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This article is from Issue 53: Sept/Oct 2011

How to Chase Your Dream Job Without Quitting Your Day Job (Yet)

I got fired from the carnival.

A traveling carnival had come to my small Massachusetts hometown. Someone told my mom they were hiring college kids to help put the rides together (which doesn’t sound like a brilliant idea when you stop and think about it), and she told me I should go work for them for a few days as a way to earn some extra money. So that afternoon I drove to the field where the carnival was being built, found a friend of a friend of a friend who was already hammering together a ride and got to work.

An hour later, as I struggled to fit the arm of an octopus ride undoubtedly named something like “8 Arms o’ Vomit,” a man started yelling at me. Apparently, my tender, callus-free writer hands were not cut out for the hard-knock life of a carny. He kept screaming at me and saying: “Who are you? Who are you?” An hour later, as I drove home in shame, I realized I should have responded, “Isn’t that the ques- tion we’re all trying to answer deep down, my friend?” But at the moment I’m pretty sure I just stammered, “My mom said I should come work here.” Surprisingly enough, that didn’t fix the situation and I was quickly bounced out of the carnival.

It was an embarrassing moment to be sure, but it’s not my worst employment moment—not by a long shot. My employment history is a bit of a train wreck. At one point, I had eight differ- ent jobs in eight years—and that’s not counting the carnival. These were office jobs, with me in a cubicle and pleated pants. Why so many jobs? Well, I kept thinking the next job would be the job that made me happy, that the next job would save my woeful employment record, but the same thing kept hap- pening over and over again.

I’d get a new job. I’d have a six-month honey- moon when everything was great. But eventually I’d start to get bitter again. The same issues that were at my first job would unexpectedly show up at my sixth job. What are the chances, right? And then I’d start to say things like:

“This place doesn’t get me.”
“They’re underutilizing me.”
“They don’t appreciate me. There’s so much I could be doing right now.”

Then I would demonize my job and my boss until I finally started planning my exit from the job. I’d get a new job, jump to that one without really looking at where I was going to land and the whole cycle would start all over again.