Just Jacki

If you understand what you're doing, you're not learning anything.

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“I was looking for a job and then I found a job,

and heaven knows I’m miserable now.” ~The Smiths

I’m generally a pretty happy person for somebody whose life is often narrated by old Morrissey and The Smiths songs. But this one has played in my head a lot this year. And it was exactly what happened in my most recent foray in the land of the gainfully employed. But more than that, it’s also a form of “Wherever you go, there you are.”

As a people, we focus on problems. We obsess and crank away on them during sleepless nights when we just can’t get a handle on the stuff of the day or our perceived tomorrows. Thoughts along these lines come from the book Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard which I read recently and is awesome. We skip right over most of the good stuff that’s going on and hone in on whatever we perceive to be problematic. It’s how we’re wired. But we don’t have to BE our natural tendencies.

That song kept me in check a lot during my months of unemployment early this year, and then my months where I wasn’t making enough at my job to make ends meet. Of course it was tempting to think “When I get a job making more money, everything will be great.” But I knew that was a lie. The truth is closer to “When I get a job making more money, there will be a few financial concerns that I no longer have while I’m at that job. And that will free me up a bit for other challenges that can emerge once those financial concerns are alleviated.” And that is pretty much what happened.

I was only unemployed for two short weeks between these last two jobs. I visited friends in Cincinnati, we baked some s’more cookies, I came home and got right into my next job. And at this job I made over twice what I did at the previous job. Cha-ching! It was pretty nice to go from not being able to scrape by on my own (thank you Mom and friends who helped me through all that) to being able to pay my bills that had piled up. Within 5 weeks, I was pretty much alright again financially. Still in debt from the previous months, but more financially comfortable than I had been all year.

I had taken a job doing database work again. It was a solution to my problem. I needed to make a bunch of money fast so I could afford my recent trip to California (which was life-changing and deserves its own series of blog posts), and so I could afford to live, basically. And so came this job where there was zero on-call support, which is pretty much unheard of in DBA work, and I got to clock out at 5pm every day. “Sweet! I can do database stuff for 8 hours a day, and then go home and do other stuff and make good money. It’s a reasonable trade-off. I can handle this.”

And I had a stellar attitude about it for the first three weeks or so. And just as I figured they would, the challenges presented themselves once the sting of my financial situation had been sufficiently mitigated. I realized it wasn’t so much 8 hours out of my day. It was more than 11. I spent 9 hours in the building every week day, and 2 hours a day in the car commuting. There was no place to go for lunch that was anywhere near any of my friends, or even a restaurant that was much higher caliber than fast food. I sat in a gray box for 9 hours with people who had been there for years and planned to retire from there. Lifers. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, it’s just not a mentality I relate to well. And to me it was feeling a lot like “doing time” instead of doing a job that I sort of liked and was somewhat good at.

And when I got home from work, I was too exhausted to do anything that required much brain power. I’d watch some TV, read a little and go to bed early. My time socializing went down considerably, too. Doing things much later than 8pm just wasn’t feasible for my getting up at 5:30am schedule. And so I got a bit depressed. I didn’t really know what to do. The trade-off was seeming less reasonable day by day. But I felt like I should at least finish out my contract there. So I kept doing my thing until they let me go last Friday without warning or notice.

And so, the Universe balances itself out. It always does. Of course I was upset and shocked initially. That has never happened to me before. But I wasn’t happy there, and the two days I’ve had so far where I didn’t have to go there have felt like a gift. I don’t feel like I need to scramble to find another job just to get by right now. I want to take some time to regroup and get back in touch with what’s important to me.

I am not my job. I am not my résumé. There is no event I’m waiting for before I can be happy again. No future pie in the sky that I’m just waiting to bite into. I am here and now. I inhale and exhale. Sometimes with purpose, sometimes automatically. Things that happen to me only define me if I choose to allow them to do so.

And so far this week, I’ve made lunch plans on the fly and eaten at places I enjoy with people I like. And sometimes being happy is just that simple. I’m grateful for the times when I recognize that.

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When I Grow Up – Part 1

I don’t know what I want to do when I grow up. I say that often enough. At 37, it might seem like a funny thing to say, but it’s true. It’s always been true.

I remember how I felt as a little kid being asked that question. I’d think, “I don’t know. How could I know that?” And often enough, that’s the actual answer I’d give. My cousin would say she wanted to be a nurse, like her mother. My mom was an elementary school teacher, and I never wanted to do that. Stand up in front of a classroom every day and talk? Try to get a bunch of kids to sit and pay attention to school work when it was the last thing they wanted to do? Be around kids all the time? No, thank you. Not for me.

