The Discussion or “Honey, we need to talk…”

I wish I could tell you what a decisive and bold soul I was, marching right up to my husband and announcing my return to higher education and beginning a new career. You’ll be delighted to know, dear reader, that I am just as uncertain and fearful as most. 

My certainty grew over time. I couldn’t stop thinking about it. While toiling away at my miserable jobs, I was visualizing myself doing the kind of work I saw when I observed the speech therapists in action. I would imagine what it would be like to go back to school. Daydreams began to sneak into my sleep as I saw myself constantly on a journey or a quest for something I knew was within my reach.

Once I felt pretty certain that I wanted to pursue a career in speech therapy, I knew my next step was to get my husband on board. I couldn’t imagine going back to get a master’s degree unless Scott was behind me 100%. Going back to school was going to be hard enough, I didn’t want marital trouble compounding the stress. I’d need his emotional and financial support more than ever. Sure, you can do it on your own, but it’s a lot harder. Besides, I didn’t want to mess up a good thing.

I’m so incredibly fortunate to be in an awesome marriage with someone who reciprocates the same respect, admiration, passion and appreciation that I feel for him. If he didn’t see the value of getting the degree and a new career, I’d have to take a hard look at my decision and my marriage simultaneously. If he was strongly against an action such as that, it would be for solid reasons that I might have overlooked, not just some emotional insecurity or egotistical bologna. (Don’t get me wrong. He has a VERY healthy ego. But he tends to use his powers for good rather than evil.) All things considered, if I couldn’t provide the solid facts and a convincing enough argument to get him to agree that it’s the best move for us, I shouldn’t be going to graduate school in the first place.

But there was no One Shot Wonder conversation where everything was decided. Like quitting smoking (I’ll have to blog about THAT experience some time) it was a gradual progression of questions, discoveries and decisions.

Conversations with my husband increasing turned to career choices, my dissatisfaction with just “working”, our financial future and ways we could make things better, faster. There was really no big MEETING. The strength of our relationship is our constant and incredibly honest communication. We don’t ask “What’s wrong?” without expecting a real answer and “Fine.” is not an acceptable end to a conversation. (Works with kids, too. Drives ’em nuts!) Like many couples, we talk in bed, in the shower, when preparing meals, doing chores, riding in the car and occasionally over email while we’re at work. As we went along over the course of a few months, I would bring up new points and hear his objections and concerns. Then I’d go back to my computer, do some research and bring the answers I found into our next everyday discussion.

The biggest objection to overcome was the “return on investment”. The media is constantly talking about the increasing number of unemployed and underemployed graduates who are defaulting on their student loans. Scott’s initial view of a master’s degree was something general, like an MBA, that didn’t have any specific career path linked to its completion. Once I explained that this degree was training me for a specific set of skills in an industry which had a need for more practitioners and a 95+% employment rate of graduates (varying between university websites), he was more interested in hearing more. When I showed him the salary range on the employment page of our local hospital system relative to the cost of the degree at two colleges in our area, he was even more interested. After that, it was all logistics.

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The epiphany

So I was sitting at home (which at the time was an RV my that my brilliant husband built from a mobile kidney lithotripsy office, see photo below), looking through the online job listings before I embarked on another Imageemotionally and physically exhausting day of waitressing at a corporate/chain family restaurant. Don’t get me wrong, it’s excellent exercise and a good way to lose weight if you don’t eat their food, but it’s hard to keep giving your best when the customer base clearly doesn’t appreciate the effort, financially or otherwise.

Anyway, I was doing my daily search through the online job sites (I prefer, but ended up finding a job through the local employment security commission) and I decided to widen my search WAY OUT to see what kinds of job were in high demand. At this point I was truly desparate and looking for ideas. I kept seeing the usual “work at home” spam, insurance company ads (definitely not for me), temp. agencies, traveling nurses, Avon, real estate agent recruitment and something called an SLP. I thought, “What the heck’s an SLP ?”, and with very little effort was transported to a number of websites describing the work involved in Speech-Language Pathology.

