Monday, March 23, 2009

Good for now

I had a phone interview the other day. It's for a fairly large, well-respected company in my industry. This was my second interview with the department, specifically I was talking with who I presume would be my supervisor.

At the end of the interview, she wanted to assess my interest level in the job. This department and a sister department combined would basically described the job I've been doing the past several years. At this company, it's divided into two functional areas of expertise. Her assessment of my resume is that I look better as a candidate for the other department. She asked, "given a choice between the two departments which position would you be more interested in?"


There's a part of me that knows I should say what she wants to hear so that I can land a job. However, there's also the part of me that wants both sides to find the right fit for the job. In this case, I feel I'm a good short-term fit, but I can't say that I'd want to do this particular job for years to come. It's a little too specific and I prefer a bit more variety.

I caveated my answer and said, "If you were to ask me which I want to do for the next five years, I'd have to choose [the other department] job because I like being involved in product decisions. If the horizon is two years, I'd say I'm open to both. This job is very interesting to me because I like the opportunity to work with many other departments. I also think this is a good place to extend my skills and learn how to better predict future trends and how to strategize."

She seemed satisfied with my response and appreciated my honesty, but I couldn't help wonder if that means it's now back to start with HR finding me a position to interview for. Did I do the right thing?

If you were asked to choose between two job positions, how would you answer?

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Back in the know

Not being able to watch television on our LCD the past couple weeks, Tim and I resorted to watching downloads from the Internet. We don't have cable, we don't have a DVR. A long time ago, when I lived alone, I made myself choose between paying for Internet or cable television. It just didn't make sense to live alone and pay for both. Clearly, I choose the Internet.

Ever since, I've relied on an antenna to give me all the free, normal channels available including the major networks and PBS. True, I miss the Food Network, Bravo, TLC, and HGTV. Frankly, one of the reasons I quit cable was because the local provider took Bravo away from the standard package and made it a premium channel. That really irked me. I was sad at first, but really haven't missed it that much.

Now, with all the online shows and, ahem, unofficial downloads available, we don't worry. Unlike most people, we do try and watch many of our favorite shows live - "How I Met Your Mother," "Lost," "Pushing Daisies" (please someone bring it back!), "The Amazing Race." Yes, the commercials can be annoying, especially because the volume always rises during the breaks. Still, there's something about seeing it "live" that feels more exciting.

Lately, a couple friends have wanted to make references to a show only found on cable television. It's something that's been very popular and of interest to me - "Top Chef." I've just never made the effort to find a way to watch it. The other day, Tim was searching online for a show episode that we missed. I decided to search for "Top Chef" and download the first couple episodes.

Five days later, I think we're on episode 11. It's been really fun to watch the cooking and see how personalities have emerged. How much do you think Stephan is simply acting the part of big jerk because he likes the attention? I don't think Tim likes it quite as much as I do but we still only watch it together. Having the ability to watch whenever and as many as we want is definitely making us spoiled. No telling me who won!

Monday, March 16, 2009

Emerging nuggets

Part of my severance package includes two months of services from a career services firm. I was offered this at my last layoff as well, but never had a chance to try it out. Seeing as how much longer my unemployment could last, I figured I might as well explore what the firm had to offer.

The two months of service include access to their online resources, free workshops, and eight hours of one-on-one career counseling. In the few weeks I've be "active" I've simply met with the counselor. I fully intend to start attending workshops now that other projects have wrapped up.

The first counseling session was a tug-of-war. While I'm sure she is generally knowledgeable and helpful, I didn't feel like she had a good grasp of my industry. For years, I've read resume advice about how each bullet point of a job description should detail how a responsibility translated into metrics, i.e. how did you make or save the company $$$. With a majority of jobs, I can understand this. A sales job is pretty obvious, did this, sold $$$. If you're a computer programmer, created this program, translated into %xx increase in customers or website hits. In manufacturing, an employee could improve a process to complete production faster or negotiate a vendor contract to decrease costs. I digress... the point is that my job, my area of expertise is difficult to measure most of the time. It's more of a consultancy type role where my analysis and conclusions help support other people's decisions and provide direction (when they listen). My work does not lead to a direct outcome in most cases.

