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  • Writer's pictureApril Dawn Shinske

Situation Wanted - Meaningful Work

I am thirteen years old, and I am so proud:

I have just gotten my first working papers.

Each time it lands on my parents' front walk, I race to pick up The Suburbanite, a small, hyper-local newspaper. I comb through the Help Wanted section. I know I will find the best summer job in the history of first jobs.

For me, this is a magical activity. I love the possibility of it: the newsprint smearing onto my fingers, the smell of the paper, the way my pink highlighter whips across small sections of the page, highlighting ads for places that just might hire a kid with no experience.

Seeking employment feels like the greatest adventure--an opportunity to explore who I really want to be when I grow up; a chance to make money that I can partially put toward college, partially spend on Lemonheads and flavored lip gloss.

I am often annoyed in this process when I see ads that say "Situation Wanted" encroaching into my precious Help Wanted space. People put together statements of what they're seeking, be it the opportunity to work as a babysitter, the chance to have room and board in exchange for providing maintenance at a large home, or work as a stenographer. All I know at the time is, for every situation-wanted ad there is one less potential listing of a great job for me.

Now, at the midpoint of my own life as I look for a new career journey for the first time in almost two decades, the phrase "situation wanted" keeps popping up in my mind. I'm experienced enough to know what I want from a career, and I do have a situation in mind.

I want to once again tell the stories of incredible people who are fighting together in support of a worthy mission and common goals. I want to wake up one morning again, soon, and know that the way I apply my talent today will create a ripple impact of good for an organization or company that fosters a better world. I want to be valued for my experience, but open to learning and growing in ways I've yet to even imagine.

I am not alone. According to The New York Times, "A Johns Hopkins University study estimated that 1.6 million nonprofit jobs were lost between February and May." My long-time position as an executive and internal communications leader was eliminated on June 30th. Some days, I bump into what was "our logo," and my sense of yearning is immense.

Now what? No more newspaper ink to smear. I dive into LinkedIn ads with both the sense of possibility I remember having had as a kid seeking her first job, and feelings of adult reality that include a strange mix of trepidation, grief, excitement, responsibility, and wonder.

I haven't found my new situation yet, but I think I'm learning a lot along the way. Here are a few things I've discovered.

  • Talk to everyone. I've been seeking advice from volunteers and colleagues whom I respect and love. My longest-term mentors have remained my best allies as I navigate a temporarily-career-free normal. And, I'm genuinely looking for ideas and wisdom, not "just a job." I certainly convey to each that I am actively desirous of a new career home, but that's not my only goal. I want to hear about their best and worst professional moments, how they coped, what gave them a new sense of purpose when they needed to recharge and regroup. Each conversation provides at least one kernel of wisdom--usually several. I have also learned so much from these chats, they are invaluable. Likewise, I have availed myself of benefits provided by my former employer, which include free career counseling. I have spoken with a career counselor from our local unemployment office team, too. I say yes to just about every conversation available, because there is almost always something--big or small--to be gained from hearing others' perspectives on everything from resumes to networking with high impact.

  • Gut matters. The journey to a new career path is very individual. If something crops up that doesn't quite feel right, explore it, but listen to your gut. Becoming a desperate job-seeker will lead to also becoming a very unhappy employee stuck in the wrong spot. In short, I am staying glued to my True North. I don't just want a new job. I want the right new permanent career where I can truly add value and be valued in return.

    • Sometimes this will be really hard. Especially for long-time employees like me who very strongly identified with the organizations and companies they served, there is grief around needing to find work again anew. More than one person with a now stellar career has told me something along the lines of "Sometimes, you will feel like you are a total mess in this search. It's OK. That means you're getting close. Keep going, and don't give up." As much as I didn't expect to experience those sorts of feelings, I have. And knowing that others have done so, too -- and come out the other side whole -- helps.

  • Take concrete steps. You have literally nothing to lose. Come up with a course of action that works for you, and work your plan. Want to check LinkedIn multiple times a day and jump on every opening with gusto? Go for it. Want to use some of your time toward finally finishing a professional certificate? Do it. Need to take a week here and there where you disconnect from seeking employment and focus on family? Make it happen. I am personally engaged in what feels like the right mixture of these pursuits. Just make sure you create a plan, stick to it, and keep on keeping on. Specific measurable action creates incremental progress that will eventually equal success.

  • Check on your financial health frequently. We all have different situations. Some of us have been blessed with former employers who provided as much help as they could, and that has afforded us some monetary wiggle room. Others may have been dropped like a hot potato, and need to quickly land someplace, even if it isn't a forever workplace. Don't despair. Resources exist to stay as financially healthy as possible during this uncertain moment. I was pleased, for example, to find out that the company that holds my retirement savings also offers free financial planning sessions. Seek help from legitimate sources, beware of scams, and do all you can to ensure that you are planning for the present and future wisely.

  • Breathe. Starting over in any area of our lives ain't easy. Add in the backdrop of a global pandemic, new family-care challenges, political unrest, and a general sense that 2020 throws curveballs faster than a closing pitcher, it's enough to leave the strongest among us feeling like this just may be a terrible time to try and find a new job. There is an upside: a new more global respect for remote opportunities beyond our own backyards; camaraderie with others in the same boat; the chance to stumble into something great in the job space that may have never even existed before 2020.

Breathe, you'll get there. Each of us will get there. In the words of Tug McGraw, "You gotta believe."

There was a very happy ending to the story of my very first career search, back in the days when I sat cross-legged on my parents' porch, looking up from the Help Wanted ads once in awhile at the big solid tree that's roots pushed up the sidewalk in front of their yard. I became what was then called a "page" and spent the summer shelving books at our local library. My boss, Mrs. G (pictured with me in 2019), was a wonderful supervisor -- strict, fair, funny, and warm. She taught me how good it could feel to come to work, do things right, and reorder what needs straightening. I saw Mrs. G. this time last year at my little town's homecoming, and was very grateful to have the chance to thank her for making my very first experience of work a good one.

I think back now, remembering the smell of aging books, the sense of accomplishment in making a shelf better than I'd found it, the delight of moments when I'd sit between two bookcases, reading mystery novels long after my shift had concluded. I didn't want to leave.

I am filled with real hope: something magical will find me, and each of us, again.

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