As I’ve mentioned in a previous post or two, this semester was extremely difficult for me. I cut back my hours at work a bit, working twenty-four hours per week while taking nine credits at school (the minimum load for graduate students at my University is eight credits). Still, this did not seem like enough.
I spent my entire weekend studying and doing my readings, only to get to class armed with my notes and not fully comprehend what I had read, despite how many times I had gone over it. Seminars aren’t my favorite, and all of my classes this semester were seminars. I had two in Museum Studies — “Museums and Education” and “Public History and Commemoration” — and a World History research seminar (my field is WH). My Museum Studies classes were problematic because I had no experience with Museum Studies prior to registering for these courses; my advisor had recommended I take those classes in order to get a feel of the department and program, and to apply for my University’s Graduate Certificate in Museum Studies, offered through the American Studies department, if I felt it was appropriate. My WH research seminar was something totally different. There was only one other student enrolled for the course, so there was never a class session where I was not put on the spot. I can’t speak on the spot; I realize this is something expected of me in graduate school, but I really like to have time to mull things over. I did not have that privilege in that class, so I always left wanting to cry. In fact, I left class almost every day wanting to cry. Between January and mid-March I was pretty much just having a mental breakdown. My official academic advisor was gone as he was in India on a research sabbatical, and my undergraduate history advisor was also gone, as she had obtained a year-long fellowship in California. I ended up talking to one of my past professors from the Religion department (my BAs are in History and Religion), and as I spoke to him choking back tears — visibly — he just said, “Can I ask you something? If you already have a job you like, why are you in graduate school? Most graduate students aren’t in the same boat as you, and they’re in school to get a job they like. But you already have that. So why are you in school right now?” He didn’t mean that in a mean way, as to question my intentions. He knew that I had been working at my credit union for over five years and that I loved working there. I just said, “I don’t know.” He said his door was always open if I needed to talk.
His comment has stuck with me since then.
In May, I quit my job. My position was “Office Assistant.” Basically, I was hired in because my mom was the Teller Supervisor at the time (she’s now the Branch Manager) and she has a good rapport with the President, and she’s known to be an extremely good worker — starts work early and leaves late, comes in when she’s sick, very strict with attendance and balancing, etc. At the time, I had just quit my job at a crack seed store at my local mall (if you don’t live in Hawai’i or don’t know what it is in general, crack seed is dried plums, cherries, lemons, etc.; despite working there, I’m very bad at explaining this). The President asked my mom to extend a job to me, and I took it. I first started out in Marketing but was later moved to the Loan department when they needed a receptionist. I was in the Loan department for four years. During my summer and winter breaks, I would adopt full time hours just to make some extra money. During these times, I would help other departments every other day, like Accounting, HR/Admin, and mostly New Accounts. Last year in May, I was sent down to New Accounts permanently until I left for India because they needed help. I hated it.
As a student, I really love learning, and I wasn’t learning anything in New Accounts. I was scanning for eight hours straight and they didn’t trust me enough to do actual meaningful work, like opening accounts, address changes, etc. (i.e., the help they actually needed). Eventually I left for India and came back right before Christmas. I asked the HR VP if I could go back to Loans, and she arranged for me to work half the week in Loans and half the week in New Accounts. Since I was a part timer, I was administratively under Admin, not Loans, so she had the final say about my scheduling. She felt New Accounts needed the help, so that’s just where I had to go.
In addition to hating the “bullshit” work I was doing down there, I also didn’t get along with the supervisor. The supervisor of that department is close to my mother, and she has made negative comments to my own mother about me (in 2015 a guy worked in her department that she couldn’t stand; we were close, and at one point she said to my own mother, “She has a boyfriend, right? Because people are, you know, starting to talk about her and C”). My mother was obviously outraged, but my mom is very good at keeping her personal and work lives separate, and I admire that about her. I actually would have been upset and more embarrassed had my mom taken it upon herself to say something to that supervisor or any of the other managers. Anyway, she made that comment about me and I just know she does not like me. It’s understandable, because I am also indifferent about her. I’m the kind of person where I either really like you or I’m indifferent; there was just no interaction, no quality about her that made me like her. I may just be thinking this, but I think her indifference, probable dislike for me comes from that fact: I’m close to a lot of people around her, but unlike the rest of her staff who treat her like a mother, I just interact with her when work requires me to. I can go the entire day without saying more than “Good morning” and “Bye, have a good evening” to her.
