Holly Robinson

Holly Robinson
Massachusetts, USA
December 03
Journalist Holly Robinson is the author of the novel Sleeping Tigers and The Gerbil Farmer's Daughter: A Memoir. Visit her web site at www.authorhollyrobinson.com.


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JANUARY 17, 2012 8:03PM

Why I Told My Daughter to Quit Her Job

Rate: 38 Flag

My daughter called me last night to celebrate her news. “I got the job!” she said. “I'm going to be decorating cupcakes!”

I cheered. My daughter earned an honors degree in Natural Resources from a major university this past May. This is the happiest I've heard her sound in months.

You think that you know where this blog post is going: oh, no, another parent bemoaning the fact that our nation's newly minted college graduates can't find decent jobs! And why wouldn't you think that? New books like Slouching Toward Adulthood: Observations from the Not-So-Empty Nest are rolling off the presses daily to explain the “shocking truth” behind the fact that 5.9 million people between the ages of 25 and 35 are now living with their parents.

But you would be wrong. This is a very different rant.

My daughter is the poster child for why college matters. She went to a decent suburban high school, finished in the top quarter of her class, played varsity sports. Attending a State university allowed her to continue expanding her intellectual and social horizons. She worked closely with researchers in Natural Resources, learned Spanish, studied and worked abroad, explored electives that enriched her perspective. She continually added to her resume, too, always building toward her post-graduation dream of working as a scientist.

She did everything right, and lo and behold, the system worked. She landed a job with a West Coast environmental engineering company that paid her more money than she had ever dreamed of making right out of college. Hurray!

Slowly, though, things unraveled. My daughter loved living near San Francisco, but even on her hefty salary, she could only afford an apartment in a dire section of Oakland, which led to her being caught in the middle of a mini gang shootout. (She has a nasty bullet wound on her car to prove it.) Meanwhile, her spiffy new job bored her, and her bosses were often negative, even mean-spirited.

For months, she stuck it out. Her student loans were about to kick in and this job paid double what any of her friends were making, plus benefits. As time passed, though, my sunny girl grew more despondent. Every day, she dragged herself into work. And, every day, things didn't get better.

She started looking for work. In California, the unemployment rate is dire—11.3 percent, compared to 8.6 percent nationwide as of November 2011. One of her job interviews for a coffee company required four different interviews, plus test taking. My daughter got the job and was thrilled, especially because the position includes health benefits. But the pay was abysmal: minimum wage.

Did she really want to leave her posh job for minimum wage? How could she—a driven student, a hard worker, a young woman who had always set goals and reached them--possibly justify making that leap?

There wasn't any rational reason for her to quit. But there was every emotional reason to do so.

“Life is too short to be miserable for money,” I told her finally. “Just quit. Take the barista job and figure out something else while you're making lattes.”

I can hear the gasps of horror from most parents out there. How could I advise my daughter to join the ranks of the marginally employed, after our family invested so much into her college degree?

Easily. College, you see, is not really about preparing you for the job market. It's about gaining the knowledge and skills you need to seize opportunities—and that includes knowing when to walk away from something that makes you unhappy.

There's a lot of talk these days—well, all days, I suppose—about what good it is to get a liberal arts degree, what majors are most likely to lead to the best-paid and most stable careers, and the importance of building your resume while you're in school so that you have an edge when it's time to enter the almighty job race.

That's all true, mostly. Obviously, you have to eat. But maybe the goal of college shouldn't be so closely linked to employment. Actual life isn't that different from the game of Life, in the sense that there's a point where at the start we all have to choose the college path or the career path. You can earn the same money either way, and the same good (or bad) spins on the dial can send you into a tailspin of debt or misery: illness, accidents, divorce, tornadoes taking your house. College is no guarantee that you'll be rich, or even middle class. In fact, there are some arguments that suggest technical training is a better bang for the buck.

(A handy example: my younger brother never finished his four-year college degree, yet he makes ten times more money than my other brother and I do, and we both have master's degrees.)

