Every morning I would wake up and be so overwhelmed with stress about heading in to work that I would throw up. For months this went on. You’d think I would realize that something was wrong, that work shouldn’t make you feel like that, like maybe I should do something about it. Sure I put out a couple of job applications. Sure I searched job boards. But I didn’t do much. Because I needed my job. I was living paycheck to paycheck with hardly any money in savings. I couldn’t just quit. Besides, I’m transgender. Do you know what it’s like trying to find a job as a trans person? Especially when all of your experience is in the church? Do you know how rare it is to find a church that will hire a trans person, especially to work with youth?
So I stayed. And I was sick every morning. And depressed every night. And I felt like there was not a single thing I could do. And then I lost my job. And I was panicked because I had a million scenarios of what would happen. All of those “worst case scenarios” that I had been dreaming up? They didn’t happen. But you know what did? I stopped throwing up every morning. I got clear about the fact that feeling that way about your job wasn’t healthy, it wasn’t normal, and it said something not about me but about the working environment that I had been in.
I’m not one of those “just quit your job and follow your passion!” guys. Normally when I read those guys I’m struck by a couple of things: they are white and cisgender and usually straight. And they have about six months of serious living expenses in their savings account. Oh, and if things go haywire they can apply and have a new six figure job in about a week. For those of us who are marginalized in any way, for those of us living paycheck to paycheck, for those of us struggling to make ends meet or who face significant barriers to unemployment exhortations to follow your bliss can seem misguided at best, downright cruel at worst.
And yet, I often feel that many of us walk around feeling more helpless than we are. We complain week after week after month after year about how awful everything is but then we don’t do anything about it. The excuses kick in: I just can’t leave my unaffirming church. I just can’t find a new job. I just can’t do anything about my parents. I just can’t do what makes me happy.
We are giving away our power. Maybe not intentionally but our inaction and our language and our inertia allow it to seep out of us.
There are a lot of things in life we have no control over: other people, large institutions, the job market in general. We can force more money into our bank account or force someone to hire us. We can’t force churches to change or parents to change their minds. And maybe we can’t just up and quit our jobs and find new ones.
But there is one thing we do have power over: ourselves.
We can leave an unaffirming church. We can set boundaries with a parent who won’t respect us. We can start applying for new jobs (even if we need to keep a hold of our old job for a bit). We can possibly save some more money or get a part-time job (though this isn’t always possible, sometimes it’s more possible than we think it is).
We can also control how we approach situations. We don’t have to sit at home feeling like there is nothing we can do. We can clean up our resume or ask a friend to look it over for us. We can search for affirming churches in our area and set up a coffee date with the pastor or someone else in leadership. We can write a letter to our parents letting them know what we need from them and setting clear boundaries about what will happen if they refuse. We can send out job applications. We can think about creative ways to gain skills we don’t have but that we want. We can start a GoFundMe. We can ask if the teacher of the class we want to take will accept a payment plan instead of a lump sum fee. We can find moments to do something that we love, even if it’s just five minutes before bed; something that is just for our own enjoyment.
At the very least we can think and plan about the future that we really want. We can dream about a future that looks different than the one we are currently living in. We can think about what we want out of our lives.
I know you’re exhausted and stressed out. I know money is tight and you feel helpless. I know there is a ton of stuff in the world that you have no control over.
But you have more power than you think you do. Don’t give it away and definitely don’t let people take it from you. Find ways to exert your power. Even if they are small. Even if it’s as tiny as making a choice to try something, or to spend five minutes doing something just for you, or to go somewhere you want to go.
Find ways to live into your power. You are not helpless. The world is not moving around you without you having any control over it, at least not all of the time. There are things you can do. There are things you can control. There are decisions you can make.
You have so much more power than you think you do. So stand in it.