In May I asked the HR VP if I could adopt my full time summer hours. She said okay. I then asked, nervously, if there was any chance I could go back to Loans. She said, verbatim, “I’m sorry, but with the way staffing is, that isn’t your decision to make.” I said I knew that and that I was just asking, not demanding, but she just repeated, “It isn’t your decision to make” and walked away. I was upset and insulted. Why would she think I thought it was my decision to make? I would never harbor that kind of entitlement toward a company that had done so much for me. And on top of that, I just felt that the tone in which she spoke was completely inappropriate for a Vice President of Human Resources. The straw that broke the camel’s back that day was when she went into the lunch room and told my manager, in front of another manager, a mortgage officer, a mortgage assistant, a teller, and a loan officer — my manager being the only relevant person in there — that I had requested full time hours, but only in Loans. I felt that that was an inappropriate environment for such a discussion. I quit the next day.
The week of my last day, the mortgage officer that was sitting in the lunch room the day the HR VP talked to my manager about my hours came to me and asked me why I was quitting. He said, “I heard her say that you wanted more hours, and then a few days later your memo came out, saying you were leaving. Why?” I just shrugged at him with a grin and said I didn’t know.
In March I had acquired an internship at a local National Park Service monument. Since quitting my job, I’ve been going there about twenty hours a week. I really like the people with whom I work, and I enjoy the work I do there, but I’ve still really missed my old coworkers. I’ve seen them regularly at things like Trivia Night, dinners, and just when I’ve stopped by. I also can’t see myself getting used to the structure at the Park. It’s the opposite of micromanaging, just as my boss said, but there’s too much freedom for me. I don’t really ever need to be in the office except when students from contact schools are visiting; other than that, my work can be done from home. I just choose to physically be in the office every day to make sure I get my work done. At my old job, I worked a strict 8:00 – 4:15 day with a set lunch and no work to take home. I knew what I was supposed to be doing every minute of the day, and if I ran out of work at the moment, I knew more would always come. At the Park, once I’m done, I’m really done for the day. I don’t like that feeling. My boss at my internship entrusted me with a lot of things, and I’m extremely grateful, but I was told by the coworker whose position I’m prime to fill, that the position is classified as “Temporary,” meaning it ranges from one to five years. Five years, especially as a maximum, will come and go quickly. It also rubs me the wrong way a bit that I was promised a paycheck by the end of April. It’s July and I still haven’t been paid once. The experience there is more important to me than the money, but considering I haven’t received a paycheck in over six weeks, this is a major issue now.
About two weeks ago, a mortgage officer from my old work place, with whom I am close, asked me if I would come back to the company if I knew I would be permanently placed in Loans and never sent out to another department to help like I used to. I thought he was joking because earlier in the night, the President, from across the table at which we were sitting, said to him, “It’s your job to get her to come back!” and I just smiled. That same night, my old manager asked me, “Why didn’t you like New Accounts?” I just said, “It isn’t that I didn’t like it…” and he said, “No. Don’t give me an amiable answer. Be honest with me.” I said, “Well, I wasn’t fan of being there,” to which he chuckled and said, “That’s still an amiable answer. Be honest: if you hadn’t been sent downstairs to work with them, would you still be upstairs with us?” and I just rolled my eyes, smiled, and nodded. He said okay and walked away. The week prior, the President pulled me to the side and said, “Let me know whenever you want to come back. We like you. If you get bored there, let us know and we’ll be glad to have you back.” I thought he was being playful. He wasn’t.
A week ago I had lunch with the mortgage officer, and he said, “We all knew you didn’t want to leave. We knew something must have happened since you left so abruptly, but that you just weren’t telling us. I had a hunch that we pushed you out, and that’s why you left. I told [the President and our manager] that, and they said ‘We believe you, now it’s your job to get her to come back.'” I fought it until he had me in a corner, and I finally told him everything about why I quit: the boring work downstairs, the feeling of my brain rotting, and the conversation I had with the HR VP (I omitted my beef with the New Accounts supervisor only because I feel this is now a personal thing, not a work thing). At the end of our lunch, he said that he, our manager, and the President agreed that they wanted me to come back and at a different capacity (a promotion), and that if I did come back, I would permanently hold a Loans position, which would transition to consumer or home lending when I felt I was ready. I would be under the management only of our Loan manager, and HR would no longer have a say in my scheduling. I agreed immediately. At the lunch, when he proposed this, my professors voice rang in my head: “If you like your job, why are you in school?”
