What’s Wrong With Just Having a Job?

person using forklift

Photo by ELEVATE on Pexels.com

Remember when you were a teenager and you had a part-time or summer job? You did your job, got your paycheck, then lived your life and had fun with your friends. You didn’t attach your identity or sense of self-worth to what you did to earn some spending money. When did that change? Why does that shift from simply getting a job to choosing a career set so many of us up for a lifetime of misery?

Why do so many young (and old) college-educated white-collar professionals hate their jobs? Maybe they feel stuck because they trained for these jobs, are well-compensated, and are still looking at years of paying off the student loan debt it took to get them there. They’re doing what they were supposed to do, following the path laid out for them by their parents, teachers, and other well-intentioned adults. And they feel trapped.

And then there’s the attitude that so many people seem to have, that if you’re college-educated, or come from a certain social class, or held a prestigious job title in the past, that various jobs are beneath you. You’re either “overqualified” or underemployed, wasting your potential either way.

So what?! You are not under any obligation to stick with the same job or career for your entire life. Try something, and if you don’t like it, try something else. Get a job at Target or Starbucks if you want to. Step away from the desk and do some physical work. Go to work in a warehouse, or at Trader Joe’s like The Cosby Show‘s Geoffrey Owens. Drive a truck. Sell shit on eBay or Etsy. Wait tables. Tend bar. Pick up trash. Mow lawns. Clean houses.  Get off your ass and get your hands dirty!

You don’t have to sit at a desk and stare at a computer screen all day for 40 years just because you have a college degree! Sitting is the new smoking, and work-related stress can kill you. Higher education is supposed to give us more options, but it seems like it often eliminates more opportunities than it opens up. Education is supposed to broaden our minds, not close them off to all the possibilities that the world has to offer.

Why do we have such narrow ideas about what people are supposed to do for a living? Why do we assign value to our fellow humans and rank them based on what they do to earn a paycheck and pay the bills? Enough with the job shaming already. We’re better than that, and we deserve better than that.

~PEACE~

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What color is your collar (and does it even matter)?

Here I am with my buddy Norm, proudly rockin’ our blue collars!

 

This week, workers around the globe united to celebrate May Day, also known as International Workers’ Day.

For most of us, what we do for work is an integral part of our personal identities. It defines who we are. We love to label and judge each other based solely on what we do to earn our paychecks. I like to call this common practice Job-Snobbery, or Job-ism. The Minimalists described this modern cultural phenomenon beautifully in their popular essay Life’s Most Dangerous Question: What Do You Do? 

 

Once you scrape away its cheap gold-plating, however, you’ll find a series of irksome inquisitions lurking beneath the surface. Sadly, what we’re actually asking when we posit this malefic question, albeit unknowingly, is:

How do you earn a paycheck? How much money do you make? What is your socioeconomic status? And based on that status, where do I fall on the socioeconomic ladder compared to you? Am I a rung above you? Below you? How should I judge you? Are you worth my time?

So many labels!

Working class, middle class, blue collar, white collar. But at the end of the day, and at the end of our lives, does any of it really matter? Why do we look down on some occupations while we put others up on a pedestal? If we all “have to” earn a paycheck, regardless of whether we make $25k/year or $250k/year, aren’t we all really just “working class”?

The grass isn’t greener.

If you’ve ever switched careers, or even had more than one job in your lifetime, you know that every workplace and every position has its pluses and minuses. No career path is entirely free of issues, obstacles, or annoyances. A bad boss is a bad boss, and Mondays are still Mondays, regardless of the size of your paycheck or the prestige of your title. Whether your collar is white or blue, the grass isn’t any greener on the other side.

We’re all in this together.

And we have more in common with each other than we think. So if we’re ever going to find happiness in our life’s work, we need to drop the superficial labels and the hierarchical ranking system, focus on finding the work that works best for each of us, and not give a f*ck about what anyone else thinks of our choices.

~PEACE~

Benefits

goldenhandcuffsLast week, I received my 2017 Personal Statement of Benefits from the US Postal Service. It seems that, whenever I start to seriously consider quitting my job, they somehow sense that, and mail these yearly reminders out to all of their employees. Damn them.

