New Routine, New Challenges

The Gals in Pennsyltucky by Walt Groller cover art

Image via Wikipedia

Regular readers will notice that I have not written in this spot for a while. It takes some time to get used to a new job – and when that job requires one to leave the house at 5:00am, and not getting home until at least 6:30pm, well, it gets tough to try to keep up with the regular things you try to accomplish.

I took this job for several reasons – the most important of which was healthcare and a steady income for the family. Of course I love what the group does – ensure that Pennsylvania’s kids have access to healthy, regular meals despite any monetary challenges they or their families may face. And it’s good to be back at work again – okay, to be honest it really stinks, but it is nice to exercise my brain, to have a purpose to getting up each morning, and to be a productive member of society.

No matter what job I took I would have had to deal with issues I hadn’t faced for over two years – being on someone else’s schedule all the time is a big one for me, and while this job doesn’t require much in the way of staying late, it also does not allow working from home, flex time, or any other conveniences which might ameliorate the very fact of being on a clock every day. Another major issue for me is having to face people every day – I am so far from being a people-person it’s not even funny. And while I’ve surprised myself by my lack of distaste for handling the technical help-type calls that come in several times a day, I’ve also reawakened my issues in dealing with people. Most of the folks here are much older than I, middle-Pennsylvanian in attitude and bearing, and I find I have little in common with anyone here.

But these issues seem to be exacerbated by some key aspects of working this job, particularly under these circumstances. The major issue, of course, is the commute. I spend 5 hours each and every day commuting. Yes, you read that right – five hours! Okay, that time includes the waiting for the train, sitting in traffic, and other fun stuff, but I am not exaggerating one bit when I say I spend that long every day commuting. I leave the house at 5:00am to catch a 5:52 train – perhaps a little extra cushion time, to be sure, but waiting the extra fifteen minutes wouldn’t help all that much, as the train is 30 minutes away from home. I then work from 7:30 to 4:00 – an there are no options for working through lunch to leave an hour early, or even sitting in my car at lunch time as I now take the train in. So there’s no hope of just a little private, quiet time to myself. My afternoon train is at 4:30, and it arrives at 5:52pm. With afternoon traffic and all I don’t get home, at best, until 6:30 – thoroughly exhausted and wiped out, despite the nap I take on the way to work in the morning, and the chance to read on the way back home.

Let’s also not forget that I have two kids waiting for me anxiously to get home from work – two energetic boys who want nothing more than attention and someone to tire them out. Boys who either were waiting for me to have dinner, and are therefore pretty cranky, or who are due for their bath time – not a popular time of day at our house. On a good night it’s 8:00 before I can sit in my chair and take a long, deep breath, and despite the prospect of waking up at 4:30 the next morning I find myself staying awake as long as I possibly can just to enjoy a few extra minutes of TV, computer, or just “me” time.

The job itself is not so bad, but it being government work it is somewhat restrictive in several ways. Folks going off to a meeting (or lunch, or break time) need to announce when they’re leaving the floor – a good practice if someone is trying to find you, but also one which makes you feel like a little kid, raising your hand for permission to go to the bathroom. (No, it’s not THAT bad, though it does feel that way some times.) Electronic activity is closely monitored – no Facebook, no personal email, no other connections to the outside world during the working hours. Of course I understand the policy, but it just makes getting through the long day even that much harder. I’m left with making doctor’s appointments, calling my wife, or checking for important emails during my break times or lunch time. Again, not totally unfair or uncalled for, but it just adds another level of restrictions, making us feel more like children in elementary school.

And it being government work, of course the pay is low. Very low. Depressingly low.

When I took the job, circumstances required my enduring all of these challenges. I tried to look at the bright side – the role really is needed, and the good feeling one gets by working for an organization that does so much good in the world (or at least this little part of it) truly cannot be measured. I knew that I could not stay here too long without some major things changing – like moving my family out to the middle of Pennsyltucky (as a friend and former colleague once referred to it) – and nothing has changed that need.

But also my circumstances no longer require me to put up with these very specific, draining challenges. Things on the home front are changing, for the better, and soon I will be able to start to look at making different sorts of changes, ones that might leave me a bit happier, a bit more myself by the end of my long, long day.


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