Work vs. Career with Arthritis
In our current economic hard times it is hard to distinguish between having a job and having a career. Settling for work seems to have become the “new” standard by which we measure success. Now, add arthritis to that mix and it is very easy to get trapped in work but not have passion for it. After all a paycheck with health insurance beats homelessness and no access to medical professionals at all right? Unfortunately, this debate of work versus having a career is the position I currently find myself in. This is my story…
After high school I had no idea what I wanted to be when I grew up. Law school was an interesting idea but I didn’t have that burning desire to become a lawyer though, just an interest. I’ve never been a great student either; my GPA in high school for example was solidly average so winning an academic scholarship wasn’t an option. So I thought the smart thing would be to take a year off from school and just work with the hopes of maturing some.
The summer after my high school graduation I worked for Wild Waters. I had started in the kitchen my sophomore year and had worked my way to the parks pump house (pump house employees ran the slides, kept the water and pools swimmable, maintenance on pool equipment, and filled in for the parks managers when needed). It was a fun job, especially being 18! The best part was that as pump house employees we were the second highest paid people in the park, only managers made more.
That fall Wild Waters turned of their slides for the last time. A new freeway entrance was going to be built over the park, the owner made big money from the deal as I recall. Luckily for me a friend of mine was leaving for school at that time so I was able to take his job as a delivery driver for a local greenhouse. I was planning on working at Bogus Basin that winter but needed something to do until then. The people at the greenhouse were great and the job was pretty much full-time so I was still making more money than I had ever had before but was beginning to realize that I needed a college degree in order to get out of these low paying jobs.
I still had no idea what I wanted to do in college or my life at this time but from what my friends were telling me I would have a couple of years of general classes to take before I needed to really decide. So after a year of working full-time since my high school graduation I made the decision to enroll at Boise State University. As I recall, the admissions people told me to declare General Studies as my major until I made up my mind on what I would like to do. At this time I did quit delivering flowers but kept my job at Bogus. I did start working for a local landscape business as a lawn mower during summer break my first 2 years at Boise State. Like I said earlier, I’m not a great student no matter how hard I try so working full-time while studying wasn’t an option. Seasonal jobs became my specialty.
It took me almost 4 years before I finally declared Political Science with an emphasis in International Relations as my major. I had spent a year as a Criminal Justice major before switching to Political Science; I just could not see an interesting career path with a Criminal Justice degree so I lost interest fairly quickly. That is not to say I knew exactly what I would do with my Political Science degree but after taking International Relations 202 with Dr. Raymond I knew this was what I wanted to study.
It was at this time that I meet now Boise City Council Member T.J. Thomson. He was very much interested and passionate about local politics, which I wasn’t. International politics was where the real fun was at I thought. After several conversations with T.J., (one of which happened on my birthday) I quickly realized that local politics was where real change happened and that I needed to get involved. So that meant that I was now studying International Relations, working as a ski instructor/flower delivery person/and lawnmower, and trying to make a name for myself in local politics. Luckily this was long before my arthritis problems slowed me down so this type of craziness was easy to handle.
In 2000 I graduated with my Political Science degree. Graduate school became a serious consideration at that time but I wanted to try my hand in the job market first. My grades were better than my high school GPA but still not high enough for any scholarship possibilities so raising cash was a high priority. With this in mind, I started delivering full-time again while looking at marketing/PR/International type jobs. I ended up with some interviews that would have provided me with some interesting career opportunities but nothing ever materialized.
With the Internet bubble of 2000 all job markets seized up almost instantly. So facing a high student loan payment I decided to go back to teaching in the winters at Bogus along with doing deliveries. This meant that I would be working 2 full-time jobs in the winter but that didn’t matter since my expenses were going up with the loan repayments starting. My involvement in local politics was also growing with me taking on the responsibility of leadership within local political party of choice. I was busy but still just working and not on a path that would give me a career.
This all changed in 2003 with my rock climbing fall (see other posts for that story). I was messed up and had to slow down because of the fall. Even though I did not want too, I resigned my political party leadership positions and was only able to work part time while I recovered. My physical therapy alone on my left wrist lasted about 7 months. This was one of those textbook stories of a life changing in a matter of seconds.
