The lady or the tiger?

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Each day the New York Times pummels my inbox with news alerts that describe, in gut-wrenching detail, the rapid decline of the global economy. Here in the United States the super-rich are insulated from the specter of rising taxes (which is a great big load off my chest; I was worried about those folks) but, with no influx of money into the coffers, budgets are being slashed in programs funded at the local, state, and federal levels– though “slashed” is not violent enough to describe what is being done to them. Let us instead say that these programs are being disemboweled.

No. Let us say that these programs are being defenestrated. I must seize the opportunity to use a word that almost never comes up in casual conversation. (“So… how was your weekend? Defenestrate anybody?”).

The unemployment rate is soaring, nobody’s hiring, the social safety net is disintegrating, and I think I’m going to quit my job.

This will take some explaining. Bear with me.

I have been a professional librarian since I got my master’s of library science six years ago, and I have been at my current job for five of those years. During these six years I have garnered some formidable work experience. I’ve got solid experience with all the normal stuff (collection development, reference service to the public, readers’ advisory, programming, writing, classroom instruction) as well as more specialized experience (web design, service on committees, conference presentations). Oh, and also I wrote a reference book in library science. La.

Taking my current job was absolutely the right choice for me five years ago, moving into a respectable public service job at a library with a national reputation for its work in readers’ advisory, but now I have a dilemma. I have painted myself into a corner. I cannot move up in my library. Any position higher than mine would require supervisory experience. And while I have five years’ experience supervising volunteers, along with six weeks’ experience at my previous job supervising paid employees, it is not enough to qualify me for advancement.

I am at a dead end.

Now if I were happy with my life, my dead-end job would be just dandy. As it stands, however, I am desperately unhappy and very depressed. (“Unhappy” and “depressed” are related but separate conditions. I have both! Hooray!) My status quo is no longer acceptable.

The very obvious solution here is to seek employment elsewhere. To that end I have been job hunting for the past year and a half. I have applied for jobs in different geographic locations in different types of libraries. I have Goldilocksed my job search, applying jobs for which I was overqualified, underqualified, and perfectly exactly precisely qualified.

In that entire time I have had one interview. It was a smashing good interview. I nailed it.

But I did not get hired. The person they selected had an ace up the sleeve that I just cannot compete with: personal connections.

My job search is hamstrung by two fatal flaws. My supervisory experience is not compelling (at least not on paper) and my network is too weak. In a better economy, my fatal flaws would not be fatal– but the economy is not improving and neither is my résumé. I am at an impasse.

This is why I am very seriously considering a giant leap backwards. I am trying to arrange for an interview for a job in Weaverville, my hometown. The job would involve answering phones for a bank’s customer service call center, and it would pay $9.50 per hour. This amounts to $19,760 per year, before taxes.

I am smarter than your average bear. I have a strong work ethic and a capacity for solving problems. I have personal integrity and social consciousness. I am educated and well-read. I thrive on intellectual challenges and I want to spend my life doing something meaningful. I want my existence to contribute something positive to the world. A neutral or negative impact is unacceptable.

I never would have imagined that I would consider a job like this at this point in my life. I earned better wages when I was an undergrad. Ten years and two degrees later, I’m trying to crunch the numbers to see if I can possibly afford rent, car insurance, and cat food for $9.50, for a job that involves people calling to yell at me.

Nope. Never would have imagined I’d be in this place– but neither did I imagine that I’d be so horribly, horribly unhappy.

Here’s the logic. If I were to take this job, I would move back to western North Carolina, an environment far more suited to my psyche. I would be able to volunteer in local libraries, garnering those personal connections that are now absent in my network. And– because the job is so crappy and there’s such high turnover– there’s a chance I could become a supervisor.

Those are the choices I see: staying indefinitely where I am, or gambling on a move to a job that, despite abysmal wages, would maybe let me forge some new directions.

If anyone has any viable third choices in mind, I’m all ears.

