For the first installment of our Week in the Life of a Working Woman series (based on our CorporetteMoms series featuring working moms), I’m happy to introduce Corporette reader Grace, who lives in a Midwestern city and works as an assistant director of a government agency. Our usual caveat applies: Please remember that this is is a real person who has feelings and isn’t gaining anything from this, unlike your usual friendly (soul-deadened, thick-skinned, cold-hearted, money-grubbing) blogger — so please be kind with any comments. Thank you! — Kat
First, Some Basics About This Working Woman…
Location: Midwestern city
Job: Assistant director of a government agency
What’s your general situation?
I’m an administrator lucky enough to live walking distance from my job. I’m in a happy, poly/open marriage and tend to casually date on the side. After work on non-date nights, I’m usually cooking vegetarian food, watching sports on TV, and reading voraciously in all genres.
How many hours a week do you usually work? [multiple choice]
35–42 hours a week
How is the work-life balance in your industry in general? What are common ways of juggling responsibilities that you see your colleagues and coworkers doing?
It’s not too bad in the industry most of the time, unless there’s a crisis. And at my level, schedules can be pretty flexible. I feel balanced!
Describe 1) your typical outfit for work and 2) a work outfit that you really loved.
Almost every day, I wear black, gray, or plaid (black/gray!) pants and a jacket in a print or bright color. Tops are usually black or white or may coordinate with a specific jacket. And I’m never without a necklace, either a statement piece or, rarely, something more delicate. I live in black Clarks flats, and I wear knee-high pantyhose with them. As far as an outfit I loved, I manage to wear a dress to work about twice a year, when I force myself to don pantyhose (not a job requirement but I don’t like the way my legs look without them). My favorite is a green/yellow asymmetrical knee-ish-length one with long sleeves. I may even put on one-inch block heels with it!
What have the past 3–6 months looked like for you? What’s the 30-foot view in terms of work travel, weddings, concerts, and other special events or noteworthy things?
I moved to a new city and started a new job in winter 2018, so that was the biggest upheaval! (I was feeling super stressed and burnt out in my old job.) I have a huge loft apartment in downtown of a major city now, which I love, and I’m nearer to family than I used to be so feel more connected.
We asked Grace if she feels that she has to hide the fact of her open marriage at work to avoid any judgment or ignorance from coworkers:
Yes, more ignorance than judgment, I think. I am out to one person here (that probably happened since I wrote the piece), but it’s more that people won’t understand, will think it’s cheating when it is the exact opposite, will associate it unfairly with sexual promiscuity (not that there’s anything wrong with that, but not something I want to talk about at work), etc. I feel like if I could really explain to everybody what poly is, they’d get it, but I don’t want to have that conversation over and over again….
A Week in My Life
I wake up around 10:00 a.m. — sleeping in on weekends is a bliss-creator in my life. My stomach was upset the night before, so I just have toast with butter and strawberry jam for breakfast just in case. I check the interwebs, take the quickest possible shower, and generally kill time until it’s time to leave for my cousin’s wife’s baby shower in the suburbs. My aunt had said I didn’t need to bring a thing, but at the last minute she realized she needed a lemon, a jar of Crystal Light lemonade, and a couple of bottles of cheap champagne. I stop at the grocery store and arrive at the party before 1:00. I hang out with my relatives and some new friends, eat some pasta and salad and cake, and head home.
The local sports team is in the playoffs and I catch the last few minutes of the game on the radio (we won). I make it home at 6:00 in time to watch another game on TV but pause for my nightly FaceTime date with my husband at 6:30 — he’s in the city we moved from, prepping our house for sale. Dinner during the game is a big salad with CSA lettuce, scallions, cilantro, sunflower seeds, and my own creamy lemon dressing.
