A Zigzag Working Life

I graduated from college in 1971 with a bachelor’s degree in Psychology. Back in junior high school, a psychiatrist had helped me a great deal, so I decided that I wanted to be a psychologist when I grew up. Since you can’t do much with a bachelor’s degree, I applied to graduate schools to get a master’s in counseling psychology. I got accepted to exactly one school, the University of Minnesota, so that’s where I went.

Getting there was way less than half the fun (driving an old car that broke down on the way, by myself, knowing no one), but eventually I made it. I found a place to live not far from campus and started my studies. Little did I know that I had chosen the school described as a “Bastion of Behaviorism,” but it sure turned out to be. 

A part of our education was practicing real counseling, and being videotaped while doing so. I remember very well my review of my performance with the course instructor. Basically, she told me that I wasn’t really very good at this, and asked me if this was really what I wanted to do. Stubbornly, I told her that this was what I really wanted to do, so she just shrugged and passed me (barely).

So in 1973, with my newly-minted master’s degree in hand, I started looking for jobs. There weren’t any. No one was hiring, and many layoffs were happening. I decided I wanted to counsel college students, but those positions were very scarce. So, for the next few months, I worked for a temp agency, doing various clerical jobs, none of which had anything to do with my degree. I was living with my boyfriend at the time and in July we flew back to Seattle to get married. Then went back to Minneapolis, where he was working as a transformer winder and I was just working temp.

Well, we lived in Minneapolis until early 1974, when we decided that we’d rather be unemployed in Seattle than gainfully employed in Minnesota. So we packed up the cars, rented a U-Haul trailer for all our belongings, and caravanned home. I towed the 1960 Fiat 600 behind my 1962 Chevy II, and Larry towed the U-Haul behind his 1964 Dodge Dart. We were really happy to get home, away from the 20-below-zero winters and 98-degree summers. We found a little house to rent, then went looking for jobs.  

Larry found one right away, working for a transformer manufacturer. I didn’t. I volunteered at a crisis helpline to use my degree. That experience taught me that my grad school instructor had actually been right — I was not cut out to be a psychologist after all. So, I ended up getting a job as a pricing-clerk in the Pharmacy at Harborview Medical Center in downtown Seattle.

At that time, everything was done on paper, and my job was reading the little squares where the nurses registered all the medication doses, adding everything up, and computing the charges for the day. When I started, they had not had anyone in that position for a while, and there was a huge stack of paper. It took me about two weeks to get through the stack.

I had that job for about six months, and during that time I was able to observe the pharmacy technicians at their work and thought that would be a fun, interesting job to have. So I asked the manager if I could apply for the next tech opening that came up, and he said I could. The next position that opened up was not at Harborview, but at the U of Washington Hospital. I interviewed and got the job. I learned on the job and enjoyed the work. It involved preparing all kinds of injectable and oral medications, and delivering med carts to the various areas of the hospital.

I was pretty good at the job and thoroughly enjoyed working with the hospital pharmacists. I outgrew that job, and my next position was at Swedish Hospital on First Hill in Seattle. I worked there for about three years, and during that time I qualified, with the other techs at Swedish, for one of the first Pharmacy Assistant licenses granted in the State of Washington. The pharmacists ran a special course for all the techs, about medications and how they worked and were administered. By the end of my time at Swedish, I was the Lead IV Tech on the evening shift, preparing antibiotics, standard IVs, and Total Parenteral Nutrition for the patients.

My next, and final Pharmacy Assistant job was at Children’s Hospital. I worked there for five years, and was a Senior Pharmacy Assistant, preparing oral and IV medications in special doses for the kids. I mixed complex cancer chemotherapy infusions and kid-sized oral syringes of various liquid meds. I also got to substitute for the Pharmacy Purchasing tech while she was out on vacation and I really liked that.

I also decided I wanted to write a paper for the American Society of Hospital Pharmacists convention. I did write my paper, about the duties of a children’s hospital tech, and sent it in. And my paper was accepted! I was invited to prepare a poster presentation for the convention which was held in Atlanta, and I went to the convention. I had very sore feet after standing up all day, explaining my job to the pharmacists passing by. Out of that, I got two job offers! One was from the manager at the Stanford Hospital Pharmacy, and one was from the manager at what was then Rush-Presbyterian Hospital in Chicago. I really couldn’t take either one, since I was married and I’d have to move Hubby too.