College, if you're lucky enough to get there, is really about figuring out your friends and your values as well as your dreams for the future. Nobody—well, almost nobody—finds a top-paying position right out of college. Most of us have to pay our dues and climb a dozen different career ladders before we find one that has rungs we can reach--and a place at the top with a view that suits us. If you land that seemingly “perfect” job with a salary worth boasting about, but then you hate it and are afraid to quit, your wings are clipped. That “safe” job will kill your creativity, drown your enthusiasm, and smother your ability to get up in the morning with a bounce in your step. Why stay?

The answer most people give is “fear.” We've all heard the unemployment statistics.

But let's turn those around. The unemployment rate is high—even upwards of 12 percent in certain U.S. cities. But that means that 88 percent of people have jobs. Can they make a living on their wages? That depends on how you define a “living.” Maybe you don't need a new car, or a car at all. Maybe you can find a seasonal rental or roommates.

Jobs are like college courses. Each one you take teaches you a set of new skills and offers a fresh perspective on life. They aren't meant to be permanent, most of them. They are only stepping stones.

In my daughter's case, the barista job led her to have enough free hours to do what she really loves: draw comics. She's thinking about publishing her comics online. In her free time, she also happened to stop by a new gourmet cupcake store, where she chatted with the enthusiastic owner and was hired to decorate cupcakes and work the counter. Again, it's not much money, but combined with the coffee place, it's enough for her to scrape by. Meanwhile, she has moved out of Oakland and into an affordable room in a house near the beach in Santa Cruz. She's happily experimenting with cupcake flavors and thinking about helping this new business owner with social media and marketing. She is learning something new every day. Life is good.

When you quit a job, any job, it can be terrifying. But it's also exhilarating, as you open yourself to new possibilities. So go ahead. Take the risk. Quit that job, if you hate it. You might surprise yourself.

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Twenty seconds of courage can change your life. I heard that from the promo for the movie "We bought a zoo". I have two daughters in their thirties and I fear for them but somehow they keep on surprising me with their ability to survive. There is always hope.
Excellent advice for me, too. I'm working on a degree and wondering what I am going to do with it. This is a new way of looking at things, which is really what our current economy is all about.
Good post. The time to take chances and figure out what you like is when you're young and don't have the responsibilities that can make walking away impossible. I think you gave great advice and support.
Thanks, everyone. It takes a lot of courage to be young these days, Phyllis!
As a parent of a 25 year old who is still in college, I applaud your advice. Making money if it makes your kiddo miserable is a lousy bargain. Happiness is the only ticket. Everything else then can work out. Will she post here on OS? That would be great. Comics are great to create. Creating in free time is happiness. And agreed, this generation is a hard one, where love and creativity are more important imho than lousy high paying jobs. R
I don't know when it was that universities became "preparation for employment" training centres but they weren't always that way. It is a shame to see just "learning whatever interests one" turned into "position yourself for a 'good' job."

Your advice to your daughter should earn you a "parent of the year" award! The absolute, rock-bottom, most basic lesson we need to learn is that contentment is paramount. Not money. Not giddy "happiness." Not prestige. Contentment. All else falls into place when we are content with our lot and our lives.

You done well, me friend. Better than excellent!
I can think of no better motherly advice than that based on the pursuit of real happiness. The rat race is overrated...happiness undervalued. Excellent Post! Rated! with thanks!
And there is always the chance she will find a creative job as a scientist that would fulfill the creative ambition she nurtured. There are many other places besides that one company. That is quite true that the journey of life is about going from opportunity to opportunity.

After college I have worked as a word processor, desktop publisher, and web designer. I hitchhiked around the country and played folk music on the street. I got a MS in Cartography at age 43 and have spent the past four years making maps at two jobs, which I love. And I have time to write an epic in the evening.
Hear, hear! Forget all the selfish monsters and closet sadists who insist everyone be "what the market dictates" regardless of one's personal reality. Those are the people who have given up on life.