“Speech Therapist?”, I said to myself, “I could do that.” I delved into the pages and began to learn more, eventually making myself late for my daily dose of food service agony. While I was serving the thankless masses, my mind drifted back to a discussion I’d had with a regular customer in the gentleman’s club where I used to cocktail waitress. He was always spending money on the girls and tipped well, so I asked him what he did for a living. His family owns a chain of hearing aid stores in the area. As he described the business and how it worked, the word “audiologist” came up. I had seen that on the ASHA website with information about the SLPs. Note to self: read more on this when I get home.

I was far too tired to do anything when I got home from work, but the next day I dug right in. Once I was comfortable with the general idea of what an SLPs job entailed, I called some local practices to see if they’d give me some first-hand insight. I met with one practice owner/SLP who was kind enough to show me around, introduce me to her practicioners and answer my battery of questions. You may find some of these questions useful when you start grilling a professional in your industry-of -interest:

  • Is there a lot of demand for your services? Do you see it growing?
  • What kind of people are your clients? How do they find you?
  • What obstacles and difficulties do you run into in the industry?
  • Who pays for your services? Individuals? Government? Insurance? Medicaid?
  • Why did you become an SLP? Business owner?
  • What was your journey like from college to clinic owner?
  • What is the most frustrating part of an SLPs job?
  • Where do you see the future of the industry heading?
  • If you could do it again, what would you do differently?
Speech-Language Pathology

Speech-Language Pathology (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

She was wonderfully patient and informative, offering to have me come back and sit in on a session or two to experience the work in process. THAT was one of the best things I did. Watching the therapist work, I KNEW I could do that and enjoy it and maybe even be really good at it. I highly recommend you get as much exposure to your future job as possible before you make the personal and financial commitment to pursue it. You want your eyes wide open to the pros and cons of your future endeavour before you head full force down that long and expensive path.

This is where that little voice in my head can hear someone whining, “But what if I don’t know and I just want to TRY it. Why does everything have to be full force with you, Jen?” I definitely don’t think you should spend the kind of time and money it will take to get a degree until you reach a level of certainty that will carry you through the process. But I can tell you the I’m still not 100% sure. I still have fears. I’m occasionally nagged by worries and uncertainties. This isn’t “death or taxes”, so it’s not absolutely certain and guaranteed to be what I want it to be or go the way I want it to go. (It might be better!)

That’s just life, gentle reader. All I can venture to guess is that the more you know and the more you experience of your proposed career path before you start working towards it, the more confident you will be in your decision to spend the time and money. Volunteer or intern if possible. Those will look great on your school application, as well as provide you concrete experience and peace of mind. Above all, be honest with yourself.

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Cat Photo Brain Break, or “And Now For Something Completely Different”.

I also believe in the power of funny animal photos to alleviate stress. (And yes, I DO still like the color pink.) I don’t care who thinks it’s immature. They need to have a chat with their incredibly neglected inner child.Image

There….now isn’t that better?  Okay, one more…

 “Godzilla vs. Cat-ra”

I’d love to hear your alternate captions!

Happy Wednesday!

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Choosing a New Career Path, or “What to Be When You Grow Up…Take 2!”

Okay, so you’ve had some jobs, maybe even a career. It’s not what you thought it would be? The market has killed your dream? Your life has changed significantly? For some reason or other you find yourself at a crossroads. The jukebox in my mind cues up the chorus from one of my favorite Indigo Girls‘ songs:

“Up on the watershed, staring at the fork in the road.

Indigo Girls at Park West in Chicago, Septembe...

Indigo Girls at Park West in Chicago, September 18, 2005. (left to right: Amy Ray and Emily Saliers) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

You can stand there and agonize

Till your agony’s your heaviest load.

You’ll never fly as the crow flies,

Get used to a country mile.

