24601

I often sing showtunes in my head or out loud depending on my mood.  So many songs can sum up life events perfectly that I could probably explain my entire life in showtunes.

Recently, I’ve been feeling like I’m losing touch with myself.  I feel like I’m in a very stagnant place and I often don’t feel like myself.  This situation, like most life situations, makes me think of a showtune; “Who Am I?” from Les Mis.  One of the things I always thought was so interesting about this song was at the end,when Jean Valjean decides to reveal who is really is, he yells out his prisoner number “24601”.  I always think that line is interesting because he’s using a terrible time in his life to identify who he is.  Yes, Javert knew him as 24601 but he sings it out so triumphantly.  Perhaps it’s because his time as a prisoner helped define who he is.  It led to him hiding his identity and then realizing that he had to be true to who he is and exclaim it for all to hear, in song of course.

Sometimes I feel like I created a life for myself based on things I was hiding from and things I felt were expected from me.  I think back to when I was 22, when I had the most self-confidence I’ve ever had.

I was messy, impulsive, and wild, and I certainly didn’t have everything all figured out but I didn’t pretend that I did.  I didn’t try to be something I’m not.  A few months ago I was walking through the city in a suit and I caught my reflection in a window.  It actually stopped me in my tracks because I thought back to the time I profoundly told my mom that I would never work in a cubicle and wear a suit to work.  I was 11.  Sorry younger self, I failed you.

I have this enormous need to be true to myself and to put my time and energy into things that matter, at least to me.  Writing is something that has always been important to me because I believe it can help people, including the author.  I stopped writing about the harder things because I wanted to forget about those times in my life.  I realize now that those are things that matter the most because they made me who I am and gave me ideas about who I want to me.  Those are things I need to write down because they’re what people need to read. There are things I prefer to forget and things I try to cover up, but those are things I like to read from others.  I love seeing writers pour themselves into their writing because it means something and it’s relatable, which is why we write.  Maybe it’s time to stop being polite and start getting real (yes this is a Real World reference), and write the “real” stuff.  No one wants to read about a perfect life, they want to see the mangled, disjointed, and insane road that got to that life.

Work: Woes, Worries, and Wins

I recently published an article about what I learned while working as a temp, freelancer, and not working at all.  I started thinking about all the jobs I’ve had and how each one seemed to test me in some sort of life skill I was lacking.  Whether it was patience with slow software, dealing with obnoxious co-workers and clients, or how annoying it is to be the only one to replenish the plasticware, they’ve all been things that are helpful in various aspects of life.  So here’s the breakdown of life lessons learned from my various jobs…

Note: No real company names were used to protect the company…and myself.

The First Job

This was not the first job I ever had, but it was the first job I got after college and stayed at for more than a few weeks.  I was here for about two years and experienced the slowest server imaginable, the feeling of being chained to a desk, and some of the greatest co-workers I’ve ever had.

  • Friends make work worth going to

If you find a job you love being at, then you’ve pretty much won the lottery and should never leave.  But for the rest of us who drag ourselves to our desks every morning and stare at the clock, having friends (even just one) at work makes a HUGE difference.  I used to look forward to going to work because I loved my lunch time group, the funny e-mails, and the occasional after-work events.  The people I met there made a mind-numbing job tolerable, and sometimes even fun.

  • Don’t care too much

You should care about your job, work performance, etc. but don’t drive yourself insane over teeny tiny details that no one else notices or cares about.  I’ve seen people stress themselves out to the point of tears for something that wasn’t by any means a big deal.  Work is important but it should never become your entire life or something that makes you miserable.

The First Big City Job

This was a temp job, but my time working in the Big City.  It was in Midtown, it was in Finance, and it terrified me.  I was so afraid of making a mistake that every time I made one I had to calm myself down and assure myself I would not get let go for forgetting to replenish the milk supply.

  • Don’t take it personally

I was a receptionist.  People are a**holes.  I had to learn that it wasn’t me these people were mad at, it was other people in my company or the economy.  I also learned that while my coworkers were generally nice people, they were not to be approached if they had just lost someone a ton of money.  Instead of getting upset by being snubbed in the hallway, I just carried on with distributing the mail.  By the end of my time there, I didn’t even care when a client told me I was incompetent.

The “I’ve Done This Before” Job

This was another temp job, but it was a job I actually had experience in.  Not the industry, but the job itself, so I felt relatively confident suiting up and showing up to the big shiny skyscraper.  I quickly learned that my skills only go so far in a very industry-specific field.

  • Ask Questions

Just because you think you’re right doesn’t necessarily mean you are.  You may not be new to your field or they type of job, but you’re new to the company.  It’s appropriate to ask questions to see how the new company handles issues you may feel you’re already familiar with.

  • Be confident

Once I realized I did not understand the industry at all I started to doubt myself.  I was afraid to do certain things because I didn’t know if what I was doing correct.  My senior counterpart reassured me that my skills were what got me the position and I should trust my own judgement.

The Nightmare Job

This was a freelance contract that almost cost me my sanity.  It was unpleasant, stressful, and frustrating, but it was my first introduction to a way of working I hope to find again someday.

  • Advocate for yourself.

Even if you’re working for a startup (which I was), you’re still entitled to expressing things you need to get your job done.  Or just do them if you’re in an unstructured and unsupervised environment (which I also was).  Know your limits and what you can tolerate from a job.  No job is worth making you miserable (see below).

  • Realize a bad situation

Not every job is for every person.  People makes mistakes; some apply to the wrong jobs  and others hire the wrong people.  Having to leave a job that makes you miserable is not quitting, it’s moving on from a bad situation.  Check out this article for more on that.

