If you’d asked the 16 year old me what I’d pick- a happy low-paid & lowly regarded job or a miserable highly-paid highly esteemed job- I would have had no trouble with answering that I’d want to be happy, not rich. And similarly if you’d asked young-me whether I thought it was possible to fall in love with and have an absolutely fulfilling romantic life with someone of a different social class and educational level I would have said that it was definitely possible.
And yet here I am, in a well-paid, stressful, highly competitive job with little to no spare time. And part of the time I’m happy, sure. But so much of that time is spent with heartache and stress. Scared I might kill someone. That my decisions might lead to a horrible outcome. That my bosses think I’m lazy or incompetent. That my career will be ended prematurely. And the worst and biggest fear is the silent voice in the back of my head saying:
“You are an imposter pretending to be hard-working and competent but one day someone senior is going to find out the truth and tell everyone.”
The thing is, it’s not paranoia because everyone really is out to get you. Waiting to see whether you will perform to the “required standard” to figure out whether you’re good enough to proceed. You have to watch your back because people will inevitably complain. And they will complain loudly, especially if they perceive you as weak or unlikeable. If you get a reputation then the shit will stick, and confirmation bias will mean that people will only notice the bad bits that conform to what they expect of you. The good things probably won’t be noticed because you’re meant to be doing them automatically anyway.
The worst thing of course is if people think you’re a liar, a whistle-blower or actually crazy. Those things will not just stick but they may follow you from job to job. Hushed warnings behind closed doors. Keep an eye on that one.
There is no guide and no-one teaches you how to be good at this. It’s sink or swim. Some people are naturally “good”. Much of that is about patterns of behaviour. Relaxed, articulate confidence. To be fair, most relaxed, articulate, confident people seem to be that way because they know what they’re talking about. Except there’s also over-confidence, manipulative behaviour or being a smooth talker whose knowledge is inadequate but whose blunders are quietly swept away.
No-one is perfect, but no-one wants to be the “problem child”. But how do you know you’re not a problem child, when one of the symptoms of being a problem child is lack of insight? If people favour confidence and frown upon signs of weakness then how do you know whether you’re the arrogant overreaching wanker or the calm confident competent übermensch? How do you ask for help?
What if you end up in the painful cycle of torment where someone has decided that you are a problem child and no matter what you do to improve, you are scrutinised so closely that any small mistake is seen as a massive failure, and confidence and lack of confidence are both seen as signs of being problematic?
This is basically the junk that follows you around all day at work and follows you home to haunt your sleep. At least the pay is good. It better be, considering the stress. Considering the cost of take-away food. New clothes because you’re getting fatter. Courses. Presents for the friends and family you never see. A cleaner maybe because you have no energy to clean the house.
And yet, somehow all that money gets spent. On stuff especially that you don’t really need. And on renting a place big enough to house all the stuff you don’t need.
Meanwhile even though you’re technically sane, you know you’re part of a crazy system with its own dysfunctional illogic that makes no sense unless you’re within it. People outside it don’t realise that no, there really is nothing you can do to improve things or bargain and yes, these terrible conditions really are meant to be “part of the job”.
It’s also self-perpetuating. How can you exist without the money, the prestige when you have little enough already? You can’t quit or take time off because everyone will think you’re “not coping” or that you’re a “quitter”, a “failure”, someone who didn’t fulfil their contract and left everyone else in the shit.
And see this is the other thing- everyone tells you that all your other options are equally as awful. There’s no way out! There really are no options other than to plod along! Everything is awful everywhere no matter what you do!
THERE IS NO ESCAPE.
I’m starting to think a different way. I’ve saved lives. I’ve changed the world for the better. I’ve made lots of money. I’ve been there, I’ve done that and I’m not even 30. So even though I don’t have a shit-load of savings, even though I haven’t achieved everything possible had I shotgunned the shortest possible journey to the top, maybe this is enough for now and maybe there is something better out there for me.
I just wish I knew what that was and how to get there.