I am watching a reality television show where artists compete for a big prize. Each week they are challenged to dig deeper for inspiration, to push their art further. Every week they are critiqued by judges–sometimes harshly–and then they put themselves back together again to create more and do more and show more for even more judgment, until, in the Finale, they must sell not just their art, but themselves as artists–their brand–what vision do they bring to the world that people would want to buy into? They’re amazingly resilient and flexible, using the good, bad, and ugly to push themselves into scary but amazing new places.
It feels quite similar to how the job search process goes, in all honesty, and I recognize this fire. I’ve had it before. That used to be me. But I do not have it now.
Right now I am a helium balloon that has deflated.
It happened so slowly over years that I didn’t even really notice. The not belonging, not being valued, not being understood at my job while also maintaining a high degree of emotional and personal investment in each student (that word vocation we always say we admire in educators). The nights–yes nights–I spent messaging or texting a student in crisis while juggling putting my kids to bed. Or the mornings I’d shift into support mode even before coffee. How can you have healthy work-life boundaries when a pandemic is raging around your students who are also your employees, needing to keep performing at a professional level? It was bonkers. Absolutely bonkers.
My therapist once told me I have the highest bandwidth in a person he’s ever seen. My plate is big. I can carry and do and take-on a lot.
And for 5 years I just put more and more and more onto my plate.
Until one day, I was terminated without much consideration. A lot of unnecessary drama ensued. I watched something I built through painstaking care and labor be burnt to the ground before I even knew it was on fire. And the slow leak became a steady stream as my balloon emptied and fell to the floor, wrinkled and spent.
I’m now in the position of needing to puff myself back up, to show-up in my job search with the same vocation I showed for years as an educator. It’s what people want–prove to me you’re an awesome person and you’ll get this job. Qualifications only get so far. We’re humans. We think with our emotions first.
Only, once a helium balloon deflates, if you go to fill it back up again with helium, it tends to pop easier.
That’s me. For 4 months I’ve tried everything to refill myself–to put myself up and out there and on fire in all my inspiring glory to land that next job–and I’m just not quite there. I don’t fly as high as I used to. I’m unevenly filled. My design still shows wrinkly and worn. And when I don’t get the job, I pop and fall back to the floor.
The job I had was the job I had dreamed of having. It was The Plan: go to grad school, see if I can find a way to stay in that place forever, doing the work that meant so much to me.
But leadership didn’t understand my job. Didn’t really take the time to understand. They didn’t realize when they auto-fired me that my job was the one they actually needed to keep (side note: I did, which is why I was so confused). Everything about how I was let go from that job reinforced the feelings I’d had and fought down for years: I don’t belong here. I’m not valued. No one understands what I do and why it matters. Be grateful you have a job at all. You could have it worse *points at the people one rung below me*. And I agreed, because it was true.
What is also true is I will not land a new job if I cannot refill my balloon. And yet, the entire process of finding a new job continues to take and take and take from what is already empty.
We have an income gap I need to fill. We need health benefits. There’s a part-time job at our local library. I would love that job. I love to read. They want programming development and support. I have a million ideas.
But the pay is atrocious. Like, worse than I was making at my old job, which didn’t pay me enough and–not sure if anyone else is aware–but inflation is really super bad right now. If you put my husband’s salary into an inflation calculator backwards 10 years, he’s not making any more now than he did then, despite having 10 more years of experience under his belt. Our generation’s wages will never outpace inflation. We’ll never be just not barely getting by, I guess. (But, please, do tell me how my avocado toast is to blame).
So I can’t take the simple job that would let me heal and give me time to grieve and to refill. I have to keep trying to puff myself up with nothing but determination and the simple fact that I have to for my family and hope like hell some hiring manager recognizes what I’m going through and trusts my experience and recommendations, which are all fucking glowing, forgiving my lack of shine in the moment of the interview.
I can’t shine right now. I can barely set-off a spark. But I promise, if you hire me and value me and let me do good work, that spark can be nurtured and stoked into a flame once again.