Every Job I’ve Had: Real Estate, Nonprofitry, and a Ladyblog
The warm fuzzy nonprofit, 2004 – 2010:
I landed the job about a month before my college graduation. I got the interview because someone at the organization knew my dad, to be honest, and they knew I wanted to write. I aced the interview, I’m pretty sure, because I didn’t freak out when the bosses’ two small dogs trotted into the conference room and jumped into my lap. I was excited about working at a nonprofit because I couldn’t imagine spending my days doing anything that wasn’t making the world a better place.
The head of the organization was equally prone to bright flashes of inspiration as tantrums about the disorganized coat closet. They were severely understaffed, so while I wrote a ton of website copy, press materials, and newsletter articles, I also answered phones, made coffee, and did the filing, billing, and database management. The pay and benefits were terrible but I cared about what I was doing.
I could wear anything I wanted to work as long as it wasn’t jeans or sneakers, and I got very good at corralling the dogs when guests were in the office or an important conference call was going on. I wrote every day, and by the end of my time there I was starting to wonder if I’d run out of ways to talk about the work we were doing. In hindsight, I definitely had.
I worked at the nonprofit for six years, and I left because my new husband and I were moving to New York for his job. I did no meaningful job searching before moving. I gave three weeks’ notice and cried on my last day.
The swanky private school, 2010 – 2011:
Once in New York, I needed a job, fast, so a temp agency placed me in a “temp-to-perm” position in the administrative office of a snooty Manhattan private school. They liked that I had nonprofit experience (many private schools are technically nonprofits), and that I had done data entry. I helped process payments, billing, and employee benefits, and the only writing I did was when my boss asked me to draft an email or letter, which he would extensively edit. The upside of this was that, since my writer’s itch wasn’t being scratched at work (ew?), I was compelled to write more in my free time (see “ladyblog,” below).
I worked three or four days a week. All employees could eat for free in the cafeteria, and one of the school parents worked for a tea company so we got all the free tea we could drink in the teachers’ lounge. (Life lesson: I can drink a lot of free tea.) A Beloved Crime TV Franchise Actor’s kid was a student at the school. I saw Beloved Crime TV Franchise Actor at two separate school events and he is cool and handsome, just like you think he is. I left this job after eight months not because I didn’t love it but because they were reticent about bringing me on full-time, and I needed a job with real pay and benefits. I gave a week’s notice when I got the job at the small real estate company. I cried on my last day here, as well.
The ladyblog, 2010 – 2012:
This ladyblog started in 2010 when a bunch of dissatisfied readers of The Ladyblog To Rule Them All decided to start their own little corner of the blogosphere. All it took was an overly-earnest email to the editor and a few writing samples to get me in heavy rotation both writing and editing. This coincided perfectly with my underemployment at the school. I wrote about pop culture, videogames, myself: anything I wanted, really, and I got to spend a lot of online time with a group of smart, nerdy, hilarious women from all over the country. The only thing that kept it from being perfect was the financial reality of starting an independent blog in a crowded marketplace. The blog was popular – and certain posts really took off – but it never made enough money to cover server costs, let alone pay writers or editors for their work. And we did a lot of work.
I left my writer/editor role here when the stress and workload of the small real estate company made it too difficult to balance it all. I cried over this, but I didn’t really know my last day was my last until after the fact.
The small real estate company, 2011-2013:
This was a small office in the NYC suburbs run by a boisterous father-and-son team. The same agency that got me the temp assignment at the school landed me an interview here. I was hired to be the CFO’s assistant with promises about other opportunities within the company. I would later learn that the CFO had been fired at some point during my interview process, though he’d be reinstated by the time I showed up for my first day of work. That might actually be all you need to know about that place, but I’ll go on.
For a profit-making business this office was even worse on staffing than the nonprofit, and also paid me less. In hindsight, it’s alarming how much accounting and legal work I was asked to do with no training. People at the office referred to me as a “numbers person,” which was horrifying to me, no matter how many times I heard it. Clearly, I got very good at using Excel formulas to generate numbers that were impressive to my peers. I did no writing officially, but I did conceive and plan several short stories and novels during stolen moments in the file room.
Something about my quiet demeanor at work and resting wide-eyed expression made the elder owner think I was always on the verge of a nervous breakdown. He wasn’t entirely wrong. After I gave up the ladyblog job I descended into a depressive episode so severe I had to give myself a pep talk just to get up from my desk chair. I took muscle relaxers to keep myself from clenching my jaw, and Ambien so I could sleep at night. I was aggressively searching for a new job the entire time I worked there. I left this job after almost two years to work for the staggeringly large real estate company. I actually cried on my last day here, too, but not because I was sad to be leaving.
The staggeringly large real estate company, 2013-present:
This place is huge. If you live in New York, you have heard of this company. If you live on planet Earth, you have heard of the buildings this company owns. This was yet another staffing agency interview, and I scratched and clawed my way into this job, enduring 4 interviews in total while they tried to find a place for me.
I was hired as an administrative floater, which means I fill in for other admins during sick days or extended leave, and help with special projects in various departments. It’s been a great way to have very little responsibility while making more money than I ever have. My 2013 end-of-year bonus, which was for only half the year, and for which my manager apologized, was more money than all other bonuses I’d had up to that point combined.
My goal when I first started was “don’t get fired,” and 11 months in, I’ve been successful so far. I suppose my other goal was “write more,” which has had mixed results. My first few months, I was given almost no work, so I wrote prolifically and took a weekly writers’ workshop to keep myself motivated. As my workload has increased, writing has decreased, which I’m working on improving.
Looking back it seems so gradual that saving the world and being a writer, my two life’s goals, have become increasingly separate from what I get paid to do all day. While it’s taken some getting used to, I am learning to like it this way. There are certain benefits to severing your creative endeavors from your financial needs. And the rhythm of my days and weeks at a boring desk job still allow quiet moments here and there where I can take a minute, or even a few minutes, and write.
Christine lives in Queens, which is way overdue to become the cool borough. She works in the uncoolest part of Manhattan.