Office job? Can’t I just write in the park or something?

What a mid-30s career crisis looks like

For most of my career (it still feels weird to call the things I do for money a “career,” but I digress) I was a freelancer. I didn’t have an office, or a formal setting in which I plied my trade(s). I’d work in bed, in the kitchen, at cafés, and a lot of the time, with a full charge and an Americano at Parc La Fontaine. That all changed when I moved to Toronto and got my first real “office job.”

I’d worked in offices before, sure, but starting in September, 2011, I had a bunch of things I didn’t have before: my own desk, a salary, a title, benefits, business cards—the whole kit and kaboodle-stuffed enchilada.

I was a grown-up. Finally.

(i.e. My family stopped worrying about me. Finally.)

What happened next was predictable: I discovered that being a grown-up was fucking lame. In bed by ___. Up by ___. Battling the rush-hour crowd in the subway and on the streetcar; fitting into the post-work cram at the gym (post-work gym bros love sitting on machines and talking to their bros about, I don’t know, Entourage and Mutant Mass); only being able to see my friends in frustratingly short hiccups of time (a post-work beer, emphasis on the singular, or a bougie brunch date on the weekend).

Before you hate all over me, yes, I completely understand that I’m pissing and moaning about the everyday grind that pretty much everyone has to deal with when they grow up and can’t do what they want to do all the time. But you have to understand that when I was a freelance gunslinger (working in/around rock and roll, no less), I basically did whatever I wanted to do almost all the time. I wasn’t rolling in dough or anything, but man, it was pretty great.

So yes, these were everyday, regular, normal experiences for the gainfully employed, but it just wasn’t my jam. At all. Then again, that’s kind of why I wanted the job. My jam was not one befitting a man in his thirties. I felt I had to resign myself to my preserve years, my conserve years. You know, my confit years.

While I was in an upwardly-mobile position, I wasn’t wild about the work I was doing, and, when I did like it, I still felt as though my days consisted of experiences wherein either our work was compromised or I myself was compromised. (Clients, amirite?)

I’m a proud, ornery man—sure of my beliefs and convictions. Feeling compromised on a personal level was tantamount to getting held down and urinated on by a pack of bullies while they loudly expounded on the virtues of dubstep and set fire to books I loved. A few months later, when most of us left or got laid off within a four-month period, I felt vindicated: It wasn’t me, it was the whole thing!

I also felt optimistic: It was that place, not all the places!

For most of 2012 I did freelance and contract-based work again, and, while happy with my newfound freedom with respect to when I worked and didn’t, where I worked and didn’t, and what I wore (and, in many cases, didn’t), I knew that I was going to have to take another “real” job again before too long because in Toronto, ain’t nothin’ going on but the rent. I interviewed for a position at an ad agency in late 2012, and took a position there in early 2013. I was a grown-up again,and actually pretty happy to be one. I was ready for the grind this time. I knew what the compromise was going to look and feel like this time, and I was willingly choosing it.

It’s almost a year later. My job isn’t easy or fun (and yes, I get that jobs aren’t necessarily supposed to be fun), but it affords me a certain amount of very good things, including but not limited to: a salary; benefits; paid vacation days; exposure to interesting, talented people; and an increased understanding of how large agencies work. When you toss in that my job allows me to hone and perfect my skills, you’d be right if you said that I don’t have it bad at all and should shut the fuck up.

You are, I should. I know, I’m sorry.

Still, I’d be lying if I said I was satisfied. I’d be lying if I didn’t say I craved something else, something new. And I’d be lying if I say I wasn’t worried I was falling into the grass-is-greener trap I’ve seen so many friends and acquaintances fall into during these strange times.

I’m not working my dream job, but I am working a job I can do quite well given the skills I’ve acquired and practised over the years, and, moreover, a job that keeps the rent paid and the lights on. I mean, hell, we don’t all grow up to be ballplayers and rock stars. Most of us accept our realities and compromise, or, if not compromise, take the essence of what we want to do and direct it towards something that’s related—if only somewhat. Would-be novelists become copywriters, maybe; would-be athletes become personal trainers, maybe; actors famous for being the object of Lindsay Lohan’s affection in Mean Girls become spin instructors, maybe.

My desire for something else or something “better” is terrifying, though. I’m not sure I’m employable to the extent that I would think that someone with my education and skills should be—which is something that everyone I know with a job worries about given the state of the job market right now, regardless of their experience and qualifications (unless it’s just me and I’m suffering from a massive inferiority complex). Because of this I wake up every morning feeling happy and lucky that I have a job, but frustrated that it’s not necessarily the job I want to have, or in the industry I want to be in, or the cornerstone of the life I seem so desperate to want to lead.

I recognize my privilege here, and know that I’m writing this from a place of good fortune (or at least better fortune than many people). However, I don’t think it’s offensive to say that because this is an exceedingly interesting yet wholly weird time to be an educated, experienced, young-ish person (i.e. when the job market is tough bordering on insane and many traditional jobs and industries are ceasing to exist before our very eyes while new ones spring up in their place seemingly every day) it behooves us to continually check in with ourselves to see if we’re doing what we should be doing, and for the reasons we should be doing them.

I’d like to think that while keeping the rent paid and the lights on is a worthwhile and noble thing to do, perhaps there are more important things I should be doing, like taking the good fortune I have had bestowed upon me and the academic and professional credentials I’ve worked so hard for and putting them—along with my energy and passion—towards more estimable goals.

I mean, you can climb the corporate ladder, sure, but what if it’s placed against the wrong wall?

Hi, I’m Dave. Since 2005, I have written for a bunch of publications, agencies, and brands (and even won some awards along the way). I also write a newsletter called DMail that people seem to like and which you should subscribe to.

Internet problem solver guy person. Creator of DMail, the world’s first and only email newsletter.

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