You're right, it takes guts to find your happiness in an increasingly hostile world. Congrats on sticking to your guns.
So who is supposed to do the "not fun" jobs if not "our" darling children? Most jobs aren't fun - who is to do them if they make no one happy?
My costly degree has given me a career I love, but not the salary to match the debt. And, so what? I will pay things back as I can, when I can, and I still get to love what I do. My purpose in life is not just to work, to be a productive worker bee, and yet my work is fulfilling and gives back more than I get paid in $$$. I get to live with myself the rest of my life, and not making what I thought (times are hard) and maybe I will one day. Peace of mind is worth it.
You gave her some good advice.
This post was one of the most refreshing things I've read in a very long time. I wanted to stand up and cheer in my livingroom and say, YES! What a great perspective, and don't forget the life lessons that you are teaching her...These are the most important. Happiness is so much more important than a big paycheck. R
I barely eeked by with a high school diploma I was rift in the hippie era, yet at my best I made $200.000 a year, in redneck Houston.. I worked on many hospitals, the Butterfly House, the Hawthorne Hotel In Salem Mass and the George Bush Library that led to mine and 40 other people loosing their jobs because of mismanagement.

My daughter went to college with a full ride to Drake for 6 years of a newly created Pre-Law and Lawschool program given to only 100 students worldwide and was miserable. I am with you sister.
My family gave her a hard time, but I stressed if you are happy with what you do for a living you'll never work a day in your life.

She is now successful in Silcon Valley with a technical degree.
I applaud both you and your daughter for your farsightedness. Unfortunately not everyone has the luxury of taking her route especially when those student loans and other bills come due. At least she's young and has no dependents. This would be an impossibility for most adults with jobs even if they hate them.

Years after going myself and agonizing over the economic value of a liberal arts major and now watching my son and his friends change majors repeatedly, torn between what they enjoy and what they and in some cases their parents, feel they ought to be studying in order to be marketable, I've come to the conclusion that delaying school may be a good option for many. And maybe higher education and how it works should be reconsidered as well. How is an 18-year-old supposed to make such an expensive decision that can affect him or her for the rest of their days. Although it's true, college is not trade school and its goal isn't to prepare students for the workforce, I think unless the economy improves, colleges and universities are going to have to rethink their intent and justify the value of a degree if they're going to continue to attract and keep students.

I wish your daughter well; she sounds like she's a smart cupcake!
Good advice Holly. Sometimes you have to hang on to a job you hate but it can so wreck your life that you shouldn't do it for long. In the 90s I left one good paying job that was boring me out of my mind. 15 months later I lucked into a job I really enjoyed at barely half the pay. It too soured after five years but it led to my current job which I'm still enjoying five years later. My pay has never quite gotten back to my 90s years but I've no regrets.
Beautiful advice to your daughter--and to anyone.
"Meaningful work and someone to love," is how I once defined my goals before I learned I was echoing Freud's definition of the goal of psychoanalysis as (re)gaining the ability to work and to love. Feeling your work is meaningful is far more important than the paycheck. On the other hand, at the same time, it is very frustrating to be told by the mass media that we must all be like Proteus, willing to continually bend ourselves into pretzels, distort and change our identities, over and over again, to meet the ever-changing demands of the market place. I think you and she took the right path. [r]
This is hard one. My advice to my two kids, currently in school, has been "study what you want but remember that in 4 (3, 2, 1) years you'll be looking for a job". Their response has been to try to strike a balance. It's tough. I see a liberal arts education rapidly becoming an upper middle class luxury, which makes me sad.

I hpoe things continue to work out well for your daughter.
It's so fascinating to hear your stories! Thank you for sharing them. One of the best things about blogging here is the people you meet along the way.
I think you did a great thing, and I'm with you about college being about something different than job training...but keri got me thinking...why aren't we asking why the jobs that pay well are so awful? Why would we make a culture full of boring stupid jobs? Why shouldn't all jobs be fulfilling, at least, some aspect of them?