By 2005 I had undergone 3 surgeries relating directly to the fall or with the degenerative arthritis that the fall caused. My left hip was starting to hurt bad at this time too which would later lead to yet another surgery in about a year. Doing deliveries and teaching skiing was beginning to be no longer of a possibility physically which meant financially I needed to find new sources of income. I began to contemplate going back to school for a second degree. Law school and accounting quickly began to present themselves as my best opportunity of leaving the world of physical therapy.
I had been doing some cost accounting at the greenhouse at that time. Since I was in charge of deliveries, I had begun to do some managerial type of accounting too, which I did find interesting. Taxes where also an interest of mine, my dad had taught me to do my own taxes when I was a junior in high school and I had been doing them ever since. Since Boise State was local with an accounting program and law school would have meant moving to a different town away from my doctors and physical therapists, I choose to go for an accounting degree instead of becoming a lawyer.
While getting the second degree I had 4 more surgeries, one of which I had to go to Utah because no one in Idaho had done a hip resurfacing procedure which was thought to be a better option for me than a total hip replacement. This meant that I never had time to do any internship or get any part time job in the accounting field while in school. It’s hard to work when I was either on crutches or preparing for my next surgery. I did quit working altogether and lived off student loans and the kindness of my parent’s wallets, which did allow me to get better grades (I actually made the deans list one semester which was the first time I had ever done that!).
My goal was to graduate in 2008 but due to the surgeries that got pushed back to the winter of 2009. This is important to note since 2008 was the start of our country’s economic decline. It got so bad in 2009 that most of our professors had gone from suggesting that we would be offered $40,000 a year accounting jobs at graduation to hoping that we could get a $10 an hour internship. Things did not look good. I had gotten back into politics in 2008 but had to leave again because of a knee operation during the height of election season. Finding work instead of a career after graduation had become a problem for me again.
I did have some luck in that I was able to find employment as a Taxpayer Accounting Temp starting in February of 2010. This job dealt with individual taxes, which was great. It was also my first experience in cubicle land, which was something my resume needed. The hope was that this would be my “getting my foot in the door” temp position that I could eventually develop into a full-time employment at Idaho’s State Tax Commission.
Just to give you some idea of how bad the economy was at this time in Boise, my Temp group included a CPA, a lawyer who had passed the bar exam, a couple of engineers, and a couple of previous supervisors at the tax commission. My 2 degrees pretty much meant nothing when compared to the education levels of the other Taxpayer Accounting Temps. There was simply no jobs or careers available in Boise at this time. It was actually scary at how little opportunity for a career there was at this time.
This position ended in May with no chance of getting a full time position. I did interview for an audit position in a different department but I would later learn that was more of a professional courtesy interview since I had been a Temp. Without any prospects at the time, I began to send out my resume to basically any one I could find an address for. My days were spent searching for a job 2-4 hours a day at Starbucks every morning then trying to stay active during the day since my arthritis pain was getting noticeably worse. A career victory at this time was getting a basic phone interview from a potential employer.
I did return to the tax commission the following January because I could not find work anywhere else. Since I was a returning Temp though, I was given more responsibility and was able to work with different aspects of individual taxes that I had not the previous time. This was encouraging because any experience was better than no experience plus having some money coming in helped feed the Starbucks habit. At the end of this Temp rotation there was a legitimate opportunity for me to get a full-time position in the Taxpayer Accounting Department too. However, through a series of weird events nothing materialized at the time so my position ran out of funding and I was let go once again.
It was during this second turn as a Temp that I started to experience incredible pain in both hands and my lower back. After getting some blood work done, it was determined that the new pains were from Gout. This was on top of the pains in my neck that were developing because sitting at a computer 8 hours a day wasn’t good for the neck and the plate I have. My dance with Arthur was now on a whole new level that I had never experienced before. Finding a career while battling chronic pain was now the challenge of the day.
Since there are only a few more days left in July, which is Juvenile Arthritis month, please take the time now and check out www.curearthritis.org. Yes, Kids Get Arthritis too! Its bad enough we as adults have to experience this pain, please consider a $25.00 donation to this great organization that provides money for research for curing arthritis! Chronic pain should not be apart of any ones lives but especially kids.
I will finish my story next week once you have a chance to check out www.curearthritis.org and make a donation.
I’m serious, DO IT NOW PEOPLE!!!!!!!!! 🙂
Now that if you have had a chance to check out www.curearthritis.org and make a donation I will get back to my battle with getting a job vs. a career while having arthritis.
