Normally I try to focus my rants on unimportant issues instead of hard-hitting, real world problems. I figure strangers on the internet would be less offended by me getting angry about books than moaning about my life. Still, sometimes I let things slip and the real world starts to infiltrate my little blog. This is one of those weeks. Something happened this week that got me super annoyed and I felt like I needed to air my grievances. It’s either that or repress my hatred. We all know what that leads to. On 19th February, Talia Jane wrote an open letter to Yelp CEO Jeremy Stoppelman. At the time, Jane was employed in customer service at Eat24 and felt that she needed to speak out about the difference between the minimum wage and the cost of living in San Francisco. And the internet lost its shit.
Now once I’d gotten over the fact that Jane earns more than I do and still complains about how shitty it is (I’m in a management position and get paid a fucking pittance), I still had some issues with her letter. I mean I will always question anyone’s decision to live alone in a super expensive area without having the means to support themselves. In terms of the career I want to get into, it would make more sense for me to be in London: that’s where the jobs are. Of course, without guaranteed paid employment I have no chance of affording the rent and being able to live. So I do the best I can here in Yorkshire. Whether or not Talia is struggling as much as she makes out is by-the-by but I do have to question the overall logic.
However, the thing that got me the most riled up were the responses suggesting that Talia was trying to get something for nothing. There were some horrible replies to Talia’s letter, most from middle-aged people who were making their way in the working world during a very different time. The people who were so desperate to speak out against Talia are people who seem completely out-of-touch with the modern world of job hunting. They’ve probably never had to weigh up the pros an cons of a month long, unpaid internship in an expensive city vs a steady but uninspiring full-time job. Although, the worst came from aspiring comedy writer Stefanie Williams. Williams spent her reply berating Jane for expecting great things without being willing to put the work in. Williams used her personal story as a fucking fable for any “millenials” out there looking for a job.
The problem is, Williams’ story isn’t relevant to the hundreds and thousands of recent graduates trying to enter the working world. Williams describes working her way up from a basic waitressing job to becoming a screenwriter. Telling her readers that she took every opportunity given to her no matter how degraded she felt. Which is, quite frankly, a lovely story but has fuck all to do with trying to get a career in the real world. The way she tells it, Williams managed to get her dream job by working hard for a few years and making her way to top. Except that’s not what she did. She made it to the top of a job she didn’t only to be lucky enough to be spotted by a talent agency.
Fair play to Williams, she’s been a paragon of fucking professionalism and has finally made a start in her chosen field. It’s wonderful for her and part of me is horribly jealous. Still, there is no way that Williams can suggest that her hard work as a bartender in any way paved the way for her career as a writer. She speaks as if putting the hours in at a shitty job for a few years means you are destined to get where you want to be. However, her story relies on luck… even if she wouldn’t agree. The fact is, the idea that it is hard work alone that gets you the job is bullshit. Take it from someone who’s been trying to kick-start her career for years.
I’ve worked in my current job for nearly 12 years and have been a part of the management team for nearly a year. I don’t enjoy it but, if there’s one thing I can confidently say, I work fucking hard. Since stepping up I’ve probably had to work unpaid overtime about 75% of the time. I do it because I have to and I’m not about to complain about it. The work needs to get done and it’s part of my job to do it. I don’t have passion for the work but I’m still a conscientious worker. I’ll do anything for anybody and will pitch in anywhere I’m needed. So, it’s safe to say I’ve worked hard during my lifetime.
Has this helped me get into the job I really want? No. It’s naive to suggest that the people who work hardest and deserve it the most will get the job. That’s not always true. If the candidate was chosen by how many hours they’d done doing menial and degrading tasks (as Williams’ letter implies) then I’d be a fucking CEO myself by now. Of course I jest but, the fact is, getting a job nowadays is largely about who you know and how you can get your foot in the door. Even Williams got her first job as a waitress thanks to a family friend. The job market is still biased towards people who can afford to get the experience. People who can leave university and not immediately find a paid job. People who can work for free and get to know their field. The gap between rich and poor is widening and internships and zero hour contracts are part of the problem.
We live in a society that wants to keep siphoning the money to the rich and avoid the rest. Students leave university with a pile of debt and no chance of getting their dream job. In order to gain the experience needed for what pitiful amounts of entry level jobs are out there a candidate needs to be willing to work for free. In an ideal world this would lead to a paid job. This isn’t an ideal world. Why pay someone to do something when there is an ever increasing line of people desperate enough to do it for free? We live in an economy of exploitation and it’s not about to change any time soon. After all, you can’t give people jobs when those jobs don’t exist.
Nobody starts of their career as an unmounted lump of clay any more. If you haven’t been beaten against the potters wheel a few times then you’re out of luck. I recently lost out on a job I really wanted. When I gained feedback I was told that they liked me on a personal level but that other candidates had spent time doing online courses to get skills. Obviously I was still gutted but that’s fair enough. In an ideal world I’d be doing every course or every piece of work experience I could. However, my job is incredibly stressful and I’d risk running myself to breaking point if I were to take on more. The only alternative is to finish my management training and step back down. Of course, that takes away the only edge that I currently have on the competition.
It’s a mind fuck and something that Williams, in her fairytale world, can never understand. Now, I’d never want to let myself get into a position like Talia Jane but I can understand how people do. I graduated from university nearly 5 years ago and still haven’t made a start in the job I want. It’s worrying. I’m nearing 30 and my future is still as much of a mystery to me as it was at 16. I’m reaching the point where I’d take any position, in any part of the country, for an abysmal wage if I thought it would help. Williams wasn’t talking about getting a career when she advised Talia to work hard. She was talking about getting money: money she needed to be able to spend time writing. If I wanted to make money I’d have lived my life differently. However, I, and I suspect Talia Jane as well, want more for myself than just a fat pay-check. I want a job I’m passionate about and that I can develop in. I’ve made enough sandwiches and cups of tea to have earned that, surely?