I have a major character flaw — one that started in elementary school. I hated going somewhere because I had to be there, and I hate the feeling of being trapped. As early as third grade, I had this sense of dread whenever I walked through the gate of our school yard. I was smart enough to know there would be hell to pay should I decide to just leave. I remained trapped until the bell rang at 3:30.
In high school I kept myself busy with things I enjoyed, but I hated after school jobs because they required that I be somewhere at a certain time and stay there until my shift was over always gave me the feeling of being trapped. That didn’t keep me from working. I liked having spending money. I just wish I could remember what I did with my paychecks. They were mine to spend how I pleased, but I have no idea where they went. Kind of like today, except we have bills.
College gave me the sense of freedom I craved. The feeling of being trapped subsided. As long as I didn’t let it slip to my parents that I occasionally missed a class or two, and kept up passable grades, things were generally okay. But unless you are independently wealthy you can’t spend thousands of dollars on an education and expect to eat bon-bons the rest of your life. After college, I had to find employment, and the feeling of being trapped followed me into adulthood as well.
I majored in journalism. Being a reporter gave me some freedom, but very, very little money. The salary of a reporter is less than that of a first-year teacher and reporters work nights, weekends and holidays. I worked as a reporter when I could, but it was not a job that was conducive to being a mom – and family was my priority.
Working & Being Tapped
So, when I wasn’t working as a reporter, I worked a variety of office jobs. I did that for many years until I decided to put my writing skills back into use and went over to the “dark side” – working for a mid-sized university in their marketing department. The first week in I remember driving home one evening thinking to myself, “Well it is only 15 years until I can retire.” Talk about the feeling of “being trapped“. I hung in for five years until I could no longer deal with the politics of the place.
Being Trapped by Workplace Politics
The political charge wasn’t limited to the university alone. It seemed everywhere I went there were people willing to do whatever was necessary to grab some perceived brass (golden?) ring. The paper dangled the promise of accrued vacation days, paid sick days, decent benefits, and retirement like a moldy carrot in front of workers who felt like they were stuck on an endless treadmill going nowhere. Added to that misery was the politics of co-workers who believed a treadmill on a higher level would bring them prestige and more money – ergo, happiness. They planned, schemed and fought with one another to gain what they viewed as positions of importance. They worked with the ferocity of a momma bear and would attack those hapless individuals they viewed as a threat to their dominance in the workplace. I remember that the feeling of being trapped was never as over-powering as it was then.
Many of those hapless individuals were simply doing their job hoping to make it to that joyous day when they could retire. Some people adopt a mindset of being trapped. I confess that I sometimes got caught up in the political melee, but I was not very good at it, and I would always wake up and quit.
Just the Facts
My last job was, in truth, an entry level position at a newspaper. I would have loved to have been able to go back to reporting, but newspapers were downsizing. It was easier to hire a recent grad with no experience than an older (mature?) individual with 30 years’ experience.
So, I worked in what is known as a pagination hub. Each night we would put together 15 newspapers from various locations throughout the Midwest. I hated it. I mean absolutely loathed it. The kids I worked with were a fun group. But the operative word is “kids.” I felt overwhelmed and lacked creativity. I was a “Just the facts” person and I could not keep up with technology. One night, after I had crashed my computer for the 15th time in a fit of frustration, I leaned over my desk and whispered to our supervisor, a truly hard-working woman with a pure heart, ‘I’m done’. My last day is February 18.” Her response was, “Ok.”
A week later she stood in front of my desk and asked, “Are you really leaving next week? Are you sure you want to?” She broke my heart. I knew I wasn’t very good at my job, but I was dependable and that made me somewhat indispensable.
Done Being Trapped
I was done being trapped. It was mostly that I just couldn’t play the games or chain myself (metaphorically) to a desk any longer. I had felt done for a long, long time. It was fear of lack of money that kept me going, selling my soul to do something I hated, something that sapped my life-force. Something reinforced the feeling of being trapped, making it seem very real.
So, with no solid plans for a future, with less than $8,000 in a 401K, with years before social security and Medicare, I left the full-time workforce forever.
It’s been good. I’ve taken on summer jobs that are enjoyable. There are no politics. It’s just honest work for honest pay. I can’t imagine going back to living and being trapped ever again.
What King and I do is not for everyone. If you think you need a lot of money to retire, then you probably do. If you can be content to find your own way, and live a simpler life, then it can be done. King has a small pension and we both (for now) collect social security. Our combined incomes are less than what he made as an assistant principal in a mid-sized school district. We don’t go without. King still plays golf two or three times a week. I go out for coffee with friends. We travel as we please. We see the country. The big thing is, I no longer dread each day. I no longer have the feeling of being trapped. For the first time, in a long, long time, I am where I want to be.