She kept pressing me saying there had to be a way to rewrite my resume statements to show how my work translated into tangible results. I pointed out a couple places on my resume where my statements matched her request, but they didn't seem to meet her expectations. I honestly thought about it a bit and could not create a satisfactory outcome. It was frustrating that my explanation of my work could not convince her that my resume holds up well as it is. At one point she even asked if I had been using this resume and how many responses I had received. I told her that prior to this job loss, I had received a call for almost every job I'd applied for. Needless to say she didn't seem to have a response immediately ready after hearing my answer.

I also expressed my feelings that there are times when these formats seem full of crap to me. I'm not the type of person to use a bunch of business jargon to make me sound important. When I've reviewed resumes, I can see the difference between someone who appropriately uses business terms and some one who's simply copied them to make their job appear bigger than it is. Maybe I'm hurting my changes at landing a job, but that's not my style.

To be fair, I asked a couple of colleagues about their resumes. I explained my impression of the resume guidelines. It was a relief to hear they had similar feelings about the stance of career counselors. For most jobs, it's a helpful and certainly can strengthen a candidacy. I just don't like being pushed to do something because it's the *only* way.

In the following visit, we agreed to let my resume remain as is for that particular career track. She probably thinks I'm just being impossibly stubborn, but I know my resume works. Why else would I get two phone interviews. On the other hand, I will acknowledge that I need to have a couple alternate versions of my resume that are less specialized if I want to have a shot at jobs that are less analytical and outside of my current profession.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Wimp in training

I tried my best to treat the visit like any other appointment. I was pretty good about feeling normal as long as I didn't think about what had happened and what was about to happen.

The office scheduled me for 1:45pm but told me to come in before 1:15pm so that I could take some medications to prepare me for the procedure. Tim left work at lunch to pick me up and drive me there. I had told him he could take a book or laptop with us so he could do something while he waited. He told me he didn't need anything because he was planned to stay with me the whole time.

When I checked in, the receptionist gave me a clipboard with three documents to sign. The sheet listed out all the details of the procedure, the inherent risks, and the post-procedure care and warnings. We read through it all together to ensure that we'd both know what to expect and what to watch for once I went home. The list was very thorough including a space for an initial next to each post-procedure warning.

Once I turned in my forms, the nurse assistant came out and showed me the pills I needed to swallow. From a little plastic cup, she poured out the three pills. The first pill was cut in half, some Vicodin for pain. The next pill was 200mg of Valium to help my muscles relax. The third pill was this humongous, green oval which I can't remember its purpose. Perhaps it was ibuprofen to help with the inflammation and pain. The main thing was that it was 800mg which must be close the maximum size pill anyone could possibly swallow in one gulp without choking.

So we sat in the waiting room for 15-20 minutes waiting for my drugs to take effect. I couldn't help sit there observing the pregnant women who came through and wonder if they simply thought I was going to my first prenatal appointment rather than ending my pregnancy. It was hard to be in that moment knowing everywhere else around me there was new life.

I felt fine when they called us in. Never having taken Vicodin or Valium, I had been waiting for something interesting to happen. Given so many people get addicted to these drugs, I thought something cool would happen. The nurse took me into the procedure room where a paper gown and heating pad lay waiting for me on the exam table. Tim tried to keep the mood light by keeping my ass warm with his hands while I changed into my gown.

Dr. F came into the room and asked if we had any questions. She assured us that the procedure has a tiny risk of complication and that we could go back to normal after one period had passed. Tim was very struck by the wording in the post-procedure instructions, "No foreign objects should be placed in your vagina for at least two weeks." You can guess at the types of silly comments he made later. He asked whether any tests would be done to determine the cause of the loss. Dr. F. said that's usually not done with a first pregnancy. Despite my age, she said it's rare there's anything seriously wrong and that only if I miscarried again or demonstrated other problems would they perform any tests because of the expense.

Once I laid down and put my feet in the stirrups, the usual examination techniques started. Dr. F. was good about telling me what she was doing a second ahead so that I wouldn't be too surprised. As a local anesthetic, she injected me with lidocaine which quickly became noticeable by a tingling in my mouth. Since I'd had a crown done over the summer, the sensation was very familiar.

