Help! I suddenly stopped going to work

I've been leaving the house every day for two months and going to Starbucks or the library.

Published December 5, 2008 11:13AM (EST)

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Dear Cary,

I'm broke. I suppose you could argue that such is the case of a good many people and hardly news in the present economy. But lately, I'm a particular kind of broke. About two months ago, I just stopped going to my job. I was driving to work one day and, abruptly, turned into a drugstore and bought a magazine and then drove myself and my new magazine to a Starbucks. Since then, my days have largely been variations on that theme: I spend a lot of time at libraries and generally bring my own coffee from home because, well, I'm broke.

I have a B.A. in English. After graduation, I'd sort of intended to marry my college boyfriend who had both a useful degree and a well-remunerated career. Although my feminist heart now withers a little at that thought, it seemed a good one at the time. He seemed to consider himself a patron of the arts, and I considered myself a semi-starving bohemian writer. I worked at a badly paid but slightly romantic customer service job for about two years. The relationship lasted a year after graduation. Eventually, I left my customer service gig -- which had afforded few responsibilities and plenty of time for reading, writing and general woolgathering -- in favor of a secretarial position at a friend's company. I left after only a few months, having discovered myself a terrible secretary and having wounded both the friendship and my self-esteem. After all, what fuckwit can't file successfully? My parents, who'd lately came into some money from my grandparents' estate, offered to loan me money for grad school. So I moved back to my hometown, took a part-time customer service job, and began to make myself employable. When I started school, my field seemed like a good one. Since then, of course, the economy and the Bush administration and blah blah blah. I'm six months out of grad school and have been unable to find more than a part-time job in my chosen field.

The jobs, though, have been out of the area, and I can't justify moving across the country for a part-time job, particularly given that a condition of my parents' loan was that I not leave town without having a full-time job lined up elsewhere. So I stayed at my part-time customer service job. Eventually, my lease ended and I moved back in with my parents. I got promoted at my job, which raised my hourly wage a whole dollar and which left me dealing with only the most irate customers and which left me leaving the office most days feeling terrible about my life. So, finally, I left without any plan or even much forethought. Every morning, now, I get up and pretend to go to work. I stretched my final paychecks as far as they could go, and I've been pawning things right and left since that money's run out. I'm almost out of salable goods, and I know I need a job. I've been looking, perhaps quixotically, for a career, for something I'd really love to do. I have a whole list of careers I'd love, and I spend a good amount of time each day applying for positions. But so far, I haven't had a bit of luck.

I'm relatively intelligent, and, although my GPA is a bit spotty, I'm educated. I'm a hard, even dogged, worker. I take direction well. I'm personable. I'm actually rather talented at a couple of things. And I have to believe that there's something better out there for me, that there's some sort of meaningful work in my future. I don't want to be rich, necessarily; I just want to do a job I don't hate, a job that makes me feel like I'm making use of my abilities and making a difference and a job that lets me pay my bills regularly and on time and maybe lets me spend a couple of bucks on clothes not from Goodwill. I don't think that's very much to ask.

I know I should just take a deep breath and go apply for a job at the mall food court or something. But I can't. The idea makes me physically ill, actually. I'm 27 this month, and I just can't bring myself to admit I have no career, few prospects, and a job at the Falafel Hut in my hometown. The only alternative I can see is to explain my situation to my parents. They're far from wealthy. I know they'd be eager to help me financially, but I know that it would mean they'd "economize" more than they already do and that I would likely inherit my older brother's reputation as the family mooch.

Perhaps the answer here is something about swallowing my pride. But I feel like I already have a bellyful of swallowed pride. I've been working at shitty customer service jobs for 10 years and so have cleaned toilets, served meals, and taken orders all the while saying, "Yes, sir," to dozens of people who have implied I'm an idiot, called me a bitch or asked me to throw away their used Kleenex. I've taken loans from my elderly parents. I have followed up on job prospect after job prospect and sweetly requested to be kept in mind in the event of future openings after having been rejected. My writing hasn't yielded me a penny. And I have very nearly taken the check recently offered by that old boyfriend.

My hands are shaking while I type this, I've just discovered. I really don't know what to do anymore.

At an Impasse

Dear Person at an Impasse,

So you stopped going to work.

That's a start.

Now here's what you do: Start blogging on Open Salon. Just tell your daily story about how you leave the house every day and don't go to your job. It'll be a hit, I guarantee it. If you've got a video camera, even better. We're going to love this.

Why? Because we love a person who has the courage to do what a lot of us would love to do. So many of us go through life doing these ridiculous jobs, but we're too afraid to just stop doing it. You stopped doing it. So do us the favor of letting us root for you. We're on your side.

Everything is going to be OK. I guarantee it. You're not going to starve. It's not going to kill your parents or the economy for you to just start doing what makes sense for you to do and let the money problem sort itself out. It will sort itself out. You will find a way to monetize your being. Trust me. By doing something creative with your time you are doing what people in this great nation of ours are supposed to do. Wasting your time doing stuff you hate helps nobody. However, you will strengthen the nation and do many people a great service if you just come out of the closet and be who you are: a very bad secretary. An inept falafel maker. A not-so-precise file clerk. A grad school graduate who one day just stopped doing the inane and ridiculous thing that for some reason she thought she was supposed to do and started doing what most of us would love to do if we just had the strength of character to stop pretending that what we're doing is just fine no problem yes sir I'll get right on it no I am not smirking I am smiling. Sir.

Just stop doing it. And don't get scared and go back to doing it, either. Not now. There's no going back.

I want to see you blogging, young lady. I want to see your picture on Open Salon and I want to hear the truth about your life. The rest of us want to hear it too. Hand me that broom. I'll clean up. You start writing.

And don't come out until you've finished your first post.

Ah, the working world: Of ill-dressed lawyers, overeducated flight attendants and right-wing reading in the corporate john.

Makes a great gift! Can be personlized to the giftee of your choice. Signed first editions on sale now.

What? You want more advice?


By Cary Tennis

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