‘Well, you’ve all got it.’
Half the office, it seemed, had hung around to see whether we would get it. Four of us, employed on temporary contracts for going on for two years in some cases. I was the youngest, and the newest, having been there only since mid-January. Now it was August, interviews had taken place over the past two days, and I was beginning to dare to hope.
When I came in, I was as low as I ever had been. My previous temp placement had been three months at the local hospital, handing out hearing aid batteries and making appointments. The job I was covering came up, and I was interviewed, and I didn’t get it.
The annoying thing was, I would have liked temping, if I’d felt that I was allowed to. It appealed to my fairy-godmother persona: I was the person who flew in, swept up the mess, and flew off again. I had no particular desire to stay in any workplace long-term; most of them had been horrible. But one couldn’t admit to that. I’d bought in to other people’s ideas about stability and permanence and planning for the future.
And yes, I would quite have liked more of those things in my life as well, but I could have done without the corollary, that any job with an end date wasn’t worth having. I could have done without writing myself off as a failure even as I had a job, even as I was supporting myself, even as I was learning how to operate as an adult in the workplace.
Temping for temping’s sake would have been fun. Temping as a stepping stone to a permanent job was depressing. I was always wondering if this was the one, and feeling that if it were I’d have to be grateful. I was very lucky that the one turned out to be the one it was. I’m still there, five years, four job titles and two offices later.
When I think of the others – the hospital library (lovely people, but a boring job); the exam script-checking (awful – we were treated as if we were back at school); the hospital medical records library (eight months with no natural light, no wonder I got depressed that year) – I am very glad that this was the one that stuck.
I remember how we all clustered at the end of that day, knowing that the interviews were done, knowing that the decisions were being made. I remember the glinting silver blinds, the slight August stuffiness.
I remember the waiting.
Well, you’ve all got it.
And now I was free to…
get on with the job. Devise and put in place systems that would make things run far more efficiently than I’d dared before. Finish all these projects I had started. Ask to be moved to other tasks. Get more experience.
Finish other projects, outside the workplace.
There is, after all, something to be said for security. It quiets everything that tells you, ‘don’t rock the boat’, and some boats need rocking.
I’m never quite free, though; even five years on, I have those phantom chains around my ankles, and I have to consciously kick them off. ‘You can’t finish this,’ my past self whispers to me. ‘What if they decide they don’t need you any more?’ And I tell her things about redundancy law and experience, but she still isn’t quite convinced.
And of course, they might decide they don’t want me any more. Nothing is certain, and in a job that is as dependent as mine is upon the political climate, I can’t be sure that ‘they’ won’t decide they don’t need me any more. All the same, I know this:
– that I was a decent temp
– that I’m doing a better job now that I’m not constantly worrying about where the next month’s work is going to come from
– that my worth is not defined by how much someone is paying me
– that I would manage. Because I did before, and this time I know it.