I remember when I was really little and out with my mom somewhere, I saw somebody typing. I don’t remember who at all. I just remember the sight of their fingers tapping away at the keys, effortlessly. Like those fingers had a mind of their own. How did they know where to go like that? How did the person’s brain work to tell their fingers what to do? They moved so fast and they typed the letters in the right order somehow. And I was fascinated by that. I wanted my fingers to do that.

In fifth grade I bugged my mom enough to let me take a typing class. She let me use her old Smith-Corona. It was a pale turquoise manual typewriter with white keys. It came in a black hard suitcase. A portable model. I couldn’t lift it, but it was portable. And I loved my typing classes. I didn’t really like making pictures out of X’s and such. A 4 leaf clover for St. Patrick’s day, a bunny for Easter… The instructions like “space 4, X 10, space 8, X 19” etc. That was just tedious counting. The pictures were neat at the end, though. I liked learning to type the sentences more. “Mary jumped over the fox and ran around the frozen pond.” Over and over again.

After a few years, I became a decent touch typist. I had no aspirations to be a secretary, so my parents didn’t really get why I wanted to do that so badly. And for me, it was never really more than wanting to make my fingers move like that. I had no larger aspiration at that time. I had no idea that the keyboard would become the doorway to the Internet one day. I just thought typing fast seemed pretty neat and that was it.

Around the same time, I decided I wanted to play the oboe. I had to fight for it as there were already two oboe players in the band and that’s all there could be. I took lessons on my own and petitioned to challenge the current oboists for their chair. Eventually I got it, and I became first chair oboe in the Perry High Symphonic Wind Ensemble, which was the finest band I ever played in. I enjoyed it and that was well and good. I didn’t think about it being what I wanted to do when I grew up, though.

But suddenly it was time for college, and I didn’t really like anything else yet. I wanted to take a year or two off to figure things out, but got pressured into going immediately, and thus became a music major. My high school grades weren’t good, but my test scores and oboe playing got me a couple scholarships and so that’s what I did. And I did it until I found myself not enjoying listening to music anymore. Always trying to figure out the chords, intervals, tonalities and time signatures sucked the fun out of music for me. It took several years before that dissipated and I once again heard music instead of a collection of notes.

Next I worked in the Juniors department at Kaufmann’s at a mall back home. Then I sold carpet there for a year. And after that I went to OSU for design. That was an interesting year. I really applied myself for the first time. I had several classes that were art and drawing-centric. I drew hundreds of chairs in my industrial design classes, shapes with perfect line weights for my Engineering Graphics class… I was so good at my orthographic projection homework, and loved messing around with AutoCad.

I got the best grades of my entire educational career that year. I remember a talk given by a guest speaker for one of my design classes. He was a product designer and brought shower caddy he had designed with him. He talked about the considerations that went into making it. The places for the razors, soap, shampoo bottles, etc. And then he talked about noticing how his wife would turn the bottles over when they were nearly empty and store them upside-down to get the last bit of shampoo or conditioner out. And so he adjusted his design to accommodate an upside-down bottle and keep it from falling over. Again, I was fascinated by this. He had the power to change things and make them work better. I wanted that power, too.

In that, I am a designer. I notice things like that. I appreciate the consideration that went into the design features of most things I come in contact with. Some brands have really impressed me. Like Breville, an Australian company that mostly makes small kitchen appliances. I really love my Breville juicer. It is well designed from top to plug. I once saw a $200 hot tea maker of theirs in action. It was so beautifully designed, I got a little choked up as it brewed me a perfect mug of herbal tea. I’m telling you, it was amazing.

Back to 1997 for a minute. I was at the top of my classes and doing well. I was also working part time as a transcriptionist at Harding Hospital (a full service mental hospital). I was working hard and doing really well. I had signed up for my next semester of classes and was working on my portfolio and getting professor’s recommendations to vie for one of the 14 spots in the Visual Communication Design program. I was between that and Industrial Design. At the time, I thought I wanted to be a graphic designer and was headed toward Vis Com, though my heart was more into product design.

Anyway, I had a 4am moment of clarity in the thick of it all, and decided that it wasn’t what I wanted to do with my life. At the time, my argument felt well-reasoned and justified. I stuck with the transcriptionist gig instead and just went full time at Harding. Looking back now, I am pretty sure I chickened out.

To be continued…