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Reflective Writing in the Workplace

Nineteen years ago, I started a new job as the receptionist for a title company. By title, I mean title insurance, which is required for most real estate transactions. I was 23 years old and a newlywed. I had no idea what title insurance was or why consumers needed it, despite having just purchased our first home (a 1 bedroom, 750 square-foot condo) in which we had been issued a title policy of our very own. Title Insurance is provided to protect new homeowners and lenders from past property issues and errors which can legally (and expensively) affect properties. As I began to learn and experience what the title industry entailed, I found myself writing in new ways. I was more aware of how my writing would be received and understood. I had to reflect carefully about everything I wrote (including emails) by crafting words to communicate properly and effectively for the business I was engaged in.

I applied for the job so that my husband could quit his job and focus on school. We decided I would work full-time until he finished school and then I would go back to finish my own degree. I was tired of phone jobs and unpredictable schedules, so the Monday through Friday schedule with paid holidays seemed perfect. I planned to work there for four years; I had no idea that I would ultimately make a career out of it. I quickly moved from the receptionist position to assisting for one of the escrow officers named Shelli. In a title company, escrow officers drive the revenue, they are licensed through the state insurance department and are held to high standards of customer interaction (marketing real estate agents and mortgage loan officers), they are expected to use ethical business practices, and meet high-stress deadlines. They lean heavily on their assistants to keep their schedules moving. Becoming an assistant brought with it the added responsibility of keeping Shelli happy, along with the clients that we catered to. There were many times when reflective writing was needed and helpful during this phase in my career. I often wrote plans to improve my efficiency and accuracy and met with Shelli on a regular basis to set goals for our team. We would then reflect on the execution of those plans through written reports. We practiced a writing process (before I knew that existed) as we prepared marketing materials. We focused on who our audience was, we wrote with a purpose, and stayed within the conventions of the genre; then we checked our results through reflective review. Using this process of writing we became a successful pairing in the office.

My husband changed his major a couple of times so it took longer to finish school than we originally planned. After about five years at the title company I had an opportunity to become licensed as an Escrow Officer, but I wasn’t sure I wanted to do it. I had seen the frenzied pace at which these escrow officers worked (and I still wanted to finish my college degree). I used writing to weigh the pros and cons of the decision and reflected on my work experiences by reading journal entries from the past five years. Ultimately, I decided to get my escrow license and continue working to payoff the school-debt we had accrued for my husband’s degree. It was one of the wisest decisions I have ever made.

Just after I received my license and built up my own client roster, the Great Recession (as it would come to be called) hit the U.S. economy and my husband lost the first job he’d landed as a college graduate. The real estate market came to a screeching halt, and our company shrunk from 42 employees to 10, but because I was now a revenue-producing escrow officer, my job was secure. I was able to keep our family afloat over the next few years as we became parents and my husband bounced from one temporary job to the next until finally finding permanent employment. Once he settled into his position and my children started first grade, I finally decided to finish my degree.

Though it would have been nice to have completed school before my children were born and the daily requirements of life required a steady income, learning to write reflectively began, for me, in the work place. Now, nearly twenty years later I am still employed as an escrow officer for the same title company as I work toward completing a Masters degree in creative nonfiction (a discipline that calls for constant self-reflection). The reflective writing I do at work has taught me how to think carefully about the ways I plan, execute, and improve my business. It has helped me to continually review and revise the ways that I practice my responsibilities. Through reflection, I have become a better employee and a devoted and focused student.