Low points and grownup jobs

All I ever wanted in life was to be a writer. Literally. I can remember being a little girl and I never had dreams of a family, never cared much about getting married, and didn’t even consider where I’d like to live. The only thing I ever wanted was to be a writer.

Let me tell you about one of the lowest points of my life. I remember it vividly. I was 28, and had just gone back to university to finish my degree. I left a good job–I was manager of a growing chain store–and it was the closest to a “grownup job” I’d ever had. Leaving was a huge risk. I had a house and mortgage, and there was no guarantee that I’d be able to find any kind of comparable work after I finished university. I was about a month and a half in, and was doing pretty poorly. I was failing an entry-level required course, and was having a really hard time keeping up with such a full schedule. I was still working part-time at the same place as before and wasn’t quite making enough hours to get by. In short, I was stressed in every sense of the word.

For some reason, I decided I should go to a career fair being held at the university. It seemed like a good idea at the time. As I walked in, I gave my name and student ID, and looked around at the stalls, and then I was prIMG_6282omptly hit with the horrifying realization that it was actually a terrible idea. I knew before I set my first nervous footsteps into the area that I would find nothing that appealed to me there.
That shouldn’t be a problem, though, right? You’d think I’d be so firmly rooted in my life choices at this point that I’d have been chuckling to myself, recognizing my personal need for freedom and allowing myself the knowledge that a “grownup job” wasn’t for me. But, no. Old insecurities popped up and I suddenly felt like everyone was looking at me. I felt sick. And I wanted desperately to leave.

If only I’d thought this through! I tried to navigate a sea of people who were milling about, taking their time to savour the experience. Some were talking to potential employers and exchanging information. I just wanted to get out of there without being seen. Being stuck behind a large amount of people in a narrow pathway, though, only meant that I’d have to wait. I bit my lip as tears blinded me. I felt panic well up with a giant lump in my throat. And then, at last, there was a long stretch of pathway that led out of the room. I almost ran.

I grabbed my coat and walked right into the women’s bathroom, and I locked myself in a stall. I felt the world around me crumble into heavy sobs.

Why am I here? What’s my purpose? Do I have one? What good am I if I can’t even work so much as a desk job?

What is wrong with me?

All these thoughts and worse flooded my mind. I clenched my fists and leaned heavily on the stall door. I vaguely heard other students coming in and going into the other stalls, some waiting their turn. I didn’t care or pay any mind. I focused most of my energy on staying quiet. What’s worse than a panic attack in public? People asking you if you’re okay while you’re having a panic attack in public.

After about ten minutes of intense sobbing, I finally managed to put the world around me back together and I stepped back from the stall. I was okay for that moment in time, but I was wrecked for the rest of the day.

Many years later, I still feel like this. In fact, I got in touch with someone from many years back recently, and the words “grownup job” came up. I felt that all-too familiar sting, as someone who’s currently a part-time waitress. I started snarky inner dialogues. “Guess I missed that memo”, I said to myself. My self-deprecating side started to act up, telling me I was inferior in the job market yet again. Despite it all, I have no career, after all. I just drift between being a stay-at-home mom, a waitress, and a writer who can’t seem to get it together.

But, listen, it gets better: I am a writer. That was all I ever wanted, right? And who am I to listen to society’s ideas of what I should or shouldn’t do? When has that affected literally anything I’ve ever done? Also: who decided that working a job that is flexible for a busy schedule, or a job that doesn’t require any specialized training or schooling, or a job that people can get without too many qualifications means it isn’t a grownup job? Isn’t it grown up that I’m sucking it up and working my hardest at all? Isn’t it grown up that I show up every week, despite desperately wishing I could be with my family instead, and work my hardest to pay those bills? I think so.

Women are worth more than just being moms, and men are worth more than just being providers. We’re worth more than the sum of our parts. We are complex, unique human beings who are more than a dollar sign and more than our accomplishments. I didn’t walk away from that career fair with an idea of who I was or what I’d do, and haven’t set foot in a career fair since. I never truly have fit in anywhere and I expect that the only places I will fit are the ones I make for myself. And now, maybe I’ll accept that and concentrate more on making that space. I know I’m not alone.

We are more than our jobs. We’re our lofty, high-flying dreams, no matter how far-fetched. Maybe this wasn’t what 10-year old me, with my notebook filled with character names, thought being a writer would look like. For now, though, it suits me just fine.

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3 Comments

  1. <3

  2. There’s no such thing as a “grown-up job”, my dear Katie. There are only jobs. Some are fun and others are boring, They all have their high and low points. You know what I do for a living, yet were you aware that sometimes, I feel a right fraud for getting paid to do what makes me happiest?

    If you base the value of your job upon how it makes you feel, instead of its status, you’d have a far more accurate analysis. I hope that will give you something to consider the next time you feel that your choices aren’t “grown-up”.

  3. Bravo! That’s the spirit!!!! 🙂

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