“Change is constant.”
I feel the truth of this adage more and more every day these days.
When I reflect upon where I was a year ago in my life – both internally and externally — where I am now was nowhere remotely on the horizon. And now that I think about it as I’m writing this, there’s something super cool about that; like looking at the weaving of a cloth and seeing an order and aesthetic emerge from all those loose threads coming together.
A year ago I was enjoying a weekend writing workshop down in Scotts Valley.
A year ago I was unhappy in my work, feeling burned out after 22 years as an independent stenographic court reporter.
A year ago, I had no clue what would happen in the ensuing months.
Then in October, through a lead I received at another writing workshop and subsequent inquiry on my part, I connected with a startup company that was utilizing cloud technology for legal videography (the videotaping of legal depositions) and training legal videographers. I was intrigued by the prospect of being trained as a legal videographer, so I sent the company my resume. To make a longer story shorter, when the CEO of the company saw that I was a California CSR (Certified Shorthand Reporter), he offered me a different role. I learned the company was about to enter and try to disrupt the legal transcription industry; basically replacing CSRs using digital reporters, the cloud, and voice recognition/speech-to-text technology.
I had mixed feelings. I was feeling jaded and cynical about the court reporting industry in its current state (about which I have written and been published in the L.A. Daily Journal and posted on FB previously; namely, a critical CSR shortage nationally and flat pay for two decades), and I knew that – change being constant – someone would eventually come along and utilize 21st century technology to aggressively try to disrupt the court reporting industry.
A tall order.
But I said yes, for two reasons. One, I would rather take a ride on a yacht and see where it was going than stay on what felt like a heavy, sinking ship. Two, if things didn’t work out (as I was told often happens with startups), I could always quit and go back to what I had been doing for 22 years.
In other words, I had a back door.
And I was ready for the change and the challenge.
Before I started with the company in November, I had no idea what I was walking into, nor what exactly I was being hired specifically to do.
In a nutshell, here’s what happened and what I learned once I started:
- I learned that the CEO unilaterally decided to hire me without having consulted with anyone else whose opinion would have been important regarding my hiring.
- They told me I could make up my own title. How fun. I came up with “Director of Digital Reporting,” though my actual role really had nothing to do with reporting at all. In hindsight, a more appropriate title would have been “Director of Scoping Services” (a scopist is the editor and sometimes proofreader of rough transcripts). Essentially I recruited, trained, and assigned scopists to jobs; arguably the most thankless job in the entire process.
- I worked entirely virtually. I only met one co-worker once when she was in Oakland within days of my starting with the company. I never met the 11 others (including the CEO) with whom I conference-called ten times per week.
- Knowing of my interest in writing, the CEO dispatched me to write LinkedIn articles and social media posts about the issues and challenges facing the court reporting industry and to promote the company. While I enjoyed this role at first, I eventually began to not believe in the crap I was writing.
- I learned the CEO had a fantastic disregard for the integrity of a legal record and had no clue about the subtleties, nuances, and culture of the legal industry when it came to court reporting. Some things just cannot be translated to the digital world.
- I was once again reminded how misunderstood and disrespected stenographic court reporters are in this world, probably because it is a silent, service-oriented, predominantly female industry. As the months progressed, the CEO increasingly disparaged stenographic court reporters on conference calls, and I became increasingly offended by many of his comments. He went so far as to blame inaccessibility to legal services squarely and solely on court reporting fees.
- I learned how willing the CEO was to distort the truth to make a sale.
- When I began with the company, I saw myself as an ambassador of the industry, bridging the old with the new. Within a few short months, I realized I was an unwilling mascot for the CEO’s agenda.
Then at the end of February of this year, 3-1/2 months into my joining the startup, my 86-year-old mom who lived alone had a bad fall in her home of almost 60 years. She sustained a moderate concussion that led to her sudden and unanticipated transition into a senior living community in March (for some backstory on this, see my previous post).
The one-two punch of a sketchy startup job and my mother’s fall – amidst daily nightmarish headlines and a growing sense of despair — led me into a sort of “dark night of the soul.”
It was a time of deep reflection and soul-searching; a time of both grief and resolve. As a single, child-free, middle-aged, healthy woman living in a rent-controlled Oakland apartment I have occupied for almost ten years, I soon realized I could live my life differently if I chose to.
And it was then that I made a choice.
One day in April I happened to receive an email from the San Francisco Zen Center announcing their “Donor Day.” Donor Day is a day of thanks to the SF Zen Center’s donors, offering hiking, biking, and yoga at their beautiful Green Gulch location near Muir Beach. I have had various involvements and participation with the SF Zen Center over the past 15 years, including guest practice stays at their Green Gulch and Tassajara locations as well as attending zazen (sitting meditation) and exhibiting my art at their SF location on Page Street in March 2016. I immediately made my donation, looking forward to attending Donor Day.
The day after a beautiful hike around the Headlands above Green Gulch with many wonderful people from the Zen Center on Donor Day, I was hit by a strong impulse to check the SFZC’s website for possible apprenticeships they offered.
And sure enough, they did.
Everything felt right about Green Gulch for me. I needed and wanted to change my life in more ways than one; not only for my sake, but for others. I desired a deeper spiritual practice (afforded by sitting zazen), a community, work where I would be of service, and immersion in nature, a respite from urban intensity, stress, and isolation.
I applied for a four-month kitchen apprenticeship which required a two-week guest practice stay, offering guests the experience of daily zazen, life, and work of Green Gulch. I asked for a start date in September, which they graciously obliged.
Two days after my last day with the startup, I was at Green Gulch.
I’ve just completed my two-week stay this past weekend and am very happily poised to begin a four-month guest services apprenticeship on Sunday, October 6, living at Green Gulch (while maintaining my Oakland apartment for my days off).
And I look forward to sharing some of my experiences there with you along the way.
As I reflect once again on where I was a year ago, I am amused, heartened, grateful, and inspired by the surprises that life offers, by the adventure that is life.
If we choose to live it.