The Lip Biter Job

I call this one ‘The Lip Biter’ because I frequently bit my lip due to frustration.  Another freelance contract, this one was with an amazing ad agency and a monstrous client.

  • Go with the flow

I was not given a “schedule”.  I was told “we can pay you for up to 15 hours per week”.  Would that be stretched out over 5 days?  3 days?  Oh god, not 1 day?  I had no idea.  And I had no idea for the 2 months I worked there.  Every day was different.  My hours and days worked were always different.  And something that started as a nightmare (the lack of structure was off-putting) turned out to be something I sort of miss.

  • Advocate for yourself & Don’t take it personally

Life really made sure I understood these two by dealing with an obnoxious client who shall remain nameless.

The *Sigh* Job

I started a full-time job about two months ago and it’s the first direct-hire job I’ve had since ‘The First Job.’  Ironically, this was the one job that I didn’t apply to (thank you LinkedIn), nor did I have interest in accepting, but what can you do?  Freelance life is stressful and unemployment sucks (Funemployment is not a thing).  So here I am.  I call it ‘The Sigh’ because I find myself sighing quite frequently, as do my co-workers.

  • You can’t please everyone

I, unfortunately, work for a perfectionist.  I thought I was a perfectionist until I met my boss.  I must have misunderstood the term.  Nothing is good enough and its her way or no way (or you can spend 30 minutes arguing over the sentence structure of a two sentence paragraph until you give up and just do it her way).

  • Do your best

Thats what my coworkers told me as they consoled me after overhearing multiple conversations with my boss and it’s something I’ve heard at every job I’ve ever had.  No one is perfect (except my boss, apparently) so do what you can and learn from your mistakes.

My dad has always told me three things throughout my life

  1. Assume everyone else is a moron (this was initially taught when he was teaching me how to drive, but it stands to reason in various life situations)
  2. Remember the block (a Three Stooges reference)
  3. Always do your best

Your best will change from day-to-day and from job-to-job, but it’s one of the most valuable pieces of advice you can take with you.  You may not be at your dream job just yet but wherever you are, keep doing your best and good things will come.  At least thats what he told me…but I’m pretty sure he’s right.

The Twenty-Something Dilemma

Photo Credit 

I submitted this article for publication and unfortunately it was not chosen.  Fortnuately, I can publish it here!

I am in my mid-twenties and I do not like the career path I’ve chosen.  It doesn’t feel as much a choice as it feels like something I was forced into.  Not by my parents, not by society, but my circumstance.  I recently accepted a job for a corporate software company in New York, which I have tried to convince myself I enjoy.  I do not, by any means, enjoy this type of environment.  I am a writer, both technically and in every other sense of the word.  I am creative, I am unique, and I get no greater satisfaction than knowing people read my words.  Sometimes I wish I had the overwhelming urge to become a doctor, or get a Master’s Degree, or do something with more stability and validity.  But alas, I love to write.  Like other creative professions, there are millions of others with the same goals and aspirations and I have to try and find some way to prove that I’m better than the rest, i.e., pray for a miracle.

I took my current job because I had been unemployed for several months and the only work I had found until I was offered this position was a freelance gig that could only offer me 10-14 hours of work a week.  I did not seek out my current  job during my countless hours of job hunting, my recruiters at a creative job placement service did not find this one for me; they found me on LinkedIn.  It was not a job I wanted, but it was a job with a good salary and full benefits.  As an unemployed 26-year-old without a trust fund how could I say no?  I cried when I told my boyfriend I accepted the job.  If there was a “corporate” version and a “real” version of myself standing side by side, I envisioned the “real” one strangling the “corporate” one with a colorful headscarf.

I felt like I was giving up pursuing my dream of finding a job that allowed me to use my creativity and voice in what I consider real writing; writing with the purpose of entertaining, inspiring, and engaging the audience.  Perhaps I stand alone, but I need to care (if even just a little) about my job.  I find no satisfaction in having a job “just for the paycheck”.

It saddens me that in the “Land of Opportunity” more and more young people who are supposed to be beginning their lives and chasing their dreams are settling for jobs that make their eyes glaze over.  What happened to passion?  Or purpose?  Or dreams?  It appears they were squashed by rent, insurance, and “being an adult”, whatever that means.

I always come back to the dilemma of the twenty-something’s: do you choose to follow your passion or do you take the safe route with a decent salary and a 401K?  Passion can still provide money, benefits, and everything else you have to worry about once you turn 25, but it never seems to offer the security of a 9-5, business casual, cubicle.  I’ve considered trying to change my lifestyle so that I could accommodate a lesser salary and not be “rent broke” (when your entire paycheck goes to rent and you can’t afford to do anything except eat ramen noodles).  That’s when the root of the dilemma reared its ugly head – do I want to love my job or love my paycheck?  In a perfect world, you get both.  But this is the real world and sometimes you have to make difficult choices.  I have truly hated my job before; it is a sad and empty feeling that slowly sucks the life out of you.  It is my greatest fear to wake up and feel this way and be 45.

For me, happiness matters more than money so I’ve decided that I want to pursue the career and life I dream of when I stare at my computer and pretend to work.  As a writer, it’s rare to find the type of innovative, out-of-the-box company I long to be a part of and expect to make the salary I do in corporate land.  But to wake up every day excited for the day ahead, to see my work and feel immense pride and satisfaction, to not need 6 cups of a coffee a day just to stay awake…yeah, I’ll take a pay cut for that.