Using What You Know

How adaptable are you? Can you figure out how to expand, repurpose, and adapt your skills? Are you curious? These traits can help you find a way to use what you already know to create your next career. Bunnie leveraged her ability to build relationships and her past experiences, within and outside the workplace to create a career she loves.

Her first job was a little unusual:

I was asked to test the elongation of wire and had to write it down on a sheet. I absolutely loved it. I could wear jeans or shorts. That was unthinkable in a workplace back in 1968. We made all different types of alloy. I would have to check the elongation, or how long before the wire broke. I also did payroll, copies, etc. I absolutely loved it. I stayed until that October and I quit the job because my sister in law needed help with their first-born. I would pass ADP en route, and I would tell my mother, I’m going to work there someday.

She did come back to the company to work in ADP, processing payrolls. Then, her father accepted a job in Germany and she decided to join her family. Although she spoke very little German, she convinced a local company to hire her:

I decided I wanted a job and I said I didn’t know how to get a job. So we put an ad in the paper and got an interview with Berlin Life Insurance Company, Berlinischer Lebensverisgurng.

My German was very poor. I knew “Hello,” “Good-bye” and I knew the numbers up to 10. I had German friends that spoke English so they would translate for me when we were out. Herr Heinen had very bad English. Herr Heinen called up a programmer, Freddy Handloser, who translated for the two of us. Herr Heinen asked him how old I was and where I lived, and where I lived in the United States and if I had working papers. And everything was, Yes, Yes, Yes. And he said, Well, how are you going to communicate with your co-workers? And I told Freddy, I am here to work, not here to talk. He thought that was the greatest thing ever and hired me on the spot.

When she returned to the US, she continued in data entry until she stopped working to be home with her daughter. A combination of volunteer and part-time work broadened her interpersonal skill set:

There was an opening in our daughters school in the cafeteria as a lunch aid, so I did that instead. It actually worked out better as I knew what was going on at school. I was off when the school was closed so didn’t have to concern myself with a sitter. It was 2 hours a day. I was also Room mother, VP of our PTA, later became President, and involved with our Church. When she was in 8th grade, they finally opened the Middle School. I was involved with PTA, and Room mother. Being a Room mother, the teachers always wanted me to go on the class trips; the faculty knew I could handle the boys. The boys knew my rules – 3 chances, they were out. But they loved me. I felt so bad when we actually moved. One kid showed up at our door. Every Halloween he came to our house. And I always made him hot chocolate.

I was in the library, or the library book fair, the regular fair. Plus, I was very involved in church, then I started dancing. I did the Mommy & Me with our daughter, which I also considered exercise. We were both in recitals and she danced for 14 years. I danced, I don’t know, probably 5 years altogether. So I really didn’t have time for jobs. So the other job just worked out perfect.

Then we moved to Georgia in 1992. I was involved within the week, joining Newcomer’s Club. I volunteered to be the Crafts Chairperson. They came here once a week and we did crafts. It was really just socializing. And then we started at everybody’s house a different week. And then we started the lunch group and everybody would bring their favorite food. Then the following year I became Vice President of the club.

My duties consisted of going to different restaurants or country clubs, meeting with the restaurant managers and then choosing for the year where we ate once a month. At one of the country clubs the manager asked me if I would like to waitress. I explained to him I had never waitressed but I helped at my daughter’s girlfriend’s mother’s restaurant for 3 months. So I worked in a country club for a little bit there. Then I had to quit. They wanted me to work more hours and it was conflicting with our daughter’s activities. I left there and got a job at Pike’s Nursery. That was seasonal. Loved it though; I got to learn about plants and soil conditions in Georgia. I then went to JC Penney and I was there a year and a half.

When she returned to work, she was able to combine her computer knowledge with her interpersonal skills:

I started at Digital as a contract worker. I talked to the [service] engineers and I absolutely loved the job. They would call in when they completed the job. Our Department would input the hours, what they did, and parts, when they finished the job, they would have a start-time and an end-time that you had to input. Working with them, sometimes you got the same people over and over. I worked there 4 and a half years, so I pretty much knew everybody.

Her mother had a serious fall, and Bunnie stopped working to take care of her:

The following year, I’m trying to get hold of my mother and expecting a call at work, and she wasn’t picking up.  By Sunday I still can’t get a hold of her. And now I’m starting to panic. I finally found a number for the neighbor. I’m going to have him go over there and see what’s going on. And the neighbor calls back; my mom had fallen down the steps and lay there for 2 ½ days. She was still alive and that was the end of me working. I left Compaq to go up north and start emptying out her house. I was up there for 6 weeks and by March we had to fly her down here. She was never able to walk again. So I oversaw her care in a nursing home environment.

This started a seven-year process of learning everything there is to know about caring for the elderly. Bunnie was a regular fixture at the facility and took on as much of her mother’s care as she could. She asked questions. She learned about the health care system. After her mother’s death, she was ready to go back to work, but the data entry field wasn’t looking good, so she made a bold move:

I tried the data entry route. No, you haven’t worked in 7 years. No one would ever call back.

Q. It had changed so much?

I don’t think so. However you input it, it’s data entry. If you’re doing Customer Service on a computer, it’s the same. No one would talk to me–and my age, too. By then I was 58-59. I saw an ad in the paper. They were looking for caregivers. And I said, well, let me just call up. Either they want me or they don’t want me. So I went to the interview and they saw my background, you know, caring for mom all those years. And they hired me. And the lady I was with was absolutely wonderful. I was with her for 3 years.

We spoke about how her early experiences contributed to her success in this new field:

My Mom always helped someone, and I was always dragged along, helping the sick. Yeah, I just didn’t think of it that way, but yeah. My neighbor up in Connecticut, she had hip replacement surgery. Her kids were out in California, so I was the one, when she had her surgery, brought her home. Brought her for doctor’s appointments. Cooked for her that first week. Figured out how to get food from her kitchen to where she would eat and watch TV or whatever. I finally made her an apron so she could put her food in containers and get it into the living room to eat.

And then  a friend from PTO got the news of ovarian cancer. So, I helped care for her. And then I had another old neighbor, and I would take her grocery shopping every Friday, you know, bring in the groceries, and yacking, or whatever. Went to Denny’s for breakfast, too. And I was taking her to see her husband in the hospital when he had a heart attack. So, yes I did caregiving but didn’t think of it that way.

Why is this new career perfect for Bunnie?

I just find my job so rewarding. It’s giving back for the loss of mom. I’ve always felt that way. I like helping, I guess. I just, you know, when Jen was little, I always had her friends over. We had a normal home life where some of these kids didn’t, or the siblings were creeps. So they’d hang out at our house. We always had her friends over. Even when Jen was in high school, the kids always came here. Not everybody has the knack for it. I’m very calm, cool and collected. The bosses give me carte blanche.

If you’re thinking about what’s next for you, don’t be limited by your resume. What else have you done? How could you use those skills?

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