By Sydney Maier
Once upon a time, there was an average millennial living an average millennial post-grad life. Like other average millennials, she was grossly underpaid, completely unaided by her singular worthless degree, and struggling to feel of any value to herself or the world. (Like the average millennial, she believed the world should find her important and felt slighted by her own smallness.) She, like others, became exceedingly familiar with the 3am shame spiral.
For the above-average millennials who are blissfully unaware, the 3am shame spiral actually begins with the descent around midnight when you realize there are no clean dishes and you’re a failure of an adult. You spend the next few hours trying to defend/rationalize your station, but you’re not stupid, so that doesn’t work. The spiral then begins with a vivid memory of something demeaning that happened at a job that’s beneath you, or some other occurrence that you should never have had to deal with, given your education and the conviction that you are above this shit. One thing leads to another, and suddenly it’s like 11am, your whole life is a sham, and there’s absolutely no point in ever taking a shower or putting on a bra.
For this particular average millennial, all shame spirals came from working at The Place Where She Learned to Hate Children and Clowns. Employment there coincided with the time in her life When She Just Could Not Keep It Together. She had never liked children but felt taking this “early childhood education” job was a small way to promote personal growth. She couldn’t get a real job, but maybe she could leave her comfort zone and figure out what’s so great about those shrieking, sticky little people. Maybe this would also make her more appealing to above-average men, and they would share their above-average millennial money with her. It was a very dark time.
Usually, the spiral kicked off with flashbacks to that time the franchise owner made the millennial stay late to scold her over the phone. The owner went on and on to the millennial, railing about her bad attitude, lack of commitment, etc. You see, one time, the millennial had held her own elbows (careful not to cross her arms) during yet another lecture. The owner had called just to berate the millennial for this so-called unacceptable behavior. The phone call became so teeth-grindingly frustrating that, as soon as it was over, the millennial rushed to the office to cry. She threw open the door to see her two already semi-drunk co-managers proudly watching and listening to the whole scenario via the live stream security footage.
Then there was the time she inverted the numbers to the security code and the alarm started blaring and flashing red lights at 9am, not just in her suite, but also next door – at the clinic for children with autism.
There was the day she learned her friend committed suicide and had no choice but to teach Level 3 how to look for bean bags under orange cones. (The same class was taken away from her as punishment when she asked for coverage to attend the memorial.) Parents made judgmental comments about her bloodshot eyes. Nothing had ever been so pointless.
There was the unpaid hour she spent on the phone with the owner when her recorded hours for the week exceeded 23: “I don’t care if you were cleaning the mats or enrolling another child. You shouldn’t need to be paid in order to do a good job.”
Then she found out her boyfriend of six months was cheating on her – though it’s more accurate to say he was cheating with her: “I was always the nice guy in high school. I was never a jerk. It’s just something I’m trying out.” (That had nothing to do with the job, but it happened while employed there, so it’s lumped into the same shame spiral.)
Years later, these memories haunt her. The injustice, the impotent rage, the conflict of hating a thing but needing it to justify your value, the self-loathing for not putting up any defense at all – they find her in the insomniac hours. They take her down a path that passes all the stupid things she said or did, all the times she sacrificed her truth and pride to appear manageable and apologetic. It’s at this point she’s so disgusted she does the dishes. It’s a “cut off your nose to spite your face” response, but it’s the first step out of the spiral.
Then she remembers that that awful job taught her something extremely important about herself that she might not have learned otherwise: she definitively, permanently, has exactly zero interest in children. Clowns, too.
And the average millennial lived mostly averagely ever after. Or at least until this point.
Sydney Maier is a guest writer for Tumbleweed Diaries. Her years of theatre training never taught her how to write a decent bio, but laundry listing seems efficient: she lives in Chicago, works in animal welfare, and dreams of travel. Her belief system revolves around the Golden Rule and cinnamon. In college, Sydney studied theatre, psychology, nutrition (for three weeks), and finally landed on communication in order to graduate on time, rather than accumulate even more student debt. Since then, she has dabbled in employment in everything from guerilla marketing to interior design to early childhood education. Sydney is a runner, a vegan, and a Netflix loyalist.