After the post I wrote most recently and some discussions I’ve had with people in various parts of my life, I’ve run across a fair number of people who seem to think that this schedule I’ve been living, this logging of 60-70 hours of work a week, minimum, is fun. That I do it because I like it and that somehow I’m not aware that it is inherently bad for me.
They are so, SO very wrong. But they refuse to understand that this has been a matter of survival. This has been the way that I’ve adapted to keep us afloat and alive and not living on the streets. So few people truly understand that our economy here in the US has fundamentally changed. Geoff and I are living proof that the old way, each having one job, having some security in that job, buying a house, and then eventually retiring just isn’t the way things work anymore.
Geoff’s in his 40’s, I’m pushing 40, and lots of people just 10-15 years older than we are have this idea that there’s something wrong with us. That somehow we’re failures because we don’t own our own home and because I’m working all these jobs. That because I can’t remember the last time I went on a “real vacation” or that because, even with a full-time job, that I don’t have sick time benefits, that somehow I’m doing something wrong.
Folks, let me lay this out for you. I do not work 4 part-time jobs (it used to be 5), 1 full-time job, and maintain a singing career and small business because I need something to fill my time. I have been doing it because I have to. I have to do it because:
1) I am catastrophically bad at 40 hour a week jobs. (That is, when they exist at all. We live in a world where employers regularly turn 40 hour a week jobs into 60 hour a week jobs with no pay differential. So for all of you who work one job and are looking down on me and how much time I spend working, clock your actual hours and get back to me.) I am bad at going to the same job every day, seeing the same people, and working on the same thing. Women in our society are often relegated to the detail oriented, repetitive stuff. That gets old real fast and, when I have to deal with the same people in a windowless, airless, open plan (translation: no privacy) space every day… my anxiety comes screaming to the fore.
2) I enjoy having control over my schedule. I like variety. I like being able to do different things and work in different places. There are pluses and minuses to every job, having more than one tends to balance them all out. It also makes it easier to schedule that doctor or dental appointment. Or take the kids to the vet. Or run any of a million other errands that have to be run M-F between the hours of 9 and 5.
3) Having more than one job means that you never have to rely on one income stream. Let me tell you this flat-out: being able to rely on one income stream without fear of losing your job makes you privileged. Geoff and I do not have that privilege. We live in one of the most expensive areas of the US, because of my epilepsy we have to live in the city to be near public transportation, and we can’t work hours away – the geography and traffic patterns here just won’t permit it.
That, dear readers, is how we’ve stayed afloat while weathering multiple layoffs over the years. That, and help from family and friends, is how we’ve done it. Is it bad for me? Yes. Is it keeping me from doing things like seeing my friends, getting real exercise, and spending time with our animals? Absolutely. Is there anything I can do about it? Not until this past Monday there wasn’t, no.
This past Monday Geoff started a new job. He’s also going to school 3 days/nights a week for 16 hours a week. He loves doing both of those things but it also means that we’re seeing even less of each other, if that’s possible, and that we won’t have a weekend off together until October or November. That means that I get to dump my massively underpaying, sick time-less, and boring to the core 40 hour a week job that I’ve been working (and which I still won’t tell you about). Friday was my last day. Am I looking for a part-time job with a stable schedule? Yes. Do I have interviews pending? Yes. If I get one of these jobs will I continue with the ones I have? Yes.
This is the new reality. This is the new economy. Nothing is certain and the ground is constantly moving under our feet. We’ve each been laid off 3 times since 2008. We’re not going to get caught unprepared* again. I’m not a workaholic, I’m a survivalist.
*Please don’t chime in with comments about Unemployment. If you’re paying attention you know as well as I do that UI only works when 1) Congress isn’t using it as a bargaining chip and 2) you haven’t been laid off twice in a row in a very short period.
3 thoughts on “I’m not a workaholic, I swear”
You’re entitled to adapt any way you wish in order to live the way you want. But I disagree with your global statements about “how it is” economically, and I don’t believe the path you’ve chosen is out of necessity. It’s habit. You’ve portrayed what it takes in a big, expensive metro area, that’s all. Unless you work corporate, you will continue pushing a boulder up a hill there. Plus there’s all that delightful stress to shorten your life and exacerbate your health challenges!
All it would take to completely transform your situation is to move to a cheaper region. We went from an equally expensive place in Los Angeles county to a county seat at the tip of the Pacific Northwest, population 9,000. The first year I worked 60 hours+ a week (two jobs) not knowing any better. By the time we did the taxes we realized our cost of living bottom line was about HALF what it was where we used to live. I quit the job that paid less. Five years later, I’m looking at retirement next year. Instead of a chi-chi two-story with no yard or view a mile from the beach, I will spend it living where I can see water, mountains and trees, with deer that walk through the wild half-acre out back. We’re five miles from town, and the town has everything most people would ever need. If we want to see a symphony orchestra, a Broadway touring company, or get a heart transplant, Seattle is a two hour drive south.
