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Stop-Gap Jobs & Long-Term Dreams

By Amalah

Photo by helgasms!
Hi, Amy!
I love you! I love your blog! (Does every email you get start that way?)
I lost my job earlier this year and decided to go back to school while looking for a job. I was interested in making a change anyway, and I love my program and would really like to make a career of it! But, in the meantime, we need for me to work full-time. Over the last eight months, we’ve used up all of our savings, even though I was able to get a part-time job while in school. My husband is also working two jobs, but the extra doesn’t add up to what I was making. It’s getting dicey over here–collection calls, paying rent late, other embarrassing things.
I got a job offer yesterday and took it after weighing the pros (MONEY!) with the cons (having to quit school). It really isn’t possible for me to do both–I am in a hands-on artistic program that doesn’t offer online classes and the class schedule and work schedule directly match up.
I’m still secretly hoping another job with a better schedule comes up over the next month so that I can stay in school. Is it unethical or otherwise horrible to take a job and quit it if something better comes along? It feels wrong, and I would be pissed if one of my employees quit so soon, but I’m sure it happens (and I’m not talking about retail or other high-turnover jobs, although I’m not sure it matters).
I think I’ll like this job, and I’m going to do my best work, but I also want to keep my options open and, hopefully, stay in school. But, I knew I had to take this job because I know how hard the market is and have been trying everything for the last year–posting babysitting ads on Craigslist, applying at groceries stores, giving up all dinners out, wine, movies, etc.
Please help! Did I make a mistake by taking this job? Would it be crazy bad karma to quit if a better job comes up?
Thanks! You are the best, and you have cute bebes.
Girl Who Hasn’t Had Wine in Eight Months

Hey! Let me tell you a story. ABOUT ME. I know. You are shocked.
I lost my job in late 2001. I was working a hideous job at a hideous start-up, but it was the kind of hideous job that paid an awesome salary, so I stayed there. Until, you know, they told me I couldn’t stay there. About half the company was laid off. Here’s a box for your things and one month’s severance pay, we’re sorry.
I’ve told this story before, I know. The bazillions of resumes to any and every job that seemed remotely connected to my field, or fields that I thought I might be able to talk my way into. The post-9/11 job market was…not good, and I was not in a good place as I was trying to finish up a degree part-time. There was no money to commit to attending school full-time, we had a brand-new mortgage, very little savings…like you, I HAD TO WORK. Full stop.
The first job offer that arrived was likewise…not good. Less money, a step down in title, in a field AND industry that was far from my top choice. But I took it. I mean, I had to. The budget numbers were not going to work without it, as we were probably a single month away from Serious Trouble.
Predictably, it was the Worst Job I Ever Had. The company lied to me about all sorts of things during my interview. I had multiple bosses who treated me terribly. I was asked to do the impossible with a laughably tiny marketing budget and got blamed when quotes came in out of our price range. I spent long days all by myself in a weird satellite office with zero coworkers, slowly learning that the company was 1) in terrible financial shape, 2) completely out-of-touch in the industry, and 3) run by MORONS.
After a few weeks, a former boss contacted me. He was looking to hire an editor. Did I know anyone? Was I interested?
We met for dinner that night, I submitted my formal application the next morning, and spent the next week playing solitaire on my work computer while waiting for my background check to clear. It did, and I was given two options: I could start the next day, the first of the month, and have health insurance right away, or start later, which would mean my benefits wouldn’t kick in until the next month.
And I did a terrible, awful thing. I sent an email to my bosses, packed up my things and walked the hell out. No two-week notice or anything. I started my new job the next day and I NEVER REGRETTED ANY OF IT. Yes, I felt guilty — I still sometimes can’t believe I actually did that, because I NEVER DO STUFF LIKE THAT, but…I would honestly do it again, all professional loyalty guilt aside, because it was the best thing for me AND both of the companies involved.
Look. You did what you had to do for you and your family. I understand your disappointment over having to put your school plans on hold, but seriously, don’t beat yourself up over possibly quitting a job that you haven’t actually quit yet. Yes, give this job a fair shake and your best work before writing it off, and be careful and judicious in your job searching: only do it at home, at night, and screen potential interviews carefully so you aren’t missing time at work any more often than necessary. If there’s anything worse than finding a better job right after accepting another job, it’s having your ONLY job find out that you’re looking for a better job. Pay close attention to HR and benefit info and find out everything you can about probationary periods, how much notice they expect, whether you’ll have to sign non-disclosure agreements, etc.
I would bet that most people have had to do something similar during tough times, and that a few of them have done it with pinpricks of guilt (what if I’ve taken someone else’s dream job and I don’t even really want it?) or worry (am I hurting my long-term plans by accepting a short-term stop-gap solution?).
You never know those things. You never know what part this job will play as your whole over-arching life journey — it could be a turning point that solidifies your commitment to your arts program, or gets you excited about your existing field again, or…it could be neither. A little blip along the way, a job you took to pay the bills, something you leave off your resume altogether. (I admit I simply extended my post-layoff out-of-work period on mine.) For now, just breath a sigh of relief that you’ve plugged up the financial drain, and get back to work.


