Once upon a time, I had a really sucky job. That wasn’t just my opinion; our retention rate was tragic, with someone going off sick (some permanently) or quitting at least twice a year. Our admin section walked off en masse twice. The second time, they didn’t get replaced. The only people who weren’t affected by the issues were the ones who were causing the bulk of the issues. And to give you an idea of the seriousness of the suckiness, six months after I quit there was a totally avoidable accidental death that would have been my responsibility, but I would have had no power to prevent.
In the typical way of many really sucky jobs, it didn’t just suck from 9 to 5, or just at the office. It sucked at all times, because we weren’t on call – no, not a typo. If we’d been on call, they would have had to pay us for that, and then to justify calling us out, for instance by saying that there had been an emergency. Because we weren’t on call, they’d just call us out at all times for anything that took their fancy. So not only my work life sucked, but my personal life was also routinely impacted.
The situation preyed on my mind – and yes, part of that is because of how my mind works. It can be hard for me to forget that my work, the thing that supports my whole lifestyle, makes me complicit in putting the public at risk, or unnecessarily damaging the environment, or liberally wasting public resources. It’s hard for me to fully engage in any kind of activity or make plans, particularly with other people, when I know that it could all be disrupted because someone’s had a not-so-bright idea in the bath that they want me to implement right there and then. It’s also hard for me to go to work knowing not only that I might get badly hurt, because the systems of work are entirely inappropriate, but that, if I do, I will also be punished for it.
I think I could have dealt with any one thing – the amorality, the intrusiveness, or the personal risk – but not with all combined. So, much like the bulk of my co-workers, I was increasingly unhappy and stressed. And, much like the bulk of the co-workers who stayed, I lacked other immediate prospects and needed the money. So, on top of everything else, I felt stuck, which didn’t help one bit.
The bulk of the advice I got at the time could be classed under two main headings:
- You’re wrong and your feelings are wrong. According to these people, the work didn’t suck. All evidence to the contrary (retention and sick rates for the section, accident records, a budget with more holes than a Swiss cheese, insanely impractical policies I was tasked with implementing, etc.) was invalid. I was either exaggerating, or my point of view was simply wrong. I needed to remind myself of how lucky I was, how privileged I was to have a job that good, how much more difficult other people’s lives were.
- Your feelings are probably right, so you need to change them. According to these people, it was perfectly OK for me to feel as I was feeling. My situation was indeed problematic. So I needed to take steps to change how I felt about it. The bulk of the suggestion involved dietary changes, but reiki, meditation, and various forms of physical and psychological therapies were also put forth as solutions.
The whole nasty episode has been over for some years now, but every now and then something reminds me of it. I still struggle to understand people’s reaction; or, rather, the only ways in which I can rationalise them leads me to conclusions that aren’t very nice.
I understand how a bit of perspective can help us appreciate what we have; however, whatever situation we’re in, there’s likely to be someone out there who has it worse. That doesn’t mean that the situation we’re in is OK. And it sure as hell doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t try to do something about it.
I also understand about seeking the serenity to accept things we cannot change, and to look for means to reduce the negative impacts of those things. I couldn’t dramatically change how my job worked; that wasn’t within my power to do. I could, however, change my job. I couldn’t just jack it in there and then, but I could make plans towards that goal. Working to build an escape route, knowing that I was slowly but surely inching closer to a solution, would have done a lot for my mental health and happiness.
Neither camp entertained the possibility of that kind of change. The first camp rejected it as unwanted – I shouldn’t want to make that change. The second camp rejected it as unlikely – there I am and there I will be, so I better learn to like it.
I wonder now if the real reason for both camps’ myopia, for their inability to contemplate that I could actually take steps towards changing my luck, was that my job was a linchpin not only in my life, but in theirs. For me to make that kind of radical change would have meant for them to have to adapt, too. For some of them it would have meant practical changes; I might have had to move, and would probably have earned less money (and, on reflection, my two live-in partners during that period were the jobs’ staunchest defenders). For some of them it would have meant dealing with a different me; a calmer, healthier, happier, stronger me. A me that had learnt that she didn’t have to eat quite so much shit just because someone put it on her plate, and she sure as hell didn’t have to say “thank you” afterwards. And it kinda scares me that, despite their pronunciations, they might have been more worried about maintaining their own status quo by keeping me in my proper place than about my welfare.
(Addendum: another possibility would be that they felt that powerless in their lives, too, and genuinely didn’t see leaving as an option. I’ve considered it and discounted it for those specific individuals, for reasons, but it is an option.)