Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Kidnapped

A few weeks ago I was at a dinner party with friends, recounting my boss's most recent affront to decency. The details of the offense aren't important, to be honest I can't even remember the specifics now. In fact it's telling that the instances of late night, frantic, badgering text messages about nothing and the infliction of stress from his home life upon his employees are so common that they no longer stand out as news.

"Man, you really need to get out of there," my friend Shaun reiterated after several years of giving the same advice. "I know, I know," I dutifully replied as always, "but it's just so flexible." And then the excuses kept flowing. "He can't help it . . . it's really not so bad . . . I have easy hours and make okay money and can get all the time off to go play that I need." As I was unenthusiastically cycling through my routine of defenses of the job that I know I shouldn't still have, I had a revelation: I had Stockholm Syndrome.

To compare myself to a hostage who eventually begins to sympathize with his captor is perhaps a little bit melodramatic. But considering the downturned economy, the current post-college job placement rate for Millenials, and the brutal competition for professional jobs in this recreational wonderland called Missoula, Montana, it really isn't that far fetched to see that employers can get away with paying low wages and acting like children and still have a constant stream of overqualified resumes coming through the front door. It's a buyer's market, and after three years I continued to justify and forgive unacceptable behavior by my employer.

And so I took a leap. I quit. I quit, to the chagrin of my parents, without a long term plan for how I'll keep myself alive and not move back in with them. "It's easier to get a job when you have a job," they've assured me time and time again. But there's a certain complacency that comes with job security; the fact that the checks keep coming I believe curtails creativity and industry. Colin Wilson called it (and went on to document it thoroughly) the St. Neot Margin. His conclusion was that complacency and the lack of stress leads to a sort of creative equilibrium that precludes growth.

Not long ago I complained to my uncle that I was "trying to quit my job." He replied, somewhat aghast, "What do you mean trying to quit? It takes like 8 seconds. It's like firing somebody." I replied that I liked to eat, and that as much as I love my parents I have no interest in moving back in with them. "Yeah," he said, "you'd be surprised at how scrappy you get when it's the end of the month and rent is due." In a way I think this is a pure example of Wilson's Margin, and had to take my parental advice with a last grain of salt. A year ago I was at a gin-soaked fundraiser, talking myself out of quitting (I'd been considering quitting this job since the first few months I had it) with another guest who was a decade or so my senior. I explained my parents' position and before I could finish this conversationalist replied, "Your parents' job is to look out for you. To give you the safe advice. You just have to consider whether the safe advice is the good advice."

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