To start this new column off, I thought I better be willing to answer the same questions I’m posing to the amazing women who have already agreed to talk about A Woman’s Work. I tried really hard to answer the questions as though I were being asked by someone else and I hope that’s clear in my responses. Interviewing yourself is hard, you guys.
Matt asked me the other day what the point of this column is, and it’s a good question. My hope is that in writing about the work women do, I can showcase the many, many roles that women fill, I can tell the stories of women who do some really cool and important things — whether those jobs are high-profile and glamorous or down-to-earth and close to home — and I can maybe offer inspiration to any woman looking for it.
So without further ado…A Woman’s Work, with Jessica Rushing. That’s me.
1) What is your job?
In addition to writing here, I work as the Communications Director at the national non-profit The Officer Down Memorial Page. ODMP is the largest law enforcement memorial in the United States, honoring the more than 22,000 law enforcement officers who have died in the line of duty in U.S. history. My role is to manage all aspects of ODMP’s communications, from social media to blog posts to outgoing emails to website content to donor letters to coordinating internal and external fundraising events to writing product descriptions for merchandise we sell in our online store. We are a small organization, so everyone who works with ODMP kind of picks up tasks and roles as they come along. I’ve been with ODMP for two years now and I truly love my job.
2) How did you wind up in that job — was it something you always wanted to do, was it a career change, or something else entirely?
ODMP is an organization I feel really strongly about supporting; when I was in high school, my aunt’s brother, who was a Massachusetts State Trooper, was murdered in the line of duty and that event had a huge impact on me at age fifteen. In early 2015, I had been working as a freelance writer for a while doing product descriptions and web content for clients here and there. Matt’s cousin has worked with ODMP for years as a graphic designer, and when the Director of ODMP started talking about needing a social media/communications manager, she recommended me. When I heard about the position, I was pretty set on working for the organization and was so honored and excited when I got the job.
3) What other jobs have you done in the past? What was the path that brought you where you are now?
I graduated from college in May of 2001 and got a job working for a PR firm in Boston. My first day of work was September 10th, 2001. My second day of work was 9/11. In the aftermath of that tragedy, advertising and PR firms took a huge financial hit–understandably so–and by early November of 2001, I was laid off.
Before that even happened though, I knew that I was going to change my career trajectory — within a week of 9/11, I had started researching enlisting in the military and talking to recruiters. I enlisted in the Army as a reservist on December 7, 2001. I went to Basic and AIT in 2002, then went to the Defense Language Institute in January of 2003 to study Russian. While I was there, I met Matt, got married, and got pregnant with my first child. I took a medical discharge from the Army in 2004 just before Bridget was born. When Matt got out of the Army in 2005 and we moved to Virginia, I began working as a Defense Analyst for a government contracting firm outside D.C., first full-time, then part-time after Owen, my third child, was born.
After we had our fourth child, though, and my paycheck barely covered the cost of day care, it made more sense for me to stop working. I struggled with being a stay at home mom, so I started a small business teaching mommy-and-me yoga classes. I did that for a few years, but when Quinn outgrew the class, I closed down the business. Then I started working freelance as a copywriter/editor. And then I got the job with ODMP.
All along, though, I’ve been writing too. Although I would never have called myself a writer until probably pretty recently, I have been writing my whole life. It’s sort of how I figure things out, how I process my feelings, how I interpret the world. So writing this blog has become a form of self-care where I get to talk about my kids and my life and stuff that matters to me in a way that lets me really be honest. Plus I love that I have this record of what our little family has been doing for the past few years. Without it, I would probably forget half of what happened.
4) What do you love about your job?
I love that my job is flexible and allows me to both work from home and work from anywhere — when I interviewed for the position, I told my boss that there was a distinct possibility that we would be moving to Europe within the year. He said that as long as they had WiFi where we moved, it wouldn’t matter. That willingness to have me work from anywhere was huge — it lifted a massive potential burden right from the start. I have complete control over my schedule, too, which means that I can plan work around travel, which we do a LOT now, and around the kids’ events. It gives me the freedom to be a good mother and have a fun life while still doing work I really care about.