I loved working there and I loved nearly everyone I worked with, save a handful of people. There was never a day I didn’t want to go to work (okay, save those days in New Accounts). The company had done so much for me and I really never wanted to leave in the first place. I quit because I was unhappy, and I wanted to quit before I really began to hate the company.
When everyone asked why I never said anything, I just said I didn’t want to say anything that would reflect negatively on another department (turns out, another supervisor’s daughter is working in that department for the summer and said the exact same things as I had). HR also questioned my mom and manager, asking if I was being forced back. My mom had no idea what was happening since she doesn’t meddle in my work life, as I am her coworker more than her daughter at work, and my manager retorted, “No, she is not being forced. She is an adult and we gave her options, and we told her to make her own decision after hearing what we needed to say.” Apparently, my manager was not happy about such an accusation…
As a result of this, I’ve decided to take an indefinite break from school. To be honest, I was in graduate school out of obligation. I felt like I needed to be there because I knew I couldn’t do anything with a BA in Religion or in History. I felt like I needed to be there because my advisors expected me to be there. I felt like I needed to be there because I had broken out of my shell and gone to India. I felt liked I needed to be there because my mom wanted me to be there. In order to succeed in graduate school, especially in a field like Humanities, you need to be passionate and clearly driven — I am only one of these things. I love my area of study. I get so giddy talking about history, but I’ve lost my direction. My proposals for my thesis have been shot down by my professors, saying they’ve been too general. August would be the start of my second year, the generally expected date of completion for my MA. I’m not even close. I don’t even have a topic. I was already shutting down between January and March. I don’t want to keep taking out loans for almost $20,000 a year for schooling I feel I need but am fumbling through. I love school and school has shaped a large part of who I am. If it weren’t for my graduate program, I would have never gone to India. But thinking about my thesis gives me this odd feeling, as if I were sitting in a dim root, lit only by a dull lamp with a crooked light shade, as the walls cave in. Graduate school is done out of passion, not obligation. I’ll return when and if I’m ready.
As for now, I’m ready to work and learn about loan processing, then slowly move on to decisioning and lending. My manager chuckled when I said I would be happy to come back because I really like the company and people. He added, “…and because it’s safe.” It is, I won’t deny that. On of my major personality flaws is that I’m always looking for confirmation, a guarantee, definite answers. The credit union is a safe place: I know I like the company and the way it works; I know I like my coworkers — Hell, I love them more than I love some of my own family; I know what I’m supposed to be doing every minute of the day; I know I can’t lose my job unless I embezzle money or make a huge mistake. People applaud me for taking a huge step out of my comfort zone by going to a foreign country for almost half a year and living with a family I’d never met, but that’s different. I’m tired of living paycheck-to-paycheck because I need to dedicate so much time to my studies while also trying to pay for my phone, car, credit card, food, and other miscellaneous things. I think traveling and a job are different. Maybe I’m rationalizing. But even if I did complete my MA and graduate certificate, who’s to say I would get a job in my field? I would probably need to leave Hawai’i, that’s almost guaranteed, but what if I don’t get a job right away and my student loan repayment begins on top of all of my other financial obligations? What if I do get a job but it isn’t anything that I had prepared for in school? What if I do end up in a museum, but I feel unfulfilled and burnt out from the creativity needed that I can’t produce? At this moment in my life, graduate school is a series of “what ifs” while this job is a stable income, a company I like, a job I know I’ll do well, and almost a hundred people I love.
It’s embarrassing to me that I couldn’t pull through this, but I know I can’t force a thesis. My professors have told me I cannot do this. I know I cannot do that. Since my job is a set 40-hour-a-week schedule, Monday – Friday, I know I’l always have time after work and on the weekends to start research and to start thinking about my thesis. My professors know me well, and they know that although I love academia, I’m also finicky and need approval, and that I’m hard on myself. I imagine they will be disappointed but not surprised, but will expect that I will continue to do research outside of my program. I don’t feel like a failure exactly, though I am disappointed that I couldn’t finish this the way I expected to. Working in the Loan department for five years has also taught me, though, that loans snowball and two more years at $10,000 per semester will be a huge burden in a few years, especially if I don’t have a sufficient income shortly after I graduate. I am taking the safe route and I know this. But I’m willing to sacrifice adventure for safety that I know and love. Fighting for something I’m unsure about is tiring and terrifying, and for now, I just want to do things at my own pace and to give myself time to figure out what I really want.