A Real Job? What’s That?

I couldn’t quite pinpoint why I’d been feeling so off, especially since I’d just returned from what I felt was a solid job interview.

After all, I’d cobbled together a decent outfit.

Scuffed the bottoms of my new shoes to decrease the chance I’d slip and topple head-over-ass down the lobby stairs.

Acted professionally throughout the interview, fully answering 25 or so questions and providing ample examples for each.

And never once blurted out, “I CAN’T TRUST YOU!”

So, what was my deal?

Even in his post-work exhaustion following a day trip to San Diego to interview candidates, Andy weighed in.

“Well, you’ve never really had a good work experience. So you’re probably just reacting to getting back into employee mode, and feeling the only thing you associate with it: dread.”

Hot damn.

Reason #4,578 to couple with a Human Resources professional.

He was right.

Because when I tried to counter with the proverbial “But,” nothing followed.


Now, it’s not as though the two non-academic jobs I’ve had haven’t had good qualities. I’ve learned plenty in the past five years navigating through the job market.

Every lesson hasn’t exactly been glutted with rainbows and butterfly kisses, but I’ve been able to distill out enough goodness to keep the wheels turning.

But when I really stop to think about my time in the job market, I realize how many obstacles so many of us have (had) to overcome.

For starters, I entered the job market a month before The Great Recession (TGR) tore into the US economy, gutting it like bad Thai.

And while I was insanely lucky to snag a job at such a critical moment, it came with a string of conditions.

Condition 1: No social life. Performing physically rigorous archaeological fieldwork in random parts of the state left me isolated and exhausted. The day and a half I had for downtime before returning to far-flung field sites afforded me just enough time to take a shower in my crappy apartment, do laundry, and get some quality sleep.

Condition 2: No benefits. Despite the fact that there were employees at this particular office that did not have any anthropological education, they were still entitled to company benefits that were not extended to me, an MA-holding anthropologist. Combined with absolutely no paid leave, the job’s only attractive quality was a paycheck.

Condition 3: No certainty in compensation. When I would tell my parents “I don’t know what I’ll make this paycheck,” I wasn’t being purposefully vague. In the context of an economic downward spiral, management was doing its best to shuffle monies around to compensate everyone. But that meant that each paycheck was a crapshoot–an amalgam of billed projects, each of which had its own payment rate for differently-tiered employees. Which meant my paycheck would vary by hundreds of dollars each month. Which made budgeting nearly impossible. Which made having fun and spending money financially imprudent. (Refer to Condition 1.)

Soon enough, TGR’s all-consuming waters lapped at our office’s door. But right as most of the staffers got pink slips, I was able to jump ship.

But as I’ve written before, I jumped from the Lusitania to the Titanic. Because not only was my rescue ship doomed too, but it came with plenty of other conditions.

Condition 1: Paid time off, but no other benefits. Sure, I was given a slight step up from where I’d been, but having no benefits still put me at a disadvantage. Having experienced a bout of skin cancer immediately after graduate school, when I had no health insurance through my job, I realized the importance of some measure of insurance. So while I had health insurance, it was one more out-of-pocket expense.

Condition 2: Crazy-ass commute. Now, I didn’t have to have this commute. But living in a conservative area compounds the social isolation LGBT’s feel, and I wasn’t about to go down that road again. So, it was a nearly three-hour round trip commute every single day. (Which was still less than what Andy had to drive.)

Condition 3: Quarterly taxes. Because the educational institution through which my “fellowship” was directed refused to deduct taxes from my paychecks, I had to pay quarterly taxes. Now, that might seem like a deal. But it’s a trap. Not only did I have to pay out over a thousand dollars every quarter and still pay my bills, but I also got whacked with my income taxes because the tax code changed and no one bothered to inform quarterly taxpayers. So if, say, your car shit the bed and you had to use part of your lump-sum paycheck to cover it, you may not be able to pay quarterly taxes on time. Which would lead to penalties and debt. Or, to obviate late quarterly taxes, you pay for unexpected expenses with a credit card. Either way, you rack up debt quickly.

Condition 4. Crazy-ass coworkers. I love fun, crazy people. I do not love insane, hostile people. And after dealing with a slew of nuts, I couldn’t take anymore.

In the end, it came down to balancing emotional health and financial feasibility.

Was it easy? Hell no.

Because it meant that Andy had to keep going in a job that was equally as draining.

Most folks don’t have the luxury of having a partner whose income can float two people, and must continue on in jobs where they’re underemployed. Or they have to wait in the unemployment line.

Still, we kept going, working toward a larger goal while cutting our expenses tremendously.

And it’s paid off.


Now, though, I’m starting to realize how far I’d sunk into the dregs of the employment market. Just reading job descriptions, and getting callbacks from jobs that offer real benefits–that I’d actually have the chance at contributing to that elusive 401k thing I’ve heard so much about–gives me chills.

In many ways, TGR has reminded people what’s important–not riches or snagging a high-paying job that sucks the life out of you: it’s the things and people that make you happy. It’s that passion you’ve always had for cooking or sewing or writing making a resurgence and becoming something you’ve always wanted it to be.

And we feel less lost because of it.

Because it helps propel us forward, energizes us to take a chance and venture outside our comfort zones.

Apply for jobs we don’t think we’re qualified for.

Make contacts outside of our chosen fields.

Hone the skills that we possess, and shop them around as best as we can.

Not beat ourselves up over not getting that job we thought we’d be perfect for–because, in the end, it clearly wasn’t a good fit and we’re better off without it.

Because the only person who can land a real, fulfilling job–or at least one that’ll help make your life what you want it to be–is you.

And you can do it.

4 Replies to “A Real Job? What’s That?”

  1. Are you submitting these musings anywhere to possibly be published? Because you should be. They are funny, but they also hold plenty of truths and they can offer encouragement to people who really need it right now. You have a wonderful way with words and I hope, at least on the side, that you pursue your writing career. Don’t leave any stones unturned.

    1. Awww, thanks! I’m trying to as I can. It’s difficult because a lot of the sites/entities want you to cut the length down to a few sentences so they can assess whether or not they’d want to publish/share it. It’s maddening, but a good way to learn the “industry!” Hopefully one of these days a submission will actually be accepted!

  2. Yes, you can do it! It really seems like California was the right place for you guys to be, and I am sure that you will find a “real job” out there that you like. I want both of you guys to have jobs you enjoy. You’ve both suffered so much with rotten jobs, it’s time for you two to live the good life.

    Also, totally feel your pain on entering the workforce right before the recession! ARGH! Could the timing have been worse? That’s why, despite the fact that for years I had been told that there are always jobs for speech pathologists (and that was true, right up until the recession), after four months of fruitless searching, I ended up having to move 450 miles away to find employment.

    1. I’m so glad Andy is enjoying his job, and I’m hopeful that I’ll soon join the ranks of the gainfully employed 😉

      Yeah, job searching during the recession sucked! And the after-effects still suck. But sometimes it’s easier to find the silver lining in it all instead of wallowing in despair (which I’m so good at!) 😉

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