I’m stuck in a job I hate and I don’t know what to do. When I moved to London after graduating from university, I took the first semi-decent job I was offered. And for a while, it was great – any job dissatisfaction I might have felt was drowned out by the novelty of receiving a salary into my (usually overdrawn) bank account every month, a discounted gym membership, company-paid after work drinks and enough cash to pay for holidays with my friends. But that was eight years ago – and I’m still there. This is not what my teenage-self envisioned I would be doing age 29 (I thought I would be a Booker Prize winning novelist), but all my ambitions seem to have got swallowed up in the daily grind of a 9-5 and the security of a steady job. I’m 30 in a few months, and feeling a rising panic that I’ll forever be in this office.
My parents don’t get what the fuss is about – all they see is a decent job with a pension and perks. They think I’m being ungrateful and entitled when I say I want something more. And I do, but I’m not sure what that is. Most of my friends do things they love – why can’t I? I’ve spoken about retraining for years now, but I don’t seem to be able to actually do anything about it. Whenever I think about quitting my job I get scared about how I’ll pay for training and rent and sad that I won’t be able to do all the things I enjoy at the moment (dinners out, holidays abroad, new clothes). I guess I’m also frightened that I’m too old to start all over again. Am I? And am I putting too much focus on having to have a job I love when everything else in my life is good? Maybe I should just make peace with the fact I’m destined to be in a well-paid but uninspiring job forever.
Many of us are guilty of disappointing our teenage selves, and guilty too of dwelling on this, turning our failures over in our hand like a shell or a marble, its very smoothness a curse. Our teenage selves saw us at 30 as award-winning, sex-having wild successes, people who had ploughed new ways of living, but were also enjoying the eccentric security of, say, a ‘house’ and possibly a ‘dog’ and someone fit that loved us, balancing a creative and fulfilling career with the very real pressure of having to stop for selfies with fawning fans every bloody time we go out for a pint of milk.
But rarely, while wading through that swamp of disappointment, do we stop to consider the teenager that dreamed up this life. This teenager also cried herself to sleep over the plight of whales, thought that she would literally die if she didn’t get a Bang on the Door pencil case, and that Jared Leto created feelings. She was, to be kind, unformed. She had no idea what it meant to live in 2018, in world that was stuttering, in a body like this. So, if it makes you feel bad, disregard her whiny lip-glossed voice. She doesn’t know what it’s like to know you don’t know everything.
I’m wondering why your options seem so dramatically all or nothing. Must you really quit and start again in order to find some job satisfaction? While a lot of careers have a direct route forwards – biology A-Level, dentistry BA, five years in dental school, two years in practice, boom, you’re a dentist – there are an equal number, especially in the ‘creative industries’ where there’s no clear path through the woods, and besides, the woods are all littered with cigarette packets. But that’s not to say there is no way to carve out your own way through the admin and assisting into a job that you find more interesting without chucking it all up in the air.
You wanted to be a novelist – you can still be a novelist. You just have to write. And the blessing of a boring job is that you can leave at five, and sit at home with your laptop in the gift of five whole hours before your programme’s on – the former enables the latter. Toni Morrison was an editor, Harper Lee worked for an airline, Octavia Butler did telemarketing – your job isn’t preventing you from winning the Booker Prize, that’s on you love.
Also: you’re 29. Where did the idea come from that we all had to be settled and successful before our twenties were out? You are YOUNG. If you do decide to retrain and go at it all again, you have TIME. You have plenty of time. You have no kids relying on your income for shoes, you have no relatives relying on your shoulder to die on, you have time and ambition, and the luxury of savings to cushion you while you decide what would make you happiest.
I’m aware I must sound like your mum. But I’m someone for whom security and its associated pensions have become a beautiful, rare and warming delight, a thing that, in theory at least, has the possibility of allowing all kinds of creative wanderings. Which, yes, my teenage self would be absolutely mortified to read. Sorry Eva. And stop over-plucking your eyebrows, they’re fine.