Much has happened since I last posted. My first month in my new consulting career was pretty good. My second month was slower, but I figured there would be ups and downs at the beginning. However, when I had zero clients in month three, I realized I’d drastically overestimated demand, or else drastically underestimated how much promotion I’d need to do. Before I had time to figure out which, my tottering finances crashed.
Dear Food Bank, Thank You for Making Me Feel Human Again
I debated whether to write about the grittier details of my exploration. It’s embarrassing to be an adult who can’t feed herself. But if you are reading this, maybe you are also on an identity quest, and have read a bushel of neat and shiny stories with straight paths to happy endings, which you may be comparing to your own. It’s worth a little humiliation to let you know that if your path is a more winding one, you’re not alone.
So I found myself at the food bank. I’ve had previous experiences with social services, but they were horrible (sexual harassment, social workers telling me how opposed they were to the very programs they were administering, and endless intrusive forms to fill out). I swore I’d starve before putting myself through that again.
However, when it came right down to actual starvation, I reconsidered. I’d heard good things about the local food bank, so I took a deep breath, and presented myself for rescue.
What a breath of fresh air. The bureaucracy has been minimal, and the organization works hard to give people as much choice as they can, understanding what a bolster to dignity this is. The food itself is a weird mix of luxury items and semi-composted produce. We get at least 7 pieces of fruit every week, but vegetables and protein are in short supply.
There are always tables and tables of bread, however – including really nice bread from high end whole grain bakeries that is of little interest to my comrades in poverty. Many of the folks behind the tables are more like supermarket demonstrators than social service volunteers, extolling the virtues of their wares. Our bread allocation is ridiculously overabundant – 3-5 loaves a week! My freezer is packed. But I still accept more than I can use from the anxious volunteer who wants so badly to heal a total stranger’s pain, because I am so very grateful for that.
In Which, I Take a Highly Unintuitive Step
Meanwhile, I was applying for work. And applying, and applying, but getting nowhere. Maybe because my heart just wasn’t into returning to a profession that I now understand is highly unlikely to be satisfying, or even tolerable. I told myself, “at least it pays well,” even though that logic has never made it one iota more tolerable before! When I got behind in my rent, I became less particular in my salary requirements, and got a job at less than half my usual wage at a local craft store.
The application process took about two weeks, and is one of the lengthiest I have ever gone through. I have often noticed that the longer and more detailed a craigslist job ad is, and the more elaborate and time-demanding the application process, the lower the wage offered will be. In fact, I used to joke about this, somewhat contemptuously (see my post on judgment). I thought the people who posted such things were ridiculously unrealistic, and probably pretty neurotic.
However, my recent experience put a different spin on it. Small business owners take their businesses seriously, and how is that unreasonable? Each new employee represents a huge investment in training time. The fact that they aren’t able to pay much doesn’t change that. Furthermore, my new boss is a self-acknowledged introvert, so of course she is thorough. And although she wasn’t submitting her resume to me or filling out my tests, the process also gave me more chance to check her out than I usually get before signing on.
I was a little concerned over whether the job would really work for me. It had a number of the characteristics I identified as my personal workplace hell in an earlier post. It’s early days yet, but so far, they aren’t bothering me nearly as much as I would’ve expected.
It’s going to take awhile to catch up financially, so I had to give up my storage unit. That turned out to be significant in unexpected ways.
Housing is compact in the high-demand market where I live, and I put a lot of things in storage when I first moved here. 15 years later, the cumulative storage fees I’ve doled out would pay for everything in the unit many times over. But still I held on.
This was partly because I was overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude of the sorting and decisions that would be required to deal with it. But it was also because those archives represent sidelined aspects of my life that I refuse to give up on. Storing the tools and relics of those interests, albeit it in a remote and rarely visited corner of my life, was a way of standing up for my realest self.
The critical therapist in my head had a few things to say about this, but for once I ignored her. So what if it was financially irrational? Everything doesn’t have to be rational.
Then I had to clear out the unit on short notice. My dining room is stacked to the ceiling, and the mountain overflows into my living room. This is chaotic, and usually chaos in my space is highly stressful to me. But not this time. I feel relieved and whole to have all of my things under one roof, even stacked in boxes where I can’t access half of them. Finally, all of me is home.
The conventional wisdom would be to let it all go. I have parted with some things that I love less now than I did 15 years ago. However, the remainder, which I lugged into my living space box by box, is concrete evidence of what I care about and who I am. It’s metaphoric that there is so much more of it than I can fit in. That’s how I’ve felt about trying to encompass all my passions in the limited timeframe of my daily life. Yet there are solutions to that. I figured out awhile ago to pursue my interests on a rotation.
The Shoe Fits
From the midst of this reunion of selves, I noticed an interesting thing about my new job. I can finally wear the clothes I like best, which never seemed quite right for my other jobs. This strikes me as hugely significant.
Life is full of compromises, but it’s really, really important to know what you can afford to compromise and what you can’t. I have made mostly the wrong compromises for decades, and listened to mostly the wrong advice trying to resolve the unhappiness that resulted. I thought I would feel safe if I was financially secure, but it didn’t work out that way. I compromised my very identity to achieve that, which can never feel safe, and I didn’t even end up financially secure for all my trouble!
Even so, taking a low wage job with all the earmarks of “drudgery” (see Barrie Jaeger’s Making Work Work for the Highly Sensitive Person) never occurred to me as a possible solution. But it turns out the money is a lot less important than who I work with. Being around introverts and people at work on creative projects (and mostly women) all day offsets a lot of things that were more stressful in a less compatible environment.
I’ve learned a whole lot about my needs in my new environment, and there are other unexpected benefits. For instance, my new boss has a stronger Achiever side than I do, but it’s modified by her introvert make-things-work-for-everyone side. She has persuasion skills that are non-exploitive (mostly), something I am sadly lacking, and desperately need. I wasn’t looking for this, but I am already soaking them up.
It takes me a couple of months, at least, to know whether a new job will work for the long term. I see the benefits before I see the drawbacks, so four weeks in, I’m just beginning to notice challenges that may prove to be insurmountable. But even if this is a short passage, it feels like the right one right now.
I had a friend who used to tell me “be where you are.” This is exceptionally profound advice, for me at least. I am often a couple of steps ahead of myself, which inevitably throws me off balance. So I customized her advice as “be where you are to get where you’re going” to help me keep my priorities straight. On the road to self-discovery, self-suppression is always a dead end.