My life has been, on the whole, undecided. Jobs, art, writing, men – none of them ever seemed exactly right, and each of them undermined all the others. It hasn’t been restless, or burdened by unreasonable ambitions (not even reasonable ones), or wrecked by unrequited love, or washed out by vague longings. Everything just cancelled out. And in every arena, one step lead to another, and to another, and without consciousness, large issues had been settled. This is surprising to me because I’ve always been so introspective – but maybe, while I watching the little things, the big ones were being decided, by default.
People are always surprised to hear that I was hired for my first “real” job, at a large Philadelphia bank, by the manager of “female employment.” He grilled me about my plans for getting married and having children – in those days, women were expected to quit their jobs when they became pregnant, and the bank understandably didn’t want to make an investment that wouldn’t have a pay-off. I told him that I was “sort of” engaged, but had no plans and no desire for children. My by then established line convinced him: “Everyone expects me to be a school teacher or a nurse or a mother, and I’d rather die than be any of those things.”
When I took that job, I really was planning to marry Dan, and I was pregnant. I didn’t want to get married, and I didn’t want to have a baby, and I took care of both of those things in my own way. Part of that story is here: https://dianow.wordpress.com/2013/09/20/still-crazy-after-all-these-years-2/
So I took the job at the bank. The field of compensation evolved around me, and it took me more than 10 years to realize that I had a “career.” Every time a different opportunity arose (marriage, vet tech, interior designer, trader), it either didn’t pay as much, or it was one of my “didn’t wants.” When I weighed my job against the alternatives, it was not so bad, and it used my brain. It could have been worse.
Everything always could have been worse.
That’s been one pattern in my life: I always knew what I didn’t want, what I wanted only part of. My life has not been what I wanted it to be; I didn’t know what that was. My life has been what was left after I got rid of what I didn’t want.
I didn’t want to go to art school; I didn’t want to be a daughter; I didn’t want children; I didn’t want a conventional man; I didn’t want to depend on anyone; I didn’t want to have a hairdo; I didn’t want Mexican. You get the drift.
One of the big things I didn’t want was to fail at something I cared about, and I sort of liked being really good at something I didn’t give a damn about.
In later years, there were things about compensation that bothered me. In the beginning, it seemed to be about fairness, and I think it really was, but in the 80s it came to be more about wealth – senior management’s wealth – and I wanted out. At times in my career, I ended up (that’s the only way I can put it) with jobs that to normal people seemed close to the top. I would do those jobs for a year or so, and then run away – to a smaller job, to a smaller city, to less pay, to less culpability. Then the whole process would repeat. I stayed at the last job because they seemed to need me more, and toward the end I needed their health insurance.
I broke the cycle by retiring early – and then broke another one by living (so far) a good seven years past my “odds.”