What was odd was how quickly all the drugs that were running through my blood interacted with each other. I think I still had my head on, but it didn't feel like it. Moving my head even one centimeter made everything feel like it was spinning. Naturally, as she started preparing for the D&C, my discomfort grew. Let's face it, going to the GYN is never fun. Was the valium working at all?

At one point, she touched me without any warning and I pop up. At the time, I thought it felt uncomfortable, but Tim told me she had just swiped me with a cotton ball. The emotions, the medication, and the discomfort had gotten to me. I remained a good patient the rest of the time and didn't move. I squeezed Tim's had tightly through the cramping, pinching, and poking. Of course, I thought about the baby. But really, what was more concerning to me was my reaction to the pain. Am I a total wimp or what?

The procedure itself does not take too long. I swear the doctor and the assistant were gone within minutes after they told us it was done. The assistant told us to take our time leaving the room. I wanted to get up, or at least turn sideways to try and alleviate the cramping, but my head was having none of that. The dizziness was overwhelming.

I didn't have any feelings of nausea or pain, just the dizziness and cramping. I thought about what labor must be like and scolded myself for whining over this. I mean, come on, if this bothers me, I'm not going to survive labor. This pain can't be more than a five on a scale of one to ten. All I could think about is "wimp, wimp, wimp." It's just like me to think about something totally off the wall when I should be focusing on more immediate things.

I could see Tim and the room fine. Opposite the exam table, I spotted a brown, canister vacuum-like machine. No doubt it was the source of the suction I heard during the procedure. I couldn't help wonder if what was left of our baby was somewhere inside it. Now, it was just a soup of blood and tissue that would be discarded with the other biohazard trash.

I must have tried four or five times to sit up, maybe another three or four to stand. Considering how small I am, those drugs all must have whomped me good. I leaned on Tim the whole way out. I was proud to have survived the elevator ride given that the nursing assistant had said it seems to cause women trouble. I slept most of the way home and proceeded to crawl into bed. I slept away the afternoon while Tim went back to work. I'm so lucky that I have him to take care of me.

By evening everything seemed fine. I was pleasantly surprised that I never felt the need to take any ibuprofen. No wonder there was no take home prescription other than three days of antibiotics. We ate and watched tv together the rest of the night.

Since then, I've talked a little bit about miscarriage with a couple of friends. I don't know how much it helped. The rational side of me already knows all the literature and facts. I know that miscarriage is common early in pregnancy (> 20%), and everything will be fine. Talking about it only seems to make me upset for reasons I can't fully explain. Heck, I even got upset when I open the medical insurance bill for that week. It's wonderful to know I have all the love and support of friends, but it doesn't change what happened. I'm sad, I'm angry, I'm disappointed. Only time can make that all fade. Until then, I just keep preparing myself for better days to come.

Monday, March 09, 2009


After all the time I've spent with my neighbor's cat, I can't help wonder what drives them. I've never been much of a pet person besides the random goldfish and beta that I kept as a teen. But how much do fish really count when they're really only good for looking at?

Larger animals likes cats and dogs truly interact. They remember you, they show anger, they show love. My dad had a family beagle and cat when he was young. You can tell when neighborhood pets visit he'll be friendly and playful with them. While I think he enjoyed having pets, he said pets were dirty.

My mother, on the other hand, is scared of anything that walks on all four and has a mind of its own. Seriously, my friend's cocker spaniel, Lady, took off into our house once and headed straight for the master bedroom where my parents were watching television. As I rushed down the hallway towards the room, I could hear a shrill voice exclaiming in terror as Lady happily greeted her newly found friends. While my mother cowered and panicked over the presence of the dog, my dad called summoned the dog to him and gave her a friendly pet on the head.

This past couple months is the most time I've ever spent with a cat. Loki is incredibly moody. Early on, it seemed he was always happy to lay down on the ground and allow me to stroke his belly. But there have been more and more days when he'll try to grab and bite my paws if I attempt to pet his underside. How am I supposed to know when it's okay or not okay to be rubbing his belly? Okay, maybe he's playing because he purrs the whole time, but, ouch, his claws and teeth are sharp.

