Monday, September 6, 2010

Why I Am In School

I have been involved in facilities management since I started working over 30 years ago. Beginning as the secretary to the manager of the services group, taking hot and cold calls, as they are known, from employees who were either too hot or too cold or in my view, just being a pain the ass. It was not a friendly world being in facilities during the 70s and 80s especially when you were not in a state of the art building. As a matter of fact, the offices where I worked had window air conditioners, linoleum flooring and ugly desks - and people were allowed to smoke. That was at a magazine where the writers wrote, the cartoonists drew and they didn't care what I did as long as I made them comfortable quietly and at little expense. That was my first job. I had no experience, no college education but I was ambitious and willing to learn. Many of my friends were not college grads going straight to a job out of high school and working out of a secretarial position to that of your bosses. I knew I wanted to do something more than just listen to these people complain, about their lack of comfort (why didn't they just work and put on a sweater). So I just kept at it and when my boss left, I took the position. During the 7 years I was the manger, I took classes in Facilities Management, asked questions and relied on my vendors to get me through the projects. Sooner than later, I became very confident in what I was doing, thinking I would be fine in my career as long as I worked my tail off and kept learning. That was then, when one could climb the ladder by outworking everyone else. It wasn't now. I left the workforce to have children and then went back around 1991. I was lucky as I got my old job back but things changed and while I wanted to go back to work, that old fire was not as bright as it was the first time around. The offices were better maintained with facility planning more of a engineering art than before. Offices were smoke-free (thank heavens) and it was important to know how to work through a real estate contract to know what you could or couldn't do. Again, I learned by diving into it loving this new professional way of handling the property. Facilities work, however isn't understanding of motherhood. I could no longer work till whenever. I had kids and I wanted to go home and have a life. I was mommy first and the job was a means of getting what I wanted out of life. I would have been fine, except there were others who were fresh out of college and would be able to work the hours I use to and suck up to the boss, like I use to. Between a young, enthusiastic college grade and me, the sleep deprived mother of 3, well after a 5 year run, I got laid off. Even then, I thought I could get by without that college degree. I was still able to find work, but in bad economic times, if the ax was to fall, it was usually on me. At first, I welcomed the opportunity to stay home with the kids and collecting unemployment. I was able to be that girl scout leader, run car pools and participate in school events. But when I wanted to go back to work, it wasn't always that easy. I had to go back to facilities work as it was all I knew, but the competition from those with engineering or architectural degrees was fierce. The final blow came when in my last job, my position was eliminated and I was told to find another job within the company. I was working as a project manager for construction and did lease administration too. They didn't want that position any more and, as I found out, the skills did not translate to another so easily. I was older and did not have the energy to go out and find another job. I took a lesser position within the company just to stay. I was now working in the accounting group. I realized then, I never really did what I wanted to do - just what I had to do. It finally got to me. The working world did not care if you had the skills they were looking for. They wanted that degree plus the skills. Fed up and mad, I signed on to an online college. It was great. I did well and 18 months later got my associates degree and a promotion. Still in accounting but working at something I really wanted - that degree. I was in my mid-50s. Last year was the first time I actually stepped into a classroom. I was the oldest person in the class, maybe in the student body. As I took other courses at the school, I came to find out, the teachers like me. I am not shy so I raise my hand and create dialogue with them and the class. I bring historical experience to the class and they bring the insight into today's world to me. I have learned all about online video gaming through my Media and Technology course (ask me about Everquest, Madden and Farmville). Having never traveled much domestically, I became aware of the beauty of the national parks and the sinister pollution of the Hudson River in the 70s through my environmental science course. I have read about the illegal alien problem that dates back to the early 1800s leading up to today. I am not done but getting there and I refuse to be one of those people my age who does not get what this new technology is all about. Tomorrow is my first day of class for this new semester. I am a third year student at a local state college working towards a Communication Arts degree in writing. I use to work for a company. Now, I am working for me.