WHEN THE GOOD LIFE GOES BAD

In the early 1980s, at age 43, Carol Provisor re-started her life. Carol’s story may be dated, but you can bet your smartphone the message is relevant. Simply stated: “Selling Yourself Short Can Ruin Your Life.”

The re-starting process involved carving out a successful career in a field which she came to with absolutely no training or prior experience. In addition, she entered the field at an age and time when most people had settled into the jobs of their choice. Despite all this and more, she forged ahead and came out on top.

By contrast, a great number of today’s fed-up workers, whatever their age, won’t even give themselves the chance to do the same thing. They participated in a recent study that determined only 45% of all working Americans are happy with their jobs. What we don’t know is how many in the remaining 55% are unhappy enough to leave, but stay on the job nevertheless. It is generally believed that their number is high.

Among the primary reasons for sticking it out are (a) concern over not being able to find work due to the job shortage and (b) fear of finding a job, not living up to expectations and being forced to  join the unemployed.

That’s playing it safe?

Rather than risk the slings and arrows of an unstable competitive job market, they risk their health.

This is no exaggeration. The British Medical Journal recently published a study reinforcing the belief that added stress and anxiety brought on by dissatisfaction with one’s job can lead to heart disease and diabetes, among other ailments.

However, many people who leave a job they hate and finally find satisfying work make a remarkable discovery. During the struggle to land that special job, they were forced to tap a reserve of determination, resourcefulness and positive thinking they never thought they had. To sum up, they shared Carol Provisor’s experience.

A bad fact of life

Carol learned about unbearable jobs when she was 19 years old. As she recalled, “I was working part time at a Los Angeles fabric store with a couple of other girls.  The two salesmen there harassed us with comments of a sexual nature. And the store’s owner liked to pinch girls’ bottoms.”

This occurred in 1955, at a time when truth-twisting chauvinism was in style. Consequently, such incidents were often presumed to be the woman’s fault. “To say the least, I felt embarrassed and vulnerable. Worst of all I couldn’t bring myself to look for support or even tell anyone about it,” Carol added.

Topping the list of those she could not confide in were a dictatorial father who decreed that, after marriage, his daughter’s one and only job should revolve around caring for her husband, her marriage, her children and a neat dust-free home.

Mom cools it

Her mother bought into this father-knows-best gig—lock, stock and afternoon bridge games. So did brainwashed Carol, who was married later that year.  So did the nation, for that matter. “A women’s place is in the home” had replaced “Rosie the riveter” as one of America’s postwar guides to the good life.

Then, in 1963, Betty Friedan started smashing glass ceilings with her book The Feminine Mystique.

Carol’s old world

Carol hardly heard a tinkle until 1979. Up to that point life was full of everything from homemaking, lunches with friends, traveling and entertaining to parties and painting classes, yoga, bridge and lectures. Bridge lit the fire of change.

“One afternoon, as the cards were being dealt, I realized that at age 43 I had become my mother. Forty-three more years of her lifestyle added up to a barren, wasted future as far as I was concerned. Actually, another year was unthinkable.

I finally concluded that the solution was to find a part- time job I could do that offered something new and more interesting than the others I had been stuck with. Considering who those others are, this shaped up as a cinch.”

That was the dream. Reality was a fear of even looking for work.  Carol had nothing to offer, no real experience in anything unless writing Women’s’ Club news for the local newspaper counted.

Comfy, cozy Carol

“There was also the comfort factor to think of. I had brought up two sons and followed all my father’s commandments. My husband and the  kids went along with just about anything I wanted to do, including work. All things considered, I was reasonably happy. So why change my life?

“The answer is because I was not at all satisfied with it. I was out to prove to myself and others that I had much more to show for all my years than a clean house.

“Before deciding whether or not to look for a job, I had to convince myself that any number of women could, with training, fill positions held by men and become just as valuable in the work force. But am I one of them?”

