Friday, June 9, 2017

Finding Work in Denver

When I decided to move back home to America, I didn't think it would work out. I wanted it to work out, and I hoped with all my might that it would, but I did not think that it was possible--I felt that I was doomed. Going home with buckets of debt and not much professional experience other than teaching in Korea, I felt that I would not be able to find a job that would pay enough for me to survive, let alone begin paying down my student debt. Everything seemed too big to conquer, and impossible to overcome. Think positively, they say. Work hard and pull yourself up by the bootstraps. Everything will work out in the end if you want it badly enough. But what if you do work hard and nobody is hiring, or you're not in the right place at the right time, or you can't find an apartment with access to public transportation?

With everything that could go wrong on my mind, I had no choice but to try. Despite every doubt that I had, I knew that this was what I wanted, and I had to do everything possible to make it happen. I had lived in Korea long enough; it was time to go home. I was lucky enough to have found love in Seoul and even luckier to be moving home with my partner. There is a good chance that I would not have been able to make it had I not been able to share expenses. Rent prices in Denver are outrageous and splitting the cost of an apartment between two makes a world of difference.

I started applying for jobs in December of 2015. I finished my first application in the early hours of the morning after a night out. It was for a job at a library, and I am a library school drop out due to the fact that I couldn't afford to stay in school. I didn't get that job, but I did discover the website for government employment. I applied to job after job after job. For the next few months in Korea, and then a few more months at home, I churned out applications as though my life depended on it. I kept it going after I got my first two jobs in America, and then I got two better jobs. From December 2015 to March 2017, I applied for something like 150 jobs.

Before I talk about how I went about finding a job, I want to say that it is hard. There are so many factors stacked against us. Even for those of us who were fortunate enough to go to university, it is not guaranteed that we will find a job. Jobs are won by hard work, but also by luck, circumstance, knowing the right people, being in the right place at the right time, and a million other tiny factors. I wholeheartedly disagree with the rhetoric that if people just worked harder, they'd be able to make something of their lives. I have heard this talk many times--if you just work hard, you'll make it. Does this mean that anyone who doesn't "make it" hasn't worked hard? Does this take into account the real mental and physical effects of poverty? Does this way of thinking account for how hard life has been for some and how many advantages there have been for others? I don't think it does.

I grew up in a lower-income family and have worked my way into the very beginnings of the middle class. I deserve the job I have now. I've worked incredibly hard for it. But I was also in the right place at the right time. Does that mean that someone who may never be able to work their way out of the lower class just didn't try hard enough? Did they not want it enough? No. When everything is stacked against you, and your daily life is weighted with financial insecurity or the stress of a life of poverty, making that extra effort can be impossible. You might not have the energy or the time to take night classes when you work a grueling and thankless job, or when you're working two jobs just to get by. You might not have the gas money or even the car to make it to interviews. Maybe you didn't have dental insurance growing up, and the people who interview you don't want to hire someone with missing teeth because of societal prejudice. It is just not as simple as merely pulling yourself up by the bootstraps.

Many lower-income people work just as hard, if not harder, than many people in the middle or upper-middle classes. When you have a good financial foundation and a fulfilling job, life is much easier. When you have had a lifetime of adequate healthcare, healthy food, and a stable home environment, you are likely to do well even if you make some mistakes along the way. Your recovery will be possible. When you have grown up knowing professors, doctors, lawyers, engineers, and other professions as real people, you can easily see becoming one of those people yourself. When your parents are able to help you out here and there with life expenses, you are more likely to be able to focus on what you need to do to become successful. You don't carry the constant weight of knowing that if you fail, that's it. If you don't succeed, that's your last chance.

This isn't to say that people from the middle and upper-middle classes have not worked hard for their positions and to maintain their lives, they have just had privileges that have made their hard work fruitful. We should take this into account when we judge others and feel that they haven't worked as hard as us just because they weren't able to make it to where we are. I could have easily been one of the ones who wasn't able to find a job, yet I had the luck to go to university, gain experience living and working in a foreign country, find a partner to share expenses with, move to a booming city, and get an administrative job in a situation where I could learn and progress. It hasn't been easy. Knowing that I have no financial safety net is a stress that I carry with me always. However, now that I am in a more secure financial position than I have been in the past, I am working hard to keep it that way, and I hope that someday I can help others to do the same.

The job hunt is a beast waiting to devour you. It will consume you slowly, bit by bit. Lurking around every dark corner are its greatest weapons--self-doubt and fear of failure. I have found that only action will aid in your survival. There are many things that you can do to fend off this vile creature--learn a skill, research careers, talk to people, read articles, edit your resume, get in touch with referees, create a master job history document, write a variety of cover letters, and anything else that will move you forward inch by inch. The most important thing: apply for jobs.

From December to when I left Korea in March, I had no luck with the job search. It seemed as though nobody wanted to do a Skype interview. Nobody wanted to hire someone who wasn't there. I guess they thought that they must meet in person. I can understand this, but I don't think it's necessary in a culture that communicates a great deal via technology. People move around from state to state and from country to country. They're missing out on good candidates when they don't consider this, yet they probably had more than enough candidates to choose from who were actually in Denver, so they didn't even need to consider me. It was very disheartening. I knew that I needed a job in Denver as soon as possible to make my severance pay and retirement funds from Korea last while getting set up in a new city and country.