I think to some degree, we are responsible for making the work we are given fun and special and enjoyable...
Good move on the quitting. I still dream of being a barista! So many "good" jobs absolutely suck and if you get stuck in one at such an early age you might as well throw in the towel. I would have told my son the same thing--he's only 10 yet, but still. Your daughter's life sounds sweet now--and she fought back with your encouragement.
"“Life is too short to be miserable for money." Wise words. I would tell my daughter the same thing. ~r
♥╚═══╝╚╝╚╝╚═══╩═══╝─╚ for being such an honest and thoughtful mother.
Great piece!

Reality does bite though...
Great story. As one who has quit a few jobs in my life, without another "real" job to go to, I applaud your daughter's courage. And your encouragement.
I agree that one nasty job in her "real" field doesn't doom her to never heading back into (lucrative) science. Don't let that spook her, or you, long-term.

I was canned from a fancy $$$ job as a newspaper reporter (after the worst work experience of my life) at 50, took a job selling clothes in a mall part-time for cash and a place to go and to try something very deliberately NOT professional and in my field for a change. I worked my ass off and learned a lot about myself, about retail, about people, about the working poor. It led to a book, lucrative speaking engagements telling retail execs how to do it better (what an irony!) and, maybe, even a network sitcom based on me and my book.

My point? Even the wackiest looking detour can lead you (and your daughter) to amazing new opportunities you could not possibly imagine -- and that the "real job" would never have allowed room for.
Good for you, and I wish you'd been my mom when I was in my early twenties. I stuck out a job I hated for seven years--spent most of my twenties deeply unhappy because I was at a toxic company. But I had a great salary and health benefits, and my parents, born during the Depression and raised during the war years, thought I was just being a whiner. I didn't know what was wrong with me as I dragged myself to meaningless work day after endless day.

I wish I'd been brave enough to quit, to work in a coffee shop, a bookstore, a bakery... but I was too afraid.

Good for you. Good for your daughter. She will find her way.
Great piece. I think changing course in one's 20s is the time to do it. I would love to change my job but as someone in the nether regions of my 40s I'm convinced I'd never work again. Although Caitlin's experience is inspiring...I also agree with Margaret that many teens should not go straight to college, but should get work experience first. And the whole university/higher education system needs to evolve. The way it is is not feasible for so many.
Now's the time for her to experiment - pre-mortgage, pre-kids, pre-medical bills. All too soom, the safe job might become her only option; maybe by then she'll have identified an industry or occupation that she can be happily safe in! Your calm common sense Mom approach is admirable.
Great parenting advice! I was fortunate to have such supportive parents as well. Happiness cannot be bought at any price.
Your comments continue to inspire and amaze me. I have shared them all with my daughter--what a lot to talk about here!
I appreciate this. I quit my job making good money in Australia to come home; giving up opportunities to travel etc. Granted, it's not the same circumstance exactly, but it was an internal conflict I had between what should be making me happy and what my heart was telling me actually would. The answer isn't always popular and some people don't understand it. Thinking with your heart may not always be the best solution, but if it's pulling you strongly in one direction-- and you have the luxury of following-- you should follow. Thanks for this!
There is so much here to learn, and good advice. Beautiful and endearing post. R
It's crazy to expect a 17 or 18 year old kid to make a decision on what they want to do and be for the rest of their life and then expect them to do it. Some do, and it works for them. Good on your for supporting your daughter. My dear friend left his lucrative advertising job in Chicago to go to culinary school. He couldn't be happier. Too many people talk about doing that kind of thing but don't. Glad some manage to follow their true calling.
The way to create jobs is to raise the tax rate on the rich, not lower it. Look at the data over history. At times of higher tax rates on the rich, the unemployment rate is lower, not higher. The reason is this: If you are rich and the tax rate is high, you need a lot of tax deductions to keep your money. You have to invest in places that create jobs. If the tax rate on paper investments is too low, like it is now, you can pull your cash out of the economy, buy financial investments like bonds that don't create jobs that involve producing real goods and services, and pay a 15% rate instead of 30%. Government needs to punish people who take money out of circulation and reward people who don't. Bankers don't really produce anything, but the tax code rewards them and punishes real production.
Yep! No gasps of horror here - what a supportive source of wisdom you are to your daughter. Excellent. Very best wishes to her and to you! R
I totally agree with you. Your daughter will carve out her career...so much of success is persistence, creativity and resourcefulness. I'm curious what your brother without the degree does.
You and your daughter are wise women. The purpose of education is to teach you to think. If you can do that, you can land a job or create one for yourself. You daughter made a good decision. One's personal happiness and satisfaction is infinitely more important than money and prestige. Rated highly.
Well done! I remember once my mom telling me the exact same thing. I'm glad I did it. I now have piece of mind; a necessary component to a life worth living.
I read your piece again, and I'm considering what several commenters said--it's nearly impossible for an 18 year old to make a rational decision about what to study in college. A few rare ones do--I had one college friend who decided as a child that she would be a doctor, and she plowed on through college with that singular goal guiding every decision. And she is a doctor today, and very happy with her choice. But for every one of those, there are a hundred or a thousand others who haven't a clue.

