Monday, August 12, 2013

The Bizarreness of the Beginning – and of the Ending of 19 Years on a Job

Nineteen years ago this month, my husband saw a listing in the newspaper for an opening with the school district for an occupational therapist.  I was working for a company that was sending me to various nursing homes in the area at the time and was looking for a job change.  On the phone that day, Kevin wove his way through the maze of people on the other end of the line and eventually got connected to the director of the district’s Special Education Department, a man who, when Kevin told him that his wife was an OT with experience in pediatrics, said he wanted to hire me as soon as possible.  Kevin wrote down the man’s phone number and told him that I would call him the next day, which I did, at which time we set an appointment to meet early the next morning at a Perkins restaurant before I had to report to work at the nursing home that day.

On the day of the meeting, it was raining.  Hard.  One of those torrential downpours that makes it difficult to see the road in front of you when you’re driving.  As I pulled into a parking place right in front of the restaurant about ten minutes early, I took a deep breath and told myself I was going to have to run through the rain to get inside but it didn’t matter that I would probably look like a half-drowned rat; hopefully my resume would speak for itself and I would get the job anyway.  Before I could open my car door, though, a man in a car pulled up right beside my car and looked over at me and made the “roll down your window” gesture that I was luckily old enough to know the meaning of.  I thought the man was going to ask me for directions, but it turns out it was the man I was supposed to be meeting, asking if I was me and then, when I said that I was, asking if I could just come over and sit in his car for the interview since the rain was coming down so hard.

I looked around – there were lots of cars in the parking lot and it was a public place right there out in the open – and decided to go for it.  I figured I could unleash my crazy and/or jump out and run if he ended up being a creep.  I went around to the passenger side of his car, and he leaned over and opened the door from his position in the driver’s seat.  I saw some forearm crutches leaned against the front seat from on the floor of the car and figured out the reason that he'd parked in a handicap-accessible parking spot - and why he'd asked me to get into the car with him instead of trying to navigate through the flooding parking area.  We awkwardly shook hands across the center of the seat; I handed him my resume and he tossed it up onto the dashboard without looking at it.  He asked me a few questions in a chit-chatty manner and then asked me how soon I could start.  And right there, in the car of a man I had just met, in the pouring rain, in a Perkins parking lot, I decided to embark on a new leg of my career. 

One of the many things that I learned from my dad over the years is that no job is perfect; even a great job has parts of it that aren’t great.  This job has been wonderful, though, for me and for my family.  It has allowed me to develop so many relationships with so many people, many of whom I have known for well over a decade and many of whom I have come to care about on a very personal level.  I have been inspired and have learned something almost on a daily basis; no two days have been alike, and I feel that my creativity and my knowledge base have been challenged and expanded regularly.  I have been allowed the freedom to develop my professional interests and to improve upon my strengths – and guidance through several supervisors over the years, a few of whom have become valued mentors.  The children and the families with whom I have had the opportunity to interact have each left a mark on my life in some way; so many of them have touched my heart and impacted my life that I am forever changed because of those interactions. 

And so it comes as no small challenge for me to figure out how to make the change that needs to be made at this time, how to gracefully turn off this road onto another one as I head into another phase of my career and of my life.  But an offer has been made to me that I cannot refuse, an opportunity that, for me, at this time in my life and at this point in my career, feels exactly right.  And so I am taking the plunge.

Last Friday, letter of resignation in my hand, I drove to the school district’s central office, the actual entrance of which has recently been moved from the county’s school district building to the building that was formerly owned by the city’s school district.  As part of the merging of these two entities, the entrance was moved to the building next door.  I parked near the new entrance and entered the building, where I discovered that a little more than the usual check-in process was now involved: instead of showing my employee badge and signing in at the front desk, this time I had to walk through a metal detector and submit to having the contents of my purse searched.  State your business,” the police officer manning the door said to me in a grumbly voice.  I told him that I needed to see someone in the Human Resources Department, although, like many of the administrative offices of the district since the merger occurred last month, its official title had been changed to something that seemed so ambiguous to me that I wasn’t sure the department to which I was referring was the right one.  To get to the Office of Human Capital & Talent Management, as it was now titled, the officer told me, I should go down the hallway to the right, take a left through the doors into the breezeway, and look for the door with the sign indicating the office about it.  Clutching my letter of resignation in my hand, I took off down the hallway and pushed through the glass doors into the courtyard-like area between buildings, and the doors closed behind me with a loud metallic clank.  I walked across the concrete area to the door directly across from where I’d exited and pulled to open the door.  Locked.  Thinking that I must be trying to go in the wrong door, I walked over to the next door and tried again.  And to the next one, and to the next one.  All were locked.  Thinking that I should return to the cop at the front door and ask again for directions, I turned around and walked back to the door where I had come out.  Locked.  Shit. 

It was nearing 100 degrees, and there was no shade or breeze in that so-called “breezeway.”  Like a total weirdo, I peered into several windows of the building, thinking I would be able to get the attention of someone on the inside and get them to let me in before I died of a heat stroke out there, sadly with my letter of resignation in my sweaty hand.  There was not a single person to be seen anywhere.  Oh, I know,” I thought, in a quasi-eureka moment: “I’ll call them and tell them I’m locked out here so someone at the front desk can let me back in.  I dialed the number and listened to the series of rings on the other end, one after the other until more than a dozen rings had sounded with no answer, as I began to wilt on the outside and on the inside.  I was nervous about quitting; after all, I hadn’t quit a job in almost two decades – and now I was locked out.  Or in.  Whatever.  I felt like I had done something wrong.  I paced a little more, trying to figure out what to do next, and then I heard the squeak of an opening door from across the courtyard.  I ran (in heels) to catch the woman who was carrying a big stack of papers and who hadn’t noticed me at all until I shouted, “Excuse me, Miss?  She looked at me with part confusion and part annoyance and, after I’d explained what had happened, eyed me suspiciously and said, “You aren’t supposed to be out here at all since you’re unauthorized.  I swallowed the response that was fighting to come out and just waited her out.  Well, since you’re out here, I guess I can let you back in the way you came,” she said.  NOW THERE’S A GENIUS IDEA, I thought, but I keep that to myself too and followed her back to the door where my little adventure had begun.  She swiped her badge and moved to the side so I could enter the building.  I went inside and turned to ask her for the actual directions – but the door had already closed and she had turned and was briskly walking in the other direction.  NO WAY was I opening that door again, especially considering how quickly it apparently closed.

I went a little ways down a hallway to the side and saw a woman coming out of one of the offices there.  When I told her I was lost and gave her the name of the office I was trying to find, she gave me different directions – these included some twists and turns that were thankfully all indoors.  After a few more minutes of walking, I looked up and realized where I was: inside the “old” county district HQ building.  Familiar turf.  I turned one more corner and saw the sign for the Made-up Office Office of Human Capital & Talent Management.  I went in, found the person I needed to see, and handed her my letter.  She thanked me and wished me a good day.  I retraced my steps down the hallway and noticed that I was about to pass by the doors that had been the entrance to the building throughout my 19 years of employment, the doors that I had walked through at least 100 times over the years and the doors through which I had come to sign the paperwork on the day I was formally hired to start in this position.  "Full circle," I thought, and, throwing caution to the wind, I swiped my badge in front of the sensor (it worked!), pushed through the door, and strode through the lobby.  As I reached up and pushed through the glass doors to leave the building on my way into the parking lot, I heard a voice calling after me, “Excuse me!  You’re not supposed to be here.”  "I guess not," I thought, and I walked to my car and drove away.

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