By Diana Staresinic-Deane, Blogger of the Month for March 2015
About a year ago, I was signing books at an event in Emporia when I looked up to see the next person in line. I was absolutely tickled to see a former coworker I met at my first job after returning to Kansas. The job was … not so great. But this coworker was, and she put up with me as I transitioned from giant West Coast city to small-town Kansas, planned a wedding, and buried several family members.
She was so excited for me and excited about my book. And then she said something curious. “I always felt so bad about how you were treated at (that job),” she said. “How all of us were treated.”
As I handed her a signed copy of my book, I said, “If that hadn’t been the worst job I’d ever had, I wouldn’t have had the courage to leave it and try something new.”
As I mentioned in my “About Me” post, I started my college career as a biomedical engineering major. But after a semester in biomedical engineering, I KNEW I didn’t want to be an engineer or a scientist. I remember a particularly lurid BME 101 class where the professor was describing a particularly awful experiment conducted on bunnies, and my classmates were taking notes but I was trying not to vomit. I was NOT in the right place.
I changed my major to English and was happy. But the problem was that at that time, university career services were not adept at helping graduates find jobs unless they were business or engineering majors. So I pursued getting certified to teach, because what else was I supposed to do with an English degree?
After three education classes, I knew I was not cut out to teach high school. High school students everywhere should be grateful I figured this out.
I was starting to worry. The only people I saw actively using their English degrees were professors, but every professor I encountered was pretty honest about how hard it was to get into a PhD program at a good school. “The market is flooded,” they told me. “It’s pretty common to have 700 applicants for four spots in a program.”
I took a deep breath and took the GRE. Twice.
And in both cases, my scores were too low to get into a competitive program.
Now I was REALLY starting to panic. I had no idea what I was going to do with myself or where I was going to live. Ironically, I ended up taking a job as an administrative assistant in the School of Engineering. And while I was there, I took some masters level classes in public relations.
Professional PR wasn’t for me, but I loved the writing, and it lead me to a job writing for a university president, which led me to a communications job in Kansas.
When I accepted my first job back in Kansas, I thought it was only going to be for a year or two. My husband would finish his degree, and we would move on. I could put up with anything for a couple of years. But sometimes life changes your plans, and for us, it was having two dying mothers. It’s hard to finish your degree when your mother is dying of cancer, and that’s exactly what was happening to my husband. “A couple of years” turned into much longer, and I could no longer see the end of what was proving to be a really unhappy job that was a stormy sea of internal politics, too many bosses, unclear expectations, and personality conflicts. As the workload grew and grew, my work weeks got longer and longer, and I was exhausted and frustrated employee nursing what was probably an ulcer in the making.
My misery was making my already-stressed-out-husband miserable, which was also not helping him finish his degree.
I also found myself wanting to try telling my own stories, not just communicating the stories of the organization for which I was working. But I was so physically and emotionally drained, I just couldn’t muster the energy to do it.
And here’s the part where a four-leaf clover landed in my lap. I discovered Emporia State University’s Tallgrass Writing Workshop.
That yearning to tell my own stories grew stronger, and TWW empowered me with the courage to try.
Not long after my first TWW, I had a painful meeting with my supervisor, who sat me down and told me to “take some time to think about what [I] needed to do to be successful.”
I didn’t realize it at the time, but I had just been handed another four-leaf clover. Something opened up inside my heart.
My next day at work, I felt light and scared and brave and hopeful. And in my follow-up meeting with my supervisor, I said, “I gave it some thought, and I know what I need to do in order to be successful.”
And I handed him my resignation.
I found a part-time job at the public library, where I was surrounded by books and coworkers I adored. Most important, though, was that I was no longer working 60+ hours a week, which meant that I had time to develop my own creative writing.
I turned a room we were mostly using for storage into my office. I set up my desk, set up my computer, and I drafted a novel. It wasn’t a great novel, but I wrote it, and it gave me the courage to write some more. I started blogging.
And when I was at work one day, I found myself chasing after some kids who were playing tag in the stacks at the library, and a third four-leaf clover in the form of a green folder slid off a shelf and landed at my feet. The words “Knoblock murder” were written across the cover, and the next thing I knew, I was spending all of my non-library time researching a crime that would eventually be documented in Shadow on the Hill: The True Story of a 1925 Kansas Murder.
What I said to my former coworker was absolutely true. Had I not been completely miserable in my job, had things not come to a head, I’m not sure I would have had to guts to give up the security of salary and benefits to venture out and try something new. And had I not walked away from that job, I would probably still be dreaming about “writing some day” and toiling away at a job that wasn’t making me particularly happy. But I had the good luck of finding encouragement and inspiration exactly when I needed it, which gave me the courage to try something less conventional.
Diana Staresinic-Deane is a Kansan-gone-Californian-gone-Kansan, former library assistant, county history museum manager, writer, history junkie, cemetery photographer, and guinea pig enthusiast. Fascinated by little Kansas towns and their histories, she’s happiest when she’s digging through old newspapers and exploring old cemeteries. She is the author of Shadow on the Hill: The True Story of a 1925 Kansas Murder and she blogs at Diana Staresinic-Deane: Unearthing Stories on the Prairie.