A Directional Career Curve

career, career directionI had just earned my graduate degree. I was ready to take on the world in a career that would be so exciting…so invigorating…so worthwhile, that …well, I never went past the exciting, invigorating, and worthwhile parts.

I just knew I wanted a great career.

I read the ads in the newspapers. I talked to the headhunters, who chuckled over the phone. “A Master’s in English? And you want to do what with it?”

I didn’t have an answer. I knew what I didn’t want: No more school, no teaching, no secretarial position. They laughed and hung up.

I was offered three jobs at the University where I received my M.A.: one at the registrar’s office – secretarial; one at the Dean’s office of education – clerical; and one at the mailroom – sorting mail. Instead, I accepted a position that I read about in the classified section of the Newark Star Ledger:

New Directions for Women

Feminist newspaper for intelligent women

Excellent writing skills a must

BA necessary. Graduate degree preferred

Grant through CETA

I found out later that the grant meant low pay and strange office space.

But the ad spoke to me. My skills were needed, finally. I sent a resume and in days got a call back and an interview set up.

I deliberated on the appropriate outfit to wear. A graduate student didn’t own attire for a business interview, so I bought a navy blue suit and a black purse. I studied the train schedule and took the 8:10 Erie Lackawanna commuter train.

The ride was 22 minutes long. The train was old and dark and musty.

The commuters were old and dark and musty.

My spirits lowered a notch. Dover NJ train station

I departed the train station, an antique building that was ugly when it was built in 1902, and even uglier now. I reviewed the directions the editor had given me over the phone – her name was Pauline– and I stared at the small, hilly, gray streets. Everything was gray – the streets, the houses, the sidewalks.

The men racing to the station looked gray.

But I walked as perkily as possible on new black heels up the three blocks and down another until I reached my destination. It was a three-story, narrow home, like all the other three-story narrow homes on the block. The bottom step was broken concrete. The other five steps were wood, painted gray.

opera, opera singer

I rang the doorbell. No one answered, but the severe operatic sounds of a woman’s voice singing murder and pain flew out the open window

I knocked harder, then shouted, “Hello?”

The radio softened a notch. I heard a disgusted, “Damn!”

Then the front door opened to a large, bathrobed, 60-something woman with curlers in her black-dyed bangs and pink fluffy slippers on her feet. Her round face expressed anger and annoyance at first, then surprise as it moved into congeniality.       pink fluffy slippers, career

“Oh, hi. I’m Pauline. You’re Pamela? Welcome to New Directions.”

She turned quickly back into her home, expecting me to follow her. I wanted to race out of there and return to the train station, but she twirled around quickly and caught my eye with a black stare.

My career began.

career adventures, crazy careers

     A career in writing is a curvy courageous corridor.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thanks to Google Images.

102 thoughts on “A Directional Career Curve

  1. It’s so hard to map out a life in advance nowadays – my own is testament enough to that one. It’s more a case of seeing an opportunity and grabbing it with both hands. Good luck.

  2. You were/are an intrepid person! My last job’s first day was in So Philly during the Republican (Democratic?) National Convention and my exit off 95 was closed. I got off at the first exit I could, but ended up driving around lost in the meat packing district, getting questionable directions from food truck workers….When I found the office – finally – there was no parking. I had been warned parking would be tough and the police ticketed cars that tried to park in questionable, but enticing spots! I was over 2 hrs late for my first day of work, so I parked in a spot I thought would be ok for 2 hrs and I thought I could come back out and move the car. To make everything worse, my nerves had caused a huge hive to break out on my face between my lip and nose giving me a demented look. 😱 The lovely people just laughed sharing their own stories of parking woes on So Philly streets and all was well, tho, yes, when I went to move the car, I had gotten a $75 ticket!

