Musings of an Inappropriate Woman

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Want people to help you? First you need to know what you’re looking for.

Over the past few months, I’ve noticed myself having the same conversation over and over again. There are slight variations – some people want to work in the not-for-profit sector, others want to be writers* – but it usually goes something like this:

Person I’m talking to: “I really need a new job, so if you see anything around…”
Me: “Maybe I can help you. What kind of job are you looking for?”
Person I’m talking to: “I’d love to work in the not-for-profit sector/something that does good in the world/I’d love to be a writer.”
Me: “Cool. What issues do you want to work on/types of tasks do you think you’d be good at/kinds of publications would you like to write for?
Person I’m talking to: “I don’t know. Anything. I just need a job/want to write.”

Now, I get why people answer this way. Being unemployed (or underemployed, or underpaid, or in a role that just isn’t right for you) sucks. It’s stressful. It’s disheartening. It does a whammy on your self-esteem. A couple of months ago, following a particularly fiscally tight couple of months, I spent a good couple of hours crying; cursing myself for having pursued such a financially unlucrative profession, and despairing that I had rendered myself unemployable by spending the past four years freelancing. (Then things picked up a week and a half later, and the panic subsided. For now, at least. But the point is, I understand how work is wrapped up with identity, and how the absence of it can make you feel more like a beggar than a chooser.)

I also understand that when you’re young and have just graduated from college, you don’t always know yet what you want to do. And that even if you do know what you want to do, you don’t always get what you want. At least, not right away. The job market sucks for graduates right now, and it has for some time.

But I’ve had this conversation often enough that I thought it was worth bringing up here. Because here’s the thing: I cannot help you get what you’re looking for if you don’t yet know what that is. And no one else can help you, either.

If I know that you are looking for “a job,” the best I can do is forward you every single job advertisement that I come across – which, let’s face it, is not going to be very helpful to you and time consuming for me (and probably useless, if you’re doing your own search). If someone I know is hiring, the best I can say is, “I know someone who is looking for A Job!” Which honestly, isn’t going to do much to convince them to hire you.

But if I know that you’re great with tech and that you want to work on sustainability issues, or that you’re into reproductive rights and are a whizz at organizing events, then I’ve got something to work with. I can forward you job ads relating to events and/or reproductive rights, or if I know someone who works at an organization dealing with those issues – and I think you seem capable and hard-working and like someone who would be great to have around an office – I can introduce you over email.

If I know you want to write screenplays, or comedy, or news reporting, or feminist commentary, I can suggest publications you might want to pitch, or organizations you should get in touch with. If I just know you want to “be a writer,” there’s not really anything I can do for you at all. Except suggest you figure out what type of writing you’d like to do.

You might think that by declaring you’re willing to do anything, you’re making it easier for people to find a place to fit you. But actually, all you’re doing is ensuring that the chance of you ending up with anything at all is a roll of the dice: not about your unique skills or interests, but about the fact that you happened to be at the right place at the right time. 

I can be scary, I know, this process of figuring out what you want to do. It takes time. And what you want to do today might not necessarily be what you want to do tomorrow. (Which is fine, by the way.) Worse still, knowing what you want to do makes more real the possibility that you might not get it. And you might not – at least, not at first. But if you don’t figure out what you want, you’re virtually assured not to get it. And you make it very, very difficult for other people to help you along your way.

* Super varied, I know. ;)

Related: Ask Rachel: Life is not determined by who is “winning” at 19.
Stop putting yourself down. I mean it. Now.
She who tries, wins.

The most intimate part of the self

My best friend is back in New York. On Monday, we took our lunch to the park together and talked loudly and enthusiastically about everything, but mostly about her business and my work. “I love it when you say exactly what you think,” she said to me. “You should be more like that in your writing.”

It is easy for me to be direct with her. In fact, it is the only way I know how to be around her: to tell her directly what I think she is brilliant at, when I think she is messing up, which of our wide circle of shared acquaintances I think are wonderful and which I think are ghastly users. Our friendship is sufficiently secure – and free of any pretence that we are the same person in different skins – that we are able to disagree, sometimes passionately, without it threatening our connection.

And she is probably right that if I threw unfiltered opinions and bon mots at the internet with the same ease that I fling them during my conversations with her, I would have twice as many Twitter followers; that my articles would get more shares.

But you know what? I’m cool with that. That is to say, I am cool with not sharing that part of myself with the world. Because in the same way that some people believe that sex should not be sold because it is too intimate, the body too much a window into the soul inside, I believe that (some of) my thoughts are private; best saved for trusted friends. Or at least, that they are more comfortably shared in spontaneous conversation (even on stage!) than carved forever into the WWW.

And on an internet where so many people are invested in looking like the Coolest, Nicest, Most Funnest Girl Ever (or the Fiercest, Most Opinionated, Doesn’t Give A Shit About Anyone Girl Ever), I think there is something delicious about the surprise of being more fierce and more fun in person than in text.

(Besides, as a reader, I prefer writing that is searching and philosophical anyway. Which is why that’s what I try to do in my work. Bon mots are more fun in a rapid fire conversation.)