My Blog Motto

"Good judgement comes from experience, and often experience comes from bad judgement"

~Rita Mae Brown

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Making a Living, Making a Life

This stage in my life, being unemployed, my children grown and living on their own has been something of an adjustment. I did, not so long ago, ask the Universe to grant me the time and opportunity to take care of some unfinished recovery business. The one day I said it and really meant it (I was in a therapy session) I was relieved of my employment duties within an hour. It was as if some quirky fairy godmother had suddenly appeared in a cloud of purple glitter, waved her sparkly wand and transformed my world. Remember Fractured Fairy Tales from the Rocky and Bullwinkle show? After all anyone who knows me wouldn't expect something of the Sleeping Beauty variety. In fact my Prince Charming decided to ride off into the sunset while I was napping, and his White Steed was a Mazda with a dragging tailpipe, his Kingdom a studio apartment on the lower East side...

But nevertheless my wish had been granted and I took the time to remedy some health problems, get some therapy and dip in and out of my spiritual journey. I have time to read, write and even do a little art. I have a lot of time to search my soul and ponder the next path as I head into the Golden Years. I spend a lot of time in conversation with the voices in my head (oh come on, we all have them!)

If it weren't for writing, drawing, music all the creative arts I'm not sure where those voices would all go. Eventually they would create so much discord I would reach out for some external stimulus to either keep them quiet or distracted.

Some of us have more chatter and discord within us, than the average person. Or maybe we are simply more sensitive to the demands of our mind, body and spirit. We are the ones who hit the extreme highs and lows of life and who feel the effects most deeply. Being cut from this eccentric cloth is what makes difficult to conform to the patterns society lays out for us. Working 9 to 5 Monday through Friday and other rigid schedules seems nearly impossible at times. Following step by step rules when we know we can take a non linear path and reach the same conclusion or destination feels restrictive and even boring. This is what makes us who we are, Women with a Past, women who don't conform, rebels and rogues.

So what do we do with our free spirit minds? And what do we do for work? Bear in mind that I am defining work not simply as a means to provide an income, but as that which gives our lives purpose and meaning. It is our contribution to society and our legacy.

That's the tricky part. I think that many of us who have gotten into 'trouble" of one sort or another have gotten there only because we have been forced into structures and patterns that are contrary to our nature. And rather than adapting the structure of task, like work for example, we try to force ourselves into this unnatural flow. We can only do this for so long before something has to give. We might act out and rebel against the rules or structure, we might tell our boss exactly what part of the human anatomy he most resembles and what item should be inserted into said part. Or we might self medicate in order to keep up with the patters, using stimulants to get us through the days when we just don't have the energy and ambition to carry on, or sedation to slow down to the pace that linear thought drags us along while we know we could complete the task far more efficiently and quickly if only we didn't have to follow their rules. And the guilt and self loathing cried out to be medicated too....just a few drinks after work will stop all those nagging voices, right? Or maybe a romantic partner will convince us that we have something worthwhile to offer, if only between out legs...the media does a great job convincing us that being attractive is a sufficient measure of value. Sometimes we give up, falling into depression and self blame, hating ourselves for not being "normal".

Think of all these emotional and psychological acrobatics we perform, at great expense to our own well being and sanity, just to accommodate normalcy. Think of how many of us have eventually, at some point in our lives, reached the tipping point where our coping mechanisms no longer worked and we slipped, slid and slammed into the inevitable rock bottom from which we emerged shaken to our core, but reborn. Like the day my fairy godmother appeared.

Once we get over trying to fit in (oh the joys of getting older and falling into self acceptance) we realize that we don't have to force out feet into the tiny Cinderella glass slipper that society has handed us. Suddenly it dawns on us that we have been awfully clever and resourceful in our attempts to be normal; we have developed and entire skill set built on survival and resiliency We discover that there are ways to make this whole responsibility thing work out, and there are ways to do this while also honoring our authentic self.

Some of us women may be branded as "disabled" in praise of our quirkiness. Depending on experience and the particular brand of eccentricity that led us into our personal journey there may be residual damage, whether physical, psychological or emotional that qualifies us for economic support for this badge of dishonor. We may continue to work the number of hours that are allowed and we may be entitled to protections and accommodation in the workplace Even then, if we do qualify as 'disabled' the few privileges that accompany that label are hard won; there can be a heavy price to pay for the simple luxury of flexible work hours or extra days working from home. Discrimination is illegal and it's also damn near impossible to prove. The real discrimination, the hushed whispers of co-workers, the resentful glares as you leave work early all take their toll. Meanwhile we are left wondering, again, if there isn't just something more we could do if we tried just a little harder to fit the mold couldn't we just get by? After all is it really a disability just to be different? Frankly my answer is a resounding "no" but for some women it has been the one thing that has made it possible to secure and maintain regular employment, and to that I say more power to them.

Some of us a blessed with skills and talents that have a market value; or we find a way to obtain the training needed to acquire those skills. If we're very lucky and very clever we manage to start up a business of our own, working from home or perhaps in partnership with others who appreciate our uniqueness. In many ways the internet has been a lifesaver, or a career saver, for those of us who don't fit the typical employment profile. By learning to be resourceful, creative and, yes, stubborn we are able to integrate our life experience into real work.

Some of us have mellowed with age to the point that we can count on being able to be present, at least physically for enough hours a week to hold a job of some sort. Some of us have careers that once abandoned can now be salvaged. I know several women who have swallowed their pride and returned to their careers, even if it meant starting on a lower rung on the ladder they were happy to be back doing what they love.

Unfortunately with the economy in the wretched shape it has been and appears that it will remain, many of these options are slipping away. And as we get older, the chances of being hired decrease with each year that passes. Again, age discrimination is illegal, but virtually impossible to prove.

I've been making it a point to talk to women in their 40's and 50's, women with a past, and learning how they get by these days. Getting by isn't just financial because work, ideally, is more than just a paycheck. It is what gives meaning and purpose to our lives. It is how we express who we are and the means by which we share our unique gifts with the world. It is our contribution to the whole.

I have often thought that rather than working 40 or 50 hours a week consistently until some bureaucrat deems us to be of retirement age (which seems to be getting older and older every year or so) it would make much more sense to create a work environment that is conducive to easing out of the job market, while also enabling older and wiser employees to utilize our life experience and wisdom as a contribution to the workplace. On the job Mentoring offers hands on training and support for younger people just entering the workplace. How many managers or supervisors really have the time to spend one on one with their employees? Resolving interpersonal conflicts, coaching a green employee through the uncertainty and new career jitters can save businesses time and money by preventing workplace discord and discontent. 

Professional consultation in one's areas of expertise can be an efficient means of bringing any industry up to speed on specialized issues of concern. Who better to consult and educate a team of sales personnel for example, on those awkward topics like sexual harassment or alcohol and drug abuse than those of us who have survived these challenges.

Some Women have created successful careers for themselves doing just that. We need more opportunities and, of course, funding helps; but even where there isn't funding now, can we advocate for ourselves and each other to be given the opportunity to share our knowledge and experience?

I think there are ways to do this...and with varying levels of commitment I have been brainstorming and researching possibilities. I would love to hear some feedback, ideas, success stories from anyone who has a similar vision. Together we can change our role in society; we can speak up and show them what we've got. We can create our own value and take our rightful place as Elders.

As Women with a Past we have so much to offer. We have experienced the highs and lows at the most extreme. We have made mistakes and we have fallen and we have risen from the ashes with the fire of survival in our hearts. How do you use your fire to light the earth?

© 2010-2012 Nanakoosa’s Place, authored by Jennifer Hazard

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