I've been thinking a lot about work lately. Each day as I walk three blocks from the ramp to my office, I think, "this could all end in a few months - I could lose my job." It's a scary thought for many reasons. I'm supporting myself alone - the mortgage, health and car insurance, student loan payment, daily living bills - are all on me. I've become more of a saver in the past few years, so at least I have a decent emergency fund. The scary thoughts leave my mind fairly quickly and are replaced by sad thoughts. I'd really miss this job. I've worked places where that wouldn't have been the case, but this job, this job I love. And I'm incredibly grateful that it is a part of my life.
I set a goal for myself probably five years ago that I would work at the U of M at some point. At that point in my life there were few goals I had that I had complete faith in. Knowing that I would someday work at the U of M was one. I wasn't sure if I wanted to stay in development, but I started applying for development positions in 2006. I was passed over for one position I was really excited about and I received the warmest call a few weeks later from the woman who didn't hire me, encouraging me to apply for the position I have now. I knew as I ended my call with her that this next lead would pan out. I just knew it.
When I started this position I was eager to start taking classes again (tuition is covered for employees) and working toward a PhD in adult education or higher education administration. I slowly began to realize that development work at the U was unlike anything I'd experienced in the past. The work environment was normal and healthy. People weren't really competing against each other. Our philosophy was truly donor-centered. And we weren't raising money to keep the lights on. Providing access to education, I learned, is a deep passion for me. Working with people who are at their best is the best fit for me. People who are giving to make learning possible, to give a student confidence in their abilities and dreams, are filled with joy. For them, it's not about a tax write-off or their name in annual report. It's about connecting generations of learners. Once I realized this, I put the PhD idea on the back burner and allowed myself to be content as U employee.
I also have the privilege of working with amazing people. Honest. Hard-working. Intelligent. Passionate. Collaborative. I believe the U is the best place in Minnesota to do development. Others might disagree - but our employee turn-over is very low, which says something for a profession with typical movement every two to three years.
So, for these reasons it would break my heart to lose this job. There is little I can do to control the state's budget situation, so I try not to let these thoughts take over my day. What will be will be. And I'll figure out new opportunities if needed.
I was talking to a co-worker the other day about my first job out of college. I actually started working for this organization, St. David's Child Development and Family Services, between my junior and senior years of college. I worked as a personal care assistant with young adults with special needs. Mostly giving their families respite time, and also working on skill and community integration with the three young women I worked with. I told my co-worker this was probably the most meaningful job I've had in my life. Meaningful in a different way than my current job. I learned the incredible strength and resiliency of the human spirit as I fed a young girl through a GI tube and apologized for another girl eating food off of another's plate (while she grinned ear to ear) in a restaurant. I learned that it's a generalization to say people with Down Syndrome are happy-go-lucky and generally docile. And why should we generalize behaviors for child with special needs vs. a child without special needs? My mom asked me every week how I couldn't feel sorry for these kids. I shrugged and would tell her they are just like any other kid - they just needed some extra help in life.
The sad truth of this experience wasn't the young people I had the privilege to get to know and share smiles with - it was that I earned $7/hour and didn't qualify for benefits. After four months working as a PCA after I graduated, I realized I wouldn't be able to make student loan payments and car payments and save money in case I got sick working this job. If I wasn't living with my parents I probably would have qualified for government assistance. The irony of this situation was that this $7/hour job required the most responsibility of any job I've had since. I was responsible for the most vulnerable humans. I had to keep them safe and help grow their skills. It's a sad, sad irony - those who aren't able to add to the economic engine of our world and many of those who care for and teach these individuals - young and old alike - really are treated as less than.
I come back to that I've been thinking a lot about work lately. Wondering what I would do if circumstances changed. Wondering how I will be making a living in 30 or 40 years. . .