I've been in jobs where I realized I was bribing myself with coffees I couldn't afford just to go into work with something warm and comforting...
--H, describing when it's time to move on
More often than not these days, the highlight of my workday is going to Fortino's, the grocery store in the unpleasant Lawrence Square Mall, and buying myself two sugar-free chocolates from their bulk foods section. Sometimes I get two mint-flavoured treats, and sometimes I mix it up: a peanut butter and a mint? Oh, Kaitlyn, you decadent scamp. I take the escalator upstairs, where I spend a minute in front of the cigar/magazine/pop stand's cooler—and I in a Fresca mood today, or do I want my old standby, Coke Zero? And what is "a Fresca mood," anyway?—before paying one dollar to the man behind the counter. Then, without any other reason to be in the unpleasant Lawrence Square Mall, I head back to work. The whole thing take about fifteen minutes, including crossing Lawrence Avenue's multiple lanes of irate/incompetent drivers. On my way there, I pass the unpleasant Lawrence Square Mall's lone bit of beauty: the front garden's luscious croton plants. On my way back, I look south, towards where I live.
I have no fairy godmother who has magically imbued me with the direction and drive to figure out where, and as what, I should be working. I have a real mother, who's convinced that I'm going to be a writer someday—as in someone who can pay the bills with words! The stuff of legend, I tell you. She sends me job postings to positions for which I am wildly unqualified, like the VP of communications, or a web writer/designer with an inside-out knowledge of Photoshop. Part of me loves it, though, because her faith in me is unflappable. When I tell her that I'm not even going to be considered for those roles, she shrugs. "You never know until you apply."
I'm smart. I'm capable. I'm organized like a motherfucker. I communicated well. I can see patterns. I can see long-term goals. And yet, I get stuck in these dead-eyed jobs in beige shoeboxes, watching the clock so I can go to Fortino's for my daily candy bribe. I feel like a polar bear in a zoo: there's so much potential to be truly awesome, but it's just not my natural habitat. Sometimes I lash out and try to eat a penguin/get drunk on a Tuesday night so at least my no-fun Wednesday workday has a reason; mostly, though, I'm just tracing one big furry paw through the pond water and dreaming about the Arctic.
When it comes to work, I'm passive by nature. I'm ferocious in other aspects of my life, but somehow, that doesn't show up in my nine-to-fives. Maybe this is because my first big-girl job experience was so terrible (abusive bosses, exploitative schedules, much personal anxiety), or maybe it's because I have two modes when it comes to authority: frozen and furious. I've only recently started standing up for myself at work—pointing out exactly where I'm going above and beyond in the office, and suggesting that that deserves a raise still feels dangerous and scary—but I still get bad gut-feels when there's any sort of work conflict. And I know that, and I feel helpless to change it.
One of the biggest lessons this job is teaching me is that I do not thrive under these circumstances, which are exactly the right intersection of pressure, tedium, and frustration to make me feel like that polar bear. Moreover, by staying here, I am choosing to not thrive. Why would I look that in the eye and then decide to stay? At what point does that make sense? (One: financial. But even then, knowing that I make roughly $10,000 less than my similarly skilled compatriots in the for-profit sector tempers that argument a little.) My life outside of work is rich and rewarding—I love to dance, I see my friends, I lift weights, I cook good meals, I write, I knit, I craft, I'm close with my family, I love my husband—but I don't spend eight hours a day feeling like my life is rich.
I spend it counting the minutes before I can leave, even for a minute, to get something sweeter.
Image via Indulgy