The first time I had it “all figured out,” I was twenty. I had landed a position as a full-time baker/pastry chef in an institutional venue with decent pay, big corporate benefits, and a weeks paid vacation. I chose this over the part-time opening at an adorable, privately owned bakery because it was the smart thing to do. I could indulge my foodophile obsession in the safe confines of a corporate security blanket. Five years later, the vendor contract had run its course and my employer chose to downsize and not renew the contract. My benefits package was sliced up like a cake and I was left with a tiny sliver. Determined to hang on to the modicum of security they were offering, along with being newly pregnant, I turned down their offer of a layoff deal. After learning I was pregnant, they began piling more physically demanding duties on me and finally, out of exhaustion and frustration, I took their offer and stayed home until after my son was born.
Seven months later I re-entered the workforce, confidant that I had it all figured out once again when I took a lower level management position with a local fast food chain. After eighteen months of closing shifts, arriving home (from a job I detested) at 2 am and getting up at 5 am with an infant, I put in my two-weeks notice and hit the want ads once more.
Sheer luck led me to a small (forty bed) nursing home, which was both beautiful and sad, and also corporate. Yay benefits! Fast-forward five years and I once again became the victim of downsizing and restructuring.
My son now in grade school, I decided to apply to the school corporation as a substitute dietary assistant. They called me a few days later, out of desperation, to fill in for a teaching assistant in a special needs classroom. After three months of moving from classroom to classroom (and sometimes from school to school), with occasional stints as a health assistant in the front offices, where I administered band aids, breathing treatments and meds while filling out attendance slips, answering phones, and performing lice checks, I was invited to take a permanent assignment in a classroom at my son’s school. The pay was minimal, the work physically and emotionally exhausting and I loved every minute of it! My work schedule matched my son’s and during summer breaks, I worked as a one-on-one aide with a young boy with autism. Bliss…
…until my fourth summer, when the funding for the summer program was cut and I fell in love with the culinary arts all over again. Not corporate level stuff, no this was the real deal-pure, unencumbered by rigid structure, just hours of blissfully baking and creating, engaging with customers, and learning new skills in a nurturing environment.
And it was this bliss that brought me around to the true definition of having life “all figured out.” I realized that, for myself and many others like me, having a safety net built into your career does not lead to a serene, secure life. There’s so much more to living and working that just paying the bills and creating an impressive financial portfolio. Granted, there are ways to combine the career of your dreams with financial security, but for me, beating myself to a pulp over the search for such an opportunity is simply not worth it.
I also gained a fresh insight into each one of my so-called setbacks. I left each one of those jobs feeling as if I had failed. Once I discovered the joy of a job based on the work I did instead of the compensation I received, I came to understand that none of those past jobs and all of the bouncing around from one to another were a mistake; each one was a well-time opportunity, a chance for a do-over. I held each one of those jobs long enough to either thoroughly love or completely detest them; long enough to glean viable skills, form friendships and business contacts, and discover something new about myself.
I take this newfound outlook with me every day as I (yes, again!) start all over in a new city and a new part-time job at Winn Dixie. No glory, no glamour, just a cozy work environment. Another opportunity artfully placed in my path, another interesting tale to add to my story. And the best part, besides working with some fabulous folks, is I get to give cookies to the children that come in to shop with their parents. Benefit package- their precious smiles. I think I’m getting this all figured out.