Things I Miss About Having A Real Job
A few days ago I met an old coworker for lunch. We both had babies this year. She was the only other pregnant person I knew, so we became close quickly, in a way we weren’t at work.
I met her near the office. She was on lunch break and I was just starting the harder shift of my day, the baby shift. Meeting a friend for lunch meant the time would pass without me even noticing. It was like cheating. She would hold my baby and I’d eat with both hands and make faces at him in between bites and attempts at conversation. This does not always work but yesterday it worked.
I was running, predictably, late. I emailed my friend to say this on my walk over, and she took the opportunity to drop off her dry-cleaning.
“So, do you miss it?” she said, meaning work. Our work. Her current, my former. Not that we did the same things, but you know.
“No,” I said, shaking my head. I laughed at my answer, so quick. No.
She smiled. We both did. “Not at all,” I said. I shrugged.
And it’s true, I have no longing for it, but there are things I miss.
At the beginning I missed walking into a room with people, chatting as we sat down at our computers. I missed nodding to people with their headphones on, bouncing into my chair, shaking my mouse to wake up my computer. I missed the routine.
Now I have my own routine, or sort of. Any semblance of one I treasure and cling to and try to expand so that my whole day is covered in the known and the predictable and the familiar and the loved. When things go well I try to commit what happened to memory, as if the order in which I did them holds the key to my happiness. Should I shower or eat breakfast first? Write my own stuff right away before the internet sucks me in, or do blogging while my coffee kicks in?
Today I thought that maybe if I walked from the coffeeshop to the library, the weather would be so good that my productivity would soar and I’d make up for the time I’d lost between places.
I miss having eight, nine, ten hours a day to do work that could be done in three. I miss having a set time for “work.” If I was sitting at my computer in an office I was showing up and working. Talking was work. I miss that. All that talking about things that didn’t TRULY matter but we got to feel like they mattered, which is ideal. Low actual stakes, high imaginary stakes. Stakes only as high as your ego. And you get to say, “It’s work!” and you’re going to work and you’re getting paid and doing your job so you are good to go! You have done your job for the day, because you are sitting at your desk and replying to emails.
I miss the feeling of having a job and feeling good about that, like at least I have a job. I have ticked that box! Which is the primary box, really, to have ticked. I give most of my day to this one thing and it pays me money to live and so I am good to go!
This is not you know, how everyone thinks of work, I’m sure, and not really how I did, at least not consciously, when I did it. But now i think, Well I could always get a Job and then go to that job and get paid and feel good, in that way, hugged by my job and this knowing where to go every day and who to answer to.
No one would ask me what I was working on, or how it’s going. I would just have a job, I would be answered for. People could judge me based on the status of my employer and we’d all feel more comfortable.
Oh and I could make beautiful, glorious money again. I would demand so much more money! And it would feel absurd. And I would just kind of swim in it, not worrying at all. Move some to savings. Pay my bills automatically. Just when I started to feel like I was possibly spending too much money I would get another paycheck.
Ok so I do miss that. I didn’t mention it to my friend but it’s undeniable now, upon reflection. Making money: I miss it. I mean, I make money now but it’s less than I spend so it’s — ha! — not as satisfying.
I could re-subscribe to the Steven Alan emails, and browse their website when there are sales, and really consider buying some of the cheaper stuff.
I would buy the new iPhone, without question. I will probably do it anyway but I will feel bad about it.
The one thing I did tell my friend I missed was arguing about things in meetings. She laughed. And then I thought, but what, that’s also what I hated when I was there. “I miss,” I tried to explain, “talking about things intellectually, debating about things.” Of course I could do that in life, too — with friends, online, in my own head — but I don’t, really, not in such a heady tone, never to the point of real argument. The closest I come is talking to a friend about something in her personal life, or her professional life, and trying to parse it and game it and predict what will happen. Maybe the way Dustin and I unpack our days over dinner is a little bit like talking in a meeting. But I’m not going to argue with these people, over real life, as in exercise in feeling, what? Intelligent. Insightful. Important.
Maybe that’s what I miss feeling like, or fighting to feel like. I feel those things now, minus the importance. I know myself to be those things. But I guess I miss clamoring for it. It was so sad and so satisfying when I succeeded.
Which is what I was thinking when I said, “It was bad for me, too, though.” It sucked me in, giving my opinion and really feeling like any of it mattered at all (it so rarely did). “But I love it. The testosterone of it.” I struggled to find a better way to explain. The swagger? The ego. I am talking about ego; I guess that’s all it is. I hated it so much on principle but I loved it, too, in practice. I felt like, Well, if it was already in the room, I might as well bring some of it, too. It was important that I did speak up, speak freely, have an opinion, comment on the opinions of others. It got to where I could be really brave, speaking up in meetings.
In school I did not speak up much. I stayed so quiet, my heart beating and adrenaline pumping through me, the answer running on repeat in my head. I knew nobody liked someone who always had the answer. I also knew how stupid people around me sounded sometimes, as they struggled to speak. I was afraid my voice would crack or trail off.
Sitting at a table and feeling completely unafraid was new for me. I think it made me less afraid in general, of any tables I sit at now. Still my heart beats fast when I think of the answer and weigh the risks of saying it out loud, how wrong it could come out, how stupid or how arrogant I might sound to everyone else.
This happens with writing, too, of course. It’s happening right now. I want to trail off, to say, You know what I mean,” or say, “I dunno” and shrug.
I am trying to think now what I got from work besides money and a place I was expected to be every day, which are no small things, and valuable in and of themselves of course. I am trying to be sure I am not missing something else big, though, and if that thing is only ego. Someone else might say purpose but in my case that was never true. My purpose was never beyond “do a good job,” and do right by people. Satisfying in and of itself, too. I feel like I have a purpose now, kind of, though I often have doubts about it. And my ego fluctuates wildly with writing, too. But it’s me, clamoring for me; hating myself. What a mess. What do I miss? Money, security, ego. I miss hating someone besides myself. I miss hating the obligation, the duty, and bemoaning how meaningless it was, but then fulfilling it anyway, and feeling satisfied, despite all of it.