I just finished Jenny Lawson’s new book, Furiously Happy, and am amazed at what this woman can do while suffering from mental illness and anxiety. As she says in her chapter “We’re Better Than Galileo. Because He’s Dead,” there are degrees of mental illness–it’s sort of like the autism spectrum–and some of us are worse than others. I’ve never been diagnosed, but I am pretty sure I fit squarely in the middle of the anxiety spectrum.
What’s horrible about anxiety, or at least to the degree I experience it, is you are your own worst enemy. When good things happen, there still is a sense of dread that something is wrong with it. And it’s not like we can’t see the good in situations, it’s more that we run through the worst possible scenarios of every situation, while hashing out some positives as well, but the bad always outweighs the good in our minds and we vote for bad.
Take my recent job prospect as an example. I have had my resume and application online with a government agency for a little over a year for a position I thought I could do and would enjoy doing. It doesn’t pay well, it is entry level, but it’s in a field I’ve always had an interest in and is semi-related to my writing and editing career. A year ago, when I learned from one of my work sources that there would be no more assignments coming from her or the publisher, I panicked. I had recently lost another contract because of tax implications for the company in hiring freelancers in my state, so that source of employment dried up. It was fleeting and never amounted to much money or work, so not a problem. But when my longtime publishing source, which comprised one-third or more of my income, dried up, I knew I was in trouble.
I still sent out resumes for freelance work and I enrolled in a program that would ultimately award me with a certificate in another area of interest. I took one class toward the certificate and updated my online application to reflect that. I also watched a few webinars for professionals in the field. I never heard back from the government agency at the time, which is not atypical, and I was able to pick up two more clients for my freelance editing career, which was excellent, so all was good.
With no contact from the government agency for months on end, I put it out of my mind and simply kept my application active in the system whenever a new reminder would be sent out.
In the meantime, my editing work dried up again. It’s a fickle business, publishing, and the work either comes in droves during the two annual publishing seasons or it’s as dry as the Sahara and you’re left rearranging the items on your desk and looking for other means of employment. So I was in a huge dry spell when the e-mail arrived last week notifying me that the government agency was hiring for the entry-level position and to call if I was interested in scheduling an interview. I ruminated on it for a couple days: Do I want to give up–or partially give up–working from home and the luxuries it provides? Do I want to start at the bottom and make barely over minimum wage in a position with no benefits? Do I have the time to add on one more job–and one I’d have to drive to and physically be at–when I get so busy and overwhelmed during publishing season that I can’t even get up from my desk for weeks on end? Could I do work and be on my feet, something I don’t do while editing or writing?
And then the phone call came.
I had a feeling who it was from when “City of” appeared in the caller ID window of my phone. I hadn’t made up my mind about accepting an interview but I picked up the phone anyway and agreed to meet for one. I thought it was a sign that I was meant to take this job if offered, after all the city never calls.
Then the panic really set in.
One reason, which would sound ludicrous to some, is because I would have to submit a list of three recent work references. As a freelancer, I don’t have a superior who oversees my work. I work for myself but I also work under production editors who send me work. There are two of whom I used once, for the freelance editing job I got that I love but only worked on three assignments for so far. The third resource is a friend of mine whose book I helped edit a few years back. She gave a glowing review of me last spring, she said, and I knew she’d help me again with this job. But here’s the kicker: It’s awkward giving a potential employer a list of names of people who themselves don’t have regular 9-to-5 jobs and who are often vying for the same jobs as you.
It’s also awkward because I just gave out those three names to get that freelance editing position and what would these women think if I were having someone contact them again, that I didn’t get the first job? That I’m now striving for something beneath me? That times are that bad? That this career change might be something they would like to consider and sabotage me? Mostly, though, I didn’t want to bother them for an entry-level position I may or may not get and I didn’t want to bother them this time when I might need them to secure a much better position in the future.
