Monday, December 22, 2014

My Niche will be like a Boulder in that Puddle, not just a Pebble,

Lucky finds a comfortable spot amid the mess.
How do people find their niche?

The word and concept of "niche" have long fascinated me.  To me, the actual word seems odd.  In my ignorant youth I pronounced it "nitch" and it rhymed with ditch.  Later I learned that it is closer to "neesh" and stumbled over its pronunciation for years.  I now understand the word is French in origin and "ch" is pronounced "sh" like in "Michigan" and "Chicago".

The actual definition proper use of the word "niche" has taken longer for me to grasp.  At first glance it is simple.  A niche is the place a species occupies in an ecosystem, how it interacts with others and the resources it exploits.  Simple.

The problem came when I learned more about niches.  What happens when a species is removed from an area?  Does that make a "vacant niche"?  According to the definition- no.  There is no such thing as a vacant niche.

Think of a shallow puddle of water with a large stone in the middle.  If the water is the ecosystem and the stone is a species occupying a niche, what happens when the stone is removed?  The puddle immediately spreads into the empty space.

Our world of work is not that different from the ecosystem and niches.

Millions of people are fortunate to have found their niches.  They have stable jobs that pay a living wage.  They know their place in the world.  Most of these people followed the traditional paths of college to work and have not suffered from unexpected job losses or other tragedies.  I hear many talking about the unemployed and underemployed with no concept of how difficult it is to break into the workforce for nontraditional people.

I could have been one of those people.  I went to college, graduated with honors, and started working.  When my son was born, I made the choice to focus on him instead of a job.  He would only be little for a such a short time and I didn't want to miss a minute of it.  After his brother was born, I had my hands full.  A decade passed before I could even think about going back to work.

I had always assumed I would be able to find a job.  I was educated, hard working, reliable, respectful, honest, and never had any encounters with the law.  I applied to all types of jobs at all and truly thought I would get some of them.  I was wrong.

For years, I was only able to find work as a substitute teacher making $80 per day.  That sounds somewhat reasonable until you consider I would only make $14,800 if I worked every single day of the school year.  In reality, my income was never more than $7,000 a year.  In eight years, I never once had an increase in pay.  Instead, I listened to teachers complain that their cost of living pay raise wasn't enough.  Not only didn't I get a pay raise, I wasn't even considered when positions became available.

My niche would not be created in the schools.  

I will create my niche.  I will be recognized as a valuable and contributing member of society.  I do not fit into any category.  Therefore, I will make my own.

I will be an author, an artisan, an advocate, and a motivation to millions.  I will share all I have learned raising my son with autism to become self-reliant and my struggles finding work.  I may never have a steady salary, 401K and benefits but I will make a difference in the world.

My niche will be like a boulder in that puddle, not a just pebble,


Wednesday, December 17, 2014

On Getting Fired for a 2nd time in 6 months

My life is just as out of focus as this picture
Getting fired for a second time in one year has really messed with my mind.  For five months my work was praised.  I was given more and more responsibilities- responsibilities and access an $11.50/hour temporary employee probably shouldn't have.

  The week before Thanksgiving, I was told by the HR manager I would never be made an actual employee and would be kept only until after the first of the year.  I tried to be strong and not let my disappointment and confusion show.  Eventually it did.  Just before I was leaving for the day, the plant manager saw me crying.  He asked why and I told him I would not be there after the holidays.  That's all I said.  No rants. Just sadness.  My disappointment was unacceptable to the HR manager and I was fired before noon the following day.

  I did my job.  I did much more than most temporary receptionists.  I audited nearly a thousand I-9s.  I audited all the plants training files, revamped the spreadsheets, and entered the training records into the employee file database.  I was in process of developing a comprehensive training course guide, a review for corporate of the employee database training system, a guide for the duties of the position, a guide for the weekly newsletter and planning holiday festivities for the plant.

   Once again, I am unemployed.  I am either overqualified or under-qualified for every job I seek.  My dreams of having a real job with a living wage and benefits are just that- a dream.  My reality is a nightmare.  I did everything people say to do.  I went to college.  I worked.  I took time off to raise my boys.  I started subbing to try to work my way into the schools.  I volunteered at organizations.  I applied to hundreds of positions in a wide range of fields.  Fast food restaurants and other minimum wage positions, numerous secretarial/administrative assistant jobs, education related jobs, police dispatcher, and more jobs than I can remember.  Most, including fast food type, never even call.  Some like the police dispatcher interviewed me but "I'm not the right fit" and "you'll easily find a job better suited for you".

