On Work & Life: Transitions

It’s almost the last time to go through that door. For more than a year now, my life at work has been a waiting game. I knew when they announced the move to an office building right near the highways that I probably would be looking for my way to parachute out at about the five year mark in my role here as a specialist. After my two year stint as something between a contractor and a full employee for an education publishing behemoth way out in Williamson County, working at this office just adjacent to center city Austin has been a godsend in many ways.

I’ve been able to open the door, go down the steps, and embark on temporary escapes from the desk, long walks in every direction, and excursions for a plethora of fantastic lunches. As a music fan, being near Waterloo Records has been a convenient delight. As an avid reader and writer, the same can be said of being close to Book People as well. The presence of both the Shoal Creek walk and the Town Lake trails have been incalculably beneficial–and as I write that I know I’ll miss them. I liked the Shoal Creek and Pease Park trails so much that I put some of my dad’s ashes in various spots along there. Maybe it wasn’t where he thought he would’ve ended up, but it was the closest I could come to sharing it with him.

The work itself has varied from a perfect fit with opportunities to be creative to something (in recent years) that felt a bit too repetitive and derivative of what we once did. Our team, which was a total of four people when I was hired, was subsequently cut to three, and recently in the midst of threatened defunding of our office, our supervisor departed for bigger horizons. Now my lone coworker and I sit and plunk away at our computers and do our best to navigate being a “head-less” office. Yesterday was supposed to be our official moving date to go to our new open-concept office space, but the night before it was pushed back another two weeks. So to celebrate that momentary reprieve, I went for my first visit to a wonderful little Italian bistro called Cipollina located near the edge of the long-ago gentrified Clarksville neighborhood. If you’re looking for a stylish but not too expensive vibe with good Italian staples and classic jazz playing, it’s a perfect spot.

Office politics can range from annoying to hilarious to soul-crushing, and this particular job began with a very quirky example of it that ended up benefiting me personally for more than five years. Shortly after I started working here, we had to move to a new office within the same complex. This change gave my supervisor an upgrade to a former CFO’s office space, and it also presented one more mid-size work area that had (drum roll please)…a door. I was pretty relaxed and not really expecting or hoping to get this space, but that’s where the unusual politics kicked in. we had a disgruntled woman on the team who was kind of a self-appointed hierarchy policewoman, and this woman…let’s call her Kathy…decided that since I was the only person in the office with a Masters degree, I should get the second office with a door, Q.E.D. as the math folks might say. I accepted the office without immediately realizing what a convenience it would be for me. And now as I sit here a scant week or two before we vacate, I have to admit that I really lucked out with this spot. That M.Ed really paid off!

A number of tremendously important life events happened while I made
this office my home for work. I started the position nearly a year after my dad’s death. The work was very engaging in those first few years, and I was overhauling our bank of test passages and test questions with great satisfaction. In 2015, I would go on to write some original texts, pleasantly surprising my coworkers in curriculum with the quality of my work. On the personal side, Meredith and I planned and successfully carried out our amazing trip to Sydney, Australia. Sadly, a few months later came a terrible aftershock from John’s passing. My uncle Danny, only 52 years of age, passed away in an astonishing act of misadventure.

One of the bright spots of this job has been that by virtue of its rhythms and schedule, it helped to create the space for me to begin writing and sharing my blog essays, of which this piece will be a part. Writing and doing voice recordings for work were forms of professional goals coming true, and their effect seems to have contributed to the quality of my personal writings. During these years, I made it beyond the beginning stage of understanding the Italian language through an assortment of learning formats and most importantly with the guidance of a gifted teacher and some wonderful classmates.

In 2016, I was firmly settled in to the job, and using the spring break paired with vacation time, I took a brilliant 15-day trip to Italy with my wife. That trip was a magical experience–made even more memorable by the fact that we shared it with my parents coming from Philly and my sister’s family coming from Ireland. That journey resonated until about two months later when the political environment of 2016 really kicked in. When I look back on it now, my most important work in this job was finished right around that juncture–when I was only about halfway through my time here. I had written an original short story for 4th grade reading, and it came out quite well and gave our repertoire a much needed dash of energy and freshness. But then I remember that a few months later a very exhausted version of myself came into the office on that infamous November morning in a state of disgust after the outcome of the election. However, at the end of the year, we had the most exciting of news: we learned that we had a child on the way. I slipped into a mode at work in the ensuing years that was almost like auto-pilot. My focus from then on was mostly the larger world and my home life. Our importance as a department was being devalued by the decisions of those above us, and I just had too much on my mind to be particularly inventive.

I think that it was in the first few months of 2017 that a really great friend and kindred spirit whom I met on the job decided to move to the Midwest and return to teaching. He had been preceded and would be followed by other favored teammates jumping ship and retiring, and this in its sum put to me the question: “When will you go too?” However, to be fair, the location, the office with the door, the reasonably good pay for an educator and the truly great schedule all meant that I wasn’t going to leave precipitously.

Some jobs are just for a spell or a season, but for most of my life the jobs have tended to last for a while. I worked in medical billing for five years and then I followed that with seven years of teaching. In some ways, this job has been almost as if I had combined those two former jobs into one. It was somewhat creative, but it also required a kind of mathematical logic and scrutiny. And now it’s almost over. I became a dad of a little girl while I was on this job (in addition to our tiny wolf). My wife and I made many trips and journeys during this time. As a fan of tennis during a historic era, I followed six French Opens and six Wimbledons while at this desk. I went through two challenging home sales and one home purchase as well. I stole moments in my own way in exchange for all of the work and mental juggling that I did here.

As for the next step, something’s in the works. The phone could ring any moment. I’ll keep my eyes open, even when I arrive wherever I’m going next. I feel as if I’m a member of a team that hasn’t yet been formed. Maybe it never will be, but I will hope that I can find my people and my workplace. In the meantime, I’ll have to learn to be present at work again in order to serve in a new role. One of these days, I’ll take one last lunchtime walk along Town Lake or over in Old West Austin, and pretty soon the very place where I’m sitting won’t even exist anymore. Imagine where you’ll find yourself tomorrow.


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