My Money Story & The Choice of Under-Employment

Apologetically outing myself as a job snob

All through my 30s and into my 40s I’ve avoided a minimum wage job.

I recognize that I might come across as an entitled douchebag in this post, but I hope that my story is relatable in a positive way.

Until last week, when I started a full-time, permanent job (in as much as any is “permanent”), I was underemployed for several months. For years, I’ve been in and out of contract roles and freelance gigs. All through my 30s and into my 40s, I’ve avoided a minimum wage job — a retail job, a serving gig.

I know, it’s kind of fucked up. A job’s a job, right? If you need money, you work.

If it sounds like I’m seeking validation, it’s because there’s a part of me that is.

As the partner of a restaurant owner, I justified my serving gig with, “I’m the owner’s girlfriend.” Sometimes I said it entirely apologetically because before I started serving there, I’d been fired as a waitress twice in my life, and I subsequently told myself that I suck as a server. Calling myself “The B Team” and admitting nepotism was my self-deprecating way of justifying what I felt was sometimes less-than-stellar service. Other times I said it apologetically to myself because, I hate to admit this, I thought that I was too qualified for minimum wage. I have an education; I have skills. I suspect that I market myself poorly.


I believed that no one out of school who has work experience and skills outside of the service industry should work as a server unless it fulfilled them, allowed them to do something fulfilling (e.g. the server/performer), or they were so broke that it was their only choice. I felt that I had other choices, despite evidence pointing to the contrary. (It was close there.)

Snobbery? Some. It’s only been in the past few months that I started to recognize my bias, and yet I couldn’t bring myself to apply for those minimum wage jobs. I only recently contacted a new bagel bakery in my neighbourhood to ask them if they were hiring.

I feared that if I took a minimum wage service job, I’d devalue and demote myself. I felt that if I took a minimum wage job, like the ones I held at The Gap, a cookie store, a bagel store and coffee shop in my mid and late teens and the one I had in a toy store when I was in my early 20s, then I was going backwards in life.

I thought that taking a minimum wage was pointless because I wasn’t going to get enough hours to make rent and pay my debts anyway. Adults I know who work minimum wage jobs have at least two sources of employment.

And yet, I’ve taken freelance gigs that underpay because they were fulfilling.

Creative work on a computer feels more me than standing for hours to serve people. I say this even though I’m confident that my role in life is that of helper. My career mission statement says that I want to be of service. Acts of service is one of my love languages. So, wouldn’t the service industry suit me?

My programming? White privilege?

Office work was not the only type of work that adults modelled for me.

Both of my parents worked. My mom owned businesses, switching careers when I was a teenager. My dad was more of a job switcher like me, different industries. All of my friends’ parents either had office jobs (as far as I knew) or were stay-at-home-moms. (I often wondered what they did all day, and that was before the Internet.)

I grew up with what I now recognize as white privilege. I don’t know if that’s related to my life choices or not.

Money story and abundance

So many people’s perceptions of money, their “money story” comes from being “poor” and having hard-working parents who worked multiple jobs. I often hear of people’s “money stories” as being related to “lack.”

My money story involves hard-working parents who gave me a lot of I asked for and said no when necessary. Life seemed easy for adults. I learned a good lesson about choosing generic or off-brand instead of paying for the label. My parents got me lessons, enrolled me in extracurricular activities and sent me to camp.

If my childhood involved abundance vs. lack, then maybe I have a subconscious sense of entitlement. However, seeing my parents work hard for money should have given me the attitude to go out and do the same. Shouldn’t it?

My parents taught me that labels don’t make a person, and to be kind to everyone. I learned that after I try on clothes in a store, I should put the unchosen items back on their hangers and hand them back, rather than leave the fitting room a mess. It’s one of the best lessons I got in responsibility and treating store employees with respect.

My mom tried to instill me with responsibility.

I don’t recall when I was told that my mom that she saved all year to send my sister and me to camp and for Christmas vacations. As a child, I didn’t know what that meant. When I was a teenager, mom strongly encouraged me to get a job. I’d drop off job applications, and she’d suggest that I call to follow up. I never followed up. My shyness felt crippling. My parents wanted me to be independent, to get out of the house.

I’ve always had this inner conflict of wanting to be an adult and a child at the same time. It might be common in adults. I know parents who acknowledge that they don’t feel “grown-up.”

I was 16 when I worked at (and was fired from) The Gap. It was my first job. Nearly 30 years later, I still do the Gap fold on my jeans, and I remember the first half of the acronym GAP ACT that every employee learns.

Greet, Approach, Product knowledge.

