On Having A "Real Job"

On Having A "Real Job"

I was kneeling down, stocking the refrigerator: sodas, some beers, room-temp water placed on top. One of the guys from the tour was making friendly conversation with me, making reference to returning to the venue a year from now.

But he caught himself. “Hopefully you won’t still be doing this by then.”

The “this” he was referring to is my weekend job: I work in hospitality at a music venue. I did this for about six months part-time after I graduated college before I landed my first “real job.” When I moved on from that first “real job” a year later and started my current full-time job at a non-profit, I returned to this backstage hospitality job on the weekends (because Americorps basically pays you in loose change).

My hospitality job consists of mostly mundane duties: making coffee, stocking coolers, putting food in dressing rooms (and then cleaning up said food in dressing rooms), doing laundry. It’s hardly glamorous or even challenging work. I could definitely make higher wages elsewhere.

And I love it.

I absolutely love it—the early mornings when it’s just me in the venue, the late nights when the stage is cleared and the auditorium is empty, the friendly camaraderie with the tour crews that come in. My co-workers feel like family, from security to housekeeping to the admin team. In this job, I get to serve people, I get to connect with people.

But to most it’s not considered a “real job.” Because society’s idea of a “real job” consists of responding to emails at a desk tucked away in a grey cubicle with maybe a couple photos pinned to the walls, eating a salad in the breakroom during your 30-minute lunch, taking notes in a meeting that you probably didn’t really need to be in to start with. A “real job” is one that gives you a salary and a couple weeks paid vacation and a matching 401(k).

Anything else?

Not a "real job."

And I hate that.

“Hopefully this will help you get a real job after,” my (very well-meaning) mother once told me, referring to my current full-time job at the non-profit. You see, it’s an Americorps job, so even though I work 40 hours a week, the Americorps brand takes away some of its credibility as a “real job.” No salary, no benefits, no matching 401(k).

When did we decide that some jobs could take the title “real” whereas others don’t qualify?

A job is a job. Period. Regardless of benefits or wages or prestige. Work is work is work.

But I’ve been guilty of assigning worth to jobs before, of casually tossing around the term “real job.” Many times, really. I’ll meet someone new and the conversation will inevitably broach the “what do you do?” topic nearly 5 seconds after the handshake and name exchange.

“I work at a non-profit,” is usually my answer. Rarely do I ever explain the fact that it’s Americorps. Because Americorps isn’t “real,” right? What will this person, this relative stranger, think of me? That I’m not a serious, ~career-driven~ girl? That I’m just a glorified volunteer who didn’t know what she wanted to do, so she took a service job?

But I also find myself making snap judgments about others’ answers to that “what do you do?” question. I’m just as guilty of falling into stereotyping jobs as real versus faux as everyone else.

All these jobs—the ones considered not real—are supposed to be stepping stones to the “real job.” My venue job is supposed to be seen as the launching pad to further music industry jobs, not something to be content in.

But again, I love it. I love going to work, I love being there even when it’s 2 am and I’m exhausted and can you guys just leave already so I can clean up?! 

I didn’t feel this way in my “real job.” I was unhappy in my real job (disclaimer: I loved the people I worked with, and though I excelled at the work, I just wasn't a longterm fit for the role) to the point that it affected me emotionally outside office hours.

I am grounded in reality when it comes to the whole idea of “don’t worry about money, do what you love!” No. Do worry about money. Do be budget-conscious. Do know how much you need to make to pay rent and have health insurance and car insurance and all the other insurances that they never tell you about when you’re a kid. Don’t be reckless with your money.

But at the same time, if you’re working a couple of different jobs, making enough money to pay your bills and maybe own a cat and maybe also buy a plane ticket every now and then, and you’re happy? You’ve found purpose in what you do?

So what if there’s no paid vacation and no matching 401(k) and maybe you haven’t yet breached $35k a year in earnings?

Maybe it’s not a “real job” in the common societal definition of it but you’re happy? Maybe that’s the only litmus test for a job that we really need. I’d rather a job that I love than a “real one” I am miserable in any day.

Windrose Magazine Issue 2

Windrose Magazine is your guide to navigating life in your twenties through a collection of essays, interviews, and advice that will inspire you to chart your own life course, free of comparison.

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