My main question is: how do I keep going? I have 99 problems, I need to fix at least 95 of them but right now I can’t even seem to fix 1 so I am stuck. I’ve been actively job-hunting for over a year now. I know others have it worse, either through bad jobs or no jobs at all, but I just really need to move on. I can never get past the first interview though, if I’m lucky. I’ve even written to Ask a Manager (http://tinyurl.com/9fvsx3r and an update here: http://tinyurl.com/aavl7hb) but things have only gotten more frustrating and stupid at work. I’m in debt and trying to get out.
I moved back in with my parents last year to save money. I would like to get my own place again. Or get a job much closer to my parents’ house because the current commute is REALLY getting me down. I’ve been doing this commute for eight years now and, I can’t deal with it. It’s long, stressful, involves multiple modes of transportation, etc. I work for a university and theoretically, once you’re in their system, it’s fairly easy to job-hop. If I’ve applied for let’s say, 100 jobs in the past year, with my current employer, then I’ve gotten interviews for like, 8 of them. That’s not counting applications outside my current employer. I’m seriously wondering if I’ve been blacklisted but don’t know it (I’ve had three jobs with this employer and only one was an actual bad fit so my supervisor and I were both happy that I moved on). I feel like my life needs to undergo a serious change but I don’t know how. I’m turning 30 this summer and the thought that my life at near-40 will be the same as my life now…I can’t. Things could be so much worse but I’m sure it could all be better too.
I’ve had dreams of being a professional novelist all my life and I was a journalist for a while but let that go too but then I just feel like I squandered those freelance opportunities to stay with my current employer, because it was a full-time, steady paycheck, health benefits, etc. I’m trying to keep my head up but I just feel like something needs to give/change soon– an actual job offer, winning the lottery, a friend saying “Hey, I’m moving to the other side of the country and need a roommate/admin assistant?”, etc. I’m even wishing I would lose my job even though I know that wouldn’t help my current situation. In short, how do I just keep going?
Letter writer, you are going through a really hard thing. It’s hard enough to answer the big questions of “Why am I here? And what do I have to contribute? And what will people pay for me to contribute so I can make a living?” without having to live at home and have a hellish commute. There are a bunch of baby steps and small incremental changes you could make to make your situation better, covered in this old post about clawing your way out of a depressing living situation and in this post about how to keep moving forward when your brain hates you that I found today (good post!). I think a lot of people feel like you do right now and can relate to your situation. Some suggestions and questions for you below the jump.
Use the job you have now to build up your skills and resumé. Can you take classes in something through the University? Or online, via something like Lynda.com? Can you find something that is nominally related to your current position but expands your skills in a concrete way? Can you find something that will get you writing regularly again? Look for classes that give you good portfolio pieces or very specific skills.
Does your employer have a confidential Employee Assistance Program? Call the number and talk to someone – a counselor, a career coach. You need a sounding board.
What happened with the eight interviews? That’s not actually that bad a statistic, so you’re doing something right. Did you really apply for 100 jobs with your same employer? If HR filters resumes and decides who to put forward to specific postings, someone there might have noticed that you apply for basically everything and not be putting you forward. I think this year you should be more targeted in your job search within your university system, and only apply to departments where you know someone or really, really want to work and have an interest in what they do. Also, talk to HR if there is something you really want to do. “I am currently a ________, but I really want to be an ________. What concrete steps can I take to make sure that I am qualified and able to apply for _______ jobs?” Even if they can’t help you immediately, you will put it on their radar that you are looking for a specific type of gig.
Use your performance review (or give yourself a performance review) to figure out what you’re good at. Then figure out how that overlaps or doesn’t with what you want. Some kind of list of marketable skills/things you enjoy/things you don’t actually want to do will emerge and help you be more targeted in your job search.
Ask your parents & friends for specific help finding a specific kind of job. I know you’ve been looking, but have you asked people you know directly to help you with this? Buy people cups of coffee. Like their Facebook statuses and endorse them for skills on LinkedIn. Then look for positions at their companies that you might be suited for, and ask them directly for help. “________, I am trying to find an administrative job closer to home. Do you know anyone who is hiring?” Don’t worry about it being your dream job – look for proximity, comparable salary to what you make now, cool people. Solve the dream job thing later.
One thing to watch out for – When I was like you and quit everything and moved cities during a recession and tried to start anew, I had a hard time finding jobs because I could not fake anything. If people asked me what I wanted to do, or where I saw myself in 5 years, I could not hide the small panic attack that that question made me have, and people could tell I was not actually into what they were hiring me to do. Are you in the United States? If so, find a way to give a measured, reasonable answer to this question even if you don’t 100% (or even 50%) believe it. “I like being an administrative professional, but I really need to find something closer to my family to cut down on my commute. Plus the widgets you make are so interesting and this seems like a really great company to work for. What has been your favorite thing about working here?” You’re not lying if you don’t tell them all about your writing dreams or quarter-life crisis. They don’t get to own that secret part of you.
