I thought my life, professional and personal, was pretty grand. My husband and I had been working “grown-up” full-time jobs in education just long enough to afford our own house, which we’d just decorated. This may not seem a grand accomplishment for thirty-year-olds with master’s degrees, but it was for us. See, we may be the poster children of the student loan bubble population. Both of us were first-gen college students, both had our undergraduate degrees covered by financial aid and scholarships, and both went immediately from graduation to graduate school (hello, student loans). However, master’s degrees in sociology and English plus beginning our first years of adult, married life in the economy of 2008 = less-than-lucrative income. For example, we both taught part-time at community colleges while holding down a multitude of other odd jobs. Ultimately, we both wanted to be full-time college teachers in our home region, not across the country hundreds of miles from family.
For a few years now, we’ve been staff members by day and part-time faculty by night. However, between the two of us, we don’t come close to making what some of our lesser-degreed friends make, and we work full-time and part-time now to do even that. Naturally, when a full-time faculty position opened, I had to apply. After all, I’m a writer. I needed summers off to actually do what I went to school to do.
Furthermore, with the pay increase, we may even foresee paying off our student loans. We were psyched, and so was everyone on our small campus. People kept telling me the job was mine, and even though I didn’t expect to be handed the job, I had no reason to believe I didn’t have a strong shot:
1. I was well-liked.
2. I gave a strong interview and teaching demo—or so I was told both by people who mattered and people who didn’t.
3. I already do this job on a part-time basis.
From the beginning, I had thought of my application for the position as a win-win: I liked my current full-time job, and I liked my part-time job. If I got the full-time teaching position, great—more pay, and I wouldn’t have to work part-time anymore; if I didn’t, that’s fine: I hadn’t lost anything. However, at the end of the day, a more credentialed outsider beat me. Not getting a job at a place I already (and continue to) work has come with a slew of adult lessons I hope you learn the easier way:
1. Forget what you think you know and what other people think they know.
I had many friends and co-workers cheering in my section, and they offered encouraging words, compliments and advice. While it was helpful in building confidence, I should have known that their words meant nothing to those who would be judging me. Say thank you and be confident, but know that no one knows anything for certain. If I’d paid less attention to what we thought we all knew, I may have spared my feelings a little at the letdown.
2. Never Say Never.
You’re never too old to find a new career path, even if you thought you were on the only path you’d want to be on for years. Before this experience, I thought I would work for the place I currently work until I retired. I sang the praises of my employer and thought I always would. However, I realize now that I have always had the goal of teaching full-time and when that possibility was taken from me, I felt stuck. In my adulthood, I’ve always been striving for something, whether I was working toward a degree or just working toward finally having lucrative income in education. Nevertheless, working full-and part-time wears on the body and mind. I knew I would burn out doing both eventually. I’d worked full-and part-time for three years and a multiple of simultaneous part-time jobs for two years before that. The burnout occurred when I realized I’d been working toward nothing. The looming possibility that I might teach full-time drove me to continue part-time. Even though I didn’t know when it might be possible, I kept going. Plus, it was extra money that my full-time job doesn’t pay.
However, disappointment has shown me I have to make a new plan. One perk of working in education? You can get another degree for (almost) free. Though I would’ve had no desire to go back to school again prior to this experience, I am now signed up for a class toward another master’s degree. I need a new plan: something else to strive for now that this window has closed. Goals propel us forward and without a new goal, stasis sets in. Therefore, I’m trying to transition from post-secondary to secondary education, a world that will open more career opportunities. Let’s try it.
3. Never underestimate your own pride.
Undoubtedly, one of the most difficult aspects of not getting the job was everyone knowing how much they wanted me to have it, how much I wanted to have it, and how much I didn’t get it. There was no one who wouldn’t know because we all still work here! I don’t consider myself a very prideful individual. I take pride in my appearance, my house, my family, my husband and our relationship, and my work; but I don’t typically sacrifice for the sake of pride. I’m not afraid to admit I’m wrong and I don’t have a problem apologizing.