I also love that my job is so varied; I listed the things I am responsible for above, but that list changes all the time. As I said, because we’re such a small organization, everyone who works with ODMP sort of takes on tasks as they come up. I really love the people who I work with. My boss is very cool and laidback. He started this organization while he was still in college and has made it into a national memorial. Plus I work with Matt’s cousin, who I love, and get to talk to her all the time.
Most of all, though, I love that the work I’m doing makes a difference. There are thousands of people who visit ODMP every day either because they lost a loved one to a line of duty death, or they want to support a good cause, or they work in law enforcement and line of duty deaths is a topic that really hits home for them. To know that my work matters to those people, makes a difference for those people, is fulfilling in a way that not many jobs are.
5) Have you faced any challenges/struggles to get where you are today?
When I stopped working when Quinn was born, I struggled mightily with my own self-perception for literally years. “Stay at home mom” did not fit in to my self-identity and I had a lot of trouble reconciling the role I was living with the ideas I had in my head; it was just really difficult to adapt to a new way of life and a new way of seeing myself. I felt really frustrated for a long time; after years and years of working outside my home and feeling at the end of the day like I had “accomplished something”, it took a lot of effort to adjust my expectations. I felt like I spent every day in constant motion, taking care of my kids, cleaning up the house, cooking and food shopping and running errands, playing games and reading books and being a mom, but at the end of each day I felt like there was nothing really to show for it.
I loved that I was home with my kids and I truly enjoy spending time with them and being a completely hands-on parent 24/7. But it took a lot of time to get to a place where I was also happy with myself. Matt always tried to help me and support me and I know he appreciates what I do/did as the person mainly in charge of running the household, but I had to get to a place where I was okay with that being my main role too. That took some work.
In truth, I think where I am now is a pretty ideal situation. I have a job I love that allows me to also be present for my kids pretty much constantly. I also have time to write, which I’ve realized is a necessity for me. And I get to travel and live this cool adventure while still working in a role that I feel makes a difference and has a positive effect on the world. I can’t ask for much more.
6) Has having children changed your perspective on work?
Becoming a mother is, without question, hands down, the best thing I ever did. Having children changed my perspective on EVERYTHING. Had I not had kids, I think I would happily have been a career woman. Being a “working woman” is part of my self-identity, so I could see myself pretty easily having taken that track. But having had kids, I can now see how they’ve made me a better person all around, and that being a mother has also made me a better worker.
I am smarter about organization and time management because having four children forces you to figure that stuff out. I am more aware of the massive struggle that most mothers face when it comes to choosing how to work and balance parenting. In fact, I think that if the U.S. could just get better at making it easier for women to work AND have kids, the whole country would reap the benefits. And I am more attentive to the fact that whatever job I do must be something that matters to me; I don’t want to waste my precious time on a job that I don’t care about.
Having kids also makes me aware that the example I’m setting will shape my children’s views on women and work for their whole lives. I need to be a role model for my daughter so she knows that she can do anything she puts her mind to, and I need to be a role model for my sons so they grow up to be the kind of men who, like their dad, know that women can and should do anything. I have to show them how it’s done so they can go out and do it.
7) What advice or inspiration can you give to other women — about anything — jobs, work, family, parenting, life in general — what do you want other women to know?
First, figure out what you love and what matters most to you and make that what you do, whether you build a career around it or a hobby around it, find something you love and make sure you do it as often as possible.
Second, know you can have it all, you just can’t have it all at once.
And third, travel — seeing new places and new ways of doing things opens you up to new possibilities in every part of your life.
And that’s it, you guys. What do you think? What else do you want to know?
If you know someone I should interview for this column, please send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. I promise it’s easy and fun!