A Dee-lightful Change

Working at the nursing home wasn't the glamorous job I'd dreamed of. But it positively changed my life.

By Lacie Graf Hansen, Rancho Cucamonga, California

As appeared in

Sleek black trousers? Check. Teal silk blouse and patent-leather pumps? Double check.

I was dressed to the nines, but really didn’t know why. It was my first day at my first job out of college. I’d dreamed of a career in fashion, maybe as a style editor at a magazine—something thrilling and glamorous. But from the minute I settled in at my desk and looked around, I saw how far I was from that dream: gray walls, gray carpet, gray furniture. This was no glam gig. I was a receptionist at Rockwood Retirement Community in Spokane, Washington. What am I doing here? I’m way overdressed!

A few months before, I’d graduated from Gonzaga University with a degree in public relations and English—full of optimism, ready to conquer the world. That summer my wonderful boyfriend, Jeremy, asked me to marry him—a romantic surprise proposal with the promise of a Caribbean honeymoon. It felt like a fairy-tale beginning to my life in the real world. He had graduated with degrees in journalism and sports management, and now had a job he loved—selling tickets for his favorite minor-league hockey team. I was certain my big break in fashion was right around the corner.

July passed. August too. Still no job. No leads. Nothing. One morning, I buffed up my résumé for the umpteenth time and prayed, Please, God, I appreciate all the blessings you’ve given me, I really do. But can’t you lead me to my dream job too? By fall I’d gone from aiming for a job in fashion to scrounging the web and classifieds for a job, any job. I was trading in pencil skirts for pajama pants, confidence for self-doubt. Why wasn’t God listening? Why wasn’t he giving me an opportunity to shine?

The job market stayed bleak. In late September, I came across a listing on an online job site: “Receptionist needed at Rockwood Retirement Community. Greet and assist visitors and residents, operate the telephone system and direct callers to appropriate personnel.” Okay, it wasn’t a position at Vogue. But it was something and I needed a paycheck, so I applied. They offered me the job.

Now here I was on my first day, wondering what I had gotten myself into. A woman’s voice startled me. “Hello, who’s there?” she asked.

Right away my eyes lit on her elegant red-and-black silk scarf. Christian Dior, if I wasn’t mistaken. Now that’s a girl after my own heart, I thought.

“Hi, I’m Lacie, the new receptionist,” I said. “I absolutely adore your scarf. Can I help you with anything?”

“Thank you,” the woman said. “I was hoping you could read this card to me. I’m partially blind. By the way, my name’s Dee and I’m in apartment 712.”

“I would love to! It’s wonderful to meet you, Dee,” I said.

I read Dee’s card for her, and over the next few days we chatted more. Her life story was fascinating! She’d grown up in Minneapolis, then worked for 20 years as a flight attendant for American Airlines back when air travel was luxurious and glamorous. She married a man named Mel, a general manager for Kaiser Aluminum. His work took them to Ghana and, six years later, to Spokane when he got a job managing the 1974 World’s Fair. Mel died in 2003.

“I still miss him every day,” she said. I told her all about Jeremy, how romantic he was, and about my hopes for a career in fashion. One day I mentioned that I’d taken 15 years of dance classes and still found it to be a great stress reliever. “The time step is one of my favorites,” I said.

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I enjoyed this story very much--wishing your enthusiasm was contagious. I recently lost a job of 33 years duration and am feeling lost and scared a lot of the time, and carrying on in denial the rest, spending money that I may regret spending if I don't find another job. I still have one (they're both part-time jobs) but the two together were barely enough to keep things afloat--I've been too scared to do the math to see how bad my situation really is. Was told this morning about a part-time job as an assistant to the activity director of a small local nursing home, and encouraged to apply by friends, but I'm not sure it's what I'm cut out for---had been hoping for another library job, but nothing has come my way. Not that I've beaten all the bushes, but there's not been any under the bushes I have tried. Who am I kidding--I've been afraid to even try to hard, lest I discover there's really nothing at all out there.
Your article encourages me to try and keep trying, and gives me an example of how to pray.
Now, one request: if you haven't already, will you put a time step tutorial on Youtube? Please? (If one is there already, please steer me to it!--request number two--sorry!)