However, it was much more difficult than I thought to face all the people who knew I didn’t get it. It’s been more difficult to face the people who didn’t give me the job and with whom I must still work. I’ve hidden from them in the grocery store when we used to chat by the produce. I’ve avoided large gatherings where I knew they’d be. Even though I did nothing wrong, my pride took a fall for wanting what I didn’t get and having to suffer the consequences daily. That was a fall I didn’t anticipate.
4. All employers are businesses, and business is business.
Another thing that really hurt (and enraged) me was that an outsider got the position. My dedication and loyalty to my company for the past five years (seemingly) meant nothing. My sacrifice of working multiple jobs for the company got me nowhere. Probably, the credentials of the person who won the position provided more credibility for the company than my 5 years of service. I get that. I think my skewed view of my work environment (remember: I loved this place) kept me from thinking about the business aspect. Everyone was rooting for me, right? You might root for the Mom & Pop Grocery on the other side of town, but if you need milk, eggs, and patio furniture, you’re going to Wal-Mart. Business is business. Education is among the biggest of businesses.
5. Waste less time and make things easier.
At the end of a long semester of full-time and part-time work, I veg out. I watch full TV series on Netflix or movies I’ve seen before because my brain is tired from reading papers all day, then talking about writing papers in the evenings, and grading those students’ papers on weekends. By the time I’ve turned in grades, I’m ready for brain mush. However, watching Gossip Girl can only do so much for one’s career. True, I’ll come up with new outfit combinations to wear to work by observing Blair and Serena’s impeccable style, but that’s about as far as we can stretch that knee sock. If I’m going to try to move forward with my career, I need to have time to do it. I need to be on the lookout for other, higher paying jobs in education; I need to make time to write if I want to pursue that avenue; and I need to make time to earn another degree if that’s a path I’m choosing. Therefore, I must be smarter with my time — less brain mush, more brain action; less intense focus on part-time teaching, more intense focus on career building and learning.
6. No matter how much you think you will be okay if you don’t get your dream job, you will be okay, but you will definitely be sad, maybe sadder than you thought.
I was sad for a month. I was mad that I was sad. I didn’t anticipate being so sad. I wasn’t jobless. Why did I care so much? I hadn’t actually lost anything. My life would continue much as it had before. While this is all true, for a month I was focused on what I had imagined I would gain if I got the job, and it was the loss of that dream that made me sad, that made me realize I needed a new one.
7. A good shower will wash off the filth of a dream-crushing day.
A shower doesn’t fix anything (except dirtiness), but it does make you feel better. There’s a mental cleansing that happens in the shower; it allows you to relax with your stress, sadness, anger, whichever, or all of the above. The water pressure even lets you send some of it down the drain with the suds, filth, dead skin, and hair. Even if you’re still sad or angry, you feel renewed with it. You’ve got a fresh perspective on it, or at least you hope you’ve let a little of it go.
8. People will give you back your own advice just when you need it.
We’ve all given some advice to friends and family. It’s part of life to offer comfort and direction to those you love. However, just when you need it, the friends and family who paid attention will give you that good advice back. Disappointment will make you lose faith in yourself and your ability to do the things you’ve already done successfully. It will make you question everything you know about yourself and your ability to succeed in anything. It doesn’t matter what kind of disappointment it is, whatever you stood to gain seems larger when you don’t gain it. Those who love you will tell you: “get knocked down 7 times, get up 8.” And even though those words may have first come from you, they’ll never mean more than when they come from someone you love who believed them enough to not only take heed but share again.
I’ll still tell anyone who wants to talk to me about this experience that it wasn’t worth the trouble. It made life at work difficult when it hadn’t been difficult before. It made me question my ability to do my job, something I’d worked hard to become secure in. It destroyed my perception of a company I’d long supported and that I thought supported me. I still believe all of that, but no experience is truly wasted from which we can learn. Man, I’m still learning.
Mari Stanley is a tutor, teacher, and writer in Kentucky, where she lives with her husband Brent and cat Marci. She writes (and occasionally publishes) poetry and essays, loves outdoor hobbies, and is an everyday fashion and pop culture junkie. Secretly, she wants Judge Judy’s job. Find Mari on Twitter and Instagram.
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