Publication Date: 2008-12-05
The advice given to a young woman who stopped
going to work two months ago may startle you. . .
and uplift you, if you let it.
Dec. 5, 2008
I'm broke. I suppose you could argue that such is
the case of a good many people and hardly news in
the present economy. But lately, I'm a particular
kind of broke. About two months ago, I just
stopped going to my job. I was driving to work
one day and, abruptly, turned into a drugstore
and bought a magazine and then drove myself and
my new magazine to a Starbucks. Since then, my
days have largely been variations on that theme:
I spend a lot of time at libraries and generally
bring my own coffee from home because, well, I'm
I have a B.A. in English. After graduation, I'd
sort of intended to marry my college boyfriend
who had both a useful degree and a well-
remunerated career. Although my feminist heart
now withers a little at that thought, it seemed a
good one at the time. He seemed to consider
himself a patron of the arts, and I considered
myself a semi-starving bohemian writer. I worked
at a badly paid but slightly romantic customer
service job for about two years. The relationship
lasted a year after graduation. Eventually, I
left my customer service gig -- which had
afforded few responsibilities and plenty of time
for reading, writing and general woolgathering --
in favor of a secretarial position at a friend's
company. I left after only a few months, having
discovered myself a terrible secretary and having
wounded both the friendship and my self-esteem.
After all, what fuckwit can't file successfully?
My parents, who'd lately came into some money
from my grandparents' estate, offered to loan me
money for grad school. So I moved back to my
hometown, took a part-time customer service job,
and began to make myself employable. When I
started school, my field seemed like a good one.
Since then, of course, the economy and the Bush
administration and blah blah blah. I'm six months
out of grad school and have been unable to find
more than a part-time job in my chosen field.
The jobs, though, have been out of the area, and
I can't justify moving across the country for a
part-time job, particularly given that a
condition of my parents' loan was that I not
leave town without having a full-time job lined
up elsewhere. So I stayed at my part-time
customer service job. Eventually, my lease ended
and I moved back in with my parents. I got
promoted at my job, which raised my hourly wage a
whole dollar and which left me dealing with only
the most irate customers and which left me
leaving the office most days feeling terrible
about my life. So, finally, I left without any
plan or even much forethought. Every morning,
now, I get up and pretend to go to work. I
stretched my final paychecks as far as they could
go, and I've been pawning things right and left
since that money's run out. I'm almost out of
salable goods, and I know I need a job. I've been
looking, perhaps quixotically, for a career, for
something I'd really love to do. I have a whole
list of careers I'd love, and I spend a good
amount of time each day applying for positions.
But so far, I haven't had a bit of luck.
I'm relatively intelligent, and, although my GPA
is a bit spotty, I'm educated. I'm a hard, even
dogged, worker. I take direction well. I'm
personable. I'm actually rather talented at a
couple of things. And I have to believe that
there's something better out there for me, that
there's some sort of meaningful work in my
future. I don't want to be rich, necessarily; I
just want to do a job I don't hate, a job that
makes me feel like I'm making use of my abilities
and making a difference and a job that lets me
pay my bills regularly and on time and maybe lets
me spend a couple of bucks on clothes not from
Goodwill. I don't think that's very much to ask.
I know I should just take a deep breath and go
apply for a job at the mall food court or
something. But I can't. The idea makes me
physically ill, actually. I'm 27 this month, and
I just can't bring myself to admit I have no
career, few prospects, and a job at the Falafel
Hut in my hometown. The only alternative I can
see is to explain my situation to my parents.
They're far from wealthy. I know they'd be eager
to help me financially, but I know that it would
mean they'd "economize" more than they already do
and that I would likely inherit my older
brother's reputation as the family mooch.
Perhaps the answer here is something about
swallowing my pride. But I feel like I already
have a bellyful of swallowed pride. I've been
working at shitty customer service jobs for 10
years and so have cleaned toilets, served meals,
and taken orders all the while saying, "Yes,
sir," to dozens of people who have implied I'm an
idiot, called me a bitch or asked me to throw
away their used Kleenex. I've taken loans from my
elderly parents. I have followed up on job
prospect after job prospect and sweetly requested
to be kept in mind in the event of future
openings after having been rejected. My writing
hasn't yielded me a penny. And I have very nearly
taken the check recently offered by that old
My hands are shaking while I type this, I've just
discovered. I really don't know what to do
At an Impasse
Dear Person at an Impasse,
So you stopped going to work.
That's a start.
Now here's what you do: Start blogging on Open
Salon. Just tell your daily story about how you
leave the house every day and don't go to your
job. It'll be a hit, I guarantee it. If you've
got a video camera, even better. We're going to
Why? Because we love a person who has the courage
to do what a lot of us would love to do. So many
of us go through life doing these ridiculous
jobs, but we're too afraid to just stop doing it.
You stopped doing it. So do us the favor of
letting us root for you. We're on your side.
Everything is going to be OK. I guarantee it.
You're not going to starve. It's not going to
kill your parents or the economy for you to just
start doing what makes sense for you to do and
let the money problem sort itself out. It will
sort itself out. You will find a way to monetize
your being. Trust me. By doing something creative
with your time you are doing what people in this
great nation of ours are supposed to do. Wasting
your time doing stuff you hate helps nobody.
However, you will strengthen the nation and do
many people a great service if you just come out
of the closet and be who you are: a very bad
secretary. An inept falafel maker. A not-so-
precise file clerk. A grad school graduate who
one day just stopped doing the inane and
ridiculous thing that for some reason she thought
she was supposed to do and started doing what
most of us would love to do if we just had the
strength of character to stop pretending that
what we're doing is just fine no problem yes sir
I'll get right on it no I am not smirking I am
Just stop doing it. And don't get scared and go
back to doing it, either. Not now. There's no
I want to see you blogging, young lady. I want to
see your picture on Open Salon and I want to hear
the truth about your life. The rest of us want to
hear it too. Hand me that broom. I'll clean up.
You start writing.
And don't come out until you've finished your