Published December 18, 2009. Last updated April 29, 2010.
About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch


Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Ama...

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it’s pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to [email protected].

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.

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  • natalieushka

    December 18, 2009 at 3:18 pm

    OP, there is only one thing you need to think about when you’re facing this kind of dilemma. Imagine the shoe was on the other foot and your employer suddenly couldn’t afford to keep you, didn’t want to keep you, or for whatever reason had to let you go. Do you think the company would lose one minute’s sleep? NOPE, no way, no how. They would do what’s right for them, without consideration for how it affects you. You are completely right to take this job and keep it for as long as it suits you, and then dump it when it doesn’t anymore. The fact that you’re even having doubts about it means you’re a good person, but good people can too often end up being doormats, so always remember to look out for #1.

  • all things BD

    December 18, 2009 at 6:12 pm

    I agree with the idea that you don’t know yet what the future holds with this job. Don’t get worked up over what might become. I switched jobs as my husband and I were talking about trying to have our first child. I was wracked with guilt, thinking I should let the interviewer know.
    Hubby pointed out that we had NO IDEA when we’d start trying, how long it would take, or even IF we could have a baby. I ended up at the job for just over a year, went on maternity leave, came back for a week, and decided I just couldn’t work and be a mom, so I quit.
    I felt more guilty about taking the 3 months maternity leave and THEN quitting, but again, we had no idea how it was going to unfold.

  • Alison

    December 18, 2009 at 7:56 pm

    I think you need to ask yourself about the company you might be screwing over. Are they a nonprofit, for instance, where you might be hurting a good cause? Are they a small mom and pop shop that will really feel the burden of it, or a large corporation that can absorb it easily?
    Because at smaller places, it matters. I’m a nonprofit manager, and if I put time and energy into training someone and had them leave after a month or two, it would hurt us. It would hurt our work, and our work matters. So you should think about the context you’re in.

  • gizella

    December 19, 2009 at 2:26 pm

    I hate to say it this way, but business is business is business. Even if its a non-profit, you have to take care of yourself. EVEN non-profits will let you go to take care of themselves, i know that as fact. I agree with all of Amy’s last paragraph (all the column, but that most of all). Take care of your finances. You don’t know what this job will hold for you as far as connections etc. You can always try and quit in the most human way possible, and you’ll be okay.

  • Alison C

    December 19, 2009 at 5:44 pm

    I say take the job and see how it works out. You never know. Just over 10 years ago I took a job as a stop gap. I was in a job I hated (one they let me go from just before I got offered the new one).
    My plan was take this job while looking for a “real job”. I stayed with that company for 7 years and am still in a similar line of business. I love this job and am so glad I took it in the first place.

  • professormama

    December 20, 2009 at 11:49 pm

    Do what you need to do for you and your family.
    A few words of caution on going back to school in an “artistic field.” As a professor at a University teaching Art, I know this first hand- be careful about banking on a career in an “artistic field” do your research and be sure the money you are investing in your education will really pay off in a job. Many “artistic fields are both highly competitive, and low paying. Don’t give up on doing something you love, but be sure you love it enough to give up a lot of other things to do it.

  • andrea

    December 21, 2009 at 12:07 pm

    I think you are overthinking it. You just got a job.. celebrate.. get yourself a bottle of wine. *If* something else comes along then consider all your options. and if this job is horrible then definitely quit and don’t give it a second thought. and I totally agree with the last posting.. as someone in the artistic field I can tell you that it doesn’t pay and you still have the same issues you have in any other position.

  • laurellee

    December 21, 2009 at 2:27 pm

    Whatever you do, come and go on a high note. You never know what the future holds, and those people that you form connections with at the new job may be useful in the future, so always do right and tie up any loose ends before leaving (if you do) so that there’s no bad blood.