I do a few little tasks I take care of every Sunday: making iced tea and pouring it into transportable bottles for the week ahead; sorting out my pills (anxiety, depression, PCOS, breast cancer, multivitamin, and calcium) into a daily pill organizer for the week; feeding ice cubes to the orchid. I set out my clothes for the next day: pants, jacket, blouse, bra, fake boob (I am post-mastectomy and pre-reconstruction), panties, knee-high stockings, necklace. Before bed, I complete an assignment in my jealousy workbook — I’m trying to work through some feelings about my husband’s girlfriend. We are open/poly and it’s awesome but not always easy. I have a vodka & soda and get to bed by 11:00, pretty early for me.
Alarm goes off at 8:15 (I am not a morning person.) I get dressed, moisturize, brush teeth, comb & fluff hair, take pills, dust on some face powder — I don’t do much makeup during the week unless I have to hide a zit. I toast and butter a couple of Kodiak chocolate waffles and wrap them in a paper towel to take to work along with the fresh iced tea and some CSA strawberries. I turn the thermostat from 72 to 78 since no one will be home during the day, and then drive the half-mile to work and park my car in the garage.
9:00 a.m. I arrive at work, eat breakfast (the waffles, iced tea/sparkling water combo, string cheese, and berries; I keep the tea, water, and cheese in my office mini-fridge). I read Ask a Manager, catch up on email and with colleagues.
10:30 a.m. I leave for one of our neighborhood service agencies to meet with a couple of alderwomen about the potential of adding a social worker at one of our sites. They have funding and that’s what I need! Then I meet with a staff member who’s covering for two vacancies at once in addition to doing her own job. She’s doing great and I reassure her.
12:30 p.m. I head out for lunch. Since I’m in a part of town I don’t normally work in, I try the local diner, which is disappointing; my cheese omelet is good but the hash browns are ridiculously greasy and I’m not somebody who shies away from a little oil. The iced tea is overbrewed and the toast is gummy.
2:00 p.m. Back at work, I catch up on Ask a Manager and take care of more administrivia. I arrange for a mild prank to be played on my boss when he returns from vacation; it involves photoshopping a government vehicle into a bunch of pictures of inappropriate destinations like casinos. I get some paperwork done.
6:00 p.m. I walk home from work, leaving my car in the garage. I remember the fresh pico de gallo in the fridge and that I don’t have any tortilla chips, so I stop in at the Mexican restaurant for a bag of theirs — it’s a huge bag for $1.15!
I have a 6:30 FaceTime date with my husband, but at the last minute he realizes he has to get the dog’s medicine from the pharmacy before they close at 7:00, so we skip it. I jump in the shower and then for dinner I reheat some Thai carrot soup I made the week before, enjoy the salsa with chips, and finish off the CSA strawberries. I watch the basketball game and chat via text with a friend-with-benefits and his wife. I have plans to watch the first video that’s part of Layla Saad‘s anti-racism training, but the game goes into overtime and I procrastinate instead. Then I do a logic grid puzzle and watch a little bad TV before going to bed at midnight.
8:30 a.m. I’m having a really hard time getting out of bed for some reason, maybe because it’s dark and gloomy outside. I email my assistant and let her know I’ll be at work a bit late. I dress, toast waffles, and walk to work, which takes under 15 minutes even if I don’t rush. At the office, I start my day as usual with email and AAM.
10:00 a.m. I head over to our main customer center for a meeting with one of my direct reports and a manager that reports to her. We discuss what we’re going to do about the lack of work available for a particular group of staff and then get into our policy on client refunds.
11:30 a.m. Back at my office, I welcome back an admin who has been out for a week due to her father’s death. The weather alarm keeps going off — thunderstorm and flash flood warnings. I stay on top of these more closely than usual since my boss and my direct peer are both on vacation, and if we have to make any weather-related decisions, like closing a site, they’re all on me. I make the very popular decision to cancel both that day’s 2:00 p.m. operations meeting and the next day’s 10:00 a.m. leadership meeting; we had a ridiculous week last week and everybody appreciates the catchup time.