The benefits statement sums up, in numbers as well as with pretty charts and graphs, exactly what our jobs are worth, beyond the basic annual “cash compensation.” They factor in the full dollar values of our health insurance, life insurance, pension and other retirement contributions, Social Security, Medicare, and paid time off (holidays, vacation, and sick days). In the end, they make the job look pretty darn good – at least on paper – and infinitely harder to walk away from.

They also include our earliest eligibility dates for retirement. Mine is in 2027 – 10 years away. Wait. I can retire in 10 years, with a pension and health insurance?! How could I possibly be that old? Do I think I could make it that long? Right now, I don’t believe that I could.

But then again, I never thought I’d make it this far either.

I’ve been working at the post office for a little over 10 years already. I just kept telling myself, “One more year. One more year.” And here I am. This year is a little different, however. If I stay “one more year,” my house will be paid off next summer. My husband will be old enough to qualify for Medicare(!). My savings account will be that much bigger. And if I wait until next year, I’ll be able to leave my job debt-free and in a much better position to enjoy my hard-earned freedom without any big financial obligations hanging over my head.

But then again, I’ll be another year older, physically and mentally. Ugh.

I don’t know. I’m on the fence and swing back and forth at least a hundred times a day. Another year could make a huge difference in my finances. I also get a lot of paid time off, and if I use it wisely, I could minimize my 6-day workweeks for the next year and slowly ease myself into early retirement.

And what if I decide to stay even beyond that? I wonder what it would feel like to go to work every day because I want to, not because I need the money. Could the knowledge that most of my income is disposable lead to an entirely different sense of freedom: control and security, with benefits?

But then again, golden handcuffs are still handcuffs. Ouch.

I keep reminding myself of how lucky I am to be in such a predicament. It’s good to have the luxury of choice, although constantly reevaluating my options is exhausting. Either way, I know I’ll be just fine. The timeline is getting shorter. So I think, for now, my new mantra will be “One more month.”

We can do this!

~PEACE~

Looking for a Sign

Here I am in 2017, still working at the post office. Every day, I keep reminding myself of all the reasons that I continue to work there:

  • My coworkers
  • A nice bi-weekly paycheck, direct-deposited into my bank account
  • Health insurance
  • A pension (if I can stay there until I turn 60)
  • Paid vacation days, holidays, and sick days
  • A fairly consistent 35-hour-a-week schedule that allows me to escape the office by noon most days
  • Not being chained to a desk
  • Sundays off

But every day, I’m also bombarded with the reasons that I hate working there:

  • Getting up at 4:30 a.m. (despite my inner body clock’s protests)
  • Working 6 days a week (including every Saturday)
  • The 25-mile/25-minute commute each way (in what seems like daily snowstorms lately)
  • Recurring bouts of fatigue, sickness, and depression
  • Office politics
  • Management
  • Mind-numbing repetition and drudgery
  • My dry, cracked, filthy hands (and Oh My God the paper cuts!)

But the biggest deal-breaker for me? Complete surrender of my personal freedom and the inability to make my own schedule.

For the longest time, I think I’ve been waiting for some kind of sign to tell me that it’s time to finally move on. I wasn’t sure what form that sign would take, or if I’d even recognize it when it came. But last week, as I was stuffing mail into PO boxes, it finally hit me, like a lightning bolt out of the sky:

I dream about quitting my job EVERY DAY.

In fact, I spend hours thinking about:

  • When will I quit?
  • How will I quit?
  • What do I need to do to prepare to quit?
  • How much more money should I have saved?
  • How soon can I pay off my mortgage?

The list goes on and on, and the thoughts swirl around and around. I’ve read dozens, maybe even hundreds, of books about it. I’ve made spreadsheets. I’ve agonized and obsessed. For years. And not just at the post office, but at pretty much every job I’ve ever had.

And I finally realized, that’s my sign.

