Alice in Workland: Because the Life You Live Will Be Your Own - Part Two

During part one of this two part article, you chattered with me behind the cash wrap at my first job. You came along with me to college in Chicago during my second. We stayed up all night contemplating the universe as navel-gazing undergrads during my third. Then, like the good friend you are, you listened to stories about my jaunts to San Francisco, LA, and every stop in between.

Now, here we are...it's the summer of 2008 and I'm itching for a new city. My rabid search for something new comes down to a summer gig at a hotel on an island off the coast of southern California and an opportunity to help run an international student dorm across from Boston Common.

Which did we choose? Well, we went east, dear friend. We went east.

6. International Student Dorm Sheriff (Summer 2008): The company I worked for in 2007 had two domestic locations, so I opted for the right one (take that however you want). I soon grew weary of the wonders that were good tacos, limo-sightings, and a solid sunscreen regimen, so I chose to continue my journey in a place covered in the ivy I'd dreamed of since I was a little girl. Yes, dear friends, I too was swaddled in crimson at an early age and groomed for ivy league schools.

Because I was working for the same company, I was able to tap into my previous experience at UCLA to help create a nice environment for my chickadees at Emerson. But as with all things in life, there were a few hiccups. There I was on the Outbound Red Line to Alewife, humongous luggage and nerves in tow. I was lost (because, y'know, Boston's not a grid city), it was sweltering like Satan's drawers in the T at Park Street ('cause "Boston's system is the oldest in the country"), and people kept staring without smiling and speaking (something I'm still not over). I stifled tears on the train, hightailed it to my dorm, checked in and promptly fell asleep. Mere weeks later, I was helping coordinate trips to New York City (my first time!), wrangled Western European teens decked out in Abercrombie & Fitch, and came to know the glory of cannoli in the North End. I took a trip to New Haven and visited my dream school for the first time. I left a message for my future self in one of the lecture halls. I hope she's encouraged by it soon.

Lessons Learned: There's no such thing as blanket bravery. The application of bravery is called upon in certain ways in given situations. The tenacity required to get you from Chicago to LA won't always get you to Boston, the aplomb that will keep you in San Francisco might evaporate during your layover in Vegas, New York City will make even the most honey badger-like of Chicagoans feel like a country bumpkin...but that's alright -

...because the place where your courage meets your experience and desire to explore despite setbacks is always the right starting point.

Interim: The Year that Shall Not be Named: I got a taste of Boston back in 2008 and spent the next year in the northern suburbs of Chicago wrestling the demon known as the Quarterlife Crisis. The economy had taken a noticeable dip for the first time in my lil' adult life and I was unsure about my next steps. I languished, I worried, I tore myself a new one for not being more STEM-focused...and got to searching for a new job in Boston. I sat on the floor of my bedroom and watched our first Black president (and First Lady, the patron saint of all Black women from Chicago) take the stage. I started a scrapbook and visual journal of the school I wanted to attend, the things I'd like to study, and the person I wanted to be. On a lovely day in July of 2009, I packed my bags, gave someone my last $12 to take me to O'Hare airport, and made my way to Cambridge.

Lessons Learned: The measure of an education is not how much income it yields (though food and shelter are high priorities). The measure of an education is wrapped up in the unrelenting search for new lessons, the desperate hunger to be self-aware as you find your way through life, and the ability to reflect and adjust your worldview. Yes, this is the journey. No, there are no shortcuts. Do not believe people who tell you that hacking your way to authenticity and maturity is possible - they are lying. Sometimes, the bravest thing you can do is sit on the floor of your bedroom and dare to be someone you never thought was a possibility. Sometimes, you've gotta go bankrupt to go somewhere.

7. Dorm Mother Hen (2009-2011): Though I'd held similar positions in multiple cities across the country, at 23, I was nobody's Mother Hen. I got an offer to co-manage a dorm in Central Square and snatched it right up. I was soon the sheriff, diplomat, grocery purchaser, and tour guide for just under 100 occupants with varying levels of English that ranged in age from 15-64. It was hard. I'd helped run programs for hundreds of students at once on college campuses. I'd admonished students for being rambunctious at 3am and I've had dance parties that could put the House scene in Berlin to shame just to show them how Americans get down. Here I was, running a building, with no contracted end in sight. Electricity out? My responsibility. Breakfast needs to be served and the deliveries are late? Rayshauna's territory. Inclement weather mucking up flight plans around the world, so you're working nonstop for three days? Roll up them sleeves and put in work, girl.

