About an hour ago, I ventured down the street to pick up some soup. The woman at the counter asked me if I had found a job yet. I had forgotten that I had discussed this with her, but really, when you are looking for a new job, you build the ability to whip out your elevator pitch faster than Yngwie Malmsteen can spit arpeggios from his fingertips.
This brings to mind a situation that went down during a recent bus ride downtown, where I am freelancing. I’ve debated writing about it, but I think it’s actually important to discuss for the many topics it addresses, not to mention the questions it produces.
I was waiting for the bus, which seemed to be running late due to an accident on the route. I sat on the bench. A guy, who looked to be about my age, sat down next to me.
“Do you know when the next bus is?” He asked me. “Will it take me to South Station?”
I turned to look at the bus schedule, despite the fact that I knew it was running late.
“Oh, well, that won’t tell you anything.” He chided.
I thought it was a little odd that he wasn’t sure of his directions, asked me for help, and then criticized me for it, but I also understood that the bus schedules are not always correct. Clearly, since the bus was running late.
I explained to him that I didn’t have a smart phone, so the schedule was my best guess, and that it was a little behind schedule today. I added that there was another bus the next block over that would take him straight to the bus terminal at South Station, so he wouldn’t have to switch to the subway.
Ok, fine. By this time the bus pulled up and I sat down. The guy sat down in a seat in front of me.
“Are you heading in for work?”
Despite it being the middle of the day, I thought he was wondering this because I was dressed up as if I were going somewhere somewhat professional. And, since being laid off, I’ve learned that any opportunity to let someone know you are looking for work is a decent time to do so. Well, if it’s appropriate. You never know who may know someone.
“Yes, I freelance for a few places right now, as I’m looking for a full time gig.”
That’s nice. A few questions about the bus again. A few complaints about the bus route. How he told himself he would never ride the bus again. I thought, ‘some of us don’t have cars, especially in the city.’ Then he asked what I do.
I explained that I am a writer and media producer, and am currently going in to record and edit audio for an educational media company that I used to produce for. They hired me back after I was laid off from my previous employer. “I’m pretty grateful for that,” I said. “Not many people have that opportunity.”
He asked where I am from. This has happened to me a few times when I am trying to network, am at an industry meeting, whatever the case may be. I keep it simple, though, because…strangers. You know.
I just replied that I am from New Hampshire, but have lived around the city for eight years or so.
I thought I was being pretty vague, but this warranted a strange look from my bus buddy. “Geeze,” he said. “I didn’t ask for that much info.”
Well, I’m not sure how much more vague I could have been. Hi, my name is Farah. I’m from New England? I’m American?
I’m an Earthling?
He then started to stereotype New Hampshire in a way that was less than flattering, and I pointed out that it was just a stereotype.
So, I said, “What about you?”
He mentioned that he was from the area, one of the very affluent towns outside of the city, and that he had gone to Berklee. He pointed at his backpack, as if I had to have noticed, and mentioned his instrument, which must have been squashed in there. I hadn’t noticed. Not only do I need glasses, I don’t have X-Ray vision.
“Oh,” I said. “I took classes there, too.” I said cheerily. I was not getting a respectful vibe from this guy, based on a few of his reactions, but didn’t want to assume. Everyone’s different, and I try to give everyone a chance. Some people just don’t have the best social skills. You may think I don’t for trying.
I explained that I went to Emerson, but a majority of my music courses were at Berklee.
“I took mainly acoustics/production and percussion classes there,” I replied.
Percussion? Classical, he assumed.
“No,” I said. “Drum set, though I did an afro-cuban class, too.”
He nodded slowly, and then asked me ‘why acoustics?’
I explained that we had to learn a bit of it for our introductory audio course at Emerson, and I had wanted to learn more.
“Boy, it was a challenge!” I exclaimed. “For me, anyway. For some of the math.”
Why? He looked at me as if I just lost my credibility. Formulas? Logarithms? No calculators allowed? It wasn’t my strongest subject, but I ended up doing well. I didn’t feel as though I needed to explain myself that much.
He mentioned that he was a musician, and was so glad he wasn’t living with his parents, or giving music lessons. Ok, I thought. Some people have to live with their parents due to circumstances. My sister gives music lessons. What’s so wrong with that?
“How did you get your job?”
“Well, initially I applied for another role there and was turned down. They called me back for an audio production assistant role, though, and then I worked my way up…” He seemed surprised. Was someone he knew looking for a job?
I thought he mentioned wanting to move to New York, so I changed the subject.
“I love New York!”
“Do you live there, too?”
Huh? I must have misheard. “No, sorry. I meant that I really like New York, and have been looking for work there and here.”
“Just go.” He said.
