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From mom to career woman: What in the world am I going to do?

By Lisa GastaldoJune 12, 2015

Now What
Now What John Elsenschenk/Flckr Commons

For more than 12 years, I was the Library Lady at the local elementary school. I spent the day introducing students to the illustrious icons of children’s literature: Beverly Cleary; Roald Dahl; Lemony Snicket; Babar; Madeline; Curious George. The student's inquisitive eyes and mud-smudged faces simmered with excitement as they discovered new books to cherish. It was the perfect part-time position, while my two sons scaled the ladders of their educations.

 

Note from a student. One of my most prized possessions.
Note from a student. One of my most prized possessions.Lisa Gastaldo

 

There came a time, however, when my safe position was no longer financially secure. During the course of my employment, my husband died and I became the sole provider for my college-aged children. My husband had a modest life-insurance policy, which sustained us for a while, but not indefinitely. My season of cavorting with Newberry, Caldecott and Dewey was waning. I needed a full-time occupation with health benefits — but where? What would I do? 

 

"You need to know what you are aiming for in order to reach it.” 
—Gordon Ramsay

I had many ideas. Long, long ago, in a decade far, far way: I was a public relations associate. Maybe, I thought, I could return to the world of full-court-press pitches and product hype. Some people suggested I should become an executive assistant. The picture of me engaging in clever repartee and screening calls for high-powered CEOs, while clad in classic '60s attire was alluring. (No pencil skirts for me, however, until I toned my triple-crown saddlebags.) My work experience included hours of upper-level, volunteer management. Could I parlay that into a job fundraising for needy children? The homeless? The latest trendy disease? 

 

“The only thing standing between you and your goal is the bullshit story you keep telling yourself as to why you can't achieve it.” — Jordan Belfort

I didn't know what I wanted to do, or how I would get there, so I applied for everything: parks-and-rec associate; marketing executive; financial administrative assistant; development director; event coordinator. I was a schizophrenic job seeker. Civic employers, charitable organizations, local small businesses — all potential jobs were possibilities. Given a chance and a decent salary, I could morph into any occupation.

Before long, I realized I had a major-league strike against me: I was O.L.D. — code among employers as an Out-of-touch Lackluster Dinosaur. My employment history, while steady, was deemed less relevant than a teenager’s summer job. Despite the years I spent faithfully getting my kids to school, working four hours, volunteering another four hours, tending to supper and caring for an ill husband, to most modern professionals, my experience read like Swiss cheese. It was smooth and easy on the palate — but full of holes. If you asked me — or any other working mother on the planet — my life was a demonstration of successful time management. Still, I needed to spice things up. Instead of Swiss, I needed to be pepper jack – or habanero cheddar.

I created a Gmail account (Hotmail was out), and traded my traditional, chronological resume for one organized in a functional format. If you needed an independent and productive worker, who could recruit, train and supervise key personnel, I was your gal. Seeking a resourceful problem-solver who could settle conflict with poise and articulation? Look no further! This exceptionally organized, punctual, motivated, dedicated, respected, effective, creative, confident, collaborative multitasker was ready to work for you. After taking a Windows refresher course online, I submitted my first PowerPoint job application for a job posting, which read: “Ordinary cover letters make us cry.” 


“When you least expect it, someone may actually listen to what you have to say.”
Maggie Kuhn

During my job search, I began writing again. It started on a whim, mainly to help process my unresolved grief. One of my pieces even won a national contest, and garnered me a free T-shirt. A friend found out about my writing award, and steered me toward a position with a local, online marketing agency. The firm was looking for content creators, and soon enough, I had an interview.

Upon arriving, I was ushered into a room and given an impromptu writing assignment. I had 45 minutes to research and explain my appointed topic in 600 words or less. My crisp manila folder containing copies of my resume and my recommendations was soon graffitied with a list of facts gleaned from Google. I squelched my college-final flashbacks and attempted to expound with just the right touch of informational eloquence. Streams of perspiration flowed into my eyes, clouding my vision, but I pressed on. When my allotted time was done — moments before the anxiety-sweat stains migrated to beneath-boobage territory — I was taken to the conference room. 

Two female executives greeted me. They were barely older than my sons, wearing T-shirts and jeans. Feeling overdressed in my navy sheath dress and sensible heels, I brandished an overly bubbly smile to compensate. Stealthily, I placed my folder on the table, scribble-side down, as the interview began. The execs seemed impressed with my writing samples and chuckled at my witty banter. The duo even appeared to appreciate my librarian experience. An email offering me a job arrived by the end of the day.

When I later asked my new boss about her first impression of me, she said they thought I was “cool.”

Guess I still rock after all.