It’s been a tough week. Actually, it’s been a tough month. So tough that to my horror, I found myself silently in tears on the bus ride to work Thursday morning. It came out of nowhere, and I was horrified when I realized what was happening. It’s not like I was sobbing in a fit of hysteria, but there were definitely quiet tears streaming down my face. I did what I could to pull it together. Act like an adult, I told myself. Grow some thicker skin. Don’t be such a child, and pull yourself together. And while that sort of worked, it wasn’t what I needed to truly get back on track; it was only a temporary fix that was just long enough to stop the tears. The stress, frustration and disappointment continued to hound me throughout the week.
Luckily, DC is full of people who don’t get a damn about anyone but themselves, and so my mini break-down went unnoticed. The woman sitting beside me on the bus was too self-absorbed in her phone call that she didn’t seem to notice I was sniffling right next to her, and if she did notice, in typical DC fashion she ignored me. I was actually kind of grateful for that.
But it was still hard to shake things off like I have so expertly done before. This time, the stress of the past month came tumbling down onto me out of nowhere, topped off by the nastiest work email that I would normally be able to brush off, but for some reason couldn’t this time.
Needless to say, I made it through the week, but just barely. Friday night I was so exhausted, I fell asleep at 7:30PM and spent a good portion of today too tired to leave the condo. It shouldn’t be this way, I kept thinking to myself. It’s the weekend, I should have the energy to at least go out for a few hours. But I just couldn’t, and so I didn’t.
But amazingly enough, something did happen today that lifted my spirits. I volunteered. Yes, amazingly it didn’t require me to leave home, but once I finished an hour or two of volunteer work, I felt so much better. The United Way of the National Capital Region had reached out to me, asking if I would help score some of the grant proposals one of their education RFPs generated. As a grant professional, I have done this before for the United Way as a volunteer and really enjoyed it, and so I gladly said I would help.
The great thing about evaluating grant proposals these days is that you can almost always do it from home on your own timeline, just as long as you meet a certain deadline. And so as I started scoring one of four grant packages assigned to me, all the anger and exhaustion from the past week slowly started to melt away.
I think this emotional transformation was due to a number of things. The first thing this experience did is that it once again made me realize just how fortunate I am. I was scoring grant proposals submitted by local organizations seeking funding to hold after-school programs for at-risk youth. And as I read the statistics regarding one particular neighborhood in DC (a neighborhood school ranking 97th out of 98 for quality effectiveness two years in a row; 35% of the households living below the poverty line; 19 assaults with deadly weapons occurring near the neighborhood elementary school within a year, etc.), all the troubles bothering me these past few weeks seemed so minute. At least I have the means to afford a nice home in a safe neighborhood; at least I have the ability to feed myself nutritiously and clothe myself appropriately. I am healthy. I don’t live in fear. I am educated. I am independent. Those are some pretty big victories, if you ask me.
And as I read about the challenges people in my own community are facing, I started to think about the anxieties faced by others I have encountered in the past few days. Part of my stress at work is due to the fact that my team is understaffed and has been for the past month. And it’s been brutal. So naturally we are trying to fill our open position and as one of the hiring managers, I’ve been conducting interviews for the job. As I review the many résumés coming before me and interview the most attractive candidates, I’ve noticed a disturbing trend. There are many overqualified people applying for this early-career job. People with Master’s degrees, Peace Corps experience, multi-lingual, published career folks all trying to get this low-paying, highly stressful, early-career job. I even asked one overqualified woman what attracted her to this position, telling her that I was impressed by her experience but was curious as to why she was applying for an assistant position. God bless her heart, she told me straight out that she has been looking for a job since November and hasn’t been able to find anything beyond temporary contract work. It’s scary to think that our job market is so bad that such qualified, educated people cannot find full-time work.
Yes, I may have a very challenging job, but at least I have a job…with benefits no less!
And so as I spent this rainy Saturday evaluating grant proposals and reflecting on snippets of my past week, I came to realize that I’m not the only one struggling. In fact, many would say I’m not struggling at all, that I have it pretty good. And yeah, they’d be right. I am still pretty sure many people wouldn’t last long in my job as it has been going lately, but that doesn’t change the fact that things could be worse. Much worse.
And so now I feel much better about my situation. I realize that as challenging as my job has been lately, I still really enjoy what I’m doing, and I’m only going through a temporary rough patch. As much as I hate myself for temporarily losing it on the bus this week, I also recognize that I needed that little release. It’s healthy. It’s human and sometimes it’s necessary.
So I’m picking myself back up off the ground, dusting the pebbles from my bare knees and jumping back into the race again with a new perspective. Sometimes you have to break down before you can float back up. That’s what I learned this week.