After being let go by the tax commission for a second time my enthusiasm for job hunting was low to say the least. I had great hopes of getting a full-time position with the commission so the crap that happened right before I left killed my motivation. There was a full-time accounting position that I did apply for with the downtown YMCA that was open right after I left the Tax Commission but I didn’t even get a call for an interview. Things did not look good for me at this point.
The position I was hoping to get at the Tax Commission was called a Technical Records Specialist (TRS). In order to be considered for this position, I had to take an online exam through the Idaho Division of Human Resources web site. This exam consisted of questions that tested ones math skills, grammar, English comprehension, basic office procedures, and customer service knowledge. If I remember right, you are given an hour to finish the test which consisted of 50ish questions. Once complete, your name goes on a list based on your score. Each agency then puts in requests for lists of potential qualified candidates to interview. From what I was told while at the Tax Commission, I had scored high enough to get on the list of potential candidates that they would consider for employment.
As I mentioned earlier, there was a bunch of “weird” stuff at the Tax Commission that prevented them from posting the Technical Records Specialist position that I wanted. Basically, it was the usual government bureaucracy from what I understand. Now I didn’t consider this Technical Records Specialist a career type of job, I don’t think anyone has ever said that when they grow up they want to be a TRS. However, this was going to be my “foot in the door” job that got me a career in a field I was excited about.
Part of the application process for the TRS position was to list all locations in Idaho that I was willing to work at. I had checked Boise since that is where the Tax Commission is located. As it turns out that was how the Idaho Department of Insurance learned of my existence. Not only had I scored high enough to be considered at the Tax Commission my test results had impressed to the Department of Insurance too. So about a month after I had left the Tax Commission, I got a call for an interview with the Department of Insurance. Like most people, I had no idea what the Department of Insurance did but since I was in need of employment my willingness to learn was high.
As I now know, all insurance companies in Idaho pay a 1.5% premium tax to the department. The TRS position I was interviewing for was in the premium tax section of the department as it turned out. I had never dealt with any business taxes while at the Tax Commission but was hoping there wasn’t much difference from personal taxes so my experiences at the Tax Commission would not be for not.
The initial interview consisted of my boss, the market conduct supervisor (part of the job would be helping the market conduct supervisor), and the lead financial examiner. I had made a conscious decision that I was not going to bring up my struggles with arthritis at this time unless I had too. My personality, education, a Tax Commission experience would be what I would try and sell about myself during this initial interview. Arthur was not going to be the center of attention for once. *As a side note, half way through the interview the power went out. We finished the interview in a dark conference room using cell phone light in order to see. Interviewing in the dark was definitely a new experience! *
Turns out I impressed them enough to get a call back for a second interview. This time though I would be interviewing with the bureau chief and then a one on one with the Director of the Department of Insurance. Both conversations with these people went good. Unfortunately, I did have to tell them about my arthritic problems at this time because questions came up regarding if I could move full boxes/heavy office equipment without help. I could not tell at the time if my inability to accomplish these types of tasks would be a negative for me or not. A couple of days later I was offered the job so obviously my battles with arthritis were not a factor. I like to believe that my charm, knowledge base, and personality had been more of a positive than my inability to move heavy boxes without help.
Fast forward 2 years and I’m still with the Department of Insurance. Truth be told, I am looking to change positions. I’ve had a couple different interviews with different agencies within the state but no offers yet. My pain is increasing almost daily now so I’ve gone from searching for a career to trying for higher paid jobs in order to help with my retirement income. I would like to continue to be employed with the state for another 3 years because then I will be fully vested in our PERSI program, I’m just not sure if that’s physically possible for me at this point.
Blogging has turned into a new passion of mine. I’ve meet some truly inspiring people online that have got me looking for advocacy opportunities so I can help those with arthritis that are in worse shape than me. This type of work makes me feel like I’m actually making a difference in the world versus just pushing papers around. In order to explore this possible career path more, I applied for and won a scholarship to go to a conference at Stanford University in order to become an E-Patient (more on this later).
The one thing I now realize after writing this post is that the debate of job versus career with arthritis is something that is always going to be with me. Chances are good that having just a job while doing advocacy work might be my career in life. I might not be able to get the same reward that a doctor or teacher gets from their profession but that doesn’t mean I can’t have that feeling in my life’s journey! We as arthritis patients have to look at what we accomplish in our life as our career goal 🙂