12:30 p.m. I head for my favorite restaurant in town for their amazing Little Gem salad, cup of kale-chickpea soup, and a still-warm chocolate chip cookie. This will be my longest lunch hour of the week since the restaurant is a few miles away and always has a wait. I return to the office a bit past 2:00 and really get to work; I schedule tasks for the remainder of the week, make notes for future meetings, review policy and copy and send approvals to the relevant people, have a couple of conversations about some vacant positions we’re trying to fill, and — my favorite — I come to the point where every email in my inbox is accounted for with a calendar entry in my Outlook (“review Nicole’s improvement ideas,” “figure out grant process for Nora,” etc.).
5:30 p.m. I leave the office. I would normally walk home on a Tuesday, but thunderstorms threaten, so I get in the car. I’m supposed to drop in at my waxer/threader for some face cleanup, but I can’t find parking in that block or any nearby and the sky is darkening, so I drive home instead and back my car into the ridiculously tiny and inaccessible spot reserved for me in the underground garage. I gather my mail (nothing interesting) and head upstairs to jump in the shower before the basketball game starts.
6:30 p.m. I call my husband, and he’s in the middle of feeding the dogs, but once that’s done we sit down to read The Hobbit together. We have been reading it over the phone/FaceTime since April 2018 and are almost done! Then I attempt to add brackets to the back of a TV so I can put it on a rolling stand — we don’t like to have the TV be furniture, so it’s always on wheels so we can tuck it away after use — but I don’t seem to have the right screws and I’m frustrated with the process so I stick the whole contraption and all the tools in my storage unit down the hall. I eventually get back to the basketball game, my team loses, and I read for a bit and go to bed around 11:30.
The morning routine is quite similar to the previous couple of days, though I do manage to get to work on time at 9:00 a.m. and, sadly, I’m out of strawberries. Ask a Manager begins my day as usual.
10:00 a.m. We have a leadership team meeting, where we go around the table and give updates, address issues, and ask for input on various projects. I’m about to begin a months-long, highly detailed change-management project, so I pass out a timeline and go over it line by line so that everybody understands what’s going to happen when. Most of it doesn’t directly affect the people in the room, but they do have minor roles, and in any case, I need their support since it’s such a departure from how we’ve handled these issues in the past. I get a lot of support from my colleagues and it makes me smile.
12:00 p.m. I head to lunch. Before eating, I drive to the high school that my mom graduated from in 1966; I have an appointment to visit their gift shop so I can get her a present, just a few days too late for Mother’s Day but I’ll be seeing her in early June so I’ll give it to her then. I got her a t-shirt and they were so cheap ($10!) I got one for myself too; for her partner, I picked out a pair of gloves with the school logo. I don’t have much time left to eat, so I stop at the nearest restaurant to my office: a quesadilla joint that’s not that tasty but is fast and cheap. I get the roasted-veggie quesadilla with lime-crema dipping sauce.
2:00 p.m. Back at the office, I steel myself for what’s to come: I have to fire a staff member today. The firee, Susan, is not my direct report, but the HR director and I are going to do the deed because Susan’s manager is out of town and her manager’s manager was the one Susan verbally abused last week, the reason for the firing. I decide what I’m going to say and run it past HR; we do the required paperwork and get our routine into place as far as who says what and the logistics of the aftermath: helping Susan collect her things, walking her out of the building, notifying staff and security of what happened, etc. We meet with Susan and it goes very poorly. She’s furious, throwing a tantrum, and I let security staff know that while she is allowed in the public building we work in, they shouldn’t let her disturb other staff at work or enter any staff areas. Tired and shaken, I return to my office and let my boss know how it went.
5:30 p.m. I pack up and head to my CSA pickup site. This week I got lettuce, collards, spinach, strawberries, bread, and asparagus, but I give the asparagus away because I am the only vegetarian on earth who can’t stand it. At home, I have a couple of much-needed cocktails and make popcorn for dinner because I just cannot any more with this day. I FaceTime my husband a bit later than usual and vent about the firing. By 8:00, it’s in the shower, watching some basketball, and BED by 11:00.
