I work in a cinema. It's a minimum wage, mostly part-time job, and it's also my only job. For some reason, people assume that I'm just "holding out" for a career, or that this is my "practice" before I head out into the wide world of — I don't know what they expect — office cubicles and early morning meetings?
Here's the thing: I have no interest in that version of the world. My job isn't practice, and it isn't a "hold out." It doesn't have to be.
So many people in my country are pressurised from a terrifyingly young age to want a career, to work toward something that we may or may not change our minds about when we get a little older. All through school, we're bombarded with, "Pick a career! Choose your subjects! Get a degree! Get a real job!" Frankly, that's exhausting. It's especially exhausting if you, like many teenagers, have barely any idea who you are, never mind what you want to be railroaded into for the rest of your life.
Let's face it; we all wanted to be a dinosaur or an astronaut as a child. We change our minds frequently throughout our lifespans. (Having said that, if a dinosaur were a viable career path, I'd have worked harder in Dinosaur University.)
About 80 percent of graduates in my country don't go straight into the job they have prepared for. For many of them it's because they realised they just didn't want to. There's no shame in that, and we shouldn't assume that they regret it. There seems to be a huge stigma attached to people who want to work in a fast food chain or in a shop or in a cinema, and it's a little ridiculous.
And we also shouldn't assume that every person who does work in a less "proper" job is working tirelessly toward getting a "good" one, because some of us just aren't — either yet, or ever.
I'm 27, I'm engaged, and I live with my partner, who is 34. We're getting married this year, and we're happily living within our means. We both work minimum wage jobs. Neither of us has a credit card, neither of us is in debt, and we survive on less than £1000 a month between us, some months. We don't get benefits.
We also don't want careers, because it wouldn't make us any happier.
I don't want a high-stress, stuck-in-the-office-until-9 p.m. job. I don't want to bring my work home with me. I don't want to spend more time at work than I do with my partner, because, surprisingly enough, I got into the relationship because I like spending time with her!
I want a job that's flexible, that means I can write my novel and draw semi-naked fictional characters for people on Tumblr. I want a job — emphatically not a career — that provides me with time to relax, enjoy my hobbies, cook, and have enough energy left over to actually maintain a functioning relationship. For me, that perfect job is not a full-time career. For others, it is, and that's OK! Everyone has different goals and aims in life, but please don't pity me because my idea of happy isn't yours.
I'm a little sick of people (usually well-meaning, nice enough people) asking me when I'm getting a "real" job in that hushed, slightly embarrassed-for-you tone.
"But how will you afford a holiday?" they gasp, as though their own holiday hangs in the balance. They aren't satisfied with my answer, either: I can't. The plan for my life doesn't include biannual trips to a foreign country right now. That doesn't mean I don't think yours should, either. The point I'm making is that you don't have to, if you don't want to.
Whatever your personal level of "yes, this is comfortable for me" is, that should be where you aim. If that means you want a career, if that means you work harder than me and make more money than I do, and you want to? Brilliant! But if you feel like you're trapped in an endless cycle of misery because your job is too stressful, demanding, or downright boring, there is another way as long as you're not interested in making money.
I have to go without things, yes. I can't get the latest console, I can't afford a new mobile phone whenever one comes out, and I can't spontaneously buy a television or a car or anything else. But I feel like it's a fair exchange. I have time instead. My phone works perfectly well. My television is small, but good. I don't need a car. All of these things aren't essential to me, because they aren't the source of my happiness. Cake and Game of Thrones make me happy.
It should also be said that there's something quite rewarding about finding a pound at the bottom of a bag when you've only got 35p to your name and payday is a week away. It feels like winning the lottery (and being able to buy bread).
My job is sometimes stressful, often boring, and frequently exhausting. But it's also unpredictable, fun, and full of clever, interesting people. I've been there for nine years and see no need to move on (yet). Perhaps, when I'm old enough that I'm in danger of popping out a hip while running upstairs, I'll reconsider. But I like to think I have a few years yet before that becomes likely.
It is my unpopular opinion that if you can stand your job, if it makes you enough money to pay your bills and leaves enough left over for you to do what you actually enjoy doing —and allows you enough time to do them — then it's a good, "real" job. My aim is to work in order to live, not live to work. I don't want to define myself by my job. What I do is write. I draw. I play guitar and do animal photography. Working at a cinema is not "what I do." It's how I earn the money to do "what I do" and what I love.
This doesn't make me better than you, or you more intelligent than me. It's just part of being human. We aren't all the same, and we shouldn't expect to be. Don't assume that we're all working toward the same goals, or that because I have to take a bowl of pennies to the bank on the 25th of the month for extra cash — have you seen those machines, by the way? They're magical, like a bingo drum that always pays! — I'm as miserable as you are in your 9-to-5 job with the smelly boss who stands right behind you. Don't assume that because you're really happy with earning enough money to do what you want to do — no matter what it is — that I'm less happy with eating a whole bag of 39p toffees with my partner while watching some terrible horror film at 2 a.m. because we didn't have the money for nicer snacks.
What I'm trying to say here (via a detour of talking about snacks and crap television) is to do whatever you have to in order to be happy. If that's working all the time or working just what you need to get by, it doesn't matter to me. But it is a choice, and in my opinion, mine is as valid as yours.
When you try to sell me on a career I don't want, you just sound like an oily used-car salesman or an unwanted religious evangelist at 8 a.m. on a Sunday morning. I'm not interested, and my patience is a little thin, unlike my waist. And now, I'm going back to the cake.