A reader write:
Last winter, I made a big geographical move across the country from a town where the economy is always booming to a large city where job opportunities are more far and few between. Long story short, I was getting out of a bad marriage and the environment of my home town was a toxic backdrop to that; the move was necessary. Unfortunately it meant re-starting my just-out-of-the-gate career and while I was able to find a job at a medium-sized non-profit, my pay has been more than halved. I love the organization; their values and mission match my own and I usually can’t wait to get to work every morning. My job itself is very boring and I am overqualified, and my ongoing search for a better job has been unsuccessful, but I’m so much happier than I’ve been in years. Until now. Our agency is a member of a much larger charity, and thus every fall we have tons of workplace activities to raise funds for the “Mother” charity. So we have ‘swear’ jars, 50/50 draws, and other light-hearted fundraising stuff going on. The problem is that we have also designated the agency a ‘jeans-free’ zone, so our usually very casual dress code will now exclude jeans AND ‘require’ a $5 donation for every violation.
I like to think that I am a generous person, dedicated to supporting several charities. But after bills, child support payments to my ex, my monthly transit pass and student loan payments, I have $0 in the bank. I haven’t bought shampoo, tampons or food in four months and I am living off food my co-workers bring to share and meals my roommate brings home from her German grandmother (so mostly cupcakes and sausage). I also have three pairs of pants, all of them jeans. I got paid yesterday and I have $20 left that I need to buy a Christmas present for my son. No one in my life except my roommate (who has been my best friend for 15 years), my boyfriend and my ex know that I am living this way. I am not thrilled that I can’t afford to buy more clothes, but I am thoroughly ashamed that I can’t be held to the same giving standard as all my other co-workers. Being left for a younger woman and divorcing at age twenty-six, being an adult that can’t afford to feed herself and being a mother who can’t afford to call her toddler when he’s just learning to talk have all been pretty humiliating experiences. But I don’t know how to deal with my lack of non-denim pants and my lack of paying the toll without exposing my humiliation to my coworkers. I know that a lot of people are going through hard times right now, so I’m sure I’m not the only one with this problem; I just feel like such a failure of a person and I don’t want everyone to know about it!
Fining employees is a silly way to enforce a dress code, but since you do need to follow the dress code regardless, let’s deal with that: Let’s get you some work clothes so that it stops being an issue for you.
And to do that, you must ask for — and accept — help.
You sound like someone who really doesn’t want to ask for help, which I can completely relate to in a very different context. But help is out there, and would almost certainly be gladly given if you tell people you need it.
* If you can afford it, you can usually get $5 pants at Good Will and the Salvation Army.
* Will your roommate or friend loan or give you pants in your size?
* Does your city have a branch of Dress for Success? They offer business clothing free of charge.
* Contact a local church or synagogue, explain you’re a single mom who can’t afford work clothes, and ask if they have a program that would help. Many will.
* And last, I suspect that if you’ll share what city you’re in and what pants size you wear, there will be readers right here who would help you out.
Most people genuinely like the opportunity to help others. Let them know you need the help. You can pay it back by helping someone else when you’re in a position to do it in the future.
You can read an update to this post here.