I know that many people encourage the ‘get up and go’ technique to land a job in another city. If I get a job in New York, I have places I can stay, so relocating isn’t the biggest concern to me. Always being able to support myself? That’s important to me. Responsibility? That’s important to me. I would have to break a lease that I share with a loved one, and that’s something I don’t want to do without knowing I have a job in New York first.
“Well, as long as you don’t need much,” he eyed me skeptically. “As long as I can pay rent and food, I’m fine.” The look he gave me was a challenge, like I was high maintenance.
What I wanted to say to him? If high maintenance is knowing that I can support myself financially, that I am securing a job for my career, and that I am responsible…sure. But I feel like you are judging me and thinking that I am a weakling. Maybe you’ve never been in a stressful environment, financially, growing up. It’s not fun. Don’t tell me what not needing much is. I didn’t know if I could go to college for a while. If I hadn’t had a scholarship, I would have had to put it off for at least a year. I started working when I was fifteen. I helped pay for my college. I worked when I was in college. I support myself now.
But again, I didn’t want to be rude.
I replied with poor wording. I explained that perhaps I was too safe, but have learned to always be able to support myself and go from there. Something like that.
He scoffed at me, “Yeah. Safe and stuck.”
Now my blood boiled. Did he really not realize that he was being insulting? What was he saying? That he was better for, in his words, living in a horrible apartment so that he could say that he was a musician in New York? And I was a sore loser for continuing to apply to jobs in multiple cities, freelance, support myself? Am I missing something?
For the past year, I admit, I have felt stuck. But when he said that to me, it sounded so demeaning that my immediate self reflection changed. Yes, it feels terrible to not have received a full time job offer. Yes, it worries me. Yes, every time I am told by a hiring manager that I was their second choice, I feel a bit down. But it doesn’t stop me from trying, and I don’t have a gap in my resume, thanks to freelancing and my network of peers. As bad as I may feel, I feel like I should be proud for not giving up and for working so hard. I don’t toot my horn very often, and had a bad self esteem as a child, but gosh darn it...toot! Toot!
By this time I started to reply, the bus pulled into the subway station. I decided not to bother, and no sense getting angry. I gave a curt goodbye, and walked toward my train connection.
“Hey!” He shouted after me. I turned around. After all that, I thought I’d be the better person and give him directions to the correct subway platform.
But no. He held out his iPad.
“Would you mind giving me your number?”
Now, we must realize something. A few things, actually.
– I was a major wallflower growing up. Every guy I wanted to dance with at the school dances or go on a date with was pretty much interested in my friends only. I felt like another boy in their company. I spent my junior prom sitting in the hotel lobby, watching the news. I spent my senior prom waiting tables at a fish restaurant. You get the idea.
-Because of this I am terrible at being able to tell if someone is interested in me in that way. Oh, well.
-It really bothers me when people assume that others are always hitting on them. In the words of a 90s pop album, the ego has landed, right? I suppose I especially feel that guys get a bad wrap for this. Yes, there are guys who catcall and make women uncomfortable, and it’s inappropriate. There are also just really friendly people, and other people who instantly think their friendliness is flirtation. That’s not cool, either, ok? I once had class with a girl who thought that every guy who spoke to her was crushing on her. She went on and on about one guy in our class. Turns out he was gay and very friendly, and she just had a crush on herself.
-I don’t feel that talking about my career is flirtatious, or implies anything like that. Should it?
All of this combined? You know the saying. Assuming. You and me.
So I was honest. I said, “I know we were talking about work and education, and I network with people a lot, so please excuse me if you don’t mean it this way, but I do want to let you know that I have a boyfriend.”
He burst out laughing. he had meant it that way, and I had wasted his time.
I must have made an “excuse you?” face, because he immediately tried to retract what he had said. “Not a waste of time, just…”
Thanks, dude. You just made me feel like anything I had said before was worthless. I tried to help you with directions, and actually thought we’d had a pleasant discussion about music theory, education, and jobs, before you started to talk down to me. I wasted your time?
Am I wrong to have been insulted by this? Or by his other comments?
In the current economy, a lot of people I know are freelancing. I spoke with a very helpful recruiter yesterday, who reassured me that working on a contract should not be a negative factor on my resume. So many people have turned to this type of work because of the market. She also reassured me that the fact that I kept trying, kept working, and have no employment gap was a good thing. And yet this guy had tried to make me feel bad about it. His get-up-and-go idea, looking down at me for being financially cautious, looking down at people who have to live at home (and teachers!) really grated my cheese. Maybe he was still supported by his parents. Who knows.
Have you ever been made to feel bad about the current state of your employment? How do you feel about it?
Guys, have you ever felt like someone was just speaking to you to try to get a date, and not actually invested in anything you had to say? How did it make you feel? Girls?
I leave you with this.
Keep on keepin’ on!