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June 04, 2009
You always hear that “the Lord works in mysterious ways.” But sometimes, he’s really fucking obvious.
Two years ago, I completed graduate school and continued working on a book that I drafted during my MFA program. I worked part-time at the University of New Hampshire, where I got my degree, and took on freelance writing gigs to pay my bills.
But when my “writing life” laxed and became my “cleaning the house and hanging out with grad school friends” life, my wife gave me a not-so-subtle nudge:
Get a job.
So I started searching—half-heartedly at first. My wife had a steady paycheck, and I was a writer and a teacher, so I was used to having a meager income. My motivation was low. There was no job-fire burning at my feet.
But one day I went to pay my month’s bills, and the checkbook cookie jar was empty.
The flames began licking. Something had ignited my search.
I plunged in and began a serious job quest then, networking with current and former colleagues, posting my resume on Monster, checking the newspaper, and clicking my way through online job sites like Craigslist, WhisperJobs, Boston.com, Mediabistro, and awpwriter.org.
Over the course of more months than I care to confess, I landed multiple interviews—three of which led me to the coveted second interview. After all three second interviews, I was convinced: They loved me! This job is mine! My boss at the time even told me that he had gotten a reference call from one potential workplace, and from the way they raved about me, he was certain they’d be calling shortly to offer me the post.
One by one, though, the HR specialists called me (or, in one case, only sent an email) to inform me that it was such a pleasure meeting me, but they had decided to offer the position to another candidate.
In the first double-interview strike-out, I was one of four final candidates. In the second, I was one of three finalists. And in the third: You guessed it. One of two. Only one other person stood between me and an income, and that other person beat me to it.
I was shattered. Why was I always falling short? What was it about me that made a company, upon closer inspection, turn their noses up and say, “Nah. Throw this one back. She’s not what we were looking for.”
Traditional job searching was a bust. Plain old praying (which I did a lot of) had gotten me nowhere. So I turned to witchcraft, consulting what I now refer to as the “voodoo witch mat” to divine my future.
The voodoo witch mat was a purchase I made at a Wicca shop in Salem during Halloween. This black velvet mat, roughly 8” x 8”, promised to answer my questions with responses like, “Yes,” “No,” and “Ask Again” when I concentrated on a question and swung a pendulum over the mat. In the end, the pendulum would settle on a single answer. It’s like a witch’s Magic 8 Ball. (However, after I brought this talisman into the house, a mirror in an unoccupied room mysteriously shattered, and objects began propelling themselves from shelves, which is where the “voodoo” part of the name comes in.)
When I focused my energy and asked the voodoo witch mat about my career status, it assured me that by Christmas 2008, I would have a full-time job.
Like a magical-thinking fool, I believed it. Because the witch mat said so. And because I was desperate.
December: Christmas comes and goes. No job.
January: I plunge into despair, spending my days sunk down inside my bathtub beneath a frothy white mountain of bubbles, wondering if I’ll ever be able to crawl out of my accumulating debt. The pages of multiple books become rippled from the heat of the tub: stories that I grip with damp hands, my skin turning pruney as I cling to the hope of escape through fiction.
February: I realize that January sucked. I was a moping mess. And that was not fun. So I decide to start doing healthy things for myself, and to begin checking off some of the To-Do boxes that have blinked blankly at me for eons.
One of those things: go to church. With the exception of occasional holidays with my parents and in-laws, I hadn’t been to church in almost five years. My soul was hungry. I had been feeling selfish and lost, absorbed in being sorry for myself over not having full-time work. I thought that perhaps church would help me find my center again.
(My other option, if church didn’t work out, was yoga. However, I’m not flexible, and in a hot room where I’d be bending over and twisting an out-of-shape body in all manner of unflattering positions, the possibilities for making an ass of myself seemed to outweigh any perceived benefits.)
So I found myself a little gay-friendly house of worship—the First Universalist Church of Salem—and I went to church. After the service, a lovely woman named Sally greeted me and ushered me towards tables of cookies, fresh fruit, and coffee. Sally introduced me to other parishioners (do non-Catholics use that term?) and discovered that I was job searching.
Without me even asking, Sally became my new job networker. After each service, Sally told my story to the people she introduced me to during coffee hour: This is Laura. She lives in Salem and she’s a writer, and she’s looking for a job. Do you know of anyone looking for a writer?
On the third Sunday, a woman at my coffee-and-cookie table mentioned that the U.S. Census Bureau was hiring census takers in Salem and Beverly. It was only a temporary position, and it wasn’t at all in my career field, but it supposedly paid well.
That was all I needed to hear.
On the designated day, I went to the YMCA in Salem and took a pre-qualification test for the job. During the testing session, the census representative told us that there were also management jobs posted online. As soon as I got home, I checked out the website, 2010censusjobs.gov, and lo and behold, I found two jobs for which I knew I was qualified. “Partnership Specialist” was the title of one.
I applied for the position. Three hours after my interview, and after my fourth “They loved me! I totally have the job!” engagement, I was finally offered a job.
When I heard the news, I did a dance in my sister’s architecture office. I called my wife. I called my mom. I texted my friends. The debt-vice that had been gripping my chest was loosened.
On my train ride home from Boston, I was mentally ripping up all of my other job applications and cover letters, and telling everyone who hadn’t hired me to suck it.
And then I was struck by how I got the job in the first place:
I heard about the position only because I went to church.
Some people believe that all things happen for a reason. They think that we are given obstacles to teach us lessons that we might not otherwise learn, and thus, any suffering we encounter along the way is both valuable and essential for our growth.
As I pay down my debt with the salary from my new job, I sometimes console myself with that notion that this all happened for a reason: That I searched for a job for two years because the right one was waiting for me. That I met now-close friends at UNH who would’ve never come into my life, had I left my part-time university job sooner. That I gained a deep appreciation for structured work time and an understanding that spending every day in one’s pajamas is NOT an ideal way to live one’s life.
On my self-disparaging days, I simply believe that I was lazy, and that I didn’t search hard enough.
But my Evangelical mother would simply say, “You should’ve gone to church sooner.”
Just in case Mom’s right: If you’re one of the tens of millions of people looking for a job during the worst economy in recent history, maybe it’s time you paid a visit to one of your local houses of worship.
Even if you don’t get a job out of it, at the very least, they usually have good snacks.