DEAR CAROLYN: I am a 19-year-old college student who is home for the summer. At my father’s insistence, I found a menial summer job at a fast-food joint. I had been offered a summer research position in my field of study, but my parents did not allow me to take it because it is located halfway across the country.
I am so stressed out that I am finding it difficult to sleep, and I am extremely depressed.
Where do I go from here? I have tried to find a new job, but nobody seems to be hiring. My dad knows how miserable I am, but when I alerted him that I was thinking of quitting, he screamed at me to the point where I just curled up in my room and cried for an entire day.
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– Miserable in the Midwest
DEAR MISERABLE IN THE MIDWEST: If your father isn’t a bully, then he sure is acting like one.
And to resolve a situation with someone who is or acts like a bully, your best course isn’t to zoom in on the situation itself, but to zoom out far enough to address the full scope of the problem.
Translation: The solution isn’t to fix the summer job, it’s to position yourself beyond your father’s control. You’re a legal adult already, of course, but as a student I imagine you’re financially beholden to your dad, thus your need to accede to his wishes on the internship — stunningly short-sighted wishes, I should add.
If I were to advise, “Pay your own tuition and support yourself,” it would likely seem impossible, so I’ll break the elephant into small bites. Put in a call to your school’s financial-aid office (and counseling service, if possible; your description of your dad’s response sounds like emotional abuse to me). Talk to a mentor in your field if you have one, or find one if you don’t, to see if there’s scholarship money for talented students; that internship suggests you fit that description. Use those unplanned days off to figure out if any combination of scholarships, loans, scrimping and a job during the school year can free you to make your own choices. These concrete actions have the power to alleviate a lot of your current frustration.
Then, on your work days, work. While I don’t wish a miserable job on anyone, a miserable job with an expiration date — when there’s a brighter future coming soon — is the kind of experience that replaces whining with perspective down the road, when you’ll need toughness you can’t yet foresee.