The Crucible: Back into the Working World

Happy Friday, MOM Squad and Random Readers!

Earlier this year, we talked about how I was going to be blogging less because I was a-feared of the power of the interwebz and the trolls that maraud therein. A few things happened in that space of time. I contracted meningitis (which ate at my nerve endings in my brain, or something), I went on a fast (which ate at my creativity or bolstered it, depending on who you ask), and now I have a job. The lattermost incident will affect my writing the most, for sure.

A few years ago, I used to work for a recruiting company that was housed in a hole in a wall. Literally. There was a hole with a cubicle maze and some dangling wires, and we were all cramped into this tiny space, expected to churn out candidates worthy of hire for Fortune 500 companies and so forth. It wasn’t so much that it was cotton field – as we termed it in those days – it was more of a sweat shop for recruiters. Turnover was high, as was employee dissatisfaction. Morale was consistently low. If you listened hard enough, you could hear Paul Robeson’s phantom singing “Go down Moses” in a ghostly whisper from one of the abandoned cubes. Every once in a while, I would hum along.

And now, I’m back.

Yes, you heard me. After a five year hiatus from the traditional work force (not counting that 6 months I took a writing contracting job) I am back at the very company that violently drove me from the workforce.

Did I sell out? Possibly. And although I swore I would never return to this place, I kept myself in good standing with the gatekeepers who guard access to the easiest paycheck I have ever received. Except now, it’s NOT the easiest paycheck I’ll ever receive. What used to come to me as second nature is officially hard work! Can you imagine having to work for your pay? I haven’t felt this lost in…Well; I’ve never felt this lost!

When I was fresh out of college and had moved to Atlanta, I used to work for an online trading firm called MarketTrade*. My managers were two men who couldn’t be more different from another. They were as opposite as East is from West; as Black is from White. Incidentally, one guy was Black and the other was White. JR and Bob were their names.

Anyway, Bob was veteran of the Marines and had made a fortune selling bonds in ‘80s. The proprietor of MT sourced him, pulled him out of retirement in 2001 and made him the Director of Sales over our department. I loved Bob. He was a great guy and an even better boss, but he was an unabashed Luddite – completely devoid of any technological competency. When he would go in for presentations, he would draw spreadsheets on college ruled paper and fill in his data on fields he’d created with a pencil and a ruler. A part of my job was to create his Excel spreadsheets and email them to him, so that he could then email them to the Directors upstairs. Bob had been out of the traditional workforce for fifteen years or better, and a lot had changed since he last had to commute to an office. Technology moved quickly in those days. It was like a lightning bolt. Today, technology moves at warp speed, impossible to catch up with until it stops. You have to move along with it.

If only I could go back and speak with my 23 year old self.

“Don’t be so smug, Malaka,” I’d say, “because at 36, you’ll find yourself in the very same position as this 68 year old man: completely lost, confused, and floundering in a world that moved along while you were standing still doing laundry and catching up on the latest happenings on Facebook and Downton Abbey!”

Let me tell you all how bad it is: The first day I sat at my desk, I was given six passwords for as many different systems that each do different things and told to “go for it”. I stared blankly at my computer for about an hour, after which time I felt a surge of pride course through my body after I had successfully set up my email auto signature (unassisted, I’m proud to say). You see, just like Bob, I had previously done such a stellar job in my position that my colleagues felt as though I didn’t need assistance. They pushed me off a cliff and waited for me to soar. I haven’t hit the jagged bottom of the cliff yet, but I’m still falling. My aim is not to crash land. With any luck, I’ll catch some wind in my fledgling wings that will lift me out of harm’s way and prevent an early, untimely, ugly death.

I have put a lot of pressure on myself in accepting this new/old position, because I feel like I owe it to all the stay-at-home moms who opted out of the workforce years (or months) ago. Like I said, I am a recruiter, and one thing I know is that employers don’t like to see gaps in your employment, Great Recession or life incidences be damned. There is a particular bias against stay-at-home moms who try to return, however. It is a prejudice so odious that if one could bottle and sell it to the government, you could make a fortune in creating a new bio hazardous ingredient.

Ask any woman who has come back from 6 weeks (or 6 months if you have an uber generous employer or live in Europe) of maternity leave. The assumption at every turn is that women who have left the workforce are irrelevant, do not have current skills, and have lost their urge to compete at the highest level. In turn, women like me are left with two options if we want to work in the traditional market: pursue a retail/food services ‘career’, or development the next big thing in fashion, technology or food from the basements of our homes. (Think Spanx.)

photoI consider myself very fortunate that someone has ‘given me a chance’ to return to work, and without having to suffer through the horrible three month long interview/rejection process that has become a stable in American hiring practices today. My plan is very simple: I’ll keep showing up until they tell me to stop, and expect them to pay me as long as I keep showing up.

Never fear, stay-at-home moms! I am your champion! I will defend your honor!