I hate my job.
I work at a civil rights nonprofit. My nonprofit works on a variety of important legal issues, such as immigration asylum, criminal justice reform, and education advocacy. My primary focus is on providing free legal services to the poor, as well as combating the ongoing criminalization of homelessness through citations and fines.
To be clear, I enjoy my work. I enjoy the variety of projects that I have, from working directly with clients to collecting useful resources to pursuing larger scale policy change. I am inspired by my colleagues and committed to working on behalf of my clients.
But I need to remember that this is a job. At the end of the day, I have the luxury of putting these problems aside. I can go home, to my clean and well-maintained apartment, and rest. I don’t need to confront major mold or roach problems, or worry that if I speak up, my landlord will try to evict me for complaining. I don’t have to worry about whether I will get my disability check on time to pay for my rent and my food. I don’t have to worry about having a severe mental meltdown, and if I did, I can expect to get proper medical treatment, not perceived as a threat and taken down by law enforcement. In short, I can go home and remove myself from the challenges of work, but for so many of the folks that I serve, the challenges are what they live through every single day.
I need to remember this because I can become tempted to let my job define me. I feel the itch of moral superiority within me. When I see people talking about their expensive vacations or fancy dinners or beautiful houses, I can start thinking to myself “I may not be making much money. But I’m working on things that are important! I’m sacrificing a lucrative salary in order to do work that helps people!” I can feel the urge to introduce myself at parties by saying “Hi. I’m Joel. I’m a civil rights attorney (sidenote: I’m not yet an attorney; results are out 11/18). I help save the world.” I don’t mean to say that expensive vacations or fancy dinners or beautiful houses are bad things, or that being a Professional Do-Gooder is a bad thing. But I don’t want to exploit the misery of my clients for my own gain. When I tell stories of the indignities and outrages that my clients experience, I want to tell those stories to make sure that my clients’ voices are heard, not as tributes to my own nobility and self-sacrifice in working with them. I am not the hero in their narratives.
I hate my job, because I hate the fact that my job exists. In a perfect world, there would be no injustice. There would be no poverty. There would be none of the misery that I see in my clients’ lives and on the streets of San Francisco. But forget the perfect world; even in a better world than this, my clients would not need a lawyer like me to advocate for them. They would be able to fight for themselves. In that better world, I could do something else, like take up poetry.
And even though we don’t live in that world, I have the option of pretending that I do. I can join the world of expensive fancy beautiful, of baller brunches and Instaglamour and vacation dinner houses. But if I join that world, then I must pretend that the misery around me doesn’t exist. And if I pretend, I am complicit in that misery. Cruelty takes the most vulnerable and broken amongst us and grinds them to dust. And this world of cruelty knows no faithfulness. For I can turn a blind eye to its sins in order to reap its benefits, but should I stumble and fall and break, this world of cruelty will not hesitate to pulverize me too.
There is still much to do. So I wake up and get to work. The poetry will have to wait.