Lessons Learned: Much like my other patron saint Eleanor Roosevelt said, a woman is like a tea bag; you never know how strong it is until it's in hot water. Real jobs don't "come to an end" in line with semesters and vacations. The head that wears the crown is a heavy one and there will come many times in your life when the buck has got to stop with you. Leadership requires deep investment, hard work, and the willingness to take responsibility as often (if not more) as one accepts praise. Also, living where you work is...yeah...no.

8. International Student Housing Wizard (2012-2013): I was scared out of my mind to take this job. This is the first time that Impostor Syndrome reared its head in a workplace setting for me and would not leave. I managed housing bookings for hundreds of international students in the Boston area from the point of their expressed interest on. I worked with people on four continents, wrestling with governmental requirements of study with some of the most maddening retrictions (looking at you, Venezuela, Brazil, Russia, China, and Saudi Arabia). I recruited, vetted, approved, and oversaw compensation for hundred of hosts in our network...and prayed every step of the way.

Lessons Learned: Sometimes, you will not know your ability until you step into the ring. Worrying is, in the truest sense of the word, betting against yourself. Organization and fortitude are key, but so is self-care. Company culture is a facet of the job hunt that must not be disregarded. Most of all, revel in the first time you have a business card. Handle it proudly and send one to your mother. She will keep one in her wallet and ask you for more so she can share them. Take a moment to pause and consider how far you've come, literally and metaphorically. Appreciate the equal portions of daring and stubbornness it takes to move 900 miles from home to make your bones.

Remember to be proud of yourself. The work will always be there morphing itself into twelve hour days, peppered with a spotty internet connection and no air conditioning. Remember to take care of yourself. More than being a brand, more than the ability to churn out travel itineraries for agents from around the world, you are a person - you are a person who needs care and rest.

9. Housing Queen: Call me Ishmael. This was my ninth role in my former industry in as many years and I couldn't wait to hit the ground running. My lease was up in my Brookline apartment at the end of August and I was seriously considering moving to another country. I told myself that if I found a job by September 3rd, I would stay in Boston. What happened on August 31st? I got a call from a great woman in HR. What happened within 48 hours? I was in an interview telling stories about San Francisco, LA, and every stop in between. What happened on September 3rd? My first day of work.

I soon had a handful of programs spanning the 2000 miles of country, from little enclaves in rural Indiana to ones in a Colorado city with mountains a mile high. There was the one that needed more TLC in St. Louis, the one that made my heart beat just outside of Indianapolis, the one in Wichita that pulled an upset and was rehabilitated in my final days with the company. I couldn't believe how lucky I was to work with each of these schools. As a child, I'd refuse to go to bed so I could solve puzzles, finish stories, and work on Rubik's cubes (seriously, ask my mother or aunts). Solving mysteries is my forte and that drive coupled with my introspection made me a good sleuth.

Things ultimately went south for me, but I came out of that experience with more understanding than I could possibly put into words. I'll try.

Lessons Learned: Part of knowing yourself is knowing your worth. Be humble, but don't be naive - acting unaware does not serve you. Don't say "I don't understand how..." when you want to say "This was/is unacceptable...". Sit with anger (to ensure it's legitimate); then take to the appropriate audience. Constructive criticism not received well (or taken into account and put to good use), is indicative of an unhealthy company culture. Get well.

Bring your A game, but operate within your pay grade. You are not paid to lose sleep and mental health. Above all, our experience of the world is wider, warmer, and richer than one position. Life is for the living. Go where the joy is.

Epilogue: After a much-needed break from the workforce, I'm happy to report that I started a new job last week. I'm getting my feet wet and am open to all the lessons...with all my experiences and understanding in tow.