I didn’t go out for a job because I wanted to make my own money; I wanted the job because it seemed like a mature thing to do. I thought that if I had a job, I’d feel cool. Where was I going to spend my money? It mostly went to coffee, Saturday night dinners, the infrequent movie and the occasional pack of smokes (never addicted, but everyone else was doing it).

In my youth, I believed that kids shouldn’t have to work, other than babysitting. I have no idea how I got that idea because it wasn’t from my parents. Maybe it was TV or the books I read — you know, the same type of fiction that sells us on lots of embellished versions of the truth.

Is that a sense of entitlement? I don’t know.

All of this came up in therapy too.

Should children work? Should I have gotten an allowance without doing much around the house? Opinions among adults vary. There seems to be no single “right” answer. I’ve heard parents say, “A kid’s job is to be a kid.” and that there are other ways to teach responsibility. I’ve also heard that if a teenager is old enough to get a job, they should. I babysat nearly every weekend for years. That was ‘work and responsibility’ until the kids went to bed, and I watched The Golden Girls and whatever else lead up to SNL in the Dana Carvey years.

White privilege? I don’t know.

Recognizing the bias

In the past few months, I started noticing my bias about “minimum wage” jobs and wondered if I’m a snob. Of course, it went on my list of potential writing topics. This weekend I read an article in The Huffington Post that put this line of self-exploration into further context. The piece, I Had To Get A Job At The Grocery Store In My Affluent Town. Here’s What I Learned, begins with,

When I spent $100,000 earning two degrees, I never imagined I’d end up working as a cashier at my local grocery store but I needed the job.

That pulled me in.

The author’s bio at the bottom says that Nicole Johnson is a freelance writer who’s pieces have been published in The Washington Post, Redbook, Yahoo, MSN and other places.

(Because she’s a writer, I searched for her on Medium.)

In her story, Nicole talks about fear of judgment from the other moms in her neighborhood. There’s a point at which she admits,

it killed me to realize that the whole time, while I tried to profess my merits to customers who judged me, I had judged my co-workers.

When we fear judgment from others, it means that we’re judging ourselves.

I know this. In a recent article here on Medium, I wrote, “I think that when people believe that others feel sorry for them, it’s really a projection of them feeling sorry for themselves.”

Same thing. We’re projecting our issues onto others. We think that because we feel a certain way about ourselves, others feel that way about us.

And in another recent post, I quoted Epictetus: Man is not worried by real problems so much as by his imagined anxieties about real problems.”

Any anxieties I have about working for minimum wage are imagined until they’re real. No doubt.

I thought I was more self-aware than to play these mind games with myself.

I also identified with Nicole’s article because she had two degrees and had a corporate job before working in a grocery store.

I seem to be good at pursuing education because I like to learn, less good at applying what I’ve learned and doing the thing.

I have an undergrad university degree. I finished paying off my student loans only a couple of years ago. I hold a post-graduate (one year) college diploma and a health coaching certificate from an accredited online school. The latter I pursued during ten months that I was between work contracts in the public sector. There are also the two online programs for entrepreneurs that I’ve taken, one during downtime, one while I had a full-time contract.

I seem to be good at pursuing education because I like to learn, less good at applying what I’ve learned and doing the thing.

Sometimes I wonder if there’s a part of me that wants to remain a school child forever, not because I enjoyed the school environment, but because I enjoy learning, and there was a freedom to childhood.

Writing — like the writing I’m doing right now — fulfills me, but doesn’t pay the bills. I like my new job, but all week I looked forward to Sunday when I could get some writing done. As I write this on Sunday, with 2000 words flowing through me, I have one more topic to write about and schedule.

My God, I’m on a writer’s high right now, in the zone. Even a dinner break didn’t take me out of it. Two and a half hours between picking it up after dinner and finishing editing. No concept of time.

Would I get a minimum wage job now? If I had to, maybe. It doesn’t feel right, but maybe.

Currently, I’m working full-time, maintaining one of my freelance clients and considering taking on one or two more gigs. An inner voice tells me that I need to make up for all of those months of under-employment and fuck it, I’m trying to prove myself, to myself. I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned in any of my articles here on Medium that I’m not so great at taking my own advice.

Like I wrote in Who Are You Trying to Impress? Break free from the constant “prove yourself” cycle, “I’m trying to surrender more, to try without trying and to care without caring.”

And I have surrendered. I have said yes and shown up. I accepted a job one city over and discovered that the commute isn’t as bad as I’d feared — you know, those pesky imagined anxieties.

We all make choices. I recognize that one of the reasons that I was under-employed was because I chose to set standards for myself. I know that I am responsible for me.

It’s a lesson that I’m continuously learning.

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Digital Marketing Manager | Freelance Writer | ADHD Coach for adults | Available for hire.

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