American Marketplace

You are young and fresh. You begin the new job at a new organization with new energy. Everyone welcomes you with open arms, show you the ropes, and assists you with everything you need to settle in.

You take in the aroma and you think, this feels like a really good place to work. I can make something here. I can make a difference. I will have value here. They will see my value. I will contribute well. I will make an impact.

You place framed pictures on your desk, art on the wall, monthly calendars and reminders about your office space. Your favorite mug rests on a coaster. Funny and profound quotations hang all over your computer monitor.

You arrive early, stay late, working your ass off. You take on extra projects, do favors for your co-workers, and greet everyone warmly and have light chit chat with them about their weekends and vacations.

After the three month honeymoon period is over, you discover the real lay of the land. You start noticing the inconsistencies in people’s talk and behavior, the subtle ways they look at you, whispered conversations, closed door meetings, and quick hang ups of the phone when you enter the room.

A year in, you are told they simply don’t have the budget for the new projects that you want to undertake. You are curious because you heard about your co-workers down the hall excitedly talking about theirs.

Of course they have seniority, but you were hired to make your department successful, and you were told about the importance of taking initiative. Meanwhile, the projects under your purview are scrutinized for operational effectiveness and financial solvency.

Two years, and the blood sweat and tears you put in to make your department successful have paid off. Your performance evaluations are good, but you are told there is not enough in the budget for raises. You overhear that someone down the hall got more money after they threatened to quit. You dare not do that.

One day you are told that there are budget cuts coming down the pike, but not to worry, it will all work out, just hang in there. By now you know who is indispensable, the cherished members of the organization. You know that you are not one of them. In fact, you operate as a silo, down the hallway in the corner, disconnected from the major operations of the organization.

Six months later, you survived the cuts, and you drone on like business as usual, but now you are completely disenchanted, discouraged, disillusioned. You feel valueless, annoyed by the polite faces that have inside knowledge of your true worth within the organization.

The third year, you are done, toast, burnt the hell out. Your language is curt and direct. Your eyes roll at every office party. You want to scream every time you return from a meeting with your boss. Nothing tastes, smells or feels good anymore. There is not enough wine and sex in the world to alleviate the burning in your belly and the ache in your temples.

You have to go before you kill somebody. So you polish up your resume, go on interviews, submit your two weeks-notice. Land a new job with a new organization with new energy.

Rinse. Repeat.

Thirty years later, you have jumped from job to job, believing you were career building, but you realize you were just a serial shiny new face that tarnished every third year. You are bitter, angry, and scared, because jobs aren’t plentiful for the middle aged. They only recruit the young and fresh.

You don’t have enough saved to retire, so you take any decent job you can get, swallowing your dignity, subject to the whims of the masters. You have forgotten more than most people in your organization have done, yet you train the people under you to become your supervisors.

The deadliest thing in America is to be old and unmarketable.


Ron Kipling Williams