You know, despite being in a good place, I'm still trying to figure out what it is I want to do with my life. And right now I'm just utterly disgusted, in way I never thought I could be, of the regular day job grind. Not only because I don't see the point, and because I'm probably too clever for my own good and therefore question everything, but because I'm very, very tired. Dog tired. Have been for the past two years, really. Taking the steps to heal, first off because at the core of my chronic illness is work in its worst possible iteration, with the harassment and the oppressive work environment and the oblivious colleagues. But also taking the steps to talk and cry and breathe, finding support and accepting that I need it, now more than ever.
I am a writer. I've always been a writer ever since I was seven years old. I've always nurtured worlds, deemed at best as imaginary, and at worst as proper nonsense; and I have denied myself the right to be for fifteen years, in the name of studies and work and money. Something that is necessary, really, don't get me wrong, but something that I cannot find sufficient solace in.
I fired myself from my previous job, because I hated it with all my guts and because I saw more of colleagues, and a company, I had no stake or interest in, than the people I loved most. And because I denied myself, I have denied those people, I have denied Nicolas what he deserves most, which is true happiness and peace of mind.
I am a writer. And I have had the most beautifully quirky gift of all: the freedom to fail.
The text I'm about to show you today was translated from French, and was initially published on Le Salaire de la Peur, a blog that tackles the sheer, horrifying aspects of the working world, by D.. I thank her today for putting into words what my mind has been struggling to compute.
The Freedom to Fail
Ever since I was a child, I knew what I wanted to do of my life and I did everything to succeed. I went to uni, graduated with two Master’s Degrees and completed internships in prestigious companies. My parents ensured my financial security, so I could accept many, way too many unpaid internships, and more importantly focus on my studies without having to struggle to put bread on the table. By all means, I was a privileged student, compared to others. And because of that, everyone expected the very best of me. That I graduate, that I finish among the top students. I couldn’t do a literary baccalaureat because in my country town that was for losers, so I decided upon doing a scientific baccalaureat instead.
And then, graduation. I’d like to do research, but that’s not what’s expected of me, and after seven years at uni, everyone expects something else. That I start earning a living. So I get out there, and start looking. The first three months, I work as a daily contractor for three different companies, and I always have to be ready in case they call. Then I find another job, an open-ended contract, paid 1500 euros per month after tax. (That’s 1944 dollars or 1265 pounds sterling per month.) The rate of work seems dreadful, but it’s a small, burgeoning company with good career opportunities. I accept and move house. I work from 8:30 AM to 8 PM every single day, no lunch break, but that’s okay, I already knew that. I get to take a look at my contract before signing, and there it is, 1500 euros before tax. I try to discuss this, but end up into a fight with the boss. After half an hour, he tells me “Either you sign or you leave.” I look at him and grab my stuff. I’m leaving. He catches up, changes the contract with a sickly-sweet smile: “We misunderstood each other”, he says. Okay. I stay. And I sign.
Things go downhill from here. The hours are hellish, the pace is killing me and I start resenting this job I studied so long for. The colleagues are oblivious, they don’t understand my objections. They have even more work than I have, because I refuse to be knocked into shape, because I actually question the boss’s managerial style. I have a life, a boyfriend whom I want to spend time with. I don’t want to spend my whole weekends sleeping. I cry every other day. My colleagues tell me I should be thankful, because without him, we wouldn’t have a job. Bullshit. I break down. I resign after three months, though I feel it has been three years. Fortunately, I have the support of my family. I start breathing again. I have failed. I take the whole weight of this failure upon me, stuck between my parents’ expectations and my own. I find my way back home, full of doubt and questioning about my future and having to confront the opinion of others.
But after a while, I realise something. I have indeed failed, but I have seen with my own eyes the class warfare, when an employee is being forced to sign a part-time contract when actually working full-time and being threatened with redundancy if he refuses. I have seen what it was to try and fire a man on paternity leave because he refused to sign a one-month trial period extension as a predated open-ended contract. And I find myself in the middle of nowhere, utterly alone, without my friends and without any career prospects. Finally, some breathing space. I start writing again, as I did when I was little. It’s been two months now. I rediscover the pleasure of telling a story, of seeing it develop and flourish in my mind, of giving myself the means to tell it. For a while. Because, despite of all of this, there is the stigma of unemployment. Being unemployed and doing only artistic and literary things is a nightmare. When I’m being asked what I do for a living, I don’t dare tell them I actually “write a novel”. It seems so pretentious. What are you, a gypsy? The new Victor Hugo? I just can’t tell them. So I say that I don’t do anything, and people regard me with scorn and suspicion. But I’m not “doing nothing”. I think. I read novels and sociological studies. I have stepped outside of the working world and I question it. I reject it, I bypass it, I wonder why, and how we got to this, in this otherworldly situation where working is more important than knowing plant names. So, yes, I have failed. But by doing so, I have left the study-work-earn imperative. I’m going to start working again, but this time as a waitress, as I had three years ago. To live. Live! Put money aside and travel abroad. Or put money aside and then stop working again, to keep on writing. Because I do not belong to the status quo and because I don’t want to lose my newfound freedom again.