A few years ago, I graduated with honors from a prestigious private university where I had received a full-tuition scholarship. And for over two years, I have been working as a stripper.
Many people would say that I’m not living up to my potential. I’m wasting my college degree. I’m avoiding “real life” and need to get a “real job.” I need to grow up.
I’ve been told that I’m not “the type of girl” that most people normally expect to find in a strip club. I’ve also been criticized for working there. Many customers with whom I have shared the fact that I have a college degree have commented that I’m “worth more” than what I’m currently doing.
It’s not only that people don’t approve of the job in general; people really don’t approve of me specifically having this job. It’s true that my bachelor’s degree is in no way being used to meet a requirement of the position, of course. It’s merely there, in the background, lingering in my arsenal of personal assets, awaiting the day I will decide to use it.
I used to work a 9-to-5, full-time, salaried job that offered health benefits, a 401(k), and impressive words to put on my resume. At the time, I thought I was doing exactly what I was supposed to be doing. The job satisfied the expectations that other people had set for me. So why was I so unhappy?
I originally started working at the strip club because I thought it would be a fun, unique life experience that would make a good story later. I soon discovered that stripping had a lot more to offer me.
Strip clubs are sometimes perceived as being seedy and demeaning. But contrary to what many on the outside might believe, when I’m working at the strip club, I am completely in control. I decide which customers I want to engage with, who I dance for, how I dance, and how much (or little) contact I’m comfortable with. If people are rude to me, I simply don’t have to deal with them.
This ability to choose is wildly unlike my previous jobs, where customer service was so highly valued that even the most condescending and rude customers still “deserved” my respect and patience, according to my managers. In the club, I have complete autonomy. I am able to choose how I want to be treated in order to maintain my dignity. In this job, I feel more empowered than I ever did working in retail, food service, or behind a desk, where I was always told what I had to do.
I worked both my office job and my strip club job for the better part of a year. I’d spend my days in the corporate world, acting professionally, then head to the club to spend my nights dancing and flirting. I used my brain all day and my body all night. It felt like I was leading two separate lives. Working the two jobs combined took up most of my waking hours, but it honestly wasn’t that hard.
Eventually, I quit my day job and chose stripping instead. Leaving the day job was a spontaneous decision, but the overwhelming satisfaction and joy that I felt when I walked out of the building convinced me that it was the right one.
So why did I do it? Why did I give up a secure salaried job to go work in what many people consider to be a woman’s last resort? It’s not the money. I work in a small city, not Vegas. I used to make roughly the same amount at my old job, and when I left it, I essentially cut my average monthly income in half. But I grew up in a low-income family, and that taught me that money is not always a prerequisite for happiness.
My reason for this job is simple: I want freedom. I want to have the time to do things in life that are more important to me than work. Working only three nights per week for fewer than seven hours each shift gives me much more spare time than my old 9-to-5 ever could.
Not only do I have more time each day, I also have the freedom to decide when I want to work. I make my own schedule only a week in advance, so I can adjust it to accommodate any upcoming plans. I also have the unique ability to decide whether I want to come in to work at all. When I make my schedule for the following week, I can just decide not to be on it. What freedom! What liberty!
So now, in a normal week, I spend only 12 percent of my time at work, as opposed to my old job, where I spent between 23 percent and 29 percent of my time. In case math is not your strong subject, I am now working less than half the amount of time on average than I used to.
When I was given this gift of time, suddenly I developed hobbies. I rediscovered forgotten interests, I learned new skills, I began new projects, and I started regularly volunteering at nonprofits. My creative side began to flourish as I rediscovered my passion for art, photography and writing. I now devour books by the basketful and I find myself getting lost in my imagination for hours, browsing the fiction section in bookstores.
With time to browse the listings and visit potential properties, I was able to finally move into my own place. I spend more time outdoors now than I have in years. I’ve gradually beaten my previous running times and picked up new activities, like skateboarding. Life is finally fun again.
I used to spend my days inside, completing mundane tasks assigned to me by people I didn’t like. Now I spend my days doing whatever I want, wherever I want, with whomever I want.
All of this spare time has granted me opportunities that I didn’t think I would ever have when I was working for only two weeks of vacation time per year. I quickly discovered after leaving the day job that my favorite activity in life is travel — especially international travel. I have been fascinated with faraway areas of the world ever since I can remember. I love learning about new cultures, meeting new people, listening to others’ life stories, and exploring what our beautiful planet has to offer.
When I started my old day job, I then spent over 3 1/2 years stuck in one place. During the four years before that job started, I had traveled to 10 different countries. But during the 1,312 days I spent working a “real job,” I traveled to only two places outside of the U.S., for a combined total of only 15 days of travel. In contrast, in the 587 days that I have spent working solely as a stripper, I have spent a total of 224 days traveling. Does it make sense now?
It’s all about deciding what is most important in life. Everyone has unique priorities. This setup may not be ideal for most people in the way it is for me at this point in my life. I don’t mind not being “fulfilled” by my job. I don’t feel like I have to spend my time at work doing something meaningful. I spend my time outside of work doing fulfilling and meaningful things. But that’s my personal preference. It’s not the same for everyone.
I’m not professing to have discovered the secret to a happy life — all I did was find the secret to my own happiness.
I expect that my priorities will change over time. I know that I want this job to be just one phase of my life with a clear beginning and end, and I am confident I will be able to make that happen. But at least for my current bohemian and free-spirited lifestyle, I have found the perfect niche. Whenever I decide I’m ready for a steady career, my few years of being “self-employed,” as my resume says, will never be considered a waste in my mind. I am gaining interesting life experiences and I am thoroughly enjoying the activities with which I fill my time outside of work.
I’m not encouraging others to spontaneously quit their jobs and become strippers, but it may behoove people to take time to figure out what is most important to them in life. Make that a priority. That’s where true happiness is found.