When his family was out of town for several days, he was coming over all the time, not only during the day, but at night, meowing at the front door for attention. I came to understand why mothers have such a hard time when their infants keep crying. He grew so bold as to attempt to hop in my lap when I was squatting down to pet him. He'd proceed to snuggle his face into my hands or arms and position himself so he could take a nap. It was adorable that this animal trusted me enough to curl up and fall asleep on me.

Most days, he just wants to play. It's not that he even wants to play with me. He simply likes having a human around. If I go out to fetch the mail, he'll follow me. Sometimes he'll stay "undercover" by moving quickly from one shrub to another to keep up with me as I proceed down the sidewalk. Other times, he'll run along side and even dart directly in front of me so that I almost step on him. He's amazing obedient, not crossing the street until I encourage him to. Even though he wants to explore more of the new surroundings near the mailboxes, he'll come when I call that it's time to walk back.

During each of these activities, he'll have a variety of meows which I wish I understood. There's the obvious door call which either means "come out to play" or "I'm lonely let me in." When I first see him, I'm guessing he's say "hello." But there are other times, when he sits in my lap, or when I'm watching him play in the scrubs when I have no idea what he's trying to tell me. I feel like I need the equivalent of the DVD that teaches you how to distinguish between different baby cries.

Tim enjoy playing with Loki as well. I think he also finds it good for me to have a friend when I'm alone at home. Our neighbor's are supposed to move this summer when their house is complete. We'll be sad to see the cats go. Tim's asked what we'll do then. He's joked a couple times about kidnapping the cats but obviously that's not an option. While a cat would be fun, I'd feel bad forcing the cat to be outside since I'm allergic to them. Besides, there's no guarantee we'd find a cat with a personality similar to Loki's.

Monday, March 02, 2009

Not human

I'm sitting here wanting to write something but find unsure what to say. At any given moment, I seem like a totally normal, happy person. I pay my bills, run errands, watch tv, cook, clean, chat with friends, eat, play with the neighbor's cat, and search for jobs. But when I stop to take in my surroundings and think about who I am, there's nothing there. I'm just going through the motions of what I'm supposed to be doing.

There are many things that make up our identity. Cancer patients, women especially, go through incredible anguish because of the hair loss associated with chemotherapy. It's strange how thousands of strands of dead cells are so strongly tied to image and identity.

One of the key components of identity for people is their job. I have now been unemployed for four months. It's now equivalent to the time I spent looking for a job after grad school. This time, however, it's harder because I'm more established, more experienced, and more specialized. My expectations for income and responsibility are different as is the willingness of employers to hire me. There are few jobs in my expertise right now. As much as I like what I do, I wonder whether or not my industry has a stable, long-term future in this part of the country. Each day that passes, I question how much longer I should continue to search for something in my current profession versus shifting to something else. The upside is that I may have more flexibility in finding a job. The downside is that I will have to take a significant pay cut and potentially start with a job that is not stimulating. The struggle between taking a job for the income versus taking a job that will build a career is a frustrating choice. I don't feel like I can have both in this economic environment. The fact of the matter is that I don't know whether my career profile reflects who I want to be.

Not having a job didn't seem to bother me so much when I thought I was pregnant. I think it was because I knew that I had the role of mother to play. Being a mother is a huge responsibility that I know would be challenging, frustrating, yet fulfilling. I didn't worry so much about my unemployment because the time off would be used to make things better for the baby. But now that there is no baby, that part of my identity has been taken away (at least for awhile). True, I am still a wife, but frankly Tim would be fine without me. It adds to who I am, but I don't feel it defines any part of me.

They say being unemployed is an opportunity to do something for yourself. The truth is that it's scary for me because I realize I have no interest in pursuing anything. Everything sounds interesting, but I lack the motivation to do anything or I talk myself out of it because my interest is not financially sustainable (coming from the Asian perspective). What's wrong with me? I know I'm smart and responsible. Nothing I did contributed to this current economic crisis. I know I have many unique skills, but I have no idea what to do with myself. I feel so worthless when I see my friends are doing fine. While I know it's not reality, inside, I wonder if I've done something wrong in my life to end up here. I'm a logical person, and I need a logical reason to explain what is happening. Of course, there probably isn't any explanation that is going to satisfy my frustration and questions. I feel totally lost, and I need to do something to feel like a human being again and not just some automaton.