by Christina Michael
In the course of interviewing for the full time, contract officer job, I had to call my job references. Remember the old boss to whom I cried (a.k.a. Old Boss #1)? He was one of them. Immediately, Old Boss #1 asked, “Do you really want to work full time?” Of course I’d prefer something flexible that paid enough to justify the expense of going back to work (emotional and financial [childcare and work clothes made after Y2K]). But Old Boss #1 was not prepared to offer that deal (at least not now).
My second reference was my old law firm boss from 10 years ago (a.k.a. Old Boss #2). He, too, asked if I really wanted to go back to work on full time basis. Then, he added, “Why don’t you come and work for us on a part time basis.” Hmmm. That sure sounded attractive. But did I really want to go practice law again? As I’ve said before and all lawyers know, it can be such difficult, grueling work, which was exactly the reason behind my attempts to “reinvent my career wheel.” I told him I would have to consider the part time proposal and weigh it against the full time opportunity.
I thought about the part time opportunity and the full time opportunity. I crunched some numbers, both economic and emotional (full time work that sounded far more “fun” and new, part time work that was more flexible but very hard lawyer work) and then came up with a part time, hourly rate proposal. I phoned Old Boss #2 and suggested the hourly rate I had calculated as well as the reasoning behind the rate. After a very long, in fact eternal, moment of silence, Old Boss #2 said he’d have to get back to me.
Days and weeks passed with no return phone call from Old Boss #2. I persisted and left voice mails for Old Boss #2. Finally, one day when I found the chutzpah to call Old Boss #2 for a third time, Old Boss #2’s voicemail did not answer my call. “Hi, Christina.” (voicemail can be so much easier sometimes, especially since I was shaking like a leaf – guess my prayers of leaving a message weren’t going to be answered this time). “Oh, hi,” I said to Old Boss #2. Any news on my part time, hourly rate proposal? “Yes.” Eternal Moment of Silence #2. Had I asked for too much? Was I not worth the value I had placed on myself? Breaking the Moment of Silence #2, Old Boss #2 finally said the firm was willing meet my terms except at a far lower hourly rate. I asked, “How much less?” I thought, “bargain basement, Filene’s Basement rates?” Then I heard “Half.” Had I misheard Old Boss #2? “Half, really, truly?” I responded? “Yes, half,” he said. Because of the flexibility and the part time nature of the work, as well as the cavernous gap in my resume (recall, 6 years), the firm felt that half of the amount that I had requested was appropriate.
Initially, I felt a bit insulted. In fact, I felt pretty awful and undervalued. Talk about feeling a crummy sense of self-worth, I sure hit the valley in a place called “planet of the stay–at-home-mom trying to on ramp on a flexible basis for a respectable wage and still be able to drop off and pick up the kids from school.” Then, after putting some Arnica (natural bruise healer sold at your local health store) on my bruised ego, I stood up tall and considered the following: the law firm would provide major flexibility (10 hours/week or 40 hours/week, whatever I wanted), agreed to reimburse me for some health care costs, and even would let me go to the holiday party (again, outfit issue comes to mind, but that’s for later). I could brush up on my legal skills, make a little money, and still pick my kids up from school most days. Yes, I would be making far less than I would have 6 years earlier, but I had taken 6 years off to raise my sons. Maybe the hourly rate would be okay for a few months and, once I had proven myself again, the firm may give me a raise.
After weighing all the options (full time job for a relatively good annual salary and NOT having to practice law, or part time at an hourly rate that was half of what I had asked), I called Old Boss #2 and accepted the offer. I said that, though disappointed about the hourly rate, I would give this a shot and would revisit the hourly rate issue in a few months. I would start in 2 weeks.
For a moment, I was really relieved, excited, and felt very fortunate. Then, reality set in -- I would actually have to go to work, get more child care in place, unearth some clothes from at least after Y2K with pants I could somehow button, and put some shoes on that weren’t running shoes or Ugg boots. Oh, and I would have to use my rusty brain to conduct legal research and writing, discuss issues with colleagues and clients, and figure out how to “PDF” a legal document to a partner for review and signature (note that all that came to mind was the “nut” allergies which caused a “no nut” policy to be instituted at the kids’ school – oh, duh, we’re talking PDF, not PBJ).
Two more weeks of freedom. Two more weeks to roll out of bed and slide into shorts, a t-shirt, and running shoes, and go on a run at 7:00 a.m. Two more weeks to stroll down to school with the kids for 8:30 a.m. drop off. Two more weeks go to the empty grocery store on Monday at 10:30 a.m., plan meals for the week, and actually cook something besides macaroni and cheese. Two more weeks to take the dog to the park after a long walk at 12:00 p.m. Two more weeks to walk back to school at 1:30 p.m. to pick up of my kindergartner. Only two more weeks. I was suddenly gripping onto this “leisure” (if you can classify grocery shopping “leisure”) and kicking myself for having failed to appreciate all of these mundane, but such leisurely, things. At least I was going to make sure to appreciate these things for the next two weeks (14 days, or 336 hours, or 20,160 minutes, or 1,209,600 seconds). I think I’ll call it 1,209,600 seconds of leisure (doesn’t sound so quick). After 1,209,600 seconds, it was, like Tim Gunn of Bravo Channel’s “Project Runway” says, “Time To Make It Work.”
Christina Michael is a 38 year old attorney living in the Bay Area. She has spent the last 7 years at home with her two sons. Now that her youngest is in kindergarten, she is headed back to work.