As a nation, the United States of America this weekend celebrates “Labor.” Ironically, we celebrate work, but taking a day to do just the opposite – relax, take time away from whatever ‘labor’ claims so many of our waking hours.
While there may be some of you out there who jumped on a career track early in your adult life and ran that engine until it was time to take it back to the roundhouse, I suspect that’s not the usual story. It certainly wasn’t for me.
In this blog dedicated to exploring Love’s Lessons, pondering “work” brings back vivid memories of facing the tough reality that if Jay and I were committed to our dream of living together, such an arrangement meant the end of parental support.
To say that one cannot live on love alone is a cliché for a reason – it’s a bald truth. When I left St. Mary’s College to move to Chicago so that I could be married, I left behind food and shelter not just course work and studies. Maybe most importantly, I walked away from my job working in the college dining hall.
Looking for labor was the stand-out theme of Summer, 1964, for me. Ironically, my four-year stint in the college dining room didn’t at all prepare me to be an actual restaurant waitress nor did I have any ambition to throw myself into a field of endeavor that would certainly prove simply a stop-gap step.
As far back as I could remember, my life ambition had been to be a journalist. Advancing toward this goal, however, had resembled waves upon the shore, surging and receding. At age thirteen, I submitted a story to Catholic Girl magazine, which was accepted for publication. Early in my freshman year of high school, I interviewed a local journalist, who then became a supportive mentor for the rest of my high school year. Those years saw me spending hours working for the Munsonian, our high school newspaper. In my senior year, I served as editor of the Magician, our yearbook. The 1960 Magician won an All-American Award, one of only four yearbooks to do so that year.
I felt like I was on my way. But then the roadblocks started appearing. My family finances precluded my attending college except on full scholarship. None of the universities with prestige journalism programs were willing to offer me such an award. I did receive such a promise from St. Mary’s College at Notre Dame, Indiana. That determined my college choice.
And here’s where the frying pan hits the fire. SMC had no journalism program. In fact, their self-described mission declared that they were not a “career” college. Rather the school prided itself in educating young women in the liberal arts and sciences. The subtext here reads, “We are preparing young women to be wives for education, professional men.”
It would be three more years before Betty Frieden sparked the second wave of American feminism in the 20th century, but many young women were already banging their heads against glass ceilings without knowing why they felt so battered. I bent under its restrictions and majored in English Writing.
Flash forward to that summer of 1964 – even though I lacked a formal journalism education, I decided to go for a spot in my dream world. Advertised job openings remained elusive, and I knew no one in Chicago in the industry. I tried sales and gave it up within two weeks – having not earned a single commission. I did a stint of doing telephone surveys and kind of liked it, but it was hourly wage and dead end. I kept watching the want ads.
Then, miraculously The Wall Street Journal ran an ad for a Chicago area reporter in mid-July. I applied and they called me in for an interview. Over the moon with excitement, I carefully dressed as professionally as possible, given my wardrobe still remained a collage of leftovers from college. The interviewer, a young man with a nice smile, asked about my ambitions and seemed impressed by my enthusiasm and experience. They had liked my writing sample.
Then the bottom dropped out. “We’d like to offer you the position,” he said, “But I’m wondering what your living situation is.”
At twenty-two, I had never applied for a professional position before and St. Mary’s had no career counseling center. Naively, I explained I had moved to Chicago to be with my finance. We would be married soon, and I would be supporting us while he continued with law school.
The interviewers smile disappeared. “I’m afraid, then,” he said, “we cannot offer you this job after all.”
My insides had turned to Jell-O, but I managed, “Why. I don’t understand.”
“Well, we don’t pay women enough to support themselves. As a new female reporter your starting salary would be $350 a month. You couldn’t possibly support two people on that wage.”
I really wanted to argue, but nothing in my experience had given me the vocabulary to refute his argument. And the finality of his tone let me know that the interview was over.
He stood, reached out his hand, and said, “It’s been very nice meeting you.”
I don’t remember what I said, but I certainly hope I wasn’t polite.
“Your purpose in life is to find your purpose and give your whole heart and soul to it”