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This Day in My History

George Washington's
Rules of Civility
and Decent Behaviour

29th:   When you meet with one of greater quality than yourself, stop, and retire, especially if it be a door or any straight place to give way for him to pass.

Yesterday's Entries

2000: She Bought a Clothesline
 Orkney-Day 3
2002:  Moonstruck
2003:  'Taint a Fit Night Out


by Patricia Cornwell


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Sheila Video 5
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22 September 2004

Last week, I had a brief flurry of e-mail with a former boss, who sold her business while I was working for her and moved to the state of Washington.  It was nice to hear from her, but it set me to thinking about the whole business of my work history.

I have been off work for over a year now. I think about looking for a job now and then, but I’m gradually pushing the idea farther and farther into the back of my head. I had thought I’d need to earn money to return to Australia next year, but now that I’m not going to do that, the immediacy of having a regular job has disappeared.

There are times when I feel very guilty about that, because it leaves the brunt of the earning on Walt’s shoulders, plus whatever I can eke out typing these psychiatric reports. For my personal spending money there is the pittance that I earn writing reviews for the Davis Enterprise, which I put in my own separate account and which saves us from having arguments about my purchase of "miscellaneous sundries at Longs."

In truth, the thought of going back to work terrifies me. On oh so many levels.

My work history has been painful, at best. The only job that did not end painfully was my first job, for the UC Berkeley Physics Department, which I left two months before Jeri was born. I loved that job. I had a great relationship with my boss (and nearly 40 years later, we are still friends).

My next job was for The Secretariat, a typing service here in town. I started as an on-call typist, filling in typing projects when needed, but when the office added a dedicated word processor (in the days before computers) and I was the only one who seemed to be able to operate the machine.  I was offered a full time job and worked there for 7 years. In the last year, I had taken over the work for a psychologist who brought a huge amount of work into the office. I was the only one who could read his handwriting and who could keep up with his mountain of work. He and I also got along well. I enjoyed his work so much that I didn’t mind staying after hours or coming in on Saturdays to complete a job. Technically I was working overtime and should have (a) charged him overtime, and (b) claimed overtime wages, but I did not.  He didn't ask me to work overtime; it was my choice and I didn't think he should be charged more than the regular rate for it.

My boss, who was having financial problems at the time, finally decided that I was "cheating her" out of money that she should have by not charging overtime. We had a big row about it and she asked me not to return. There were some satisfactions--the psychologist took his work from The Secretariat and gave it to me and she lost him as a client completely, and a couple of years later she told me that firing me was the worst mistake that she’d ever made and she apologized.

I went from The Secretariat to The Typing Company, another typing service. I worked there another 7 years. In that time I learned medical transcription and was in charge of the transfer from typewriters to computers. The business was sold to a woman who knew a little about computers, but nothing about medical transcription. I taught her medical transcription and took care of the upgrades on the computers and teaching her how to make the job more efficient. I began going out to medical offices around town as an on-call transcriptionist for the office. I’d call in each morning, my boss would tell me which company needed me that day and I’d go off and work for that company, and report my hours back to my boss.

One morning, I called in and she said "Oh. I’ve decided to sell the business. I guess you’ll have to find your own work." That is seriously what she told me. There was no hint that I was about to lose my job. There was no thank you for my work, no goodbye. Just...that’s it. You’re out. (The business went through a lot of changes but never completely shut down and she now runs it out of her home, I’m told.)

By that time I’d been working for the ob/gyn office on a fairly regular basis through The Typinc Company, and I asked if they would consider hiring me as a permanent in-house transcriptionist. They restructured the office clerical staff so they could give me a job and I began working there full time. In the last 2+ years of the 10 years I spent there, I had been asked to take over the job of office manager during the sale of the office and our becoming part of the Sutter Health Organization.  We were now an HMO and the doctors for whom I had worked for 8 years were no longer my bosses.  Though I still technically worked for them, I was employed by Sutter, the "mother company."

One fateful day, I was called to a "special meeting" with two Sutter hatchetpeople. I was blindsided. I was told that I was not qualified to do the job I’d been doing, with no complaints from anyone, for 2 years. The meeting lasted 20 minutes, by which time I was in tears. I submitted my resignation the next day and left 2 weeks later. They didn’t have to pay me unemployment because technically speaking they did not fire me. They also were unable to find a replacement for this job they were so eager to get me out of. It was 6 months before the position was filled and in the last 6 years they have had 7 managers in the job I was unfit to hold.

(Interestingly, of the 10 offices which were purchased under the Sutter Health Organization umbrella, by the end of 2 years, only one office manager was left.   All the rest had either quit or been fired.)

I took time off because by that time David had died and I just didn’t feel like doing anything. Then Paul died and I just let the whole idea of working sit for another few years.

But in the fall of 2000, I saw an ad for the job with Dr. G, which seemed ready made for me, and I applied. The job itself vascillated between not so bad and a nightmare, but he and I got along fairly well outwardly, most of the time. That job didn’t exactly end badly as far as the job itself was concerned, but since I was physically unable to do the medical assisting work after my bike accident and since I was about to go to Australia for 6 weeks, and since I was definitely ready to leave Dr. G and his foibles, I just quit. There was no official farewell (it would have been nice to have a goodbye card or something), and Dr. G went through 3 office managers before he found someone else who could stand him.

After I came back from Australia, I heard about the job with a non-profit office and on interview it seemed like a not terribly exciting, but adequate job. I liked the idea of working with other women again, rather than alone like I was with Dr. G, and I liked being an underling instead of being in charge, for a change. I took the job. I still don’t know what went wrong. On Friday I was told that everything was going well and my immediate supervisor was pleased with my performance, and on Monday I was told by the same supervisor that it wasn't working out and that there were "too many problems to bother listing."  I was asked to leave immediately. I had only been there a couple of months--not long enough that they had to go through the official steps to fire an employee.

I stood out on the sidewalk after finding myself fired without warning, for the second time, for reasons I did not understand at all, and I wondered what I was going to do with myself.

My record is that, with the exception of the last job, my jobs have been long term but have ended painfully for me. In the interim, the economy has changed, my weight has soared and I'm also 61 years old now.  I am, quite frankly, terrified of showing up at a job interview in this body and facing rejection, or risk being hired and having to go through the painful end of a job again.

It’s probably totally irrational, but I’m in the enviable position where I don’t really have to work, though things would be financially more comfortable around here if I did. But when I think about the long history of painful experiences with jobs I truly loved that ended up devastating me, and when I think about the obvious rejection that I would get in a lot of places just going through the application process because of my appearance, I just can’t bring myself to even think about trying any more.

Hindsight is 20/20.  I've never had a "career," just clerical jobs that I stumbled into.  I look at my friends who built careers, who built up retirement funds and who were able to retire when they got to be my age.  All I look back on is a series of failed jobs and disappointment, and the thought that if I go back to work, I have to start from scratch yet again, even if I could find someone willing to hire me.

Website of the Day

Operation Iraqi Children, started by actor Gary Sinise and Laura Hillenbrand ("Seabiscuit") is looking for school supplies to send to Iraq.

Proud Parents.  Read the review of our Mexican daughter's restaurant!  (It was printed in Sacramento Magazine in February, but I didn't hear about it until today).  (Also check out her "recipe of the month" from the August issue)


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Morning in the bush -- how I miss this.
(photo by Peggy)



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