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Entitlement, Employment and Anger

April 21, 2010

I struggle a lot with negative feelings about my job.

That’s a tough thing to admit, particularly in the current harsh economic climate where so many people would love to have ANY kind of job, period.

I think one of the big issues for me is that I don’t work in any of my original fields of study. I bet on technology twice and developed special proficiencies that were essentially outdated before I hit the job market.

The disappointment and burnout coupled with the marginalized status of women and the terrible work-life balance in the fields I’d optimistically pursued combined to dissuade me from continuing to seek employment there.

The problem is that I haven’t really had a clear idea what to do since.

I stumbled into my current job through serendipity; the skill-set from four months at a part-time job and a host of coincidental correspondences on my resume got me brought on as a temporary-to-permanent operations employee seven years ago.

There were some rough patches, especially due to poor direct managers early on, but I outlasted them and was able to prove my worth. My company’s not perfect, but it is good at noticing and nurturing strong performers.

If one is going to have a “day job”, mine is pretty darn close to ideal. I’m respected, well-compensated, work with good people in a positive environment and do something that brings some genuine benefit to both our customers and society.

It hasn’t been making me happy lately, though, and I don’t have a passion on the side that this job allows me to support and thereby “justify” my “selling out” in taking a respectable but unexciting job.

The fact that my husband has consistently during our relationship made significantly more than I do is also rather dispiriting. He bet on technology and the odds were in his favor. I believe I could have the capacity to re-train and follow in his footsteps, but money is not a sufficient motivating factor for me to pursue something I was not called to do on its intellectual and emotional merits.

If I were  making so much less doing something that I loved I believe I could be well satisfied, but I’ve long felt like a sell-out. If I’m going to sell out, what does it say about me that I haven’t been able to command a higher price?

I don’t think that more is always better. It’s just that the scale of our relative contributions makes me feel secondary, less significant. It makes me feel teeth-grittingly close to the patronizing stereotypical image of the wife who works at any old thing just to keep herself busy and earn a bit of spending money. She’s a second-class being who isn’t really expected to do any more because it’s beyond her, and it’s okay because the big, strong patriarchal men will take care of her forever and ever – and be amused when she tries to do work and be like them, like they would be at a child trying the same.

I tell myself there’s no shame in honest work. I tell myself that I have been more fortunate in employment than many fine people of my acquaintance, and that I should be grateful. I tell myself that having such a job as a woman would be unimaginable independence only a couple of generations ago, out of all of human history. (Sometimes I wonder if my toxic paternal grandmother – and hence her descendants – would have been happier and healthier if she’d been born just a few decades later and so had more choices and ability to empower herself.)

The comparisons don’t really help.

Perhaps it’s a symptom of my age and the culture. As best as I can figure, I’m somewhere between Generations X and Y, with aspects of both and neither. Some of my co-workers have recently been talking about the sense of entitlement coming across in the younger candidates who have been interviewing, the implicit assumption that they shouldn’t have to work their way up the ranks, but will keep looking until their golden ticket appears. I don’t think that’s really where I’ve been coming from; it’s not about where to start and how much work it will take, it’s about what I’m doing.

If you CAN be anything (in the sense that we “are” our employment) – even the President of the United States! – then whatever you choose to be  should be good, with good meaning cool, impressive, powerful, fascinating.  You should get paid to play, you should enjoy whatever you’re doing so much that it’s actually for you functionally not-work. A rock star or an astronaut or an internet millionaire would all fit the requirements. It shouldn’t be tedious, it should have challenges that are just difficult enough to be thrilling and affirming to overcome without being difficult enough that you actually risk failure.

If you have the possibility of being anything and what you become is not “worthy”, then what does it say about what kind of person you are?

Then again, maybe it’s a case of not being able to hack it in the role to which I’ve been promoted. I was great at juggling ten million urgent requests and handling emergencies and hitting daily deadlines, but now that I’ve been able to delegate that and have the time and attention to focus on bigger-picture planning – what I always lamented I could never afford to do as much as I’d like – I’m scattered and unmotivated. Maybe I don’t have the discipline to handle this degree of autonomy and self-determination.

Maybe some of the point of this is to help me to grow and develop that level of responsibility, and my discomfort with that is a sign of some internal issues I need to resolve.

Maybe the discomfort is a sign that I’m on the track of what I am supposed to be doing, as much as I’d rather not. Maybe it’s the sign of some unexamined entitlement I’ve been allowing to throw tantrums instead of dissecting and discarding it.

I think this is in large degree about my resistance than any actual obstacles. And I feel so immature, so much of a loser for still struggling to learn how to be a properly responsible human being. And I feel cheated about where I’ve come from, that I have to learn these things on my own as an adult that I imagine other people figure out in their childhoods.

I’m angry at myself for on some level emotionally buying into the idea that I’m entitled to a boredom-and-conflict-free life, and angry at myself for my failure to be somehow special enough to manifest that life.

I’ve been at this tug-of-war for some months and haven’t seen a way out yet. I want to make the disir proud of how I handle myself and resolve matters, but doubt my ability to do so, which makes me sad.

I do all I know how to do, which is get up and take the bus downtown to the office and keep trying.

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