“I Would Prefer Not To”: A Friday Chat About Jobs

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Nicole: Hello! Happy almost Halloween!

Ester: Happy almost Halloween to you too. I was the mom at drop-off today who did not think to dress her kid up in a costume for school, so I brushed up against real tragedy. Ah well.

Nicole: I am guessing that Babygirl is not yet at the age where she will tell you every night what she wants to be for school Halloween, but is at the age where she will feel like she’s missing out on something? Seriously, that’s on the school to tell you to bring a costume.

Ester: Uh, she has told me many times what she wants to be for Halloween, though at some point she more or less settled on “ghost-pilot-princess-superhero.” We’re dressing her up as a pilot, giving her a crown, powdering her face to a ghostly pallor, and attaching a cape. Ben and I will ghost ourselves up too and play her deceased passengers. Grim, huh?

Nicole: Brilliantly grim. I love it. Also, now I’m curious if Amelia Earhart had royal blood.

Ester: Why not? Anyway, we wanted to talk about something truly scary and upsetting: this Millennial upstart who is giving our generation a bad name by declaring in Vox that they have quit their unpleasant tech job and don’t want another gig of any kind ever again, thank you very much. [Clarifying note: the author uses the singular pronoun “they.”]

Nicole: They’re going to survive like the lilies of the field: through freelance writing and webcomics.

Ester: Yes, because, as they put it, “My employer thought 40 hours of work per week was worth six digits; surely the entire rest of the world will think the work I can do in thrice that time is worth something.”

The entitlement! The blithe ignorance!

Nicole: The inability to write a coherent sentence! Seriously, are they proposing a 120-hour work week here?

Ester: I was confused by that too! And yet they say they will make their way in the world by writing:

People seem to like my writing, so I’ll do more of that. I hopped on Patreon a couple months ago, to see if people would pay me to write articles on my blog, and that’s been modestly successful. Vox similarly paid me to write this article; maybe they’ll do that again. I’ve wanted to try writing a book for a while, too. Might as well try a little of everything.

I think that was the point at which I wanted to offer them a frosty, refreshing drink of equal parts ice and STFU.

Nicole: It’s hard for me to be completely critical here, since I pretty much did the same thing in 2012, under a few different circumstances. I was in a salaried job that didn’t have a long-term future, and my online creative efforts were bringing in some money, and I had savings, so I thought “Why not? I’ve tried working for other people, now I’m going to see what I can accomplish on my own!”

It took me almost three years and a decent amount of debt to make it to where I am now, and I’m definitely happier now, so I think I made the right choice?

But I also didn’t write a humblebrag about it, so there you go.

Ester: Yeah, I think intent and approach count for a lot. The author seems like a somewhat clueless but decent person! I don’t wish them ill. In fact, perhaps Vox should get most of the blame for hanging the silliness out in public where we can all wince at and groan about it.

Nicole: The thing I worry about, for this person—and I know that I am overreaching my boundaries by worrying about something on someone else’s behalf, but whatever—is the part where they compare the work day to a storm cloud that’s ruining their picnic.

Um … freelance writing is work. I have to work very hard to keep my workweek down to 45 hours. I also take on writing gigs that aren’t necessarily “creative,” per se. It’s not all picnics.

Ester: Yeah, of course. They don’t seem to have done their homework on what writing-for-a-living entails. They also aren’t coming at it from a place of passion — writing is what I’m best at! how can I foreground it, make it my career, even if that comes at a price? — and though not everyone does, I think it certainly helps during the hard times.

On the other hand, they have made some good long-term choices. They moved from the West Coast to Nevada, where real estate is cheaper. That’s always wise if you want to quit your job and not get another one.

Nicole: It’s interesting if you check out the author’s Twitter; they’ve been tweeting to explain that it’s a four-month old post that was originally on their blog and that Vox asked them to reshape/republish on their site, and then:

Ester: OK, sure, but if you have someone re-publish something of yours from four months ago, don’t you more or less have to expect folks to have a reaction to it? If all this happened four months ago, though, I also wonder how they’re doing now. Have they changed course at all?

Nicole: They’ve got a Patreon and are working on stuff on the blog.

Ester: In other words, they’re basically still on vacation. Which is fine! If you can afford it, taking a long vacation after the ending of a disappointing job is nice.

Nicole: I definitely remember, maybe three or four months after ending my job (I hate to say “quit” because the writing was on the wall, but whatever, I did quit) shifting from the “I’m free to create and/or sleep all day!” mindset to the “okay, I need to hustle” mindset. I did a Tumblr post about how I had started setting an alarm again.

And maybe that’s what all of us need. Long vacations now and again, so we don’t get stuck in this dichotomy between “we have to work every day, storm clouds” and “the only way to get a little freedom is to become an entrepreneur and freelance writer.” Because, if you’re talking about the latter, HA.

Ester: Yeah. There are plenty of storm clouds in the writer/entrepreneur space too — many of them hover right over my balance sheets — and of course some people like their jobs. It seems a little premature to declare at 28 that because you haven’t found the right one yet you’re done forever. Like saying you’re going to become a monk because you’ve had so many dating disappointments. And I winced for them too thinking, “Who, after reading this, would hire him, if / once they do change their mind?”

Nicole: Well, they do have a thing on their Patreon where people can buy a day of their time, and they’ll work on whatever they want. Which is interesting, because people are taking them up on it. And I suspect their network in the tech and webcomics worlds will be helpful, wherever their career goes next. If there are people who believe in the work you’re doing, you can do a lot of things.

Ester: Absolutely. Not to be cynical, but they are more well-positioned to land on his feet than some. Like Max Read, who walked away from Gawker out of principle and without much ado into the NYT New York Magazine.

Nicole: It’s all about saying no to the stuff you don’t want, so that you can find the stuff you do.

But yeah, don’t write humblebrags about it. Or if you do, and Vox comes calling, say no to that. That’s my advice.

Ester: Mine too. On the subject of saying no, though, apparently Slate has digitized and annotated Melville’s story “Bartleby The Scrivener.”

They call it “a searing critique of American capitalism, a protest story, an existentialist paean to the necessity of going on in an absurd world.”

Bartleby’s the character who pioneered the phrase, “I would prefer not to.”

If you’ve never read the story, this is a good chance!

Nicole: I should totally read it! I just got the new Night Vale book and Emily Gordon’s Super You from the library, but once I finish those I will be ready to learn what a scrivener is.

Image via TheLondonCoachingGroup

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