The Rat King Race

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A “Rat King” is a reportedly non-mythological occurrence wherein a pile of rats somehow manage to knot their tails together, becoming a singular, creepy (and in my head, teeming) mass of rodentia. Rat Kings even have their own Wikipedia entry, and apparently, the phenomenon is associated with plague Awesome. Dr. Henry Jones would never manage. (That’s an Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade reference, in case you didn’t compulsively watch that as a child.)
I’ve noticed recently a larger-than-a-trickle stream of my peers leaving their careers, office positions, and the like to pursue independent employment. And by peers, I mean other young women my age, previously employed in insurance or marketing or some other soul-sucking office position.

Two friends are running or setting up bakeries in the state. A friend from high school left her office job to start a professional organizing business. Two of these women were in stable, progressing relationships with securely employed significant others when they started their ventures. They also have business partners who have the ability to provide accessible liquid assets as needed. Those factors go a conceptually long way to being able to strike out from a shit office job, though I doubt they make it any less terrifying. That high school friend is a pretty astounding BAMF; she left her office job and started out wholly solo, when she was single and living hundreds of miles from home. She sought mentors, created her own business plan, self-educated, joined trade associations, built a client base, and seems truly happy. All three of these women are brave, determined, and talented. I like being able to patronize their businesses when able, and support them on social media and to my other friends. They deserve the business: not only are the products better than good, there’s something to be said for living as locally as you can, whether or not that amazing cake was made by a friend. I also want to do what I can to ensure their success; Stop & Shop doesn’t need my money for another disgustingly sweet celebration. These ladies know who they are and they’re pretty amazing through and through. I mean, after all, we strive to be our own heroes (or heroines), right?

On the flipside, loads of my peers are attempting to make a go of “MLMs” like Rodan + Fields, LulaRoe, Scentsy, or similarly impossible pyramid schemes. Sincere apologies to anyone reading this who currently owns pizza slice leggings or $70 electric scented wax burners, but badgering friends into buying overpriced cack is neither the route to happiness nor wealth. But I get it and I want to support them even if I cannot. I completely understand why you’re doing it. The lure of a plug-and-play job that allows you to “make your own schedule” and “be your own boss” is incredibly compelling. It’s particularly alluring for young mothers or those wanting to increase the meager earnings of their nine to five. At the end of the day, though, they’re unsustainable, scammy, and break more banks than they make. It also breaks my heart to see friends and acquaintances bounce from one to another, and I really wonder if they ever take a long look at their books to see what they’ve actually made, minus the knee-shaking overhead, from these places. I wonder if they pay themselves an hourly wage for the “parties” and social media posts, marketing, and salesmanship. And if they did, what that wage might shake out to be. But for a (slightly) kinder, more thorough take, you can read this. So these schemes continue to draw would-be stay-at-home moms, my millennial peers saddled with hundreds of thousands in student loan debt well into their 30s, and the lure of quick, big money – same as it ever was.

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I think we all have a little Milton in us, which is probably why Swingline had to start making red staplers after that film came out. He is the hero of the movie, if you think about it.
Clearly, I myself want to strike out of the doldrums of working for someone else. Recently, I had a near complete comeapart when I found out I make between $10k and $15k less than my similarly-leveled coworkers (who are both women, fwiw). I discovered this because they’re both moving away, and as we were recruited by our boss to help fill these positions, it made sense that I ask what pay any incoming employee might land. It was everything I could do not to go full Milton from Office Space up in here. And, when I very professionally and directly brought this gob-smacking discrepancy to my boss’s attention, his response was to underscore that I felt “under appreciated.” Think he would have said that to a male employee? This company has burned through five marketing managers in three years, so somehow I feel like appreciation isn’t the issue. I couldn’t sleep, ate like shit, seethed with anger and self-loathing for days, and ultimately caught a very, very nasty cold that coincided with a huge work event, family issues, and two big celebrations, one of which we were having at our house. I really knocked it out of the park with that one.

People try to advise the old “don’t let it get to” me, but when you spend between 40 and 60 hours a week at something, it should not seem strange or like some overly-sensitive failing that it infiltrates your head and your heart and your sense of self. It’s not surprising that I don’t seem to be alone in the way employment affects me – those aforementioned friends struck out on their own for both passion and, I suspect, because they couldn’t escape their old jobs either.

I don’t care for marketing as a whole, as I said, it’s post-modern turd-polishing. More than anything, I really, really hate working for pennies, struggling to pay my bills, unable to save for retirement all the while doing something I hate. And my most bankable skills, the ones on my resume,  those I can do with my eyes closed, are also those I loathe nearly every minute I must execute on them. Social media marketing is legitimately the worst (yes, I understand the irony of saying that while this is share on Twitter and Facebook), corporate graphic design can be incredibly interesting and fulfilling, but also murderous to true creativity. I don’t like coding, even as I learn more of it, and I sure as hell don’t like writing press releases and subsequently badgering underpaid, often vilified reporters.

giphyI suppose one of my greatest failings as an employee of any place is my patent refusal to drink the Kool-Aid. I cannot intellectually buy into a business’s buillshit even as I am paid to sprinkle it with fairy dust and tell you it’s a flying pig. And it’s actually pure coincidence that I write this on Equal Pay Day, but the numbers are striking: women still make significantly less than men and the gap widens by age and race. And the raging humanoid hemorrhoids that are the right-wing fuckwits on Twitter are out getting my BP up with the #EqualPayDay hashtag; because being significantly underpaid and being told I’m wrong is an easy pill to swallow. So when you underpay us, overwork us, and then slap us with all the other trappings of modern American femininity and its attendant expectations, it should come as zero surprise that we flee the workforce at the first opportunity, scant as it may be.

Meanwhile, I sit here stuck between a job I loathe with every fiber and the promise of a self-sufficient life that seems to move from me like the horizon, rolling ever further out of my grasp but always in sight. Crippled by self-doubt from the daily defeat of the rat race is no way to live, but it’s the only way most of us have to make a living.

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3 Comments Add yours

  1. A painful yet apt commentary. Sorry you haven’t found “your way” of surmounting the rat race. Maybe turning the anger/ frustration into satire…not necessarily Swiftian, but a more updated and relevant approach.

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