I need to be free. Free to wake up when my body wants to. Free to eat breakfast sitting down. Free to schedule my days as I see fit. Free to go to my nephew’s wedding on a Saturday without a signed permission slip from the postmaster. Free to pursue rewarding work that matters to me.

Ah, Peter. I don’t think I’d like another job either.

My schedule has been determined by someone else since I started first grade — 40 years ago. I’ve worked for someone else for 30 years. Enough! Financial security has always been my #1 priority, but self-employment has always been my #1 dream. And lately it seems like my deepest longings for freedom and autonomy have begun to overpower my insecure needs for a regular paycheck and the promise of a pension.

I’ve built a solid financial foundation over the years by keeping my expenses and debt low and adding to my savings whenever possible, so I know I’m in a good position to take the leap soon without too much risk. I always knew this time would come, and I wanted to be ready for it. I don’t have every detail figured out yet, and I probably never will, but I’m getting closer.

The goal I’m working toward this year is FREEDOM.  And now that I’ve put it out there, I’m counting on you all to help me out, and hold me accountable.

“Leap, and the net will appear.” – John Burroughs

~PEACE~

 

So Many Books, So Little Time!

Winter in New Hampshire is a great time for curling up next to the woodstove with a good book, but I’ve been downloading books on my Kindle faster than I can read them! Here is my current reading TO DO list, in no particular order:

I would love to hear from you if you’ve read any of the above, or have additional recommendations to share. Thanks!

Slow Down!

For the past week, I’ve been reading Ernie Zelinski’s book The Joy of Not Working. The title says it all, I thought. But does the concept of finding joy in not working really need further clarification? For a lot of people, apparently, it does.

Unfortunately, according to Zelinski, most working folks just don’t know what to do with ourselves when we’re not working. Our work-life balances are weighted so heavily on the work side, that we don’t know how to enjoy our leisure time, if we even allow ourselves to have any. For many, the prospect of being unemployed or retiring is terrifying. Some of us are so afraid to be alone with our own thoughts, it seems, that we just keep running on the treadmill to escape them. We’re sick, we’re exhausted, we’re bored, and we’re boring.

Instead of using our rare leisure time wisely, we waste it on “passive leisure” activities to distract us from our misery: watching TV, hanging out in bars, and wandering around shopping malls. So many of the things we think we want — bigger homes, new clothes, the latest electronic gadgets, expensive cars, etc. — are dictated by the media, our “friends” and relatives, and most of all, the people who are going to profit from selling us all of these things. So we keep chasing the money. To buy the things. To fill the empty holes in our boring lives, in our souls. Is this living?

I know, however, that there are plenty of people out there who are tired of the “live to work” mentality that has ruled our culture for so long. The tide is turning. Change is in the air; I can smell it, like springtime. Forget about trying to keep up with the Kardashians. We want time to think. Time to live well-rounded lives. We don’t want to be overworked zombies anymore. And we don’t need to clutter up our homes with more shit from Walmart either!

Do you feel like your work-life balance needs an adjustment? Then take a few days off from work, or even a week or two if you can, and dedicate yourself to reclaiming your time and your life. I mean it! Take the time to really think about the things that are important to you. Meditate on it. Don’t be afraid to dream. Think BIG. Forget about what everyone else says you should want or need or have or be. What kind of life do you want? How much money, how much stuff, do you really need? How do you define happiness, and what’s it worth to you? Come up with a plan, and implement it like your life depends on it, because it does.

Zelinski actually recommends making a list of at least 300 “Get-A-Life” activities, and offers his own list of 300 for inspiration. So climb a mountain if you want to. Quit your job. Write a book. Get a better job. Walk in the woods. Start your own business. Learn to play an instrument or speak a new language. Volunteer. Take a road trip. Work for free. Buy a hammock. Take a class. Clean out your closets. Chew your food. Play with your dog. Plant a tree.

Then after you’ve made your own list, and crossed off a few things, sip a glass of wine (or other beverage of your choice) on the front porch in the early evening and watch all your stressed-out neighbors race by on the way home from their miserable all-consuming jobs. Poor bastards.