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6 responses »

  1. Welcome to where I was before I quit: five years under my belt and nowhere to go. At least you have your degrees that look good on paper… I'm starting over and working towards a measly associate's degree to just have SOMETHING. Since I quit, I worked for about a month as a waitress and realized I was very, very lucky making what I did just by working at the library, because the other jobs I'm qualified for result in aching knees. (Yes… exactly.) *sigh* I only regretted quitting at the library for a split-second, when I got my first waitressing paycheck… till I remembered all the reasons I left. It evened out.However, once I get this degree with in-state tuition prices, I plan on getting the heck outta here. I love the amount of nature in this area (even though it's getting destroyed, blah!), but the overall social mindset is just not for me. You've also had the experience of moving multiple times in your life, so it probably isn't as daunting to you to think about moving again. It kinda terrifies me, since I've never moved somewhere just because -I- want to move – always because whoever I was living with wanted to move, be it parents or ex-boyfriend.ANYHOW, I think you should go with your gut, whatever it's telling you. So often we ignore what our innermost self KNOWS we need. The hardest thing, for me, after leaving has been keeping myself motivated to continue to improve myself, because it's really easy just to fall into a rut and play on the computer all day when you have monetary help from the 'rents. So as long as you don't get trapped into the apathetic pitfall of LACK of anxiety (which really isn't a bad pitfall to be trapped in, just a time-wasting one), I know you'll be fine. Just keep going after exactly what you want. :)OH! And about volunteering… that's definitely a great thing to do. Volunteering with the kitties at PetSmart has been great for my mental health and also doesn't hurt on the networking scale either – you know cat people are often book people! đŸ˜‰ So that could be another option for you, since it's quite fulfilling to help kitties get adopted. GET EM OFF THE STREETS, YO!And of course, best of luck to you in whatever you do. If you move to NC, that would give me an excuse to actually go there, so you could give me a tour ;D

    Reply
  2. the lesbrarian

    You don't need to worry about me falling into a rut and playing on the computer all day, because I won't be getting monetary help. The money I get from a paycheck will be it, no more, no less. It's very scary.

    Reply
  3. About 2 years ago, I was in your position. I was working 3 jobs in CNY making just enough to get by. There was an opportunity to move back to my home and I leaped upon it, figuring that I could get a volunteer position and further my personal connections. I honestly wish I could tell you it worked. Unfortunately it did not. I am now stuck in a dead end job that I absolutely HATE, making just enough to not qualify for a damn thing from the government, but not enough to pay my student loans, go figure. I wish I had stayed in CNY, because at least there I would still be working in a library, instead of a cashier at Target.

    Reply
  4. the lesbrarian

    Kathy,Yuck.Does being back home help any? That's what I'm hoping for. Home and family, even with the handicap of a horrible job and lousy wages, seems like a better bet that what I've got going on now.

    Reply
  5. Try again – v.1 got lost somewhere in the interwebby thingy.OK, I assume that it's not your profession that you're fed up with, but your current situation. There's another alternative – if you're brave – and stubborn (or should that be persistent?). Maybe both.You have professional skills and experience – use them.Take the job (any job) that pays the bills. At the same time tell friends, colleagues, acquaintances, professional links, family – everyone and anyone – yea, even unto the Mayor's cat, that you're going free-lance/self-employed. Spread it around as widely as you can. Ask them to keep you informed if they hear of any temporary, short contract or time-limited project that you are even remotely professionally qualified to do.This has 2 benefits:1. In hard times administrators are more willing to employ someone for as short a time as is necessary to cover immediate needs than to take on a full-timer.2. Someone known to be a short-timer is not considered as a danger to the permanent staff's ambitions. They may even be helpful – if only because it'll get you out quicker.It may take time to get known, and the first opportunities may be to cover for holidays, maternity leave etc. Might even be boring file/catalogue tidying stuff that you can do remotely on your PC. Doesn't matter what it is. Getting known as reliable matters more.Within about 3 years you probably won't need a bill-paying job anymore. Within 5 you'll be able to pick and choose which jobs you want to do.You'll also find out that your qualifications are much more job-flexible than you'd ever have believed possible.Congratulations. You have a new career.This is what I did 20 years ago when I was in much the same situation as you are now – and it's the best, most satisfying thing I've ever done (and previously I'd been at Head of Dept. level).It won't be easy to start with. You won't work all the time, but what you do will be more varied and eventually probably much more interesting, especially if you go looking for ever-more demanding (and perhaps previously totally unfamiliar) project work. You'll also find out that it used to cost money to be a full-timer (odd, that), part-time, especially self-employed part-time has much lower expenses.You'll probably have to travel occasionally, so remember to include associated costs into your target renumeration.Ready?

    Reply
  6. the lesbrarian

    Mysterious bta who infrequently comments here:Thank you for the career advice. I have responded at some length by email.

    Reply

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