After around a week of no contact with my boss, he casually strode into the open-plan office I work in and gave me a smug smile with a jerk of the head indicating for me to follow him. He took me to an empty office, closed the door and sat down, looking pleased as punch. He looked like the cat that got the cream. Smug and happy. He slid an envelope across the desk to me and told me to open it. Gingerly I peeled open the letter, already quite certain that I knew what was inside. I was right. My contract was being extended by 3 months. The smug glee on my boss’s face was because he was proud of himself, and he was looking forward to my doting thanks.
I mimicked his happiness, dutifully exclaiming how happy I was that I didn’t have to go looking for an alternative job for at least 3 more months, and how much I appreciated him doing this.
In truth though, my heart sunk. I have never been unemployed, and was not concerned about approaching the end of my contract. Despite graduate employment being at an all time low when I graduated, and foolishly going travelling for a couple of months in the middle of recession, and leaving a comfortable job to take on a short term contract…I have never been unemployed for more than 2 weeks. I had anticipated that my contract would be extended. Although my workload had significantly dropped I was still a month or so away from the projected completion date of my project and it couldn’t be done without me.
I had thought it over and decided that should my contract be extended I would take it. I like seeing projects to an end, and there may be further work here that I can start on. I had left my science outreach “career” when a short term contract ended 2 months before my wedding. A local administrative job with a fixed 9 to 5 pattern was the perfect stop-gap for a few months. I have really enjoyed the lack of a commute, fixed hours, getting home at 17:10pm without being judged (too much) about it, having lunch at home with my husband, walking or cycling to work, leaving work behind at the end of the day. It’s been a very easy, cushy job and I have enjoyed it.
So why would my heart drop at the thought of another 3 months? I enjoy the mindlessness of this job, I enjoy the benefits of it not being a ‘career’. What is it missing??
My boss looked at me then sat back in his chair, interlacing his fingers and looking thoughtful. “You know,” he said, “there may be work for you here after these 3 months if you wanted it.” I was mildly interested where this was leading. “Of course”, he continued, “You would have to make yourself known, make a name for yourself”. I starting picturing hilarious scenarios of me trying to ‘get known’ by coming in wearing all red, sleeping with the CEO, skipping everywhere in the office…my mind wandered and I smiled. “Do you know Ann downstairs?” he asked. I did. Ann was a sweet girl but she was 100% business. She always wore a masculine loose fitting suit, her hair was always in a tight bun stuck to her head and she rarely showed emotions. I knew that this job was extremely important to her. She was working full time and the company were also paying for her to go to college. She was at the start of her career and working hard to achieve. “Yes…” I replied. My boss went off into a monologue; “Ann started here as a temp, just like you. She worked hard though and made herself known, and this year she won employee of the year award. You could get a full time job too if you got noticed. You know if you came in earlier or didn’t leave until later.” He clocked the disapproval on my face and started backtracking. “Now I’m not saying you don’t work enough, but if you wanted a job you would have to come in at 8 at least”. My scowl continued. “Of course it wouldn’t be every day. Just if you came in at 8 on some days then people would start saying ‘Who is this?’”. My poor boss. He doesn’t know that I have principles on overtime which must be upheld. They are:
– If you start doing overtime, others will be expected to do overtime
– Regular overtime does not increase productivity
– Overtime does not show that I am an eager employee, but that I have a boss who can’t delegate workloads
– Unpaid overtime is increasing the unemployment rate in the country
– There is nothing more stupid than sitting at a desk just for the sake of sitting at a desk.
I explained to him, “Look I have no problem with working overtime if it is required, but I am getting all the work I need to do done every day” (in fact I’m managing to spend some of the day not working as well, and always have an hours lunch break. My workload at the moment is just the right amount). “And I appreciate your advice but boss, please remember, I am not like Ann. I have had an (albeit short) career. I have done commutes to London and 5am starts. I have done overtime and no lunch breaks. I have thought about work in the shower and at night. I took this job because it was not a career. I took it because it was easy. And absolutely honestly I am enjoying this. Thank you for the contract extension but I don’t think I will take you up on your offer to sit at my desk an extra 10 hours a week just for the sake of making a good impression to you. Especially when I have consistently proven my diligence, conscientiousness and intelligence over the past 9 months here”
I walked out.
Then I sat down and realised that I had confused myself. I thought I enjoyed this job. I thought I loved the fact that it’s easy with fixed hours. I thought an extension to my contract would make me happy. But I wasn’t.
I sat down and looked at my puny 15” monitor, standard issue keyboard encrusted with the dead skin cells of previous workers and files on my desk and realised – this is fine for now. This is fine as a temporary job. But one thought that this could be the rest of my life and my heart starts racing with panic. So I don’t want a career job with the extra hours and hard work they entail. And I don’t want an easy job that makes me feel like my life is in a rut with no purpose. I am a fussy, queer, unimpressed woman who likes to complain about what I don’t like but doesn’t know what I do like.
I thought about this and have come up with a list of things that, in a perfect world, I would have:
– I want to live a life of purpose and meaning. Therefore my job would have to be doing something that felt necessary and helpful to society
– I want to enjoy every day, not just the weekends. I don’t want to be rushing through life wishing days away.
– I want to be free to work outside when it is sunny. Or work lying on the floor. Or on a sofa.
– I want to be free to take breaks when I need them and not when I am told to.
– I want control over my work and how I carry it out
– I want superiors who I can admire and respect and aim to be like
– I want colleagues that are forward thinking and collaborative rather than gossips who complain all day
– I want to be proud of what I do each day
– I want to not have to worry about money (although I don’t need a lot of it, just enough to live off of and pay the mortgage).
I have previously discussed with my parents that you can feel good about your home life, or work life, but rarely both. E.g. when I was doing science communication I was doing something I was proud of (inspiring students) but my home was a tip, I didn’t have time to cook and I regularly came home and immediately fell asleep without talking to my husband. Now I am in a 9-5 job I am not doing something I am proud of, and I feel my job has no big purpose for 8 hours a day. But I have 6 hours of productive time in the evenings where I can go cycling, walking, gardening, to choirs, do the washing, shopping, cooking and thinking.
Is it possible to have both? A 9 to 5 job which is purposeful, important and flexible but which does not require any more of my time so that I can have productive evenings?
If you find it, please let me know!