Today was a big day for me at work. Some people will probably consider me a bit silly after reading this, or stop reading altogether. But today meant something to me: I finally received my 5-year service pin at the annual employee recognition ceremony.
The funny thing is that I’ve worked at the same university for 8 years, not 5. When the recognition ceremony took place last year, I was convinced I would finally get my pin, and when I didn’t I was devastated. I started at the university about a year after graduating college, so the better part of my twenties were spent working at the same place. I mentioned that to someone recently and they laughed at me, thinking I was calling myself old. But that had nothing to do with it. It’s what I’ve done while I was there… if you count them all up, I’ve had nearly ten titles during my tenure. But it’s more than the titles, even. It’s what happened in my life and the lives of those around me, too.
In the time that I’ve worked at the university, my uncle was diagnosed with esophageal cancer and, four years later, passed away. My supervisor lost his thirteen year old son to cancer. My mother went through at least four major surgeries. My husband served two tours in Iraq, and later moved home from Hawaii. My “mom away from home” left the university and we have never spoken since. I began working on my Master’s and had a thesis advisor who opened my eyes to the kind of writer and person that I wanted to be; I earned my Master of Arts and was given the department award for writing for my class. I had two roommates leave, one of which I had to ask to move out and then had to call his parents because he became a shut in. One of my closest friends from college lost his sister. I spent several years working with one former coworker on his dissertation; he defended and earned his PhD. I negotiated the sale of a new car by myself. I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and learned that I have pre-cervical cancer cells. My husband lost both of his grandparents. My relationship with my father’s estranged brother was rekindled. My best friend from college got married, and a year later so did my best friend from high school. I lost my job because my department was dissolved, and three days later got married. And two months later I was rehired. We bought our house.
And through it all I have had the chance to work with some of the most amazing researchers, doctors, pharmacists, and entrepreneurs I’ve ever known. I had a boss who, when he left the university, I finally told: “You were one of the most difficult people to work for because you expected so much. And I learned more from you than anyone else. Thank you.” And I have met people at work that I now call friends.
Anyone who knows me knows fully well that most days the place I work drives me absolutely insane. But I have always done my job with passion and with dedication. So while a 5-year pin doesn’t mean much to some people, to me it is a reminder that the better part of my twenties weren’t wasted there. Sure, I lost my job. But someone there knew me enough, and knew how much I had done, that they wanted me back. That counts for something. But some of my most life defining moments happened while I was working there. And somewhere along the way, I grew up, grew wiser, and learned some things along the way. I became the person I am today.