On Job Shame, Failure, and Not Having It All Together Yet


Since I currently live in my hometown, I run the risk of encountering people I went to high school with on a near-daily basis (if I bother to venture out of my apartment). Even though my graduating class was pretty big, I’m not chummy with many of my peers that chose to stick around town. Still, inevitably, I will run into someone who wants to chat, and they ask that dreaded question: “So, what do you do now?”

And my insides curdle every time I have to answer: “I’m a secretary.”

Now, I’m aware that I’ve accomplished a lot in the last two years. Living in Costa Rica, working as a writer, moving back home, and becoming financially independent again in just a few months–those are all big accomplishments. And I’m also not trying to diss the secretaries of the world. I’m one of them, and we do a pretty thankless job for a pretty small payout.

But–BUT–the people from high school all knew me back before the economy shit on all of our hopes and dreams and bank accounts. They remember me rocking all of the Honors English tests and talking about writing the Next Great American Novel. But I’m not writing a novel. I’m not even sure that I want to anymore. And I also don’t have a yacht, nor do I live in the city like I always planned. I never wanted to stay in my hometown, but right now I’m kind of stuck here. It blows, and most of my fellow townies are probably in similar situations, feeling the same feelings.

We don’t talk about that though. I never see aquaintances from school and ask “How has the economy screwed you over?” or “What soul-sucking job are you working while you fruitlessly pursue your passion on the side?”

On the exterior, it’s all pleasantries and smiles and “How are you”s, but underneath, we all know this is what’s happening:


High School Girl: Kaitlin! Hi! How have you been?

Me: Oh, you know…just working, life. Are you living here in town?

High School Girl: No, I’m just visiting my parents. I live in [Awesome Place] now, working as a [Really Cool Professional Thing]. What are you doing?

Me:…I’m a secretary here in Hometown. But I blog a lot on the side!

High School Girl: Cool… Did you see my Facebook update? I’m engaged!


High School Girl: *shows me the ring* Oh, did you hear that I won the lottery?

FinishHim-deathMe: *dead*

I’m not sure where the need to impress the people we knew in our youth comes from, but I do feel it a lot, and I know I’m not the only one who does.

At least I haven’t told anyone I invented Post-It notes…yet

And the crazy thing is, I feel totally stupid for feeling this way. WHY do I care what anyone thinks? What purpose does mentally beating myself up over it serve? My time would be much better spent continuing my ongoing (grueling, disappointing, over-a-year-long) hunt for writing jobs in Chicago.

And more importantly, shoudn’t I be happy for the people I meet who are doing well?

I’ll go ahead and answer that one now: yes. Yes, I should be happy for them. In fact, I’m always happy and supportive when my friends do well. But I won’t lie–I am a bit jealous of them too. I’d like to be the cool one gallivanting around the city and writing for a living. That’s what I was doing in Costa Rica, and although it didn’t pay well, writing is much more fufilling than answering phone calls all day. I take more pride in it.

What I don’t like is the competitiveness that I feel in some of my interactions with people, but maybe I’m the one creating and feeding that feeling? I don’t know. It’s confusing and frustrating, and hopefully someone else can relate to that. Everyone knows at least one over-achiever who’s currently rocking at life, making six figures, and kicking straight ass while the rest of us are over here like


I can’t help but feel like I’ve failed somehow. At something. I’m not entirely sure where my shit went wrong, but it’s definitely rolling downhill–and I’m at the bottom of that hill. And I’m wearing white pants.

I’m 25. I’m supposed to be successful now, right? I’ve missed my chance at being a child prodigy, but I still have time to be a wunderkind. I still have time to prove my high school counselor who told me to major in something “more practical than English” wrong. But the clock is ticking.

I’m slowly realizing that I’m never going to become the grownup version of myself that I envisioned when I was younger. I’m never going to be cool, for starters, nor will I ever be taller than 5′ 3″.  I probably won’t walk any read carpets or win any oscars for Best Original Screen Play. I will never have complete control over my hair, and I probably won’t be able to eat less than 4 pieces of pizza in one sitting. I will never be prom queen (or even go to prom, for that matter).

I won’t become a fashionista–in fact, I’m doing pretty well on my self-presentation when my glasses don’t have mascara marks. So, with that out there, I might as well just admit to myself that I will not be a competitor on America’s Next Top Model (5’7″ and under) either. (But if I were, I would be the nice, older-but-wiser one in the house, who wins all of the mini contests but gets voted off in the top 4 or 5, and totally doesn’t cry when she leaves.)

