Sunday, June 26, 2011

From Humility to Humiliation

So where were we? I had just been informed that my temporary admin assignment was going to end after only three short months. My job prospects were pretty slim considering I had just left the legal field and it had taken me months (almost a year?) to find a non-legal job. I felt alienated from everyone – my husband, family (I’ll get to that in another post), friends, former colleagues. Is there any worse feeling than being surrounded by loved ones and feeling totally alone? I even stopped answering my phone because I knew my friends would ask the basic catch-up questions about career, family, and upcoming vacations.

In the meantime, I was still going to work every day, with no real defined expiration date, but I knew I had to act fast. At that point, I simply needed to find a job –any job- that would provide a steady stream of income while I thought about my next move. After all, I still had student loans to pay. So I did something desperate. I applied for a job at a call center. A specific call center. It had always been in the back of my mind as an “in case of emergency” plan. Like the fire escape ladder tucked behind the shoe rack in my closet, I had hoped I would never have to use it.

Did I mention that when I practiced law, I primarily worked as a criminal defense attorney? This little tidbit weighed heavily on me when I decided to apply at “SIP, Inc.,” aka “Suicide is Painless, Incorporated.” You see, the reason I knew the place would probably hire me is because I used to send my clients to them when they needed to find jobs prior to sentencing. No one in their HR department had ever heard the term “background check,” much less performed one. While completing the online application, all I could think about was how I would respond if I ran into a former client. This had happened a couple of times in the past, but I always knew the attorney-client privilege obligated me to ignore them unless they acknowledged me first. I was guessing, however, that if a former client saw me working at the call center, they would probably have a couple questions for me. I decided that if I ever encountered this situation, I would simply lean in, lower my voice, and tell him I had switched to the journalism field and was doing undercover work for an exposé on the various indignities suffered by those who work for minimum wage. I sort of borrowed the concept from Barbara Ehrenreich’s Nickel and Dimed, which I had been required to read in a college sociology course, back when I believed higher education would guarantee me a safe, journalistic detachment from the working poor.

The actual application process did not involve uploading a resume or references. All I had to do was list my former employers and contact numbers for them. Since I knew none of my former work places would be contacted, I did not hide the fact that I worked at a law firm. I just did not fill out the section that asked for position titles. Again, I knew no one would read the application; they basically interviewed and hired everyone because of so much turnover. I also disclosed my JD on the education section, knowing the person who read it probably did not know or care what a JD was. A few days after submitting my application, I was contacted by an HR representative who asked me to come in for an interview. This process consisted of taking basic reading and spelling tests, and being introduced to the call center equipment (a headset). If I could spell “sandwich” (the judges probably also would have accepted “sandwhich”) and wear the headset without asphyxiating myself, I was in. I almost cried when they offered me a position, mainly because of the indignity of it all, but somewhat because I knew I would be able to make my student loan payment and possibly even help with other monthly bills.

I also felt a certain sense of relief at having hit bottom. How could things get any worse?

As a side note, I feel like I should be describing the changes occurring in my marriage at this time, but since so much happened at once, that will most likely be my next post. I have come to realize that the only way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time, so I am going to cover only one major change per post until I catch up to present day…

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