So I read somewhere recently that the trajectory of most people’s occupational lives can be gleaned by the time they are 30. That whatever they are going to be or do (I’m going to play fast and loose on the philosophy of person-hood here) will already be in sight. That if they are to carve out any kind of success along the flanks of an employment grindstone, they will have already gotten out the chisel. If they are to climb the ladder of proverbial prosperity they will have already have sliced their feet into the bottom rungs. Do you need any more bad metaphors? No? Good.
Of course, I have no way of checking the voracity of such a claim. Well, that is not true, I could probably do something like, I dunno, research, but I’m not going to. I’m going to fly out on a bendy extremity and decide to run with it. In any case it sounds feasibly likely to be at least common. If we are to have success in life, the signs will be there before we check in to our fourth decade (indeed, before we are even born).
I am lazily defining ‘success’ here in two ways, first in the straight forward Capitalist sense. You’re 30 and you have a job that pays OK and that stands a chance of being paid better than OK, one day. Added, you feel fairly comfortable if you tell people what your Day Job is at beer and crisps or pre-drink-before-gay-club parties. You know, like, you’re in Marketing or Human Resources or Procurement or Recruitment or something along the blurred lines of Chandler Bing. When you tell people of course, they might feel bored for you, indifferent, but at least not embarrassed or sad or awkward. And all things considered, that is something.
In the second sense, you have a job that is actually kinda interesting, that maybe you always wanted to do since you were a bern, and/or has some level of creativity or specificity or social currency. The kinda job that if you tell people about it they’ll actually look kinda pleased for you, or interested or engaged. They may even, vaguely, want to ask you questions about it or try and friendly up to you so they can add you to their Rolodex of ‘good so-and-sos-to know.’
But if you start surfing towards 30 and you still haven’t figured your shit out yet, such social occasions, such questions, become instigators of minor distress. Perhaps you just don’t know – or never have known – what you want?You’ve done a few odd jobs, here and there but nothing really stuck or settled, and none of them were interesting or punched much of the minimum wage in any case. Perhaps you’re still kicking it at the Tiki Post, the after school job you got when you were 17 and have never had the subsequent energy to leave, or luck to have been offered anything better (application after application after application).
Maybe you had high minded aspirations, and tried to be a writer or painter or musician and just never got off the work-for-free circuit, or away from the open mike night at your local sticky floored bar. Perhaps you’ve even been telling people that it is what ‘you do’… only to have been besmirched one too many times by a forensic bastard asking you, “how much money do you actually make doing that?”
Perhaps you got hooked in to someone young and decided you were going to live some exalted salt of the earth existence together? On a house boat with a cat called Bettina, going from town to town. Or in a Yurt with a small garden comprised of your crop of organic swiss chard and beets and your selection of hand sprung garden ornaments, also available to purchase on eBay. You know, to make money for those little extras. Like goat cheese or a mandolin.
But then they left you for one of those magnolia be-flatted marketing types and, you think, you probably could never really have afforded it all anyway. However long you squirreled away your barista pay packet. If indeed it was anything other than a predictable bucolic fantasy. A crust made to hold in the entrails of your loveless, penniless, sexless union. The product of a drunken night you never bothered to end.
Yea I’m that woman. I’ve done those things. I’m the one with the tumbleweed CV, which I am under orders from the good folks at DWP to try and stitch together in to something that looks, sounds and smells like respectability. I’m that woman who has tried to not have an epic tear fit when my lovelyjubblyscrubbly work coach has spittled out, “Well, you’re very difficult Ms ******, because you’re almost 30 and you have no real job experience and you have never really done anything meaningful.”
Yea its tough being nearly 30 and having to field questions such as “What is it that you do?” with, “I don’t do anything.” Worse, “What is it you used to do?” with “I’ve never really done that either. You know. Doing stuff.”
And having one of those University Education things doesn’t help much. It only adds to the sting when someone tells you that joke, “What to you say to a University graduate? I’ll have fries with those chicken nuggets!!”
Oh how we laughed! We… the worst excesses of our under-employed, over-educated generation. We the working class kids who grew up under Blair style faux optimism, who hit the books with vigour, but did not have the connections or confidence or basic money to see it through to the middle class dream. Yes those of us who were 10 when New Labour came into the ascendancy, will be turning 30 now, and though we got the promised Education, Education, Education many of us did not get the Career, Career, Career.
“Well!”, they say, “that is your problem for studying dome namby pamby Minnie Mouse medja/art nonsense!” But is not a society that snubs those who have undertaken cultural academic exercise – for no profit can be unfurled from their fingers – an impoverished one? Apparently not.
So there we are. Or, at least, there am I. Jobless, aimless and happy to oscillate between cursing the neo-liberal inequalities of the day, and my own rudderless whimsy. The whimsy we shall call having the sheer temerity to want to shake a little aspiration in to my forward motions. This being the psychological forever destiny of those of us who followed our dreams, and failed at 30.