I was never very good at staying in a job. The very first job I had, as a waitress at 16, lasted all of one day. I did a bit better after that, working part-time in a shoe shop for more than a year, but I quit when I decided that spending time on hobbies and with friends was more important than money. There was another shoe shop, then a series of short-lived admin stints in offices. None of them ever seemed like jobs I could tolerate for very long. I knew that when I graduated, I needed to do something else. I needed something that I wouldn’t mind going to every day; something that might enrich the rest of my life rather than poison it. I wanted to Be a Something.
I don’t recall doing a very thorough examination of what careers might be good for me. I didn’t see a careers advisor or do personality tests (not at that time). I just looked for jobs and applied for what sounded appealing. There were a few options. I thought I might go into arts administration, or bookselling, or publishing. I started doing a copy-editing course and got an interview with a magazine publisher. I applied for a great-sounding writing job. I even thought about carrying on with academia and sent off a few queries to postgraduate courses in theatre and languages (and then realised I wouldn’t be able to afford to take that path). When I still had nothing lined up, I applied for anything and everything in my home town. I got interviews for some of them, but I never got the job because I was either overqualified or under-qualified (or just not very good at interviews). Finally, I joined a temp agency and resigned myself to more short-lived office admin jobs.
I decided that I would go into librarianship. I didn’t think too closely about whether I was the right fit for it, or about what my future in it would be. Two main things about it appealed to me: 1) The fact that it was not office-based – I would be working in a varied environment with different tasks to do; and 2) There was a clear-cut path of entry: work experience in a library for at least a year; a postgraduate course; and then a qualified job.
After several tries, I managed to secure a year-long graduate trainee post in a university library. I was pleased about this. I relocated across the country for it. I had to take out a graduate loan to be able to afford to do it. The year was good in some ways: new friends, new experiences; but I also found myself doubting whether it was the right thing for me. I didn’t feel like I really fit in. I was unsure about doing the postgraduate qualification, especially when I applied for funding and didn’t get it.
But I did the course. I took out another loan to afford it. I worked in part-time jobs to support myself. When I was still writing my final dissertation, I got a qualified job pretty quickly, which was lucky as I desperately needed money. I stayed in that job for just over a year, and then left to go to a similar but better-paying job.
Fast forward nine years. I am still in that job. For the first several years in the job I had a complicated work pattern: I was a temp doing maternity cover; then I was job-sharing and had a second job; then eventually I took up the post full-time and permanently. And there I still am. And although it is a library job, it is office-based with a lot of monotonous work. It is the exact thing I wanted to get away from. I do not feel like I am Being a Something. I feel like I have been quietly rotting. I feel like it has negatively affected my health and other areas of my life.
It is not a surprise, when you consider that I had doubts about the suitability of the field in my first job. And the question now is: why don’t I just leave?
It’s a complicated question. If I was swimming in money: of course I would leave. No question. But more recently I have begun to ask: is the money really more important than my health and wellbeing? And I have decided: no. Last year, I gave myself a deadline to leave. That deadline is approaching. I think I am prepared to hand in my notice. I worry that I won’t be brave enough to do it, but then I think: do I really still want to be in this position a year from now?
Giving myself the deadline meant that possibilities suddenly emerged. Whereas before I had felt trapped, when I acted as if I were leaving, the world opened up. I looked at what jobs were suggested for my personality type (INFJ, in case you’re interested). I tirelessly read articles about career changing and finding your perfect fit. I researched different job types. I applied for opportunities that I would have talked myself out of applying for a year ago.
This is a strange time to be writing this because I am not out into the clear, yet. I’m still trapped in the thicket. It will be up to me to find a way out. It is a battle between familiarity and the unknown. Do I want to stay in the familiar gloom, or will I be brave enough to step out of it? It is hard, having been in the same place for so long, to believe that things could be different.
But the longer I stay, the harder it will become. I don’t think it will be easy to make a change, just as it wasn’t easy to get into the job I have now. I know that also, I have been doing this alone, and have probably reached the limit of the amount I can do by myself. I have shut myself away, thinking I can find the answer. I have avoided others who are aware of my situation, because I think: surely I should have figured it out by now. I can’t show my face until I have. But I think perhaps it’s time to stop hiding and start asking for help.