We asked Grace if cooking has been always been a hobby of hers — and wondered where she gets her recipes:
Yes, I’ve always been into cooking. When I was little, it was chocolate-chip cookies; as a teenager, it was tuna salad and perfecting the art of the grilled cheese; now I at least attempt to eat a balanced diet. I collect recipes and file them in binders, and I have a shelf full of cookbooks too. Until lately, I mostly used tried-and-true recipes from my family or things I’d picked up over the years (like the tortilla soup in the article; I’ve been making that since college), but now with my CSA share I’m having to look up recipes for vegetables I don’t have a ton of experience with, like various greens and exotic mushrooms.
8:15 a.m. Alarm goes off. I do the usual morning routine of waffles, iced tea, and string cheese, and I drive to work because I had to drive home last night so that I had my car to pick up the CSA share. (I often need my car during the day, so I generally leave it at work overnight so I can walk to and from the office.)
10:00 a.m. After Ask a Manager and dealing with overnight emails, first on my calendar is a meeting with my assistant. It’s our regular monthly check-in and is usually pretty short, but this time my boss (with whom I share the assistant) comes in to talk to her about not working over 40 hours a week since she’s hourly. She’s sweet and generous with her time, but we can’t let her work for free, so we explain that the federal government doesn’t care whether she’s intentionally donating the time or not — we just can’t have her work extra or else we have to pay her overtime, which is certainly not what she’s angling for but is also not in our budget. She takes this well, luckily; she’s a gem.
11:00 a.m. When we’re done, I go over the paperwork for some statewide awards for which we’re nominating staff. I’m a born copyeditor so I make some corrections to what managers have submitted and then approve them to be sent off, crossing my fingers that we win at least one of them. The winning staff would be delighted, the rest of the staff would be very pleased on their behalf, and we could even use it in agency publicity.
12:30 p.m. I head out for lunch. I’ve been craving the vegan chix tenders at a local soul food restaurant, so I go out there and have some of them with maple/mustard sauce and the fried cauliflower bites, which are just okay. Bizarrely, they don’t serve iced tea, so I have tap water. I stop at the dry cleaners on my way back to work and trade in this week’s bag for last week’s clean, pressed, on-hangers clothes; I have enough work jackets and pants that I only need to go once a week rather than as soon as the clothes are finished. In the afternoon, I commit administrivia for most of the rest of the day, then meet with my most junior direct report, a new administrator who sometimes struggles with what words to use when communicating change to her staff. Our meeting goes well, as it always does – she too is a gem.
6:00 p.m. I walk home from work and stop in at the tiny grocery store I always really want to patronize because they are on my way home, new in an area that has seen a lot of stores closing, and have organic produce — but nothing catches my eye and I go home empty-handed. I do stop at the newspaper machine outside my building and pick up the local alternative weekly.
6:00 p.m. Dinner is a simple green salad alongside tortilla soup I made over the weekend with the usual accoutrements: crushed tortilla chips, fresh mozzarella balls, cilantro, and a squeeze of lime juice.
6:30 p.m. My call with my husband is mostly us reading The Hobbit; we’re so close to finishing and we want to start Watership Down next. He never read that as a kid, so it will be different from The Hobbit which we both read over and over. I hope he likes it. After dinner and FaceTime is more basketball, a bit in the jealousy workbook, and logic puzzles, along with a couple of vodka sodas. Basketball gives way to old Facts of Life episodes, then to rereading part of a childhood series I loved, and I end up in bed about 11:30.
8:15 a.m. Alarm, walk to work.
9:00 a.m. Usual breakfast and Ask a Manager — the best way to start off my day. I catch up on email and a bit of paperwork, read a professional journal, and approve the week’s timecards from my direct reports. I have one-on-ones with two of my staff at 10:00 a.m. and 11:00 a.m. and we go over some personnel things like the promotion and pay raise we’re giving somebody, and talk about the transition of some responsibilities between teams.
