After reading an interesting post about how marriages can support 1.5 careers, but not 2, and reading a post about how her experience taking a job that is a bit down the career ladder instead of up, I felt compelled to share my experiences and thoughts on my own job.
Let me start by saying this: there are a lot of things I love about working. I love having to be somewhere with real clothes. I love feeling like my time matters. I love being able to get a new outfit without feeling guilty. I love being around people and doing things outside of my own world.
I thought I might not like working, hate leaving Gabe, but it turns out leaving him for 20 hours a week makes me a much better mother. (And I get to leave him with Mike, so that helps.) (And Mike is much better at being a stay-at-home parent than I am.)
I mean, I have to work (no, really, if we lived off Mike’s salary we’d be below the poverty line), but I also really like working.
I’ve told you all of this before. What I haven’t shared is how much of a challenge it has been to step down the career ladder. Aren’t I going in the wrong direction? Shouldn’t I be looking for ways to get ahead, not stepping back?
Those who’ve been around since Gabe was born might remember how I quit my job during maternity leave to work at Starbucks. To go from working as a professional at a private all-girls high school with a decent salary and benefits to working for just above minimum wage as a barista was a huge change. It wasn’t just a step down the career ladder, it was a step off the ladder completely. But it was exactly what I needed at that point in my life. There are a whole host of reasons it was the right decision to leave (the best/hardest decision of my life), but most soul-sucking was that staying at my ‘career’ job would have meant an hour commute each way.
I only ever felt conspicuous about working at Starbucks twice: when I was talking to a Very High Acheiving Career Woman (with a PhD and no kids) and when my friend’s mom came to Starbucks and was shocked to see me behind the counter. I mean, being in a service position after working in a professional position was an adjustment – it felt uncomfortable to have a manager who’d yell at us or boss us around. I wasn’t used to being treated that way, honestly.
I worked at Starbucks for three months before another job fell into my lap. A job that paid better, was part-time, and was in my field.
But it was an admin assistant job. I was overqualified and essentially working as a secretary.
I struggle a lot with going from being the person who does to being the person who assists the doers. As much as my coworkers might tell me how great I am, as much as my boss might tell me how ‘hopelessly overqualified,’ at the end of the day, I am an administrative assistant.
Sure, I’ve been able to share my experience and opinions and ideas with my coworkers. Sure, I am valued as an equal…by some of them. Sure, I’ve had some great opportunities as ‘just’ as administrative assistant to go on trips or to conferences (but rules have changed and as a part-time employee, I’m not longer allowed to do that).
I tell myself all the good parts of my job – I’m earning money! I’m staying connected! I’m in the same field! It’s so utterly flexible! I actually set my own hours! I love (most of) my coworkers and students! And if I’m honest with myself, I can’t imagine working 40+ hour weeks with a child. I could barely handle just being married and working at a demanding job.
The struggle I feel mostly stems from my ego. As much as I know that working less and stepping down the career ladder for a bit is a good decision for my family (and my own aspirations with Little Leaf), it’s still hard to be seen as the one who does stuff for other people instead of doing stuff myself. It’s hard to be in a less successful position. In a ‘less than’ position. I don’t see myself as ‘just an admin,’ I see myself as an equal – but I know that I might have an inflated sense of my value.
All of this is just a long way of saying: I quit my career and started working as an assistant. It was the right decision, but it’s also a hit to my ego.