I can understand if you can’t bear to separate yourself emotionally from friends or family who are geographically near. From what you describe, you can’t see them anyway, but I still accept the attachment.
But don’t reassure yourself that everyone has to do what you are doing to live well enough. I’m not any kind of expert economist or number cruncher. I just looked around online for a couple years at different states, and compared basic costs, in-demand occupations, easy stuff. People will still complain that it’s tough all over of course, and that they have no choice. You CAN find a significantly cheaper way to live than what you’ve chosen, with enough of a balance of culture, weather, your political preferences etc. I did it. Or you can cede the bulk of your life to tasks others assign for you…because you love doing it so much.
I appreciate you taking the time to write a long and thoughtful response. I’ll flesh out some things that I didn’t go into too much detail about in the post that make my situation less about choice and more about survival.
1) I am epileptic. In my case this means that I cannot drive. At all. One of two major causes of seizures for me is driving. I can be a passenger, but driving will cause me to seize. That means I have to rely on walking or reliable public transportation to get to and from the work I do. While it is theoretically possible that I could find a work from home job and then move to, say, Vermont or the pacific northwest, if I went somewhere without reliable public transportation I would be essentially trapped in my home and immediate small town/neighborhood. Not having access to the rest of the things I need is not a trade I can make.
2) Some of the jobs that I enjoy and that pay well enough that I can keep them regardless of the rest of my schedule are inextricably linked to my geographical area. I also have the ability, when I’m not facing the crisis of trying to decide which bill to pay, to choose when I want to work. The last 6 years have not offered me much choice. That seems to be changing.
3) This isn’t a new trend, it’s only been talked about in the last 4-5 years. Artists and musicians like myself have been doing this for decades, but now that recent college graduates are coming out of college with a tremendous amount of debt and looking at skyrocketing housing costs, this is becoming more and more common.
4) I’m not an economist either, but I’m related to two of them. That means I can tell you that cost of living has far outpaced wages almost everywhere in the US since 1979. While the economy has grown by 60%, wages for those of us who aren’t super rich have lagged in the single digit percentages of growth. As an example, when I graduated from college in 1999 my very first job paid me $12/hr. Calculating for inflation that would now be $17.04/hr. (And that seems generous to me.) Interesting that I worked one 40 hour a week job and one weekly singing gig in ’99 and got along fine. But that now a job that pays $17/hr isn’t enough to make a go of things and fast food workers are still fighting for just $15 an hour.
I’m happy for you that you’ve found your way to a place that meets your needs and allows you to live the way you wish. But the economy in the US is changing. The question is whether or not it will change for the benefit of the masses or of the minority super-rich.
Thanks for your reply! I always assume the economy in a Capitalist country will exist to benefit the rich most, and try to act accordingly. Not the most moral system, but it’s the one that’s here.
The thing I didn’t expand on is my belief that most Americans have an unhealthy addiction to owning larger domiciles than necessary. The cost of a home dwarfs even the cost of college. Why not a smaller home than average, one you can get paid off in less time, or buy outright? By deciding that 1500 sq feet was “enough”, we saved hundreds of thousands of dollars.
I did understand about your health challenges. I’m a rad tech at an Urgent Care six blocks from the hospital. If I were in your situation I would have moved into town. It wouldn’t have cost more. I just wanted the view. In town, everything (groceries, banking, movie theater, bars, restaurants, hospital) is either within walking distance, or manageable by bus. There’s also dial-a-ride, which your condition qualifies you for, and a couple of pay as you go shuttle companies. But a larger number than you might expect bike everywhere, because the only traffic jam we ever get is a 3 car line behind a school bus.
I should have given you more props for your adaptability anyway. If you are able to keep getting and balancing all those jobs, you have exceptional skill. I only wanted to add a consideration for location as a part of the cost. I was born in a big city, but raised in small towns, before spending the bulk of my work in metros. I’m convinced small towns are currently more feasible to live in, for whatever reasons. Perhaps when the population number is low enough, it becomes easier to engineer solutions to common problems.
There’s even the element of popularity, living where most don’t want to. Out in the Midwest, you can buy a house on your Mastercard, but the weather sucks and the politics can be loopy. I graduated from high school in Iowa, and I could certainly afford to move back there. But that’s a bridge too far for me. We all have to balance a complex set of needs and preferences, and a certain amount of confusion between the two is probably to be expected.