On the third-to-last-day of 2018, I made a list of things I was Looking Forward To in 2019. And since I graduated in December, one of the things I put on this list was “Getting to work on dream jobs - aka I graduated so Here We Go.”
It’s April 1. I am not employed.
Since May 2018, I had been working at my favorite coffee shop as a barista. I have loved the coffee shop - I love my coworkers, I love pulling espresso shots and steaming milk, I love the methodical, therapeutic work of preparing food - slicing tomatoes and mixing waffle batter. I love our regular customers, and chatting with the guy who delivers the milk on Tuesdays and Fridays. I love stopping by even when I’m not scheduled to have a latte, catch the news, and feel a little known when people ask how my cats are doing.
Despite this love, I was pretty sure being a barista was not my dream job. I was also pretty sure electrical engineering (where my degree is) was not my dream job. I am mildly convinced my dream job is teaching algebra to high school students, but I did not get a degree for that (a different story). I figured that I would get a job using my engineering degree, and it would be a harmless way to make money and work on something challenging while I thought about how to become gainfully employed elsewhere.
In January, I applied for a position with a large defense contractor. I had an interview. I did paperwork. I wrote a vision statement for myself about why I was seeking the job and why I would keep it for two years, to develop personal grit and a gold star on my fledgling resume. I got a generous offer, and I accepted it, and I did more paperwork.
I showed up for the first day and did all the first-day things: I had a picture taken for a badge, and sat and waited while the badge was printed. I made small talk with the other new hires. I got a computer, and sat and waited for the tech guy to set up said computer. I sat at a desk and read pages and pages about the technical system I would be working with. I called the company help desk to get my email address changed from my maiden name (which they had from an internship two years ago) to my married name.
At the end of the day, I nodded to my fellow new-hire with whom I shared a cubicle, picked up my bag and my coat, and walked out to the parking lot. Like a working adult. I got in my car, and took a deep breath.
And I started crying.*
Why was I crying? The job was perfect for a newly minted electrical engineer. It involved challenging technical work in an important industry, with an excellent paycheck to boot. An excellent paycheck. Connections. Technical conferences. Every other Friday off. Benefits. A community of like-minded high achievers. An excellent paycheck. A harmless gateway to bigger and better.
But I knew, more or less exactly, why I was crying. Two years ago, I took an internship with a different company, but in the same building, on an extraordinarily similar project.
I hated it.
Defense contractors do good work. I’m thankful for them and the support they provide to our military and their contribution to our national safety.
I hated being in a cubicle without a window for 9 hours a day. I didn’t like the work. There’s no better way to say that. I thought taking on a full time job would be enough to shift in commitment to just do it, but I hated it enough that -
I emailed my manager that night and told him I wouldn’t be coming back the next day. I did the “it’s not you, it’s me,” via email to a large, successful corporation. On day one.**
I cried a lot the next day, too. But I didn’t have any regret - about the quitting, if not the taking the job in the first place. And the next week, the first thing I wrote in my planner was, “You don’t have to have it all figured out this week,” and I flipped to the next week and gracefully wrote, “You don’t have to have it all figured out this week either.”
That one day was February 25. And it’s April 1, which I guess is only a month later, but surprise, I don’t have it figured out yet. I’m doing a little baking on the side at my little coffee shop. I’m reading (a lot). I’m working on a day-to-day creative project. I’m so so grateful for a husband who is going to work. I’m daydreaming and brainstorming and hoping and praying.
Because it turns out that I don’t have a dream job just yet. But it’s okay. You don’t have to have it all figured out this week.
*Sobbing. As a note, driving while sobbing feels extraordinarily dangerous. I want to say that being so emotional keeps one alert, but that’s driving while angry. Driving while vigorously and hopelessly upset means that you can hardly see past your tears and you can’t hear past your wordless cries, and you really aren’t sure how fast you’re going. At the end of the trip, you may be endlessly thankful you know the way home from anywhere in your hometown without thinking.
**Interestingly, I had done this before, now that I think about it. In 7th grade, my crush asked me out at the lunch table and I guess I nodded, and that night he told all the boys at Boy Scouts - which included my brother, and my dad - and I was so horrified when Dad came home and recited the event that I gave the crush a handwritten note the next day that said, effectively, “jk, nevermind, this was a terrible idea.”