During the last week, I’ve been unable to come up with any decent writing topics. My first thought was writer’s block, but I’ve realized it’s more than that. It is difficult for me to write about being successful or having a disagreement with a co-worker or finding the perfect career when I know that it is a privilege to have those problems. It is a privilege to be able to do work you love, to have access to the education and cultural capital that is so often needed for one to be successful. It is a privilege to worry about whether your interview outfit is right when so many people worry where their next meal is coming from. It is an absolute privilege to have time to think about our career paths when so many people are spending time taking care of children, working two jobs, dealing with violence…It is all such an absolute privilege.
The reason I became interested in career counseling and development is because I spent a lot of time observing, and then living, what it is like to have so few choices. I was raised by a single mother for most of my childhood, living hand to mouth with food stamps and Angel Trees in government housing projects. Neither my mother nor my stepfather graduated from high school and I saw them come home from work exhausted each day from manual labor jobs.
I spent my late teens and early twenties in a variety of positions that often garner little respect–waitressing, telemarketing, working as a gas station attendant, and being a customer service representative. I didn’t know anyone who attended college and the only professionals I met were my doctors and dentists (whenever I was able to have health insurance). When I was 22, I met a friend, Emily, who was in college and encouraged me to get a degree. From there, I became dedicated to making my life what I wanted it to be and helping others do the same.
I didn’t get an education to become a career counselor–for most of my undergrad years, I didn’t even know career counseling existed. I never forgot, however, what it was like to be at the whim of a horrible boss, to be yelled at by customers, to go without health or dental insurance for years a time. I will never, ever forget what it is like to go to a job I hate because the bills need to be paid.
So many of the things I write about now come from a place of privilege–not necessarily privilege I was born with, but privilege all the same. Though I came from a low income background and am not heterosexual, I have many forms of privilege: I am white, I am cisgender, I am now educated, I do not have any physical disabilities, and honestly, I read as straight in most situations. I can’t say how much more difficult it would’ve been to get where I am now had I been of color, transgender, a single mother, or born into a country where I wasn’t allowed to pursue an education.
Everyone is on a different journey and have varying levels of privilege and disprivilege. I don’t write about dressing appropriately for interviews, negotiating salaries, or following your professional passions because I believe it is easy for everyone to have those things. I know that it’s not. But I believe everyone deserves them. Everyone deserves to make a living wage, to wake up and not dread going to work, to have time to spend with their families and friends without working two or three jobs. Everyone deserves to be treated with respect in the workplace.
Like the rest of the world, I’ve been watching the events in Ferguson, MO. When lives and liberties are literally on the line, it’s hard to give a damn about job satisfaction. I believe it’s important, but I know there are so many other issues in the world. So my career advice for today? Recognize your privilege, if you have it. Help others if you are able–I don’t know where I’d be without Emily’s help. Seek help where you can–and that includes me. I am willing to help anyone because I know what it’s like to need help and not even know where the resources are. If you are working in a job that allows you to spend time with your family and friends, if you are content with your work, if you are respected in your workplace–please, please be grateful. Not everyone has those things.