A few years ago, I gave up a job offer that potentially guaranteed job security, financial security, and a secure career path for the chance at something I didn’t even have, or know what it was, AND which I STILL don’t have. I gave it up twice. It was the first time I had ever experienced an inner conflict about a decision…but not for what you might think.
I had completed graduate school a little over a year ago and I had been interning UNPAID for several months. I had student loans on my back, never mind I had living and commuting expenses. My friend had made me aware of a position that would soon be open because they would be moving on to another role. It was a guaranteed funded position for one year. It wasn’t what I was interested in doing and it didn’t have the natural segueway needed to jump into what I wanted to do. But it was a respectable job, with a solid salary, benefits, and certain other perks. A job that would end after a year…I figured, perfect. No matter what, I would not grow comfortable with steady pay raises, benefits, vacation days, sick days…(Perverse, I know.) But I was truly terrified of feeling stuck or trapped. (In my field, it is easy to be pigeon holed and very difficult to jump between different areas.) Or, honestly, not being able to walk away from the money, or other future financial incentives of staying that would only keep compounding. But I still would have taken it for a year. I didn’t really have anything to lose. Just a year, and much more to gain for that year, while giving me a steady foothold to find the position I did want during the year. Or, so I thought, because when I got the call offering me the job at night, it came with conditions. Quid Pro Quo. Damn.
It all started out normally. I had submitted my resume. I went in for the interview. It wasn’t necessarily very good or very bad. Looking back, it was a little too casual. It seemed more about getting to know me, my face. But then one night, while I was in bed, I get a call from my friend. I am expecting a casual conversation. Nothing of the sort. This was business. I am told I have the job as long as I agree to the CONDITIONS – oh, yeah – and I have to give an answer within an hour. (HUH!?!) I am immediately on guard. There is nothing NORMAL about this. But maybe I just got a taste of how the REAL world works? I was on alert. The conditions are spelled out to me and inside I am playing with the terms. But I already know my answer. I get a call an hour later from my anxious friend. She is only the messenger and she is put on the spot, while at dinner with the powers that be. This is new to her, too. I voice my concerns with the “conditions” and I decide to let it go. I turn it down. I think it is over. Perhaps, I am an idiot, too? I immediately call anyone I can get on the phone. They are incredulous that I would turn down the offer, and the conditions are no big deal. This is the general consensus. Take the job. Deal with consequences later. Let me reiterate that I was interning at an unpaid job at this point, post grad for the experience? I needed the money. Any money. School loans do not get paid with dorky, awkward charm.
The next morning I am thoughtful, contemplative of my decision and the could have beens. I knew what I had just done. But it was done. OVER. But it’s not over. I get a call on my long morning hour and a half commute out of the state. (That’s right – I was interning for FREE out of state! Joy!) It was my friend. They were doubling down. Literally. The original offer was for a position that was only available for one year. They figured I needed more inducement. A greater benefit, perhaps? Instead, I am offered a two year role, that had a greater likelihood of being renewable but I needed to tell my friend soon, preferably as soon as I got to the office, before 10am. Once again, the dilemma.
But it’s not a genuine dilemma for me. I know I will not take it. Just as I knew the previous night that I would not take it. And this is where the incredulous, logical, rational, pragmatic part of my brain wants to KICK MY DUMB ‘existential, fairytale lovin,’ greek myth schooled’ ASS. The greatest inner conflict I experienced was my RATIONAL, PRAGMATIC, EASY STREET LOVIN’ brain trying to get me to take the offer. My rational brain was literally cursing me out. DO NOT BE STUPID! GO FOR THE MONEY! ARE YOU A DUMBASS? FUUUCKKK! GO FOR THE MONEY! Because my logical brain already knew what my emotional gut-self had decided from the very beginning the condition was given.
Life can be a series of compromises. Compromising is not good or bad. It will always be in the details to figure that out, and sometimes what’s at stake isn’t a tangible thing. They are intangible, invisible. Only the person who makes the compromise will ever truly understand the cost of a compromise. Taking the job and fulfilling the condition meant bumpin’ uglies with some of my principles and beliefs. It also meant I could be bought, rather cheaply, to support something, or someone, that I did not believe in. For instance, supporting someone that I believed to be a crook. A typical tammany hall political boss. Not just any kind of support. Canvassing, collecting signatures, attending rallies, holding up banners, attending meetings, attending local events, participating in STAGED support events – for someone I would NEVER want to be associated with on a good day. Something that could potentially follow me even after the position is over. Who knows? That wasn’t the only thing on the line. My friendship would be, too. My friend would be constantly judged, and feel pressure for what I did and did not do in support. When my heart is not in something, I can barely do it. When every fiber in my being RECOILS at the idea…Well, fuck, count me out.
When I spoke to my friends about it – across the board – they didn’t really get it. It wasn’t that big a deal. I even ran it by the department head of my internship and he was surprised. His quiet comment at the end, which sounded kind of perturbed was “How very principled of you.” Something to that effect. He was offput that I was outraged by the conditions. Almost, like I was saying I was too GOOD to do it. Self righteous, much? You know, that wasn’t my intent. But agreeing to the conditions meant changing my political affiliation, possibly moving near the political base, spending hours after work, and weekends to support someone I did not believe in, methods I did not believe in, positions I did not believe in. But who knows what else would have been required? Did I mention this was NOT a political job, or a campaign-related job that would have required such affiliations and movement. Also, what was being requested was completely outside of the job responsibilities. This was supposed to be an apolitical position that is supposed to be NEUTRAL, but like many jobs within the government, it can be gifted out as a reward within the patronage system. It was my first real exposure to this system and I was upset. But apparently this is how MANY government jobs are doled out. Consider me schooled and repelled.
For those who don’t undertstand why I didn’t take the job with the conditions, please watch the last scene in The Crucible, where Daniel Day Lewis, playing John Proctor, is offered a chance to save his life if he signs a false confession admitting that he is a witch, which he does, but then angrily rips up the parchment, screaming out “Because it is my name!”
My, my name I cannot sign…I mean to deny nothing…Because it is my name! Because I cannot have another in my life! Because I lie and sign myself to lies!
(Melo-) dramatic much? Look, I get it. My situation was no where near that level. I know. Also, in my case, no one truly had to know the extent of the compromise. As long as I kept my mouth shut on certain views. BUT I WOULD KNOW. No else has to think poorly of me because I would think poorly of myself.
I would also like to add that my particular situation was not dire. There were no small children, or family, to support. This would have had more serious consequences. I cannot say what I would or would not have done. Those were not my facts. This was a mini-thimble climb in the scheme of modern urban city life’s adversities. But I climbed that mini-thimble and made it through! Who knows how many mini-thimbles you have to bypass and cut through, before you are walking off a ledge and asking yourself mid fall, “How did I get here?”
Oh – I STILL think I am a DUMBASS. But this DUMBASS avoided something that could have been potentially bigger. Professionally, my name could have been attached to this person and their name is MUD now. I am not perfect or saintly. But I do try to do what’s right, even when it’s not convenient or personally advantageous. Has it gotten me far? Not really. This is particularly hard because I am a COMPETITIVE person. But sometimes you have to be ok with the person in the mirror. Trust me when I say, I feel like kicking it out of me. But even the recognition of wanting to go easy makes me feel crappy. The little voice inside ain’t havin’ it.
So, how long after did it take to find a paid position? About seven months. That’s a whole ‘nother story, which needs a bit more distance.
*It is important to note that my friend did not, and does not, believe the power that be was a crook, and that they are being unfairly maligned. I beg to differ. I will truly never know. However, the spate of negative press this person gets within their professional circle says otherwise.