Decide that you will spend this year “In The Library.” I love this piece from The Bloggess, where she decided to rename the year 2013 as “The Library”:
In The Library you are safe. It smells of old books and worlds you’ve yet to explore. It smells of worlds you’ve loved that beckon you back. It smells of the bacon sandwich the guy in the corner has smuggled in while he devours words and food, not sure which is more filling.
In the library you are prepping.
Everything that happens in the library is just preparation for the next year. That means if you fuck something up this year it’s fine. This whole year is just practice. The library is made for that. Maybe you spend the year writing a book no one will ever read. Maybe you spend the year recuperating from last year. Maybe you burn the Thanksgiving turkey and forget an important birthday. It’s okay. It happened in The Library. It was just practice for next year. Maybe it’s insanity, or maybe it’s just me, but somehow I think we all need a year in The Library. A year where it’s safe to make mistakes. A year where it’s okay to have to escape and stare out the window without someone asking you when you’re going to get back to work and fix your life. A year where we all whisper quietly about our plans and our wishes and dreams and darkest fears. A year in The Library. A year of getting lost in dusty, forgotten corners, and a year of finding the want. (The want to leave. The want to play. The want to shrug off the dreams and walk out in the sunlight. The want to pounce on 2014 with glee and rapture.)
The Library opened yesterday. It closes 51.9 weeks from now.
Connect with people. I know that money is tight, and time is tight, but I think when you’re feeling stuck it’s good to find something that you do a) regularly b) outside your house c) that brings you in contact with other people. Board games/exercise class/working or internet surfing at a cafe instead of at home/volunteering once a month/catching up with friends/book club. Something besides your JOB and your DEBT and your FOLKS and your SCARY LOOMING FUTURE to look forward to and make your life right now, where you are, feel good.
WRITE. Now I am going to get a bit Cary Tennis on you.
You want to maybe be a writer? Well, plenty of writers had and continue to have day jobs. (More authors here). J.R.R. Tolkein was a professor, as is Audrey Niffenegger. J.K. Rowling wrote the first draft of Harry Potter & The Sorcerer’s Stone at her kitchen table, as a single mom of two kids. It was her way out of what felt like a dead-end situation. Octavia Butler worked a zillion different jobs to support herself while she wrote. P.D. James and Agatha Christie and Dorothy L. Sayers (civil service, nursing, advertising copywriter, respectively) all worked and wrote. (Thank you, Twitter!) Kafka called his day job literally his “Bread Job” (Brotberuf) and lamented that he had to toil as an insurance agent and only write at night. Kafka-esque!
A novel might be too big for you right now. A short story might be good. A magazine article might be good. A list of ideas for short stories or magazine articles might be good. Three pages of longhand in a notebook, written every day first thing in the morning Julia Cameron-style or on your long commute might be good. A secret Word document on your work computer that you work on 15 stolen minutes/day might be good. Our beloved Lieutentant Trans gives himself a 300 word daily goal. At three hundred words, he stops, like Hemingway, so that he knows for sure he will have something to write tomorrow. A blog or online journal or something secret like 750 words might be good.
Anything that gets you writing is good. It doesn’t have to be polished, professional, perfect content right now. It just has to be “shitty first drafts“. It just has to be out of your head and onto the page, where it can become plans for where you might live next and dreams for what you want to do.
Writing isn’t a thing that will happen some magical someday when you get enough free time and will have novels spring fully-formed from your head onto the best-seller list. Writing is work. But it doesn’t have to be tortured, painful work.
Maybe you won’t be a professional writer right way. Write anyway. Give yourself that outlet, and that joy of creating with something new. This blog was started on a whim over a half-baked idea I expressed over brunch. One of my friends Googled and found out the domain was free, so I registered it, and then I had to figure out what to do with it, and the answer was “Might as well write!” I’m not quitting my day job anytime soon, but writing here has changed my life and the way I think about my circumstances and my future career prospects. It has connected me to thousands of people in a way that I could not have imagined when I started. It has gotten me into a daily or weekly habit of writing, of showing up at a page and trying to say something to the world. You guys all show up and read now, but you do that because I kept writing even when no one was reading.
You can’t control the economy, you can’t control what employers will think, you can’t control your commute (right now, that will change soon I hope), or whether you win the lottery, but you can control whether you write a little something every day or every week.
Here endeth both the lesson and the Winter 2013 Pledge Drive. You can donate any time, obviously, so what’s mostly ending is the reminders tacked onto every post. Thanks so much to all of you kind and generous people who have given $ or awesome Swag suggestions.