Friday, February 12, 2010

So What Do You Do?

I have a difficult time with this question.

I have a bachelor's degree in Social Work. The first half of my university education was dedicated to becoming an elementary school teacher.

Then I realized that there was no way I could deal with that many children, much less keeping them on task, ESPECIALLY if I feel like they're just expressing their self in a funny and not-destructive way.

I think the reason that I decided to go into teaching was that I wanted to help people, and I loved the idea of having summer off. I sat in class after class but never meshed with my co-students. We just didn't really bond, and I realized at the beginning of my fourth semester at Olivet that one of the reasons we weren't meshing was that we didn't have the same passions. I wasn't passionate about teaching.

So what to do? I went back to high school (for cereal!) and spoke with my guidance counselor for a bit of advice. After our meeting, I decided to change my major to Social Work.

I enjoyed my social work education, but honestly, it was pretty darn easy. I didn't really feel challenged academically. I never really studied for my social work classes like I did my theology classes or my sociology classes. I did well grade-wise and I bonded with a lot more of my classmates.

When Bryan and I moved to California, I thought it would be easy to get a social work job. Try as I might, however, the only 'social work' jobs that I was able to find were minimum-wage positions at the state medicaid office, or working as a respite worker. I chose respite worker, since it paid a whole lot more.

I had very little experience working with Autistic people. I knew I was fairly comfortable with disabled people, but I hadn't had a lot of one-on-one time with anyone who fell into the Autism spectrum. When I found out I would be working with a thirteen year old boy who was diagnosed with autism but who was fairly verbal, I wasn't sure what to expect.

The two years I spent working with J. were difficult but incredibly rewarding. I realized what I passion I truly had to help families affected by Autism. Statistics on autism in America vary, but the most cited stat that I see is that 1 in 150 children are diagnosed with an Autism Spectrum Disorder. Which is RIDICULOUS. I cannot believe that so many families are affected by this disorder and there is still no CAUSE or CURE.

So yeah. I care about Autism.

As much as I care about Autism, I had to stop working with J. because 46-50 hours a week was just too much for me. You see, I was working with J. as well as working as a medical receptionist Monday through Friday. It was just.too.much.

As thankful I am for my full-time job that offers benefits, it's difficult for me to say that I am a medical receptionist. It doesn't seem at all like something I want to identify with in any way. But it's been a good job. It just doesn't define who I am, really.

I have a pretty good desk space at work. I have lots of family and friend pictures on my bulletin board, and I have lots of quotes and inspirational thoughts/words. One of these words is "fulfilled." This is a reminder to me that my 9-5 job doesn't have to be fulfilling; I get my fulfillment through MYSELF and my life and my choices, not what I do during the day for money. At times, I have to remind myself of this a lot.

This summer Bryan and I will be working seasonal jobs in Jackson, and I am very much looking forward to it. I know that this next season in our life will not include jobs in which we find fulfillment, but we will become fulfilled in other aspects of our life.

I'm not sure if I will ever find a job that's really 'perfect' for me. Maybe I don't need to; maybe the rest of my daily life makes up for a mediocre job.

So, what do I do to make money?

I work as a medical receptionist. People yell at me, curse me out, and cry awkwardly at my checkout window. It's not great, but it's not horrible.

What do I do? A lot. I spend time with my husband, I create beautiful things out of yarn and fabric and paint. I cook, I bake, I organize when I'm not being lazy. I read so many friggin' blogs, it's ridiculous. I read books on theology, I read science articles, and I learn random crap about celebrities that I will never meet, nor care to meet. I spend time with my girlfriends and I talk to my parents almost every day. I enjoy nature and I go on runs and I sing loudly to the songs on the radio. I shake my hips to Shakira and I wish for wavy hair. I wear makeup less than 30% of the time and I do my best to feel good about myself. I thank God for all the blessings I have and I eat way too much salsa and chips.

I do not do these things for a living... I do these things to live.


  1. Good for you, Jess. This post feels... right. Because you're NOT a dumb receptionist job, even though you spend more time doing that per week than maybe anything else, if we're making a pie chart...

    I was struggling with this concept SO HARD as I got ready to accept any job that came my way... Like working in a puzzle factory. Like almost being the dawn cook for a sorority house. It takes a different level of passion and intention to create a life outside your job, and I think that will always be hard for me; I've grown up thinking as my "work" as my "life's work." But maybe we're different that way; maybe since your goals include having children that will be a little more your "life work"-- and your spirituality is your "life work," too.

    All I can say is I'm relieved as hell to have a job I care about. I'm already learning how contraceptives and reproductive health care build opportunities for lower-income women. I'd never thought about how illness or poorly-timed children can "ruin" a life--or at least make it harder to get on your feet, save money, get educated, etc--but now it seems quite critical. If we want to creative communities of justice, we have to give people choices and resources... I don't know, I'm just so psyched. This job is one I identify with, that will bleed over more happily into my "after hours" life.

  2. it's difficult trying to discover what your niche in life is, where you belong, and what you're supposed to do with the time you have. while i'm really grateful for a job and not being unemployed any longer, i still have a hard time with the fact that i'm a bank teller. the exact same job i did in high school, in the exact same town i lived in in high school. not where i want to be by a long shot. but like you said, your job doesn't define who you are or how you live. it's just the thing you do to pay the bills. though, i hope that changes for the better one day - for both of us.

  3. and how do i follow blogs? i am still trying to figure this thing out. :P

  4. Kati -- I'm so glad you're getting some fulfillment from your job! That's very exciting. You're definitely right, contraception is such an important right. The cycle of poverty often begins with single mothers who do not have a good support system. I'm still not a huge fan of hormones, but they play an important part in keeping women in safer financial and emotional positions.

    Stacey -- I'm just so happy you and David found jobs! I know how hard it was to find something, but it's great that you are settled for the moment. I know how hard it is to do the SAME THING you were doing in HIGH SCHOOL. I almost went back to Starbucks, but decided not to simply because of the hours.

    Also, to follow someone, sign into, and on the main page you should see "blogs I follow" and you can put in the address to my blog. That's the only way I know how to do it at least... I'm sure there are easier ways. You can also follow non-blogspot blogs or websites. I, for instance, follow along with a plethora of other random blogs. :)

    There is definitely a learning curve though.... I want more stuff on my blog but can't figure out how to do it!