After 8 years of looking, I am convinced I am unemployable.

To all those who think the unemployed are simply not looking hard enough...in my case you couldn't be further from the truth.  There are no jobs within driving distance.  If we lived close to a university or city, I could probably find work.  But, here in rural America, there are no jobs for me.

I want to work.  I want to contribute to society.  Every time I am feeling close to reaching my goal, I am pushed back down.  I am good at anything I do except playing politics at work.  I do not understand the games and I simply deal with people honestly and respectfully.

I will survive.  I always do.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Remembering Simplicity- A Fairy Tale?

Once upon a time...

A simpler life must only exist in fairy tales or in the "good old days".  Life in our modern world is the polar opposite of simple.  Our world is filled with constant noise, demand of our minds and reminders of all we aren't.  Wasn't there a time when life was at least a little simpler?

I am old enough to remember having four channels on the television: ABC, CBS, NBC and PBS.  Saturday morning was the only time we could watch cartoons.  The news was on at 6 pm.  For school delays and closings, we huddled around the radio and listened carefully for our school's name.

I can even remember when we had only one telephone in the house and it was a "party line".  A certain double ring announced the call was for us and not our neighbors.  All calls were to be kept short.  There was no such thing as call waiting or voice mail.

In that long ago time, I researched my family history by interviewing relatives and scanning microfiche at the library.  To find articles and books for research papers, I looked in the card catalog.  Then I would spend hours in the stacks looking through books.  I loved it.

Today...We have three phones for our land line.  Four of us have smartphones.  I skimp on cable and only have the basic with some 60 channels.  The internet provides instant access to almost everything and almost everyone.

I start my day by looking at my cell phone.  It is my alarm clock.  After feeding the animals and making coffee, I check my emails, Facebook and Twitter.  If I am not careful, hours are gone before I even realize it.  Worse than the time lost is the constant reminder of all the bad in the world, all the success that isn't mine and all the ways my life is less than perfect.

I have no intention of becoming "unplugged".  I love the access to information and being able to be reached by my kids.  I have learned to turn off the news after hearing the headlines once, be extremely selective in the programs I watch, and stop myself from clicking on all those tempting gossipy links.

Our modern technology is my connection to the world but I need to temper it.  Too much and I feel like I am weighted down until I can't move.  Or, I feel like I will explode from too much being shoved in my face.  I am better at tuning out the ads and "recommended links".

At times, I leave my computer.  I sit in a chair with just a paper and pen.  I let my ideas flow and they flow faster, easier and more creatively.  When I remember simplicity, I remember myself.    

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Not Just a Cog

Sadly, I learned the week before Thanksgiving that I am just another cog in the machine.  Just an easily replaceable body that can be discarded with a second thought or valid reason.

On Tuesday morning, I was busy planning company Christmas parties, organizing holiday activities and updating employee training information.  I was looking forward to a busy few weeks.  I was hoping that I could impress my employers enough to change my status from "Pre-hire" to "Permanent".

Tuesday afternoon I attended one of the plant-wide meetings.  I saw my ideas and handiwork presented to the plant.  No credit was given to me and none was expected.  I was just doing my part to help the company prosper.Before the end of the meeting, I was called into the HR manager's office and told I would not become a true employee of the company.  My services as a temporary employee would no longer be needed after the holidays

I was stunned.

My work was praised by everyone.  I volunteered to help whoever needed help.  I poured myself into the company trying to achieve the coveted status of "EMPLOYEE with BENEFITS".

My sadness resulted in my termination less than 24 hours later.  I didn't yell.  I didn't confront anyone or beg to be hired in as a permanent employee.  I was just sad and a couple people caught me crying before I could leave for the day.

The HR manager didn't like my reaction.  I still do not understand why it was such a big deal to her.  I was trying to come to grips with the end of yet another shot at employment.  Since 2006, I have been trying to get a full time job.  This was the closest I'd ever come to one.

My extensive education has done nothing to help me find work.  I can't even get interviews for minimum wage positions.  When I do get an interview, I am told that I am overqualified but "surely you will easily find something more suitable".

Yes, I was sad to hear I would not finally get to become a full fledged employee.

But, the way I was "cancelled" devastated me.  I could have understood if I had not been able to do the work or if there had been any complaints about me at all.  I did the work above and beyond their expectations.  I had no issues with any of the employees including the HR manager (at least before she fired me).

Still, I was replaced in the blink of an eye.  To her, it was a minor inconvenience calling the temp agency.  To me, it was my livelihood destroyed.