We all have so much potential. Don’t waste it all on work. We are so much better than that, and we deserve so much more than that. Let other people run in the rat race. Smile and wave and cheer them on from your front porch, glass of wine in hand. We know better. The fast track is so yesterday!

Downshifting: Are You Ready?

     “That’s it, I’ve had it! I’m quitting my job and living in a yurt!”

How many times have I said this to myself?

Although I often fantasize about not having to “go to work” anymore, I’m not really sure what I would do with all that spare time if I quit. I’m a little worried that if I didn’t have a job to go to every day, I would become a hermit. I know that would NOT be good for me. What would I write about if I didn’t have a job? And what about health insurance? And little things like heat, food, and electricity?

As much as I resent the idea of “working for the man,” I must admit that, for the most part, I actually like my job. I don’t always like my schedule. My alarm clock goes off at 3:50 a.m. Monday through Saturday. And while I don’t like working 6 days a week, I do like getting home by noon on most days. I make more money than I need to live on, and I’m able to save a reasonable percentage of my income. I have great health insurance and retirement benefits. Most days, the pluses outweigh the minuses.

Ideally, I would like to keep the job I have (for now), but ultimately cut back my hours to about 30-32 per week (right now I’m averaging 38-40). That would allow me to keep my benefits, give me enough income to live off of comfortably, and enough time for all the things that are important to me: daily walks, maintaining order on the home front, cooking good food, reading, and of course, working on my blog. I am closer to this goal now than I have ever been before, so my prospects are encouraging!

What about you? What do you really want? What does “downshifting” mean to you? What would be your ideal work/life balance? Are you ready to make some changes?

If you spent less time on the job, how would you spend your new free time? With family and friends? Volunteering? Pursuing creative endeavors? Starting your own business? Promoting the social good? Cooking? Exercising? Your time is your most valuable resource. Think carefully about how you want to allocate it to maximize your happiness and minimize your stress.

In their book Downshifting: A Guide to Happier, Simpler Living, Polly Ghazi and Judy Jones offer a series of questions to ask yourself to determine if downshifting is right for you.

  1. Do you constantly wish you could spend more time with your partner/family/friends?
  2. Do you feel you never have any/enough time for yourself, to spend on hobbies, gardening and leisure or just to relax?
  3. Do you feel that your work is taking so much out of you that you don’t have time to enjoy the money you earn, spend it or invest it prudently?
  4. Do you believe your pattern of work is giving you health or stress problems?
  5. Are you chronically or permanently tired?
  6. Do you dread going into work in the mornings?
  7. Do you feel your work doesn’t truly reflect your values?
  8. Are you unhappy with the contribution you’re making to society?
  9. Do you think you would be happier if your career changed direction completely?
  10. Do you have so many commitments that other people — cleaner, nanny, babysitter, gardener — are impinging too much into your personal life?
  11. Do you spend much of your time fantasizing about your next holiday and then collapse when you get there?

Obviously, if you answered YES to all these questions, then get out, and get out NOW! However, if you’re like most people, your answers are probably mixed. Maybe you already have a fulfilling job that you love, but the amount of time you spend working at it leaves you little time to enjoy the rest of your life. Maybe you’re not physically exhausted, but you’re mentally stymied by a job that just doesn’t challenge or interest you. Maybe the only thing you like about your present employment is the paycheck.

So what can you do now to start moving in the direction of a more well-rounded and fulfilling life? How can you achieve your ideal work/life equilibrium? Can you cut back your work schedule? Work from home one or two days a week? Delegate some of your responsibilities so that you can get out of the office at a reasonable time every night? Start turning one of your hobbies into an income stream? Consider all the options. Don’t limit yourself. Everyone’s situation, and solution, is unique. Do your research. Seek out advice from people who’ve done it. And of course, continue to follow this blog!

Making small changes, one at a time, can be much less traumatic than taking a drastic leap, and will help you recognize when you’ve achieved the level of downshifting that’s right for you (and your family) before you’ve stretched too far. Maybe you really don’t have so far to go after all. Your dream life could be closer than you think.

~PEACE~