m not cynical or anything. Believe it or not, I have very few regrets about things I did in high school (save for powder blue eye shadow, questionable fashion choices and a few idiots I pined over). Most of my regrets are things that I didn’t do, pieces of myself that I hid, thinking they were too fragile to stand up to the scrutiny of others.  I was wrong.

I kept my snarky mouth shut, but filed my best lines in memory. Now, I use them to eviscerate imaginary antagonists.  If by any chance, you read one of my stories where a character meets a gruesome and painful end, any resemblance is purely coincidental.

All in all, I’m sorry to miss the event. There are a few people I’d really love to see, a couple of long-overdue apologies and explanations that will remain unsaid, and a few secrets I’ll take to my grave, because saying so  makes them sound so much more interesting than they really are.  So, to those gathering at El Nibble Nook on Friday, I recommend the Burro Verde. When the guitarist plays “You Belong to my Heart,” it’s from me to you.

I’m good enough, smart enough, and doggone it, people like me! Two out of three ain’t bad.

I had a post all planned for today, but I had a tweet chat with my platform challenge peeps last night, and I’m feeling feisty.

I’ve said it before, and I will say it again.  Labels matter.  As writers, we believe in the power of stories.  That’s why we tell them.  That’s why we treasure them.  The most important stories are the ones we tell ourselves about ourselves. That tape loop that runs inside our heads, hissing at us as we pursue the unexpected path, perhaps the improbable one.

Amateur, wannabe, has been (funny how these two coexist like wrinkles and acne in mid-age), dilettante,  poseur, delusional, fraud.  Have I really earned any of them?  Why am I so fast to burden myself with negative nameplates but affirmation can only come from the outside? Who gave the world that authority over me?  I did.  I’m taking it back.

I am a writer.  This is my job.  The pay and benefits at Self Employed Inc. are not great but I like my coworkers.  Most startups bleed money long before they earn their first sale.  If there is anything I’ve learned it’s that if I’m waiting for the external world to validate my sense of self, I’d better bring a good book, because it will take a while.  Tall poppies and all that.

My writing will never win a Pulitzer, or a Booker prize, or be on a MFA syllabus.  That’s not the dream anyway.  I just want to make someone’s afternoon a little better, or give them a different angle on their own backyard.

If there is anything else I’ve learned, it’s that lots of people suck at their jobs and it doesn’t seem to bother them one little bit.  Some of them don’t even realize it. Do they have to hand back their title on a plate? If they did, the business world would come to a screeching halt.

So, from here on out, you are a writer, or a musician, or whatever it is your passion leads you to be. If anyone questions it, tell them I said so, or better yet, that you said so. Now that we’ve made that clear, what are you going to do about it? Right now, today.

Make your declaration, and write your own story. And most of all, remember that you rock.

Submitting to the Process-Embracing my Ignorance

I’ve made four submissions in the last month.  I’m talking about my writing, if you weren’t sure.  One essay, one poem, and two pieces of flash fiction.  The poem even had more than 17 syllables.  Not that more syllables means it’s any better, or more work, I just thought it was a good poem. It was an okay poem. It was a poem.

It was a poem I wrote a few years ago about hope and I needed to believe in it, to do something, rather than sit at a computer and fantasize about the day when I’d publish my work.

Submitting it felt like an act of desperation, like being possessed.  At that moment I needed to believe my work would be  impossible to reject.  I’m kicking myself now, knowing I could have presented myself better.  I’m a marketer, I know these things, but in these days of electronic submissions, it’s so easy to push send.  The process of printing, signing, putting together a SASE, and finding enough stamps for the whole shebang slowed one down enough to breathe through the adrenaline surge and reconsider.  Now, I’m positive that I could have written a better cover letter, made the hook more compelling, and maybe, just maybe, not sounded like the complete neophyte that I am.

The fact that I have no credentials to fall back on bothers me.  I’ve spent most of my life as an expert.  As a consultant, I would throw my CV on the table and people would sit up straighter. I didn’t have to ask clients, pretty please, listen to my presentation.  I don’t like being a newbie.  Humility. A new hurdle to jump over.

That has been one of the harder parts of this journey–giving up the persona I spent so many years building.  The veneer of certainty served me well.  Even if I was spinning on the inside, thinking I’m a fraud and I have no idea what I’m doing, I was very good at sounding sure.  I can’t do that now.  There is nothing sure in writing, other than facing a large amount of rejection along with the possibility of acceptance.

The waiting is also difficult.  I’m not a patient person. I like resolution, and often push to get things settled when I would be better served to let them play out.  I hate the ambiguity of not knowing where I stand.  I look at three digit response times in Duotrope’s and I wonder what are these editors doing with their time?  Don’t they know my submission is important? Ignore the crappy cover letter–read it! Just let me know one way or the other, and I can move on.

But I know time is my friend in this case–at least I haven’t gotten a rejection yet.  There’s still hope for my poem about hope.

In most jobs, you get a fair amount of legitimacy before you earn it.  You get the salary, the title, the recognition of your place in the org chart from the day you walk in the door.  Then, you spend the next year making sure people don’t regret hiring you.  With writing, you spend years writing, and maybe, if your lucky, you get the legitimacy of getting paid for it, or at a minimum, get your name in print.

So, strangely enough, it is submission twice over. Yes, I’m sending my work to be judged and evaluated, but also I’m submitting to what this career requires.  I’ll need to develop a whole new set of skills, a thicker skin, and a more patient approach to my work. As a friend recently said, this is a lot more interesting than any of the research reports I’d ever written. Not that I’ve changed much yet, I still think I’m always right and get hacked off if I think people aren’t listening.

What has your experience been with the submission process? How do you overcome fear, yet balance it with consideration?

Words by J. B. Everett

Photograph by Taz