I will never have it all together. Although, to be honest, I don’t know anyone who actually does. The people who seem to have it all together on the outside usually have some kind of  turmoil brewing beneath the surface of their shiney lives, like sad sparkley iceburgs.

I guess I just need to work on making progress when I can, and being happy for others (which I genuinely am–most of the time). And I really need to work on being happy with myself.

This iceburg has nothing to hide
This iceburg has nothing to hide

5 thoughts on “On Job Shame, Failure, and Not Having It All Together Yet

  1. You know how we all still have a sense of ‘whoa’ and general respect towards people who lived through the depression? Like FUCK, those people lived through breadlines. Shit.

    One day, we are all going to be telling our offspring about coming of age during The Great Recession. And our stories won’t be as badass as Depression stories, for the most part. I’ve never gone hungry or slept on the street due to the shitty economy. I’ve just spent too much on credit cards and spent a lot of time feeling guilty and poor. But you know, making a life for yourself in this environment is still something to be proud of. We only have reason for feeling bad about this shit if we let it make us give up. And I know people who have done that, but I also know a lot of people who are reassessing their goals, and the American dream, and figuring out what a happy life would really be for them, and going after it. Even when that means having to live with the parents, or suck it up and work as a secretary in our home towns.

    I’m still unspeakably angry at the selfish, greedy fuckers who did this to all of us, but particularly to me and all my fellow young people whose lives will be forever altered by our rough start. But I’m also really proud of us. I’m proud that people are working through this shit and finding out just how strong they are, and how much they can adapt. And I hope that, like the depression generation, we can have something valuable to teach our kids about fighting for our dreams even when the world was shitting all over them.

    The way I see it, you living in your hometown working a secretary job is no less worthy of respect than my parents working and going to school fulltime while they had young children. Lots of people have to struggle to make it at this stage in their lives; the recession had simply made that experience more universal even for those of us who thought we were doing everything ‘right’.

    And yea, most of us aren’t living on so little that we struggle to feed ourselves, and so this is not as bad as some periods of hardship in the past… but it still sucks. Hard. And we’re making it through. I think we should all give ourselves and each other a little more credit for that.

    1. I love this comment, Keely. And I do think you’re absolutely right. I just get really bummed out on the state of my life from time to time, although I’m always trying to find humor and truth when I’m feeling that sadness. I haven’t resorted to riding the railroads (YET), so you’re right about things not being as bad as the depression. I think our generation has gotten a really raw deal, and it’s going to take a lot of mental recalibration for us to come to terms with the reality of our economy and our futures.

      We were promised the world. We were promised boundless success and prosperity, as long as we did our time, studied hard, went to college, etc etc. But the grown ups lied to us. They screwed things over and then pushed millions of us out into a job market oversaturated with young, inexperienced college graduates who are basically unemployable or under-employed. And then they call us lazy and entitled BECAUSE we’re unemployed and BECAUSE we expected jobs to be waiting for us after Pomp and Circumstance stopped playing. It’s a very unfair deal.

      I know, personally, that I never expected to be a millionaire, regardless of my joking about it. You can’t get degrees in English (Creative Writing) and Spanish and expect to earn piles of money. But I also didn’t expect most of the jobs in my field (that I’m qualified for) to offer nearly unliveable wages. Wages so low that they’re almost insulting. And of course, there are the unpaid internships/indentured servitude positions that pay in “valuable experience,” which are basically just companies that want a recent-grad to do dirty work and set up their social media accounts for free.

      It’s kind of ridiculous that, even though I was grossly underpaid for my work in Costa Rica, I was actually being paid wages I could live and survive on in reasonable (frugal-but-reasonable) comfort, whereas here the majority of the jobs I find in Chicago offer $10/hour, which is insane, given the city’s cost of living and high taxes and whatnot.

      I guess I kind of went on a tangent with this response. Ultimately, I just find this whole job market reality frustrating and exhausting. I keep working and secretary-ing my heart out, and supporting myself, and not racking up debt, and trying my hardest to make the right decisions (which is something I’ve been trying hard to do all my life). But I think no amount of the Right Decisions can pull us out of the hole we’re in. And it’s sad for me to think that I probably will never be close to the success my parents’ have achieved at their age.

      1. I know. I’m with you, so much. In addition to the general screwing-over we all got, I also signed myself up for extra by going to graduate school. I mean, I really thought going to school for science was safe. I never expected to make millions, and unlike my parents, I never even expected that I’d be wealthy. I just expected to be safely employable, after 6ish years working my ass off but safely making a livable wage and benefits. And as it turns out, those 6-years weren’t safe and the job market I’m facing is miserable. Argh.

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