I think we need to do a better job of giving eighteen year olds a chance to live in the world for a while--get a job, go somewhere else, be someone else, before trying to make expensive and life changing decisions about what to study in college.
I'm in a similar position. A recent grad with a degree in science, and I landed a fancy "dream" job right out of school. It was miserable, and I quit after a few months, deciding I didn't want to invest anymore time into a job that I hated, with a neurotic and stressed out boss that I couldn't stand.

Now I pours lattes and barely make rent while I work on grad school applications (which was always the plan anyway). I have no money, and I miss the feeling of really doing something with my day, but at least I'm not miserable. But, I'm lucky... I have very minimal loans and enough savings that I haven't had to move back home with Mom and Dad. Not all of my friends have been so lucky.
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I get it. I am glad you can see what your daughter needs isn't money. I remember being told, "do what you love the money will follow." What I love doesn't require college, but I was told to get a college degree as something to fall back on and do what I loved as a hobby. I have a lot of education now, and am halfway through repaying some extensive student loan debt. Since my kids came along, I don't have time for any hobbies. Another 10 years to debt freedom, for me, except that it will be time to start helping my own kids pay for college then. If I left my job now, I think I would be one of those 80 year olds having their social security checks garnished by the student loan guarantor. Can your daughter cover her student loan payment (is it income contingent)? Is the interest growing? If she agrees to poverty level wages for another 20 years, she can have her debt forgiven. Do you fear that the Republicans will repeal the student loan breaks (meager though they are) if given the chance? These will affect your daughter's future, unfortunately. I wish I could afford to change pathways. It would be nice if student loans could be discharged normally in bankruptcy. I wouldn't personally go bankrupt, even though I have more than paid off the original balance of the loans I took out. It is not my nature to do the risky thing. But it isn't fair that student loan creditors get this bonus protection.
More great comments! I appreciate them all. Jennifer, you raise some great questions about how student loans can be forgiven--or even if they should--if kids opt for lifestyle choices that make it difficult to pay back those loans. Students (and their families) have to think very hard about just how much debt they want to tackle, and go for affordable degrees rather than designer degrees, as I've recently written in another post on this site. You can do almost anything you want at almost any college, including internships, language study, study abroad, athletics...the truth is that employers care less about where you went to college than what you did while you were there, so it's too bad that parents don't give their kids VERY honest information about what having student loans will mean in the future.
"...the truth is that employers care less about where you went to college than what you did while you were there"

I'm sorry but that's just not true, and it's terrible advice to give anyone.

Go to the most prestigious college or university you can. Understand that you are there primarily to make connections with peers and mentors and only secondarily to learn.

The purity of learning in the ivory tower is a myth. For a thousand years universities have been rough and tumble places where people sought class status, professional training, credentials and connections, and only a few scholarly sorts walked away with anything resembling an enlightened mind.

There is nothing degenerate about higher education today. It is as grubby and two-faced as it has ever been. Maybe even less, historically.