“It Gets Better” Requires Work

, , , , | Hopeless | August 9, 2018

I work in video game publishing as a producer. I’ve actually been in the industry for nearly a decade, but with this company for only a few years. My previous job was terrible. I worked for a guy who was awful to his employees and his customers — which meant they, in turn, were awful to us. I was working insane hours for no appreciation or recognition. He would regularly cut our pay because he “couldn’t afford us,” but then would take regular vacations to his luxury cabin in the mountains.

I stuck with it both out of a misguided sense of loyalty, and because at the end of the day I still loved the industry and wanted to be part of it, which is exactly the sort of cycle that enables awful working conditions like what I went through and worse. It didn’t help that so many people just tell you how lucky you are and how grateful you should be no matter what because they would kill to have your job, so you feel even worse about… feeling the way you do. I didn’t even notice how miserable and depressed I had been for years until I finally left and realized what an awful spiral I had been in. It was like I had existed for years in a sort of fog, and on the rare occasion I wasn’t working because I had time off, I was still unhappy because it was just looming over my whole life.

It was bad enough that I was actually scared to get back into the industry when my current company reached out about hiring me a few months later. I didn’t talk about my previous experiences. The first few months I felt like I was walking on eggshells. Whenever something went wrong, even something I wasn’t involved in, I would panic and become terrified, even though the owner was an amazingly chill, gracious, generous guy. My coworkers, who rapidly became actual friends, wondered why I was always so nervous or self-deprecating. One very bluntly asked me why I seemed to have no confidence, while praising my work. It was like being on another planet. Working with people who were themselves hard workers and good people, who valued my work and me, was literally a transformative but alien experience.

All of this came to a head when we attended a major industry conference and got invited to be guests of honor at an awards show. We weren’t up for any awards ourselves, but sitting there, surrounded by happy, excited people, listening to everyone talk about how much they loved their work just sort of overwhelmed me. I started to cry a bit because I finally realized after over a year that this was how it was supposed to be and that I was among friends.

I played off my tears as just being moved by the acceptance speech onstage at the time, but I do want everyone to know that you deserve to feel this way, too. You deserve to have work that is rewarding and that you enjoy, with people you like being around and who value you in turn.

I know I’m fortunate to do the work I do, and that a lot of people who will read this are working the jobs they have to in order to get by, and can’t do anything else right now for whatever reason. I guess I’m just sharing this to say that I hope one day you get to feel this way about your work, because you deserve to, no matter what that work may be. In the meantime, know that I’m sending good vibes to you no matter who or where you are, because I’ve been there, too.

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