Not that long ago, I was sitting on a freezing cold, overcrowded, and downright chaotic flight from San Francisco to New York, devouring the last chapter of As Always, Julia – The Letters of Julia Child & Avis Devoto. It had been brilliant and warm and funny all along, but in these last few pages I was reminded that even Julia Child had bad days. She had just received a rejection letter from Houghton Mifflin, who had given her a whopping $250 advance along with a promise to publish her cookbook a few years prior, only to say to her in November 1959 that they would not. What a blow. So at this point in her life, after spending many, many years in many, many countries pouring her blood, sweat, and tears (quite literally) into the cookbook manuscript, she is left to find Plan B.
Coincidentally, I’m also looking for my Plan B. This past spring, it took all of 15 minutes at my accountant’s office to realize I earned exactly same amount of money last year as I did my first year out of college—a whopping $28K. I walked in with a giant stack of 1099s (tax documents for freelance work), since I did five different jobs last year—concurrently. Five. In addition to my volunteer work, which I do whenever I’m not doing one of the other five jobs. I busted my bum for less than a year’s worth of rent on my one-bedroom apartment in San Francisco. What a blow.
I know that money isn’t everything. In fact, my west coast hippy dippy trippy yogini self is the first to say that being happy is WAY more important than having money. But I think all of that goes out the window when you can’t afford to live in the city that is inspiring that perspective. I knew this road would not be easy. I’ve said it to myself (and to everyone else) many times. I didn’t expect, however, that when I tried to find full-time work that no one would hire me. I keep a folder of the rejection letters: “You’re a bit overqualified for this role.” (A bit?) “We can’t afford someone at your level.” (You never even asked me about salary!) “We’ve decided to pursue other candidates. Please visit our career site often to review the latest opportunities within ‘Our House’!” (Seriously?) “She didn’t think you were strong enough to handle the strong personalities in Milwaukee.” (Umm, I’m pretty sure Martha Stewart has a stronger personality than everyone in Milwaukee. But, OK.) It’s become so ridiculous that it’s actually hilarious. At least I have to laugh or I might cry, again. Then a recruiter for Google calls (yes, that Google), and you think things might just turn around after all. But they don’t because he goes MIA. Then a recruiter for Apple calls and you think things might just turn around after all. But they don’t because she goes MIA. Then the same recruiter for Google calls again, and guess what? Yup, MIA again.
When I left corporate life two years ago, I needed a break. I needed a creative reboot. I needed to figure out what I should do next. I think we’ve all been there. But I quickly realized that I was unique in the fact that I actually took the break I needed. When I started writing about my adventures, I encountered a lot of positive encouragement—from friends and total strangers alike—that helped propel me on my journey. For quite awhile. There were bumps along the way, of course, and periods of uncertainty and fear, but I thought eventually things would even out and I’d convince myself (yet again) that I was on the right path. But recently I was on the set of a photo shoot for a pharma ad as the assistant food stylist, and I got to talking with one of the women who worked for the client. I gave her the 15-second version of my last two years and her immediate reaction was an energetic, “Good for you!” But I had to bite my tongue to keep from responding with, “But was it really? Or am I just a naïve idiot who thinks you can do what you love in life and still make a living?” Many days I feel as if I have taken myself so far out of “the game” that I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to go back. Although the irony is that I’ve learned more in the past two years about so many things on so many levels than I had in countless years before that.
When I met with a recruiter in San Francisco a few months ago and asked her what she recommended for my search, her immediate response was, “Move back to New York. Work for a company that appreciates your ability to wear many hats and all of your talents.” So maybe that was the answer. At least it was AN answer. I have been trying to find a job in NY ever since, and after three different recruiting firms and a dozen personal referrals and online job applications later, I am still nowhere.
Avis writes reassuringly to Julia during her time of uncertainty, “Well, all I know is this—nothing you ever learn is really wasted, and will sometime be used. You have come nearer to mastering a good many aspects of cooking than anyone except a handful of great chefs, and some day it will pay off. I know it will. You will just have to go on working, and teaching, and getting around, and spreading the gospel until it does…Just have to keep trying, and slugging away, is all.” Those words were so uncannily applicable to my life right now I couldn’t help but sit up and take notice. Avis had many ideas for Julia—which publishers might want to publish her manuscript and actually understand that it is a masterpiece; whom she knows that can give honest feedback about it and help it get published; how she will approach Mr. X or Ms. Y about it and when, etc. etc. So I glanced around the plane looking at strangers for answers, but all I found was a man in the window seat with an abnormally high tolerance for red wine and another man who did not realize that the armrest is for sharing. So here I am, wondering through my words what steps to take next for my Plan B.
Avis also wisely predicts Julia’s forthcoming dismay and summarizes her solutions by saying, “All this really means, I think we shouldn’t panic, but sit back and take a good look around and decide what’s to be done before going off half-cocked. But we must roll with the punches, and see what is to be done next.” Yes, the punches. The ones that seem to hit you directly in the stomach, leaving you winded and confused and wondering why. But if Julia can get punched in the gut and get back up on her feet, maybe I can, too. Maybe putting all of this out into the universe will help me see more clearly around what is to be done next. Maybe all I have learned will not be wasted. Maybe I’ll meet someone who will appreciate my ability to wear many hats. Who knows. In the meantime, I’ll just try to roll with the punches. But if you know anyone who is hiring… 😉