Another thing I got out of that paper was becoming a published author.  My article was published in one of the first editions of the Journal of Pharmacy Technology, and I still have that issue.

That was my last job as a pharmacy tech because something else intruded. I decided to restart playing the violin, after not having played for 25 years. I found a teacher, and re-learned much of what I had known when I quit after the sixth grade! In the summer of 1986, I went to adult music camp, and my whole life changed. I had a great time and was recruited for two community orchestras. I got a whole new group of friends and new activities. But, the problem was, if I wanted to play in an orchestra, I had to have my evenings free. Which meant changing careers, since my job required rotating day and evening shifts. So, Hubby and I agreed that I could quit my tech job, and try to find something that was just days. He was now an engineer and earned enough to support us both while I figured out what I wanted to do with the rest of my life.

I decided to start trying to find a job as a traffic clerk, since I had done that during my college summers, so I had some experience. No luck, so I made myself a job. I found a man who was a transportation consultant and I visited him, asking if I could be his apprentice. I’d do his scut work and he’d teach me his business. Well, that worked out fairly well — his specialty was freight claims, and I helped him with that and learned all about freight billing.

I worked with him for about a year, then decided I really need to make some money. He helped me find a job as a traffic clerk for an office-furniture company. That job lasted about six months, and I quit when I got tired of being bullied by the manager. Next, I worked with an independent freight-damage consultant, accompanying him to various places to view damaged freight to help the consignees’ file claims. I took pictures and helped write reports.

One place we visited to view damaged freight was a company that made ultrasound equipment. This was early in the field, and the machines were pretty big. While there, I learned that they were looking for someone to work in their Stores department. I applied and got the job. In that position, I did Shipping and Receiving, as well as handling inventory. I actually liked Receiving, and was back and forth to the Purchasing department all day, nagging the buyers to get their POs entered so I could receive their parts. I had an interesting conversation with their senior buyer, and he told me about the Purchasing Management program at a local community college.

So, at age 37, I quit work and went back to school. At the community college, where I got some of the best education I’d ever had. I took three quarters of Accounting, two quarters of Economics (which I loved), and business math and computers. I made the President’s List for academic achievement, and through the evening purchasing class, got my first purchasing job. [I also joined NAPM, the Purchasing Managers Association, about which more later.]

That job was sole purchasing agent for a small electrical control-panel builder. They were a job shop, with each job requiring different materials. I learned a lot, especially how to wheedle parts out of my suppliers, even when they knew they might not get paid. That job lasted 10 months before the company went out of business (you know you’re in trouble when the first time you call to place an order, the supplier tells you that your company is on “credit hold”).

The end of that first job brought misery. I had gotten divorced and was living on my own. I could not apply for unemployment insurance since I only had ten months on the job, and my previous job was “school,” which didn’t count. I worked a succession of temp jobs to keep the funds coming in. I found one job that was entirely different; food buyer for a chain of pizza restaurants. The boss said “We are going to do great things,” but that job lasted even shorter, five months, and a bunch of us were all laid off at once.

Again, it was the rounds of the temp agencies, trying to find work to keep food on my table. I worked at an electrical contractor, a medical-supplies company, and a couple of other short-term places, but nothing stuck. I did qualify for some unemployment compensation, but it was precious little. I basically lived off my savings and was about at the end of my rope when I finally got a real job. I was the passive-components buyer for a contract electronics manufacturer, for three years, which was the start of my career in Purchasing.

In 1999, as a way to contribute to NAPM, I took over the Western Washington Business Survey when the previous manager retired, and I am still the Business Survey Chair, doing our local report every month. I love the Purchasing field, and my current job at an aerospace company is very fulfilling. I help make the company go, and I feel like a little bit of myself is in each of the aircraft into which are placed our equipment.

So my life has been: Master’s Degree in Counseling Psychology—>Pharmacy pricing clerk—->Pharmacy Assistant—->Freight claims apprentice—->Damaged freight inspector—->Stores Clerk—->community college student—->purchasing agent—->food buyer—->passive components buyer—->Aerospace circuit-card assembly buyer… When I go back to work tomorrow, I am hoping my Purchasing life is not done yet, even at age 70.

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