1:00 p.m. For lunch, I’m at a restaurant again, this time for potstickers. I sit outside as it’s a gorgeous day and soak in the weather and the atmosphere as I read my book.
2:00 p.m. Back at work, I spend the entire afternoon going through the file cabinets of my predecessor; she’s the type who saved every handwritten note she ever took, and I sort an entire drawer into piles to be kept, recycled, shredded, offered to our historical archive, or handed off to my boss.
6:15 p.m. I leave in my car; I always drive home Friday nights so I have the car for the weekend.
6:30 p.m. I call my husband, who has injured his back and fears it’s another slipped disc. He had surgery a few years back to correct that so we are hoping like hell that’s not what’s going on this time. I advise him to take an anti-inflammatory and lie down on our giant, expensive-but-worth-it freezer ice pack. I have an Amy’s frozen Mexican dish for dinner, along with yet another salad — I am weary of lettuce but I have so much to use up from my CSA share. After that, hey, it’s Friday — I don’t have to go to bed until I damn well please! I end up drinking rather more vodka than I’d planned and watching bad TV while doing Sudoku until I finally stumble into bed at 1:00 a.m.
9:30 a.m. I wake up ravenous, so I make my amazing, spectacular, seriously-you-need-to-try-it egg salad. This involves hardboiled eggs I keep in the fridge, toasting almond slivers as well as the excellent sourdough bakery bread I stash in the freezer, chopping onion, etc. so it takes a bit. Between tasks I check on the preserved lemon I started a few weeks ago; it hasn’t been in the fridge for a month yet, but I’m curious, so I open up the jar and rinse off a piece of peel. Blech — it just tastes like salt, no matter how much I rinse. I stick the jar back in the fridge to cure for another week or two. I hope that works.
11:00 a.m. I head to the grocery store to stock up on my personal staples: sparkling water, teabags, onions, lemons, snack fruit, Tito’s, orange juice, and cereal. I remember to get the reusable bags out of my trunk because I have thoroughly trained myself to do this; whenever I used to forget, I’d make myself get out of line and go out to the car and fetch them, which was a real PITA, and this bit of behavioral training has really stuck.
12:30 p.m. By the time I get home I’m hungry again so I eat up a bowl of Raisin Bran with almond milk. I wrap some gifts for a friend’s kid’s birthday and then do some cooking; I have a big bunch of collard greens and a recipe for them that involves peanuts, so I spend some time separating leaves from stems, steaming the leaves (and realizing I need a new steamer basket as this one’s missing a leg), sautéing the greens, roasting peanuts, and then running the rolling pin over a Ziploc bag of them, and then throwing it all together with salt and pepper. It’s so delicious I eat every single leaf and vow to get more peanuts so I can make the same recipe again with next week’s CSA collards.
I spend the afternoon reading and doing laundry; there’s a free laundry room on every floor of my building so that’s pretty easy, though I set my phone timer so I make sure not to forget my stuff is in there and inadvertently piss off my neighbors.
Dinnertime arrives and I still have more leafy greens to deal with: spinach came in this week’s haul as well and I try a recipe with pine nuts and raisins, but it isn’t nearly as good. I try throwing it over some frozen cheese ravioli, but I haven’t tried this pasta company before and the cheese filling is too garlicky. I used to love garlic but developed an aversion to it during chemotherapy in 2018. I don’t feel well at all now — damn it. I had a date at 8:00 p.m. to go to a party with a woman I met last week, and now I’m ill in ways I don’t want to describe to my date or to the internet, frankly. I beg off the date, drink a lot of sparkling water, and go to bed by 9:00 p.m.
Thanks so much to Grace for sharing a bit of her life with us! Readers, what’s your biggest takeaway from her week of work as an assistant director of a government agency as well as her general work/life balance?