I mulled over the offer to interview and got input from some of my family members. Two of my kids, a teen and a seasoned, employed adult who is very rational, said don’t bother because of the pay and the disruption to my life. They said I should wait until (or should I say if?) the other position with this agency that I had applied to opens up and I get called to interview for that, which pays about what I make per hour freelancing and offers benefits (and it would be steady work!). To them it was a no-brainer. But to me it wasn’t so cut and dried. I like the editing work I do–even love some of it–but some stuff is tedious and boring ,and, although this may be a plus to some but not to me, work fluctuates. There are seasons of an abundance of work, too much so at times, and there are seasons when I’m anxious and scouring the Internet job boards for any morsel I can find and applying to anything that I think I can do. For so many years, I’ve longed for a job that’s reliable and that would be a boon to my freelance career.
After my kids’ sage advice, and being the anxious person I naturally am, I ran through all the negatives of taking such a job. I still have a child in high school who doesn’t drive and I have to drive him around town for games when he plays a sport and to and from school daily. How would he get where he needs to be until he is able to drive and until we have an extra car for him to drive if I were locked into working regular hours (but then again, what if the hours were when he’s in school or on the weekend?)? I also fretted over having to run off to a $10-an-hour job when I could make double that from home–if the work is available. And then there was the sense that I have a good thing going right now in freelancing. I can take work when I want it or refuse it if it doesn’t fit into my schedule (although I rarely refuse it because a freelancer will not be sent work if she’s apt to pass it up; it’ll go to some other freelancer who can then be relied on all the time while your name gets erased from the list). I texted a friend of mine for advice and she said stick with working from home. Another said to go to the interview and learn more about the position. Then when I showed how anxious I was to disrupt my life, she finally said don’t do it if it would alter your life so much.
So the other day, I sent an e-mail to the recruiter, thanking her and letting her know I would not be able to take the interview and that I had applied for the assistant position instead of the aide position and would be happy to accept an interview for that if and when I was chosen to do so. As soon as I hit “send,” I felt relief. I ended up having a really nice day with my husband, which reassured me that staying home and being able to write my own hours is the right thing. (I usually plan our family vacations around his much-less-flexible schedule, which makes me grateful for having a schedule with flexibility.)
Then the regrets hit.
And it was a tsunami of hits: Why did I not go to the interview and present my resume asking to be considered for both positions? Why didn’t I at least meet the people who do the hiring for these positions because they will no doubt be calling me (or not anymore!) when the other position opens? I felt I not only closed a door, I slammed it right in my face and theirs.
I did some work at home on one of my boring jobs the morning of the interview and then called the interviewer because I never received a reply e-mail after canceling. I wanted to make sure she got my message and wasn’t waiting for me to show up. But I got her voicemail and left a message. I also called the person her message said would be of help to callers if she was not answering her phone. But he didn’t pick up either. My phone call was not returned. My e-mail was not replied to. The slamming door reverberated so loudly it shook the house from its foundation. I am doomed, I thought. I am the Charlie Brown of humans. I am my own worst enemy.
Now I am awash in regret and guilt for not doing what I now realize was the right thing: going to the interview, learning about the entry-level position, discussing my qualifications, which would somewhat make me a better assistant than aide candidate, but at least I would have gotten my foot in the door–the door I ended up slamming shut.
Some people would be thinking I did the right thing. That I shouldn’t take a job beneath me, that I shouldn’t take a job with low pay. But I’ve been wanting to work in this agency for decades, yes, decades, and this was the very first time I’d gotten so much as a request to set up an interview.
I just sent a text to a friend asking if she wants to meet up. I can use a shoulder. Then she, who has been out of a good-paying career for about nine months, just told me she is taking courses to boost her chances of getting hired and she has other unexpected expenses. I told her I could drive to her on the weekend, but she laid it on the line. She’s not feeling up to it. She, like me and probably the reason we’ve been friends for thirty-plus years, is anxious and just needs some time to feel better. Now I feel like a fool for having bothered her about my $10-an-hour-job worries. Unlike me, my friend is single and doesn’t have a husband to support her.
I have a big tendency to compare myself to people who have it better than me–or to whom I think have it better. Then I read about or get a text like the one from my friend, whom I’ve always envied, and learn that even when you’re feeling bad there’s always someone who has it worse. As Jenny says, “Really, the only people you should be comparing yourself to would be people who make you feel better by comparison. For instance, people who are in comas.” There are plenty of people between me and the comatose. I just have to remember the silver lining is within every cloud and just forget the fact that the cloud is gray.