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A Tale of Two Sisters Blog

We support, celebrate, and teach writers.

Diving Feet First into the Frying Pan 15 Years After Flunking Econ 101

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By Catherine

The entire time I worked in financial services, a nagging voice told me I didn’t belong. Before that, I’d been writing freelance, coaching someone writing a book, and teaching freshman composition at the local university.

After relocating, I had my hopes set on a full-time teaching job at the local community college because CC students are my absolute favorite. I interviewed with the college, and was informed that I could teach as many classes as I wanted as an adjunct but they, like the previous CC where I’d been teaching for the last 6 years in the old city, were cutting back on the number of actual teaching positions.

Of course they were. It’s way cheaper to pay adjuncts than to keep teachers on staff.

I did the math. Because the new location was in the South, adjunct pay was about two-thirds what I’d been making in the West. If I desired to earn $20,000 in a year without benefits, I could easily do it by teaching a hellacious five classes per semester, year-round.

My first thought: If you’re going to pay me so little, I might as well volunteer.

But that wasn’t an option. I had a car payment, a mortgage, and I needed health insurance (and this was before the Affordable Care Act, so good to me luck trying to get coverage--let alone affordable coverage--at three years out from a craniotomy).

What did I do? Well, I panicked a little bit. My other option after teaching was writing, and I was not finding any high-paying writing jobs in the classifieds.

Then I went back to my roots: I went to a temp agency that specialized in jobs with numbers: Accountemps.

Within a week, I had a 3-week temporary job as a broker’s assistant at UBS.

I would be working with Paul and Sue while their assistant was on a medical leave. Paul and Sue were a married broker team.

I was still writing, still editing, and still teaching, so when the doors to this new world opened up, I was thrilled. I was 36 years old and had no clue how the financial world worked, and felt somewhat “un-adult” because of this. Whenever I tried to read or learn how things worked, I plunged backwards to the true story that I had essentially flunked out of Econ 101 as an undergraduate.

As a sophomore, I could not get a passing grade on a test or quiz. I just couldn’t wrap my head around the material. When I finally went to un-enroll, only to discover that I was one day past the deadline. My first college F was staring me in the face.

I dashed to the counselors’ offices, and I was given a one-time exception: if I was willing to sign my name in blood on a document that said I would never enroll in Econ 101 again during my undergraduate tenure I could get a W (for withdrawal) on my transcript in place of an F.

I signed the document, and the story--I don’t get economics!--was set in stone.

Fast forward 15 years to this temp job and an opportunity to change that story. I knew I was good with numbers and I even found joy in spreadsheets. I was excited to step into financial services, even if only for a short time.

Within two days, Paul and Sue were professing their love to me. I reminded them of their previous assistant, Linda, who apparently walked on water and had left only when her boyfriend had taken a job out of state. Paul and Sue had been limping along with a rotating series of dispassionate, unmotivated assistants.

And then I showed up!

My first day was Thursday. At the end of the day Friday, Paul wrote me a check, my first bonus, $300 for a job well done the previous two days, and asked me to promise to return on Monday. I did.

The following Friday, he wrote me another $300 check, and asked me to promise to return on Tuesday, after the three-day July 4th weekend. I did.

By the third week, rumor was that the their assistant was going to extend her medical leave and that she was terribly threatened by the phenom temp (ha!) that Paul and Sue now had and wanted to keep.

Within days, conversations between the operations manager and Accountemps were swirling about how to keep me on as a regular employee. By the last day of my temp assignment, I was transitioned to a full-hire, effective in three months per the terms of the temp agency’s policies.

And with that, flunking Econ became a distant memory. Actually, that was the beginning of me trying to make it a joke: “Ha! I’m an English major! Can you believe I’m working for a brokerage firm?!”

In hindsight, I know I was desperately trying to rewrite my story, but it wasn’t easy.

©2019 Catherine M. Greenspan


Catherine is on a 100-day journey with money as she participates in Leisa Peterson’sMindful Millionaire course, in which Leisa helps people “create a life of abundance and financial freedom."