Salute to Spouses Blog

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Please, Read my Cover Letter

This week I took a few minutes to check out the local job boards. The industry I am in is evolving and positions are opening up in unlikely places. My career path is one that can be massaged into several different industries under different titles. I live in a relative hot bed of activity for upscale, edgy, integrative idealism so one never knows what folks are willing to try out.

Two positions are open and both would be a nice addition to my resume while I work my way through my master’s program. I am consolidating a career from several different avenues and both would be a good fit to my progress. Both are as local as they can be in a rural community, with longstanding organizations doing work similar to what I want to eventually do.

Now, it’s time to hone the most important document in the job search, the cover letter. It is especially important in my case since my resume reads like a disjointed hopscotch down the eastern seaboard with no theme or reason.

I have begun to see the themes in my sling-shot, pin-ball career path that took me from lighting design to chef, veterinary assistant to volunteer and now herbalist and nutritionist. What did I learn and take forward into each iteration of myself? What strengths did I discover and what weaknesses were uncovered? Is there anything I have done that I really am not good at?

My first career was lighting designer, which I did professionally for almost 15 years. I learned the importance of leaning on the strengths of each member of a design team. I had the necessity of brevity and organization hammered into me on national tours. I learned that all the bad coffee in the world really can power a 28-foot truck through the Wisconsin winter snow to ensure a fulfilled contract and promised pay day. I learned that Unions don’t always suck.

My leap to the culinary world might seem jarring, but in a cover letter I have an opportunity to explain how it happened. I also have the chance to emphasize the continuity of team work and interdependence on strengths of each team member. A kitchen is nothing more than theater with live fire, sharp blades, and a menu for a script. My time there fostered in me a deep compassion for my staff and developed a sense of the necessity of hierarchy, a difference after the years working toward team equality.

The hardest chunk of time for me to explain are the years spent following my sailor husband on his journey in the Navy. I find it hard to maintain a focus on what I was doing on a professional and volunteer basis, and what I was learning informally. Those years are fundamental to where I am now, but elusive to summarize neatly.

I spent the first part of those years working for an animal shelter as a vet assistant. It might seem like a fill-the-time-as-a-dependent kind of position. As I learned, it is one that takes a whole different strength and compassion that I would never have developed without having been given the chance.

The world of shelter veterinary medicine is not one for the faint of heart, by any stretch of the imagination. Animal shelters are some of the hardest places I have ever been to. My soul was ripped open and shattered so many times, then gently and softly rebuilt with the tiniest of nudges from a furry friend or by the tears of a co-worker at the end of the day. Yet the lines in my resume read like I spent three years trimming nails and shooting vaccines.

How does one fully communicate the magnitude of being the New Mother’s Liaison for the Ombudsman staff for an aircraft carrier during an extended deployment to a potential civilian employer? Among our 5,000 sailors there are 157 new babies born or adopted in nine months including three sets of twins, two preemies, three lost pregnancies, two surprise pregnancies, six adoptions, one pregnant, deployed sailor who didn’t know she was pregnant until five months into the deployment, and my own first daughter?

Did I mention several of the mamas chose to weather the deployment at home – far from all military connections? It was like being the doula for a herd of flying monkeys with a wicked Starbucks/Target habit.

It is hard to parse the dramatic change my life took upon the birth of my second daughter with her rare genetic condition. Her entrance into the world opened doors into a universe I had no idea existed. It changed the wind in my sails and set a completely new course for me. But how to put that professionally?

Those early motherhood years are a struggle for any mama returning to the professional world. There is no accepted convention for, “I took ten years to raise these awesome amazing creatures and I experienced more in those years than I could ever have anywhere else” on a resume. Because let’s face it, the experience of raising children changes a person’s perspective about a whole lotta things from bodily habits to interpersonal sandbox interactions. Moving back into the workforce should have allowances for that growth and conventions for dealing with it at this point.

Ideas that were merely theoretical like access versus inclusion and the insanity that is intensive insurance involvement in care were daily battles. Inter-diagnosis special needs mommy wars became a reality. The cause of a spontaneous genetic mutation drove me to hound doctors to print all the latest research on tangents they hadn’t connected to because I was a mama on a mission. How my very language changed as I learned not only the proper medical jargon but also more compassionate advocacy.

Growing children demand education and with all of the other pieces of our lives, homeschool fit best. So I stepped up to be a founding member of a homeschool cooperative. The experience of creating educational programs with like-minded but equally strong-willed parents to benefit the greater good of our developing children has been one of dramatic successes and abysmal failures.  It rekindled my love of teaching and reminded me that I really appreciate a well-rounded team to explode open small ideas, yet having a proper board meeting with minutes is important to the process too.

This time lead directly to my formal studies in herbal and nutritional medicine, my current path and master’s studies. The underpinnings of my work with teams developing cohesive well thought out complete programs - now using the tools of nutrition, traditional herbal medicine, a deep understanding of physiology, are the focus of my future career in integrative team based medicine. My fear about these letters are that I will overstate myself and end up being overqualified, when I really just want the chance to learn more.

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