When you’re learning to face the path at your pace,

Every choice is worth your while.”

I’m not one to squish other people’s dreams, but if you feel that your personal enrichment is the most important element in your decision to go back to school, I’m not the best blogger to follow. My decisions were based on financial improvement as well as being able to enjoy my work. I’m now a firm believer in prioritizing my goals to get where I want to go. My bachelor’s degree is in Theater Arts with a minor in Business Administration, if that tells you anything about how I used to prioritize my life. I’m that pleasure-seeking personality, rather than the pain avoiding kind. Now that I’ve been through a bankruptcy and the process of losing most of my material possessions and freedom of lifestyle, I’m seeing things in a different perspective. I’m still a lover of life and a dreamer of dreams…just one with a plan to succeed in keeping it all this time.

Soooo….how did I figure it out? The big question! What do I want TO BE? (because we all know that “not to be” is NOT an option!)

My choice was the result of a half brainstorming and half researching process:

  1. Can you build on something in which you already have skills, experience or education?
  2. What did you love or hate about previous jobs?
  3. What gives you joy? A sense of accomplishment? Would make you want to get up and go to work each day? (AND makes money?)
  4. What industries are experiencing growth now? Historically? Are predicted to continue to grow? Is there high turnover in those industries? Why?
  5. What is the employment rate of the graduates for the degree you are considering?
  6. Is the cost of the education worth it? Or will you be paying back student loans the rest of your life and STILL not be making any more money than you are now?

Here’s some of my scratching throughout my own process. Just start making lists of your likes and dislikes. What things would you change about your current job?

I added on as my research developed.  Later, the brainstorming page became the talking points for my sales pitch/discussion with my husband. 

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The Next Steps, or “Been there. Done That. Now what?”

After resolving to leave real estate I tried a number of different jobs as a temp and part time worker, just trying to keep afloat. As a friend of mine once said, “I’ve grown accustomed to having food with my meals”. Sometimes holding two or three jobs simultaneously, in the course of three years I worked as:

  • Personal assistant to an author (who, ironically, wrote books on real estate investing and wealth building)
  • Cocktail waitress at a “gentlemen’s club” (I was completely clothed, thank you very much!)
  • Appointment-setter for a practice of five oral surgeons
  • Outside sales for an assisted living community
  • Waitress in a family-style restaurant
  • Work-from-home eldercare advisor for A Place for Mom
  • Bartender and banquet server in a mid-level hotel
  • Administrative assistant at a heating-cooling/plumbing company

Not to say that these aren’t good jobs in their own right, but they just weren’t what I wanted do for the next 25 years of my working life. I was grateful for each and every one of them at the time. They satisfied a need and each had it’s own learning opportunities. Some paid fairly well for our area and had good benefits, but I knew I would end up an ugly, bitter, unsatisfied creature if I settled for “just a job”.

I knew in my heart I was smarter than that. (If this sounds familiar, keep reading, If I sound like an ego-maniac, then be quiet and go back to work.) I knew I was worth more than that. I wanted something I could really sink my teeth into. Have you ever sat back and looked at those people who are completely INTO their work and wished you had that kind of passion for your job?

On the flip side, have you ever felt like you were completely out of place at work? Looked around just completely stunned how they could be so completely INTO their crappy job? (I reference back to “waitressing in a family restaurant” on this one in particular.) Ever thought to yourself, “Do they know there is more out there than THIS”?

 Sooooo….what? What exactly do you do with these high-and-mighty, yet desperation-inducing feelings?

