I don’t usually have much to say about my life during the month of November. It’s usually been a lackluster month, at least until Thanksgiving. But there are a couple of interesting things to note about early November that have occurred in my life in recent years.
Election Day 2000, Tuesday, November 7, was the day of my first interview with my last full-time employer, a nonprofit organization called AED (aka Academy for Educational Development). I wasn’t exactly euphoric about Gore’s prospects at beating W, but I was hopeful. I brought that sense of hope and optimism with me to my first interview. After a year and a half of working with a small civic education organization that didn’t care very much about education, I was ready for something more in line with my interests in helping others and a better fit for my talents as an educator and thinker. I was blown away by the ambiance of the organization. Its expensive artwork, spacious conference center and conference room, its professional, almost corporate style gave me confidence that I would be a better fit with them than with my employer at the time.
If I’d paid closer attention, I would’ve recognized two or three glaring signs that would’ve warned me against taking a job there. One was my eventual immediate supervisor, who seemed extremely nervous around me. At the time, I took it as him being a generally nervous man. Yet given how often he mentioned his two masters degrees during the interview process, I should have acknowledged that gnawing sense that was forming in the back of my mind. That my doctorate intimidated him. That he had serious qualms about hiring a thirty-year-old Black man with a doctorate and with career accomplishments that were nearly on par with his own. I should’ve recognized this, but didn’t.
I should’ve also known based on the number of indirect questions about it that I was overqualified for the position that I would eventually accept. I assumed that a program officer position was the same everywhere, whether working for AED or the Ford Foundation. That’s what happens when most of your job experience has been with government or in academia. My degree and my years of experience put me at a senior program officer position with the organization, but no one in HR bothered to put it in those direct terms. Given the low salaries of a full-time academic position, a job paying $50K seemed great by comparison.
Then there were the little things that I either didn’t ask or didn’t notice. Like the fact that each project within the organization had as part of their charge the heavy responsibility of sustaining itself. Projects came and went regularly at AED because there was little organizational support for sustainability. I never asked about it. Nor did I ask questions about travel expenses. AED didn’t and doesn’t provide corporate cards, and you have to risk your own credit to get one that’s business-related. I asked about benefits, but not about salary increases. I asked about organizational culture, but didn’t pick up on the fact that most staff of color worked in HR, accounting, facilities and contracts.
When I was offered the position on November 17, I probably should’ve said no. I wanted to do something wonderful, something that had symmetry with my educational background, my interests as an aspiring author and writer, something that would leave me inspired everyday. I wanted to have a job and career that was fulfilling. One of my graduate school mentors was a senior program officer and director of the Spencer Foundation’s Dissertation Fellowship Program at the time. I had the image of that kind of work and that kind of career trajectory when I said yes to my first job at AED. Boy was I wrong! Still, given the circumstances of my work prior to AED, I don’t think I had many options other than to say yes. I just should’ve left much sooner.
Tomorrow marks a year since I tendered my resignation letter to my last supervisor at AED. The letter cites all of the issues I sensed during my first interview in 2000. The lack of job and financial security as being part of an initiative whose money was about to run out. The knowledge that I was hired in a position that was beneath my actual level of experience and expertise. The fact that I had frequently used my own credit and money to pay for business-related travel and expenses. Despite all we face financially right now, it was a good decision for the long-term.
There are other November issues to remember related to money and carving out the best possible future, but those will have to wait.