Aging and Humiliation

I am typing this from my latest temp gig.  I am working for a non-profit organization. The office is white and quiet, except for the tapping of keyboards. There’s a fruit bowl and a roof deck, but no one goes out there.

I can have all the espresso I want.

Working for a non-profit is not exactly the right phrase, though. Honest to God I am being paid (a few bucks an hour, granted) to do a job that a monkey could do. No joke: a semi-trained circus animal could absolutely do what I have been asked to do in half the time I am being given to do it.  It requires knowing little more than how to Google stuff and operate the copy/paste function on the computer keyboard.

Someone went on vacation and so I was hired to do this thing, which that person could have done on a Smartphone during their 30-minute subway ride downtown before hitting the beach.

I am confused but trying not to overthink it.

In the time that I am not/working, I have managed to complete a post for my other blog, write various communiqués to the people I am plotting world domination with, and go on an (unpaid) lunch break, during which time I’m pretty sure none of the 20-somethings who “work” here even looked up from their shiny Macbooks long enough to know I was gone.

That’s what is getting to me this week, as I continue to come to terms with the fact that I spent ten years preparing for a career that no longer exists and that I do not want.

I am old.

Well, not that old. I haven’t gone gray yet. My knee only aches once in a while. I do not watch JAG. As of today, I am not using Depends.

But when I first arrived here at The Non-Profit, I noticed that all the employees are in their 20s. Early 20s. I think they’re all fresh out of college, and this is their first job before they go off and actually make money, or get bored enough to quit and go to law school like their parents want.

In fact, the worst part about it is that my supervisor, the one who explained the monkey’s job to me, is around 22-years old. She looks about 15 though.

I keep thinking: how did I get to the point where I am being bossed around by a mere child?

It’s probably awkward for The Boss too. She’s probably asking herself, “why is this old person still temping?” Perhaps, if she is the wistful type, she might even wonder, “What happened in her life that brought [post-academic in nyc] to this point?” Then, after deciding that she can’t possibly answer that question (because the lives of others are unknowable or something like that), I imagine that The Boss simply made an object lesson out of me. “I shall never end up like her,” she promised herself.

Yes, it probably happened just like that.

I would not want to go back to my 20s, even if I could. Gross. One cannot help getting older. Just as one cannot help traveling in a boat pulled ceaselessly back into the past, or some Great Gatsby shit like that.

Recently, my old boss from The College Where I Used to Adjunct emailed me and asked me to come back and teach there this upcoming semester. It would be delightful to have me, she said. They have a pair of classes with my name on them. One is a course in my field for majors.

Am I interested? She would really like to know.

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11 Responses to Aging and Humiliation

  1. recent Ph.D. says:

    Fuck both of ’em. Your old boss knows exactly what she is asking of you. And your new one … well, the shine will wear off soon enough. Maybe she WILL decide to go to law school, awesome path to prosperity that is these days!

    I’m feeling that age and humiliation thing big time, though. At my new job, we have interns with
    PhDs. iNTERNS! And I’m really only one step ahead of them, as, among other things, this job has a shelf life. But the overpaid, mindlessly employed, green-behind-the-ears 20-somethings who didn’t go on to get over-ma-educated? Yeah, the optimism is overwhelming.

  2. Fucke all these motherfuckers!

  3. avocado says:

    Fuck them! I feel the humiliation too, from so many unexpected quarters. I left academia; can’t find a full time job; feeling old. The dept chair at Crappy U emailed me the other day asking if I could teach two new adjunct classes for $1000/class. She said, “The pay is low, but I know these new classes will be intellectually stimulating!” I wish I could laugh, but I’m too depressed and tired to do so.

  4. Ken says:

    Depending on the structure of your career, the age disparity doesn’t necessarily ever go away. It’s been over a decade since I started my post-academic career, and my colleagues at the same level as me are still eight to ten years younger than me, and many if not most of the supervisors I’ve worked for over the years have been younger than me too. Fortunately, it never bothered me to work for younger people, and I think that’s because my supervisors have always known more than me. If that 26-year-old has four years of experience and I am just starting out, then yeah, it makes sense for her to be telling me how to do things, even if I’m already 36. I can see why this wouldn’t apply in the monkey job, but when you eventually move on to a new career that challenges you, you might have the same experience. Plus, when you’re 46, someone who is 36 won’t look like a mere child to you. So it may be something you have to live with, but it may be easier to put up with under different circumstances. Best of luck!

  5. MK says:

    I was in the exact same place but during the dot-com boom. I temped for 25 year-olds who made 80K and wore fashionable clothes and went out for cocktails and expensive meals. I felt like the frumpy aunt in my outdated discount outfits from grad school. Now I have a pretty good career and I still have the age disparity with my peers but like Ken says it doesn’t really matter now.
    A lot of temp work and non-academic low level work feels ridiculously easy and silly, but you won’t be doing it forever. In some way, for me, it felt like a period of time where I had to prove I could play well with others, and then once I proved that, then it was time to prove I was smart.

  6. Djuna says:

    I commented here once before and have since been silent but still like reading your blog from time to time. I’m teaching in France at one of the universities in Paris in a two-year lecturer-type post. I don’t know what will happen after it ends as I don’t have EU citizenship and even “tenure-track” academic positions are not very well paid here and difficult to come by. Anyway, I find your writing to be insightful and humorous. I like that you’ve essentially rejected the increasingly corporate-modeled university — or this is how I read it (maybe I’m mistaken) — which has come to rely heavily on adjunct labor to cut costs and help pay for expensive capital projects and administrators, etc. I’m just a bit confused about the decision to temp at actual corporations instead which seems like even more demeaning work in a far less stimulating environment. Before (and sometimes while) I went to graduate school I too worked as a temp and a legal secretary at a law firm and then as a program manager at a couple of non-profit organizations in NYC and to tell you the truth all of those office jobs were, for the most part, boring and exhausting — and the non-profits were equally hierarchical and patriarchal. While adjuncting might not be ideal it seems like the lesser of two evils? Perhaps you’re done with teaching altogether and don’t enjoy it at all anymore but personally I think I would miss it a great deal. I understand that you’re looking for a more promising permanent job while temping but why not do that while teaching? Perhaps I’m completely off the mark but I get this sense from your posts that you might miss it?

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