Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Back to Work?

Oil on Canvas

I don’t talk about my day job here very often, because, well, you never know who is going to stumble upon your blog. But even though this blog is pretty much about art, I do in fact have a job that has been responsible for funding my art habit thus far. Since having Aspen, I’ve been sorting through what to do with my day job so that I could be the mom I want to be and still have time to paint. My maternity leave is up this week, so after pretending I didn’t have a job for twelve weeks, I was forced to make a decision.

I graduated from college in 2000 with a degree in Chemical Engineering. After graduation, Nate and I got married and moved down to Houston since we both had job offers there. I worked for ExxonMobil right out of college, and my job essentially entailed creating computer programs to optimize the amount of money that the chemical plant would make on a given day, depending on the purchase price of different kinds of oil, and the selling price of various chemical byproducts. Exciting, eh? I spent all day every day working to fill the pockets of one of the richest companies in the world – not exactly the most fulfilling job in the world!

I was so miserable that I picked up oil painting to give me something that I could be passionate about outside of work, and after two years I decided that Houston just wasn’t for me. I spent a few months searching for jobs in Denver, Nate got his company to agree to transfer him, and we moved back to Colorado in 2002.

When I interviewed for jobs in Denver, I interviewed with my current boss under the assumption that I would be hired to work in the oil and gas industry. As luck would have it, when I finally hired on, I got put to work in a different division of the company working on air pollution control systems for the power industry.

For the past four years, I’ve spent my time designing emissions control systems for power plants and oil companies, and doing comparative cost estimates for different emerging control technologies. I’m not in love with engineering, but as far as engineering jobs go, it was right up my alley. I’m a bit of a tree-hugger at heart, and I liked being involved in the effort to keep our air clean.

I did well enough at my day job that I had a lead position on my last project, and was moving up the corporate ladder. Problem was, I wanted to to have a family, and moving up the corporate ladder in an engineering job isn’t really conducive to the type of family role that I wanted to have. When I got pregnant, I knew I was going to have to step down in responsibility, or quit my job for things to work. Before I went on leave, I told my boss that I would only be returning part time.

Today I went to lunch with my boss and project manager, and told them honestly that I just can’t see myself putting Aspen in daycare this year, so I won’t be returning to the office. The thing is, I’m hesitant to quit my job completely at this point after building up some expertise in my area, so it was a tough conversation to have. After a bit of discussion, we agreed that I can switch my status as an employee such that I’m still on the payroll, but don’t get benefits or have an office. If there’s any work that comes up on an occasional basis that I can do from home, I’ll do it on an hourly basis. Otherwise, if I don’t do anything for months, no big deal.

I think it’s a good solution, as I’ll be able to keep my foot in the door and keep up to date in my area, but I’ll be able to stay at home with Aspen and work on kicking my art career into gear. When I do work, the paycheck will be a welcome financial bonus, but when I don’t I can focus on my art.

This morning I figured I’d be quitting my job, but now this is where things stand. Guess I’ll just have to see how it goes!


  1. I work part-time at Wells Fargo. it works well for me--one week off every month to travel and paint full time. Is working part-time an option?

  2. That's totally awesome though -- they obviously really value you in order to come up with a workable solution with you. I'm glad for you; I think it's a great plan and it'll really work out well.

  3. This sounds like a good compromise. I always thought I'd continue to work after I had children. Until I saw my little baby's face and realized that there was no chance I would be handing him over to a daycare. So we changed our finances around a bit and I became a full time mom. Best thing I ever did!

  4. First of all I think your painting is a real treat for the eye again! It shows up big in Bloglines and I am, as always, glad is does!

    Read your story and felt there was something not a 100% clear to me. If the friction was only between taking care of Aspen and the job I suspect things could be a little easier. Aspen will grow and since you like the job you would probably think good about keeping your seat warm at the working place.
    Your story doesn't say anything about telling your bosses about painting plans. I wonder what the part of these plans is in your decisions.
    I thought that your post title illustrated this to me: "Back to work?". Since this blog is about painting I am not perfectly sure what you mean by "work" here :-)

    So it sounds to me as if this is a good solution, for now anyway. It leaves everything open.

  5. Ed - working part-time is an option (and what I thought I'd do initially) , but I don't want to put my newbron in daycare, so we decided working from home would be better!

    Tracy - I totally agree. I couldn't hand her over to daycare, especially for a job I'm not all that passionate about.

    Bart - You're right, I didn't say much about my painting plans. My painting career is actually at the top of my reasons for not returning to my job, along with my daughter. The people I work for know I paint and know my work sells, so they also know it's a factor - they've been asking me for months if I'm planning to quit work to become an artist.

  6. Sounds like you have a great boss - just like mine. Being from Canada I am on maternity leave for a year - which is fantastic - i wish it was available n the States as well because I couldn't imagine being back to work already. I'm glad things are working out in your favor! :)

  7. yay, i'm glad it worked out - sounds like the perfect arrangement!

  8. Seems like you are finding your way to the Arts just alright!
    Nice to meet you by the way, take care!

  9. If you can paint such serene, still waters your mind must have the same peaceful state i reckon.

    I find it funny that your were responsible for optimizing the profit of one company and then responsible for the cost they have to make for the environment, .... maybe you can make a deal between those two, .... ;-)