It took Carol many soul-searching hours to un-wash her brain and say ‘Yes. Shortcomings and all, I can do it.’ Of course she paid a price for standing up to daddy.

Dad strikes back

After Carol broke the news, he fired several angry salvos at her, designed to discourage, intimidate and patronize her. Meanwhile, mom could only wonder why her daughter even wanted to work. Her comment was “Won’t it tire you?”

Carol was now en route to a new life in the business world. She had nothing to offer but a desire to give as well as get satisfaction as an outstanding employee. Plus quiet confidence that somehow she would do it.

The next question was where and how to begin looking for a job. No problem, when she realized an employment office was across the hall in the building that housed her manicure salon. Who could ask for a more appropriate place to start a makeover?

Carol strikes out

Deciding to actually interview at the employment office was a walk in the park compared to overcoming fear and doubt. Especially when she was hired on the spot as an emergency fill-in for the company’s regular telephone receptionist. It was a two-day assignment, starting that afternoon.

“I jumped at the chance, rushed home, changed clothes, gulped down a tranquilizer and went to work—untrained and unable. There were so many buttons to push I was continually hanging up on people,” she confessed.

It was later pointed out to Carol that being a telephone receptionist was not her strong suit. Nor was anything else the employment counselor could think of.

Carol’s comeback

“I cried as I left the employment office, but by the time I got to my car I was defiant and ready to make the rounds of every employment agency in town. I couldn’t let this minor failure get me down. I knew I would find a job.” That she did— a two-week stint as a temp in an insurance office. “It was dull but easy,” she noted. It was also the last dull but easy job Carol would ever have.

The next one was with Canter & Associates, a startup educational consulting company owned by a young couple, Marlene and Lee Canter. The staff consisted of two young women in their 20s and, following Carol’s interview, the company’s oldest “rookie” on record came aboard.

Mr. Canter pronounced her “Just what we wanted, an older, stable woman.” Not exactly a self-confidence builder, but in time Carol would turn it into one.

Shaping up the kids

Canter provided how-to educational “tools” in the form of books and workbooks for parents, for use in company-sponsored teachers’ workshops and for sale to the public. Among subjects covered were classroom management and controlling children’s behavior at home.

She started out as a three-day-a-week label typist and phone call taker. Her to-do list was soon expanded to include processing enrollments for the teachers’ workshops. The fact that she was dedicated, organized and precise did not go unnoticed or unrewarded.

Mr. Canter, who wrote the company’s books, asked her to review some proofs that her younger co-workers had already read. She found a number of uncorrected errors and incorrect language usage that they had overlooked.

She also found herself in charge of the book order department. Carol was steadily rising from Respected Company Employee to Priceless Company Asset, as the company grew. Moreover, she thrived on meeting new challenges.

Example: It didn’t take her long to master the firm’s first newfangled, intimidating Apple MacIntosh computer. It was also the first Mac on the market, placing Carol among history’s earliest Mac “gurus.” Understandably, she became an authority in that department as well. An IT consultant was right on target when he told the powers that be she was too creative to be taking book orders.

What a promotion!

Carol was quick to climb other rungs on the Canter ladder to success.  For starters, she was named head copyreader and editor. Additionally, she became directly involved with in-house design and art direction. By the early 90s she was doing page layout and design on a large screen Mac. She even wrote advertising copy.

All this happened because she was determined to carve out a happy, productive future rather than settle for the bleak, empty future that seemed inevitable. Most important in reaching her goal was a willingness to venture out into the world and make things happen rather than simply let them happen.

“For me, the workplace proved to be a perfect setting for doing just that,” Carol said. “Once I understood what held me back, and why, it was full speed ahead. I suspect that many dissatisfied employees, who confuse security with stagnation, would benefit from taking the same path I followed. It’s certainly worth a try.”

When Carol retired in 2001, Canter & Associates was part of Sylvan Learning Centers. And a contented Carol Provisor could look back on 21 years of challenges met, successes earned, respect and admiration deserved.

Not a bad “second life” for the company’s oldest employee.