While I was still staying with my sister in Portland, I got my first interview offer. I wrote back and asked if it was okay if we did the interview over Skype, as I was still in Portland after moving home from South Korea. It was for a job as a receptionist at a children's dance studio. It would be a great start. I worked in a special education preschool in the US and taught in Korea for seven years. I knew that I would be great at this job, and it sounded like fun. However, I never heard back from them after that email. I suppose it might be even more important to meet someone in person when you're hiring them to work with children, but at that point I would have been in Denver in less than a month. I sighed and huffed and puffed until I felt the beast breathing down my neck, telling me I'd never get another interview again, and then I got back to work.

The days passed; I enjoyed spending time with my family and the awe that I still had for my home country. I kept looking and looking for jobs. Pretty soon I was on a plane to Chicago to meet Brian before driving down to Denver. We didn't apply to many jobs while in Chicago. We were enjoying our time together after not seeing each other for over a month. I couldn't go an entire week without applying for a job, though. It was in my blood by that time. I still sometimes find myself thinking that I need to apply for jobs. It's a hard habit to shake when your survival once depended on it. I applied for a job, and I got a Skype interview while we were staying at our rental. It was a little far from Denver by public transportation, and it wasn't full time, but it was my first real interview in America. It was for a supervisory position for an after school study program. I thought I did alright in the interview, but it wasn't my best interview ever. I didn't get the job, but it was really for the best as I would have had an incredibly long commute by public transportation. Although I felt that this was true, it was still disappointing to be turned down.

We left our rental on a Thursday morning, and stayed one more night in Chicago with Brian's parents. We left Chicago on Friday morning, and we got to Denver on Saturday night. After we finished packing up, I found the website for the Museum of Contemporary Art Denver and applied for one more job as a cafe associate. I originally did not want to work in food service, as I had worked in food service for several years before. At that point, though, I realized that I needed to widen my search and take any job that I could get. Working at an art museum would also be an amazing start to a new city. After having no luck in the job search up to that point, I sent in my resume and forgot all about it. I was definitely not holding my breath waiting to hear back from them. I started to assume that I just wouldn't get jobs and thought about how I might have to move back in with my parents.

Driving to Denver was exciting for me since I hadn't been to that part of the country before. I enjoyed the cornfields and farmland on the way. We were excited and scared, and I was focused more on just getting there and finding our housing than on the job hunt. I still had funds to live on, so I knew I could take a few deep breaths before letting the beast catch up to me. After being in Denver for one whole day and two nights, I got an email from MCA Denver asking for an interview. I couldn't believe it. I was actually shocked. It's at this point that the sequence of events gets a bit muddled for me. It might have been a day later when I got another interview for a childcare program with Parks and Recreation. I somehow ended up having the childcare interview first. I was beyond nervous and had incredible anxiety as we ate dinner at a cool restaurant that I should have been able to enjoy. I actually said that I did not want to have an interview. Reality was too much for me. But I went to the interview, and I got the job. Shortly thereafter, I got the job at MCA Denver.

Working at an art museum really was a great experience. I met some great people there and had great times with them. I worked as a bartender and cafe server. We had live music events, an art opening, a wedding, and more. This job saved me by providing me with the funds and the confidence that I needed to survive. The job at the recreation center didn't provide as many hours and took a long time to get to by public transportation, which is why I ended up taking my third job. I was having lunch with Brian when I got a call for an interview for an administrative position at Community Planning and Development. I nearly turned down the interview, because I had it in my head that I must stay at both of my current jobs for at least a year in order to show that I am dedicated and hardworking.

Thankfully, while I was saying no, I realized what I was turning down and changed my mind. I took the interview, and I got the job. I worked at the MCA and CPD for a few months until I quit my job at the art museum due to being thoroughly worn out. I had been working six days and 52 hours a week. That might not seem like much to some, but I was also walking to work, and the cafe had been very busy for awhile. Although it was incredibly fun and I miss it, I was glad to have a chance to relax. Eight months went by and a better position that was also full time opened up at CPD. I got the job, and this is where I am currently employed.

After months of thinking that I may not be able to survive in Denver, I am now on my way to thriving. That beast, the job hunt, lurks in the shadows waiting for my job not to be renewed and for its chance to pounce. This time, I am totally ready for it. I think of it now more as a motivational coach ready to push me into action. There's a fortune that I've saved on my refrigerator that says, "Chance favors those in motion." Although nothing is guaranteed to work out, even if we pull ourselves up by the bootstraps and eat the leather to survive, this has become a motto of mine, and I don't plan to ever stop moving.


  1. This is an amazing post. I think it would do many people good to read it! Especially with you on the topic of: "Does this mean that anyone who doesn't "make it" hasn't worked hard?" Something almost everyone I know would disagree with me on but I do fully believe that this class inequality is REAL and people have to fight every day and work so hard, just to be treated differently than a white, middle to upper class person.
    I remember applying to jobs in Seattle during the "great recession" and I am still scarred by this experience. To this day, it makes me nervous to sit at home during the day on a weekday, like I should be applying to jobs or something!

    1. Thanks, Cynthia! That must have been a hard time to be in Seattle! What job did you end up getting?

      I'm thinking about starting a "life planning" blog series. I can't stop thinking about THE FUTURE, so maybe if I write about goals and plans, it'll help me to sort out my thoughts and not dwell on it so much. One of my favorite things in Korea was meeting up with friends at a cafe for life planning sessions. We mainly talked, but sometimes we got things done.


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