- Posted March 21, 2014 by
This iReport is part of an assignment:
The written word: Your personal essays
PhantomX - Staying in the Underemployed Closet
Today I filed! Not as in "my taxes" or "for a divorce." I was given a stack of papers and told to file them, in alphabetical order, according to year. I’m both grateful and resentful that it pays the bills.
I went from managing multi-million dollar projects to filing in a span of a few months. It's now my 2-year anniversary of being underemployed. I had a job - a career that allowed me to oversee departments and projects with creative input and fiduciary oversight in a field that I was passionate about. I enjoyed the weekends, but I looked forward to Monday morning too. I had spent my life's work on what was fulfilling and added meaning - and then it was gone.
At first I thought I'll find a job in a few months. I didn't have a large nest egg, but I could live frugally and survive until then. Barely survive was more like it. Despite my very best efforts, I couldn't find employment. So I lost my home, lost my health insurance and had to borrow from family to stay a float.
Sending out resumes by the hundreds produced many hopeful moments. But hopeful moments don't pay the bills. I needed a plan that would bring in income - any income because my bank account was dry.
My solution was to try what benefited me during my summer years in college. Temporary agencies offer a great opportunity to get work fast and get paid every week. The salaries were better than working at a department store and it didn't require that I stand on my feet all day.
Unfortunately, what worked in my twenties wasn’t so easy in my forties. I seemed to get the same response from the temp agencies, "You are overqualified. No one will hire you even as a temp because you have management experience. They want an assistant."
Still very desperate for work, I came up with a revised plan. After decades of fully realizing my identity, I knew I had to hide it in order to gain work. I had to become a version of myself. Same social security number, but new name, new resume, and new work history. I joined the witness protection program for unemployable executives.
I created what soon became my saving grace and later my hell on earth - the Phantom Executive. I decided to give these companies exactly what they wanted in an assistant by making all my management experience disappear. It meant that I reworked my resume to highlight my experience only as it relates to an administrative assistant's responsibilities. They want someone who can handle a busy schedule, I've got experience in that area. Coordinate meetings? Check. Book travel, prepare correspondence, process expense reports? Check, check and check! I even took on a "nickname" - a new first name, so my real identity couldn't be Googled. These omissions were a form of deception. But I was willing to live with it to put food on the table. And with in ten days, I did just that.
So began my life as a PhantomX disguised as an administrative assistant, slash receptionist, slash customer service rep. Those first few weeks I was so grateful. I had been eating like a starved college student with peanut butter sandwiches three meals a day. But at my temporary place of employment, there were days the executives had catered meetings, and the leftovers would be mine (and the other support staff) to devour.
But a phantom is a phantom and while my supervisors praised the temporary agency for my efficiencies, I was no longer seated around the conference room table. Employees no longer cared about my opinions on budgets, restructuring, or marketing appeal. Heck, they even ignored my comments on the latest Good Wife episode. But I comforted myself with my belief that my situation was only temporary. Surely in a few weeks I would be gone. But those weeks turned into months, and those months turned into a permanent position being offered, which I never took. It in turn forced me leave for my next temporary assignment. And the cycle continues.
Feeling invisible, a life of deception, self-esteem at its lowest. Was this a demise of my own making? If I could only learn to love my new lot in life. Unfortunately, that pesky thing called hope won’t let well enough alone. I continue to apply to jobs within the career that I love. Every time the phone rings, every email I get, every job interview, I think it could be the one that changes everything. But I’ll also add that I am mentally and emotionally exhausted from the pursuit. The PhantomX is fading. The soul of who I was... who I think I really am is disappearing.
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