Vibing with Cat White
When I moved to Austin, TX in 2010, I had been without a steady job, benefits, and all of the other securities that steady employment offers, for over a year. As a victim of the Great Recession, jobs offering a livable wage were scarce and it would be another year in Austin before I landed the gig I’ve held for the past decade.
Just as working for the Star-Gazette had scratched the writing itch I’d had since childhood, working in government affairs satisfied my interest in politics and activism. Despite knowing nothing about Texas politics, I felt an affinity working for an organization that represented nurses as my grandmother, Helen White, had been a nurse, as was my younger sister, Liz.
News and politics have always been major influences in my life. I grew up in a family that watched the news every night and then talked about it afterward at the dinner table. I was raised and surrounded by innumerable strong, independent, intelligent, thoughtful women, and I am of mixed ethnicity, so interest in politics seemed inevitable.
While my early years at Texas Nurses Association were rocky - I went from being a reporter/columnist with a certain amount of independence and autonomy to an administrative assistant tasked with scheduling committee meetings, prepping materials of other people’s work and taking lunch orders. Not easy work, and definitely out of my comfort zone. But just as I had done when starting my job as a news assistant at the Star-Gazette, I learned so much from the talented people I worked with, whether support staff or the association’s leadership and member nurses.
I worked with seasoned supervisors, starting under the skilled leadership of Jim Willmann, JD, the lawyer who’d created and led TNA’s government affairs department for over three decades. Jim was a legend who had earned the respect, trust and admiration of the nurses he worked for and with during his tenure. I learned alot about the strategy and patience required to successfully navigate Texas politics in the five years I worked with him. I also worked with an array of talented, strong support staff, including Cheryl Kee, TNA’s receptionist for 29 years and the kindest, most optimistic person I’ve ever known. From the moment we met, when I interviewed for my position, until her last day, Cheryl greeted me as she did all the women in the office, with a smile and a sing-songy “Hello girlie-pie!”. She was always willing to help whomever asked her and she was an invaluable resource to our members. Nobody provided better customer service than Cheryl no matter what was going on with her personal life.
The past two years have included some of the most interesting and exciting moments of my life. I had gained so much knowledge about nursing issues in Texas, the needs of our members and the components of successful legislative advocacy, that I was able to confidently assist in the support and coordination of the most influential department of the organization, which included a month-long statewide event for nurses, normally held in Austin while the Legislature is in session. Although my department hadn’t had steady leadership in two years, our nurse legislative advocates thrived, gaining influence, increased grassroots legislative activity and visibility. They also helped create useful resources to empower their nurse peers to get politically engaged and improve and protect their profession through legislative advocacy. It was satisfying to now be leading meetings and creating content. I also took over as managing editor for the association’s monthly legislative newsletter Nursewatch, allowing me to exercise my creative muscles in a variety of ways.
I’m sure that working remotely, which we were lucky enough to do from March 2020 through April 2021, was one of the main reasons I was able to juggle the additional responsibilities without losing my mind. Removing the stress of rush hour commutes and unexpected interruptions from coworkers “just stopping by'' for a chat or quick question increased my productivity and ability to focus on what was needed to help our members succeed with outreach to their state representatives. Disruption of creative flow can be frustrating, and tempting, for a procrastinator like me. I can be easily distracted, which hasn’t always been great for my stress levels or work output. Surprisingly, even the frequent attempts of my furry coworkers to impede my focus, didn’t seem to negatively affect my job performance. Of course, they were also easier to lock in the bathroom when they became annoying. Something my human colleagues may not have appreciated had I attempted to do that to them.
I’ve learned so much over the last decade about political strategy and the importance of exercising the powers given to the people by the government to affect their lives, community, and work environment through legislative advocacy.
The pandemic, the recent racial injustices and violence taking place across the country, and the current toxic political atmosphere, all contributed to my decision to resign. Personal changes, like moving further away from my job, were also a factor. Most importantly, I recently reached a birthday milestone and decided that, if ever there was a good time for a change, it’s now.
Midlife crisis? Maybe. But it doesn’t feel like a crisis. After a year of increased focus on the importance of mental health well-being, it just feels like an opportunity to grow, learn something new and gain some peace of mind.
Similar to those headed off to school for a year of new learning and experiences, I’m excited to embark on a new adventure during another period of change in America’s labor history. I’m interested to see how businesses will evolve to better meet the needs of the American worker - the ones that keep the money flowing and this country running.
If there was ever a time to explore new options and learn new things, it feels like the moment is now. And, not just for me. As America has emerged from the pandemic, I’ve noticed several friends and family members changing jobs, moving to different states, etc., and I’m reminded of something NBC newscaster Brian Williams said after September 11th. I had interviewed him for a Star-Gazette profile in 2003 and had asked if he’d done anything different after being so close to that national tragedy, and he admitted to taking more of a “life’s too short” attitude that included buying a sports car after 9/11/01.
After more than a year of extreme mental, emotional and physical stress, I think it’s only natural that many of us are looking for a more meaningful and impactful existence.
May we all succeed in finding purpose and pleasure in life.
After all, what else is there?