  1. Search the job postings online and read blogs about everything to see if there is a “calling” out there that sounds interesting. (Hmmm, “Big Cat Trainer”?)
  2. Research a LOT more about those things that sound interesting and narrow it down to a small list. (Wow, you have to have THAT much education to train lions, really?)
    Cheetahs in the Workplace

    Cheetahs in the Workplace (Photo credit: Erica Noel)


  3. Find out if any employers actually want to HIRE a person who does that for a living in an area you actually want to live. (Oh, you may have to move where the big cats are living. I don’t think they’ll bring them to you.)
  4. Does it pay what you want? (You may have a GREAT insurance plan working with big cats, but you still have to be able to afford those sequin-covered jump suits. At least they’re tax deductable as a business expense!)
  5. If your new job involves additional education, can you afford it? I’m guessing that if the job doesn’t pay at LEAST as much annually as your education will cost, than it probably isn’t a good idea to take out loans you will never be able to pay back.

The fourth and fifth points warrant a good deal of your time an attention. Be honest. Make a “spending plan” (sounds much more fun than “budget”) of your current expenses. You need to get a real grip on your financial reality. Can you afford to LIVE while you are in college? Ask yourself:

  • What kind of lifestyle changes can you make that would free up your money to create or increase your savings?
  • What loans can you pay off to ease your monthly burden?
  • Do you need to get a roommate or start renting out your basement to a renter?
  • Can you take on any part time work between now and when you start school to increase your savings? (The goal is to put ALL of this money away for college, not for extra holiday spending.) The side benefit is that you may stumble on a part time job that you may be able to keep while you are in school, such as an occasional banquet server. Find employers who need more help during times when you are on breaks from school, such as holidays, summer, etc.
  • DO YOU HAVE THE SUPPORT OF YOUR SIGNIFICANT OTHER AND/OR FAMILY? Unless you want your advanced education to result in your divorce or DSS taking your children away from you, you MUST consider this carefully. Do as much homework as possible before approaching your significant other or family with the idea of going back to school! Most people are resistant to change initially, no matter how beneficial it may be in the long view. You may need to sell them on how this HUGE expense is going to pay off in the end. You can’t sell them until you’ve sold yourself. You can’t make an informed decision you are passionate enough about to sell without getting all your ducks in a row.

I’ll have to dedicate another blog to the money and family support stuff soon. Thanks for reading.

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Some background on the author, or “Realtors Need Not Apply”.

Over the course of this blog I will share with you the reasons why I decided to go back to school, how I decided what to be when I “grow up”, the process and challenges that were involved in getting into graduate school and my journey through the hallowed halls of Western Carolina University. I’m hoping maybe my journal will guide or inspire another floundering soul find their own path along the way.

I supposed I should start with a little bit about myself. I’ll be 39 years old at the end of May. I was an under-employed ex-real estate broker. Before the housing market crash I thought I knew what I wanted to be when I grew up and was loving my job. Then all the plans I had made came crashing down like the unstable house of cards they were.

Better capitalized competition increased and gas prices decreased, causing my husband to close his scooter sales/service business. Real estate was at a stand still. Over the course of 18 months, we lost our house and were both back in the ever-tightening job market. Thankfully, he finally found a job locally that paid well and made him happy. I was not so lucky.

No one wants to hire an ex-realtor. They don’t believe you’ve really given up the business. Every employer asks if you think you might go back into real estate some day. No matter how enthusiastically you answer that you’re fed up with that unstable way of life, you can see in their eyes that they really don’t believe it. You can argue all day long that any other employee is just a likely to move to a more desirable job once the economy is better, but for some reason you’re not to be trusted. It brings to mind a smidgen of what my Irish forefathers must have experienced when they first arrived in this country: “Irish Need not Apply”.

I think in some way the public blames the crash on the real estate agents themselves. In our industry it is always a struggle not to be perceived on the same level as the “sleezy attorney” or “pushy used car salesman”. I have an honest face and, like the majority of real estate professionals, worked diligently to do my very best to facilitate transactions for my clients that were in THEIR best interest, not ONLY to earn a commission. Okay…that little soap box aside, it was infuriating to be pigeon-holed in with the “bad” ones and swept up in the blame game and finger-pointing that ensued with the economic down-turn.

I was DONE with real estate and determined to move on….Now what?

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