    • I started to feel hives coming on as I read your account of your last job’s first day. Sometimes we wonder why we put ourselves through this stress. But we just want to succeed – why do people/places/’stuff’ make it so hard???? :-0

  3. This is a great story, Pam, and I also would like to hear the next installment. I also was crazy enough to get a Master’s in English, but lucky enough to be working as an editor when I finished…and that turned out…not so well at this point, because those in “power” no longer value editors or proofreaders. But this is not my “stage,” let’s hear the rest of the story…

  4. Love it – brave you! The University missed out big time – and you? Well, you got an adventure worthy of your gifts, because you found those who could see and use them. Would that the whole world were so lucky, and did what they were made for all day. I’ll be laughing for a while…the image of young you in a smart suit and your future boss in her bathrobe and slippers. You couldn’t make it up!!! Hmmm – you didn’t, did you?! Hugs, H xxx

    • I didn’t make up ONE word on this experience. I like to think I’m good at creative writing, but even I wouldn’t have come up with the opera singer and pink slippers. This was definitely a one-of-a-kind ‘job’ – more next Friday.

  5. You had courage. I settled for the clerical—asst. secretary at Harvard, thought I’d work up. My supervisor pointed to her black Harvard armchair and said,”You see that chair? If you’re here 25 years you’ll get one of those, so it’s something to look forward to.” I never got my chair.

    • Oh man, what a story! What a quote! 25 years of hard labor to get the ‘black chair.’ In some ways I do wish I’d taken the clerical position – at least I would have been in an ‘office’ without opera…or pink slippers.

  6. We start with stars in our eyes, ideas of romantic days, doing good, changing the world and being terrific and the best idea person since (fill in name). 😀
    😀
    So, were you given tea? coffee? had to start immediately? How long did the job last? What was the ‘actual’ work? S.p.i.l.l. 😀

    • Oh, you know me too well!! (Hard to believe we’ve never met ‘in person.’) And yes, there was some ‘train sickness’ on the way to the interview, for sure, thus the need for the walk up and down those hills. I’ll write a bit more about the job next week – fascinating how this very true story is catching readers’ interest.

    • Finally, someone who doesn’t think I made this up! You can’t make this stuff up! I’d love to hear your recruiter stories – maybe you should blog about it – people seem fascinated about how ‘horrid’ it can be out there in ‘new job’ land. I’ll continue with this a bit next Friday. 🙂

  7. This is fantastic, Pam! My last interview (for my current job) was via Skype. Two minutes before the interview began I saw the biggest snake of my life in my bathroom. I had my feet lifted off the floor during the interview while glancing around desperately to make sure the snake stayed away. Luckily I got the job!

    • I don’t know, David. I think I kind of prefer the ‘unreal world’ in academia than what’s ‘out there,’ at times. I’ve been involved in both subsets, and you know what? We humans are just strange creatures, whether in a library or a corporate building, that’s what I say. 🙂

  8. Now that’s one of the craziest career starts I’ve ever read about. I’ve hired a lot of people over the years but that’s a new one..:)
    I’m curious…what made you stay?

    • So interesting, remembering those painful moments as we glance back at what made us/got us to where we are today. What happens next will be revealed on Friday. I hope I don’t disappoint. !!!

  9. Pam, you left me hanging on the edge of my seat. I so wanted to know what happens next!!! And I love that a feminist newspaper is where you got your professional adventure. Please don’t want too long to publish the next part.

  10. I, too, had to check to see if your story was fiction. The opera music, the woman wearing a bathrobe, curlers, and pink fluffy slippers … too strange to be true. Can’t wait to hear what happened next.

    • Thanks for believing in my all-too-true story. As you know, we all have them, hidden inside, many times too scared/worried about revealing them. The ‘rest-of-the-story will be revealed on Friday.

  11. Well I know for certain none of my interviews could top that! They are few in number and all rather traditional. 🙂 But I’m definitely hooked into hearing what happened next!

  12. Pingback: A Towering Tongue Twisting Career Turn | roughwighting

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