Sunday, August 23, 2015


I have mentioned friends who are seeking employment and finding it difficult. I and other friends try to buck them up and encourage them, which is only fitting, but I know from my own experience how stressful it can be.

When I first took my leave from the monastery in 2004, I continued with a position that I had with a Catholic nonprofit located at the University of Chicago. The pay was small but adequate for my studio apartment, and the office was within walking distance. My boss at the time was supportive but he made it clear that I could only be there a year. He did provide me with ample opportunities to look for gainful employment elsewhere.

The religious community to which I belonged, by the way, had no pension plan and no policy to provide specific financial assistance to members who left, even people like me who had spent thirty years with them. They did provide me with health insurance for a couple of years and arranged with the Catholic nonprofit to provide half of my salary for the year I continued there. After that, I was on my own. I chose not to ask for further financial aid, but I am sure they would have helped me had I asked for more. It was not a wealthy group and my pride and sense of personal responsibility led me to try to make it on my own. (Cue theme from "Mary Tyler Moore Show." If I only had a hat to toss in the air!)

I started the search with the naive confidence of someone who had graduate degrees in theology, a number of articles published in a variety of journals in the States and in Europe, who was fluent in Spanish as well as English, computer literate, who had once overseen a large shrine with sixty or so employees, was a popular public speaker and so on and so on. How hard could it be to find a job with all this experience?

Pretty difficult, as it turned out. Resumes flew out over the internet, interviews were scheduled and endured, some involving overnight travel, headhunters met me at O'Hare and grilled me for hours. Each encounter seemed promising; none produced anything but disappointment. The year was fast fading and nothing had yet appeared.

My spiritual director suggested I contact someone he knew who was well acquainted with the world of retreat houses and spiritual direction. Perhaps she would be able to help. It turned out that she did not know of any place to recommend. She mentioned, however, that the organization she headed was about to transfer its offices to Chicago. Would I be interested in talking to her about a position there?

I drove to Indiana and we hit it off. Their move coincided almost exactly with the end of my  University of Chicago post, and things went well. I enjoyed the new job, which paid a reasonable salary for interesting work and even provided a small stipend toward health insurance.

But then Tom and I decided to move to the Dells, and that is another story in itself. And the job hunt started all over again. As it turned out, the group I worked for in Chicago folded a couple of years later. Even had I stayed, I would have been looking for a job again. But at least I would have been looking for a job in a large city with a diverse economy.

The job market in the Dells was/is very limited. The best I could get was a position in a small law firm as their office staff. I won't embarrass myself or the firm by saying what they paid. And it turned out to be a horrible fit. After just a few months I gave notice. That led to a year of working part time at Kohl's, filling in part time at the legal firm to help out when needed, working as an adjunct instructor for a distance learning program out of Washington and a short stint as a spiritual counselor (think chaplain) for a local hospice. The hospice job unfortunately was very part time but I was on-call all the time. Stressful, with little actual contact with patients and families. I enjoyed the pastoral part, and my superior told me I got great evaluations. But I moved on from that, too, after a few months.

A month or two later I was asked to work at the museum gift shop at the little railroad. This was the typical Dells seasonal tourism job. Full-time (I was luckier than most!) from Memorial Day to Labor Day, weekends until the end of October. No benefits. From October until the following April, I was unemployed, but I used the time to complete and publish three books.

In April of the following year, I was hired to manage the gift store at the railroad. That was not at all what I wanted to do and again it offered no benefits. They arranged to pro-rate my pay so that I would be paid throughout twelve months but only the amount that I would earn for six. They ran into financial difficulties just as the six months ended and I, along with all paid staff, was laid off. Which means I wound up being paid less than I had actually earned because I had received the reduced wage for six months but there was nothing to give me for the months when I should have been receiving what had been withheld.

Happily just at this moment, the library had a part time position open up. I was hired and before I began, a full time position opened when a staff member moved out of town. This was a union job with benefits and the best wage I ever earned. Someone in the know at the city told me that I was the lowest paid full time employee of the city, even though I had the most education and widest experience of anyone there. But I was happy. I remained there until I retired a few years later, and I continue to volunteer there.

How long had it taken me to get to that point? I left the monastery in 2004, working in Chicago for two years and arrived in the Dells in the late spring of 2006. Almost four years later, I went to work for the library. In between I had worked for the law firm, Kohl's, a small bookstore and the little railroad. For half a year I was unemployed, although I did not take any unemployment benefits and I volunteered at the library. Along the way I did some writing and free-lance editorial and translation work. None of which would have provided me with a living, had I not had a home and security with Tom.

Even though I did have a home and security (though without health insurance for six of those years), it was very stressful. I can only imagine how hard it is for those engaged in the hunt for meaningful employment who do not enjoy the safety that I had.

1 comment:

Ur-spo said...

I have never had to seek employment as it were. I would be clueless how to go about doing it.
Finding a job sounds very nerve wracking indeed.