In my male-mode professional career, I’ve never made too much of a big deal about August 3 being my birthday. Part of the reason for that dates back to when I got my first paying job about three weeks before I turned 21. Back then, I was too evergreen, not yet mature, far too unsure of myself, and just fortunate that I found a job. I also made too many mistakes in that job, which was… well, I won’t tell you where I worked or what I did, although I will say it was a small office where I had a lot of responsibilities and was let go after two months. Naturally, the last thing on my mind during that run wasn’t a desire to have balloons and cake at my desk. So, I didn’t tell a soul at this business that August 3 was my birthday.
Exactly one year earlier, however, I was involved in a “work experience” program through the technical training program I was part of; the experience had me doing actual real-world work in an actual office alongside actual professionals. Very early on during those 6 weeks, I made a passing mention that August 3 was my birthday. Well, when August 3 came around, I arrived at the office and was met with a whole spread of chips, cookies, and snacks. This team I was assigned to had a tradition of celebrating a teammate’s birthday with food. I wasn’t expecting it, naturally, but it didn’t go unappreciated from me.
But that day was the exception and not the norm during my professional life. Yes, I’ve made mention of my birthday at work, but only in passing. And as a result, most often my birthday was met with a monthly cake to appreciate those in the rest of the office who shared the same birthday month as I. Anything specific to me was limited to a mention from the supervisor to the rest of the team, if that. Speaking of which, my last supervisor at my (*sigh*) now-former place of employment let the whole team know of someone’s birthday with an e-mail with big (i.e. 48-point) font saying “HAPPY BIRTHDAY [INSERT NAME OF PERSON HERE]” in all-caps and multiple exclamation points. Naturally, an e-mail like that wasn’t sent when she let everyone know my position was eliminated.
Looking back on that first paying job, I learned pretty quick that doing a job was more than just earning a paycheck. It doesn’t matter whether your birthday is in August or September or February. You gotta perform your work, of course, and do enough of it to impress your colleagues AND your superior. It’s a belief I’ve held to throughout my career, making August 3 seem like just another day to me.
And this August 3 was no exception, as I finished a temporary work assignment. Yes, you’ve read that correctly: I got to work for a living for the first time since I had to leave my prior employer at the end of June. Thanks to one of the temporary/staffing agencies I’ve retained, I was assigned to 7 days of work at a small company here in Madison, filling in while an accounting staffer took vacation. The start was a bit shaky (through no fault of my own, mind you; their billing system tends to misbehave a bit), but I absorbed the tasks like a sponge, asked for assistance when I needed to, and felt as if I was a long-time part of the team… which I wasn’t, of course. If I were actually a permanent part of their team, perhaps I would have mentioned that today was my birthday. But, no, I refrained from doing so; I didn’t want to make my last day with them all about me, you know. (Side note: It’s my 49th birthday today. Yep, I’m under a one-year contract to play with the 49ers. *chuckle*)
Come Monday, I will take on a new temporary assignment. Well, actually, it’s “temp-to-hire,” in that if I become a good fit for the job, and if the powers-that-be are impressed by how I do, they may extend an offer to me to join them on a permanent basis. Will that mean a chance to clue my new colleagues in on when my birthday is? Perhaps. But just as it (almost) always has been for me, I will enjoy more the privilege to work for a living than the need to tell the world that August 3 is my birthday.
A couple of things not related to my birthday that I was reminded of this week, first and foremost the feeling of working for a living once again, even if it was for just a week. It hasn’t been fun sitting in my apartment all day looking up job prospects, nor was it fun going through one interview after another (most of which have been phone interviews). And it’s been even less fun being told that a potential employer has decided to consider other candidates that aren’t me. At least there have been a couple of places of late that really wanted to meet me in person, not throw screening questions at me over the phone. That places have been impressed enough by my work set to talk to me face-to-face made me feel good. That a couple of places have wanted me to work for them, albeit on a temporary basis, has made me feel really proud.
Second, of the many traits I’ve been telling prospective employers, the one I’ve highlighted a lot is the ability to apply my skills to new things. Such was the case this week with my accounting work. I haven’t done accounting work in the past, and the work I did this week may not be considered “accounting” in bigger businesses. But what I did this week both felt like wearing my most comfortable dress and stepping out of my comfort zone. It felt good, too, that the work I did this week felt important. I mean, in a small company like the one I worked at this week, making sure the clients you work with are or will be paying for the services you provide is really important.
Third, I was struck by how well I fit into this company’s atmosphere this week. In my prior places of employment, I enjoyed being the small fish in the Fortune 500 company’s pond, being content to do work and hit goals and clock out at the end of the day. Where I worked at this week had about as many employees as the term “Fortune 500” has letters and numbers. And I liked it. Perhaps I’m at that my point in my life and my career that I don’t mind being a big fish in a smaller pond, taking on those important duties that really make a difference. Whatever the size, it felt really, really good to hear appreciation for the work I provided them. And to hear them say that they’d love to have me back if they have a need and if I was available means all the world to me right now.
Lastly, a little something about the atmosphere at this shop. As I noted, it’s a small business, and where I was set up was right next to the main part of the shop yet didn’t have too much in the way of distractions. And compared to the relatively loud floor that was my previous place of employment, it felt like serenity. It felt even more serene when there was a lull in business in early-mid afternoon; that’s when I would notice the sense of quiet, step back from the computer, and enjoy how peaceful things had become. And I liked it. I really, really liked it. This wasn’t any afternoon at home with the TV and other electronic devices shut off either. No, this was that feeling one gets when things become serene when you least expected it. Obviously, not every workplace comes with this feeling, but when it does occur where you work, take the time to enjoy it, and notice how content you become.