The 40-Year-Old Career Changer

(Wikimedia Commons)
(Wikimedia Commons)

My alarm is set for 8 a.m., but instead I wake up at 7:06 a.m. I consider ignoring my body clock, and going back to bed, but I decide to embrace the display and get up. I lift up my phone and surf through my Instagram feed, listening to NPR. The radio hosts are discussing unemployment, which is perfect timing. They’re talking to me.

With one ear I listen and with one finger I scroll. They tell me that unemployment claims have dropped, which is a good thing. I’m unemployed, but not collecting unemployment––did they count me in that number? Adam Davidson, from Planet Money, goes on to tell me that the U.S. economy is showing a healthy amount of “froth.” Froth, he reports, refers to short-term contract jobs, and the people who fill them. He describes the creative types who typically fill those jobs. Like artists, or actors, or writers. Me, me, me.

I put water on to boil and busy myself with the habitual steps of my morning: putting dishes away, going to the bathroom, taking vitamins, drinking eight ounces of water, important tasks like that. The kettle clicks off and I brew green tea. As it cools to a drinkable temperature I refresh the NYTimes App on my iPhone, another compulsion. I swipe down through the Top News to read New York Today. I learn that I can go hear, and see, a cannon launch. Do I have time to do that today? Or, rather, should I spend time trekking to hear a cannon? I tab over to Popular. I wonder when Pete Wells dining review will hit the app. Is 7:30 a.m. too early to read about food?

After cleaning for an hour, I ride my bike to the gym, the only place I go five days a week. It’s almost like a job. Or elementary school. The ladies at the front desk register my attendance, my teacher corrects me when I do something wrong (like bad posture), and they tell me to have a nice day. It’s too bad I can’t sleep there. I shower and change into clothes that don’t make me look like a personal trainer. I ride to my favorite coffee shop for a decaf Americano. I drink it slowly, savoring my big purchase of the day ($3.50) along with my snack of ten almonds.

On my ride home I think about what to have for lunch, what to do with my afternoon, about the jobs I have not heard back from, the internships I have not heard back from, and the editors I have not heard back from, regarding the pitches that are languishing in their in-boxes. I think about all that not hearing back and puff out my cheeks with a sigh. I remind myself I am doing what I want to be doing. I remind myself that I changed my career for my own personal fulfillment. I remind myself that what I am doing is hard. Really hard. I sit down at my desk and open a new Word document.

(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

I have been out of graduate school for almost three months. I have been looking for a job for two months. I didn’t think it would be easy, but I didn’t think it would be difficult. People tell me it’s because it’s summer. Why, is everyone at the beach? I think it’s because I’m 40 and I’m trying to change my career. I consider stripping every past job off of my resume and pretending that I am twenty-one and just out of college.

I begin to write.

I do an internet search for “What to call someone from Seattle?” I know the answer, I just don’t know how to spell the answer: Seattleite.

I hashtag friends’ photos on Instagram. I get shout-outs regarding how clever my hashtags are, like when I added #inbed to a friend’s photo of her fortune cookie. Can I get paid to do this?

I sign up for gym classes to attend later in the week. I surf looking for weekend hikes. I listen to NPR.

I look at my notes. I look at my to-do list. I begin to write. My mom texts me: Austenland is just opening. I saw it in preview…Do not see it, it’s stupid.

I text her back and ask her if she’s seen, In A World… She calls me. This is the downside to texting Mom. Texting leads to calling. She’s the only person I know who does this. I wonder if it’s because she doesn’t like to type, doesn’t like to talk in short sentences, or if she sprained her texting finger.

We talk briefly, I tell her I’m not in a chitchat mode. That’s what we call it, and it’s an easy way for one of us to get off the phone.

I write.

I go to the kitchen and pour myself a glass of seltzer. I consider lunch. I usually try to resist as long as possible, at least until 1p.m. It’s 12:56 p.m. I make a kale salad with chickpeas, dried apricots, avocado and cherry tomatoes. I allow myself thirty minutes of watching television on my computer.

Break over.

I respond to an email from a marketing guy with an outlandish name, like Willy Wonka, but different. He writes to invite me to be a judge on a food review site. At first I am intensely flattered. And then I start to look into the website and I consider the option that it might be a scam. I click on a link that is written entirely in Japanese. I go back to Google and try again. This time I click on the .us link. It takes a very long time to load, not a good sign. I read his email again. It still seems suspicious, but I write him back:

Thank you for reaching out to me. I would absolutely be interested.

Let me know more details when you can: timeframe, work involved, etc.

nprI decide to look for a job. I do this once a day, for an hour, two tops. The listings on Craigslist fall into a Times New Roman blur of sameness: freelance writing for sites I’ve never heard of, an unpaid blogger for a NEW entertainment site, and ads for dog walkers. There are so few actual real, worthwhile jobs that it takes me just a few moments to scan the day’s new jobs. I close the tab and type in Mediabistro. The jobs here appear much more official and legit, however I have yet to receive a single response to any of the resumes I’ve sent out. Does more legit equal more competition? Then I recall that I also haven’t heard back from most of the questionable freelance writing ads from Craigslist.

I close the tab and open up New York Foundation for the Arts. Every job here sounds fascinating. I click indiscriminately on links to jobs I am qualified for and those I am not: art handler, scenic carpenter, cataloguer, and gallery guide. Turns out that in museum language a “gallery guide” is a security guard. My mid-click-internet fantasy of discussing the James Turrell light installation while I lead groups up the famous Frank Lloyd Wright ramp at the Guggenheim is replaced with a blue polyester suit and a heavy black belt. There are an inordinate amount of internships on the NYFA site. Have there always been this many unpaid jobs? I’m already writing for free, now I have to work in an office for free?

I can’t even get an unpaid job. I’ve sent my resume out to several internships. One website wrote me back and asked me to provide specific writing samples, which I did. That was over a month ago. I recently wrote them to check in. Crickets.

I stop looking for jobs.

I write.

I think about making coffee. I make coffee. Though it’s August, I make hot coffee, a leftover habit from summers in San Francisco.

I drink it. I sweat. I continue to drink it.

It’s 4:31 p.m. I tell myself to keep working until 6 p.m. I’ve overdosed on NPR. I change the station.

I write.

It’s Thursday so I dig into my boxes of old photos that are printed out, yes, on actual paper. I choose a photograph of my best friends and me from our high school prom. I’m wearing a strapless black velvet gown with a giant purple bubble skirt. My hair appears to be as wide as the skirt. I take a photo of it with my phone and upload it to Instagram. I tag it with #throwbackthursday, #purplebubbleskirt, and #ouch. I shake my head in recollection of that night. My date’s name was Jeremy. If I remembered his last name I would search for him on Facebook.

My days go by in a similarity that is frightening. The components identical, with slight variations to when they appear on the agenda: computer, desk, NPR, gym, seltzer water, kale salad and coffee. I do my best to remember that each thing I do is a step forward, moving to New York and earning my MFA. I try not to take the silence or the rejections as a sign of my worth as a writer, or my potential value as an employee. One day at a time, one foot in front of the other, and every other aphorism that will help me write the story in my head. It’s 5:37 p.m., almost quitting time. The 40-Year-Old Career Changer