Dear Zaria: how do I deal with feelings of guilt, as an anti-capitalist working in a capitalist system?
Hi Zaria, I’m struggling with the career path I accidentally fell into.
I would describe myself as a socialist, climate activist, and a writer, but at 21 I took a job at a Credit Union to escape retail, and have worked in the financial industry for the last decade. I’ve barely made upward progress and am now working in consumer lending — primarily car loans. So somehow, despite who I truly am, I ended up in a capitalist industry doing math all day to encourage people to buy and use more fossil fuels. I have so much guilt about being a part of two systems I loathe that do so much harm, and I feel that I’ll always be more of the problem than the solution no matter what I do as long as this is my job.
I have tried leaving the industry but I’ve had no success. All my work experience has been so niche and I’ve had, as I said, very little upward trajectory. Additionally I’m chronically ill which makes finding and keeping any job even harder, let alone navigating climate change.
Do you have any advice on how to navigate being stuck in a job that goes against my beliefs and doing work that feels like it’s ticking down the clock on our planet? Any tips on how to leave an industry when none of my real passions or talents show in my work experience? Any lifelines for an aspiring writer without the spoons to write most days?
- Groaning at Gas Guzzlers and Crying at Cash in Colorado
The first thing I would like to say is that, unfortunately, regardless of what industry you’re a part of, you will be an active participant in capitalism.
Just by existing within a western, post-colonial system, which is the position from which I assume you’re writing, we are all active members of this economic framework.
I say this to, hopefully, alleviate some of your guilt and relieve you of the everyday pressures of being an anti-capitalist in an oppressive world. I commend you, and encourage you to take inventory of all the other ways you are actively fighting against these structures, even while you make a living to survive — something we are all forced to do.
I also personally understand the cognitive dissonance you feel.
There’s a quote by Audre Lorde that I, as an anti-capitalist myself, have tried to live by:
“You cannot dismantle the master’s house, using the master’s tools.”
This quote encourages us to put down any weapons that were made in colonial factories, for those same weapons cannot be used to create the sort of change, the sort of world, you or I may be imagining.
It encourages me to be more compassionate with my speech, to catch myself when my tongue begins to twist and turn and curl into words that are riddled with contempt or despair — tools of the oppressor.
This is particularly helpful when I’m playing my roles — activist, community member, writer, friend.
Even as a journalist I struggle with how to push for change, while still reckoning with, and holding space for, the fact that my own industry has a long way to go when it comes to re-asserting its ethics and denouncing the ills of capitalism.
I try to remember, however, that I choose the thread that will weave itself throughout my work and activism.
Quotes like this one remind me to sow my seeds of change using the threads of my ancestors, rather than the patterns of abuse that white supremacy has taught many of us, and proliferates into our professional spaces.
I say all this to say: in what ways are you using your own tools, even while being within the master’s house?
In what ways might you be rebelling, challenging the status quo, both within and outside of the office, that is worth celebrating?
This is another trick of capitalism: the myth that we are our work. That we must somehow derive both pleasure and identity from the labor that many of us might feel forced to do, and under-compensated for.
You are not your work. You are the person doing the work. What you do to earn money should not take away from the inherent values, principles, and activism that you embody.
I applaud you for considering all of these difficult questions, even while navigating your chronic illness. Although the fact that I am affirming you for pushing through pain or discomfort to solve a system’s problems that you did not necessarily create, is also residual of capitalism’s tentacles.
Nonetheless, my advice is this: consider treating your job as just what it is. A means to an end, something temporary until you reach your desired destination.
Consider reframing the stuckness that you feel as anticipation and excitement for something better that awaits you in your future. Even better, alchemize these emotions into something productive: a creative project, a lively conversation with an equally-as-interested friend.
Also, get engulfed in imagining what you might do if money were no option. Then, slowly, in your free time, begin doing those things.
This will help you feel connected to your climate activism and learn to treat your job as just what it is: clockable, billable labor that funds your actual hobbies and pursuits.
And, when you do come across or are presented with that dream work opportunity, you’ll have the skills and portfolio to show for it, because, well, you never really stopped learning.
If and when you decide to restart the job hunt, Currently has a job board, with listings for folks of all different skill sets, that may be useful to you.
I know you may feel restless, but I leave you with this: continue finding ways to rebel by doing the small things that remind you that you’re alive and not just a cog in a machine.
And most importantly, be gentle with yourself. Take your time as you find a balance between personal and professional that feels safe for you. It’s a process to find these methods of rebellion, and set the boundaries you might need to honor them.
Enjoy this process. Treat it as an expression of self-love, love for the environment, and self-preservation.