by Christina Michael
How has it become so demanding, so challenging to find a paying job? There is the infamous 6-year cavernous gap in my resume. Yes, all who review my resume say: “This one stopped working to have kids and now expects to have us hire her and give total flexibility.” Strike One. Resume to the shredder.
Why did I want to start working again? Simple: money. We had not put enough into the kids’ 529 college accounts (if it’s going to be as much as the experts say to send a kid to college in the year 2018, maybe we can start a trend of home-schooling at the university level), had not saved the recommended six months of salary in case of emergency, and had not taken many vacations other than visiting relatives (always good to see family, but not exactly Fantasy Island with room service, mini-bar, and in-room movies). To be honest, we needed a second income to pay taxes and health insurance (like Michael Moore shows us in “Sicko,” we should all move to France considering the health care costs in the U.S. and the excellent cuisine and fashion, too boot). O.K. I get it. I might need to find a job. Game On.
My first attempt to on-ramp was me thinking that I could become a real estate mogul, sell a few “phat” houses in Marin County (maybe Sean Penn, Andre Agassi, or another famous local needs a new real estate broker), and easily add a cushion to our bank account. Being a licensed lawyer, I could jump straight to the California Real Estate Broker’s Exam. I just needed to study, pass the test, and sign up a few clients. Easy as pie (or so I thought). I paid for my pretty workbooks and on-line study guides, and I studied for the test. I swore I would never take another exam after the bar exam, but here I was, 14 years later, cramming for weeks at the local library.
Calculator in hand (right, I had to calculate “capitalization rates” – huh?), pencils sharpened, exhausted and sick with nerves, I appeared at the broker’s exam (oh did I need a spa retreat or at least self-prepared cucumber slices applied to my eyes while the kids watched another TiVoed show). I had been studying after my kids went to bed from 9:00 p.m. until 2:00 a.m. for about six weeks. Boy, did I have a newfound appreciation for my dad, who had helped pay for college, and newfound respect for those who put themselves through school while working and supporting their families (they are the amazing rock stars of our world). Anyhow, at the test, I found myself surrounded by lots of other lawyers and very hard working real estate agents trying to get their broker’s license. Everyone looked eager, really well-prepared, and had lots of industry experience. My heart pounded. My feet were sweating in my Ugg Boots. I had heart burn from the pot of coffee I had just inhaled. I was convinced I was in big trouble. Calgon, take me away. After taking the day-long exam, I left thinking I had gotten my first F. Strike Two. I was ready to go back to the drawing board to reinvent myself again.
Two weeks later, much to my “Shock and Awe” (sorry for the Bush-ism), I learned that I had passed the exam. That felt really good for a nanosecond. Then, I thought, “now what”? People that are successful real estate brokers have been doing it forever, do not start off in the business on a part time or flexible basis, and do not make much money at all for a long long while. Why hadn’t I thought more carefully about this one before I invested the time, energy, and money into becoming the next Donald Trump with hair? It was reminiscent of being a senior in college applying to law school without putting much thought into it at all (why not get another degree and put off going to find a real job).
Determined to be the next Apprentice (a lot older and a lot less cute and coiffed), with my real estate broker’s license in hand, I began applying to real estate assistant jobs, mortgage broker jobs, residential real estate jobs, commercial real estate jobs, and property manager jobs. I also started talking to everyone and anyone in the real estate industry who would listen. Again, no one ever called, no one ever wrote, no one ever responded. Strike Three (isn’t that “out”?). What was I to do now to reinvent myself?
Throughout my job search, one thing became perfectly clear to me: I was doing all that I could to find any paying, relatively flexible job that was anything but being a full time lawyer. The problem was that, though a near perfect fit for my resume, being a full time lawyer was not a perfect fit for a mother with young kids. It was such hard, grueling, not part time, not flexible work, and the more do-able“in-house” jobs were few and far between. How could I be a full time lawyer in a private law firm, especially considering that that is exactly what my husband is doing in a full-time, over-the-top, 24/7 capacity? Who would care for our two young kids from 7:00-8:30 a.m. and 2:50-6:00 p.m.? Would I have to hire full-time help? Considering the size of our humble house (size of a shoebox or maybe a boot box), would I have to have a “live-in” nanny or au pair stay in our back shed with no electricity sleeping next to our surf boards, bikes, and tools? Each night I would ask whoever or whatever is “up there” (is there really anyone or anything up there besides the cobwebbed ceiling above my head that so badly needs cleaning?): “Please, please don’t make me do the full-time, hard core lawyer thing again and leave my little boys all the time. I promise I’ll be good and go to the soup kitchen this Thanksgiving. Pleeeaaassseee.”
Well, the praying wasn’t working and the lottery Powerball hadn’t been won yet, so onto Plan B. I would apply to other types of jobs that would use my legal skills but would not be practicing law full time. To give you an idea of the crazy mélange of positions for which I applied, here it goes: paralegal, law office manager, HR training coordinator, insurance claims adjuster, legal recruiter, managing editor, regulatory and corporate compliance analyst, director’s assistant (fancy name for a secretary), legislative/political intern, director of government affairs, assistant dean, V.P. of sales, managing editor, technical writer. The list goes on and on. Guess what. Again, no one called, no one wrote, no one responded. Strike Four (uh oh, there is no Strike Four).
But, then, the phone did ring just once (and it wasn’t one of my sisters or my friends doing the daily “check in”). I had applied to a government contracts position that would allow me to use my legal skills but not practice law full time. Ding ding ding! They wanted to interview me. After more than a year of searching, someone had really called. I felt like I had just gotten asked to go to Junior Prom (oh, by the way, I never was asked to go to Junior Prom. Scarred me for life, I tell you). “Yes, I would love to interview,” I told the HR person. This re-inventing myself might just work. I felt like the prom queen. Only problem was that it is full time, a big job, and might be even harder than being a lawyer. Hmmm. O.K. These are only minor details. I will convince them (and myself) of the value I will add and I’ll figure out the rest later. Hey, I have another few days to prepare for this interview. I’ll dust off my old pant suit (oh, my wardrobe is so 1997) and get dressed for my “prom” job interview.
Maybe this reinventing my career wheel was going to work. And maybe I’d even splurge on a Starbucks coffee on my way to the interview in my dated, tight, very high waist-banded and very unfashionable suit. Game on.