when the status quo frustrates.

The Price of Being Broke

Thursday, January 13th, 2011

The economy is crap right now. Everyone who has a passing connection to the economic world is aware of that fact. Everyone says it- to reassure one another that our unemployment isn’t because we’re unemployment, or to respond to that despondent friend, family member, or acquaintanceship when you sit comfortably from the valued ranks of employment.

But, it is hard to believe. It’s hard to believe when you tell it to yourself. It’s hard to believe when your parents ask if you have a job yet. It’s hard to believe when you fill out your 65th application for employment. It’s hard to believe that there just isn’t something wrong with you, and everyone else is doing fine (even when you take a look around at your friends and see them not doing fine as well). If the economy is so bad, why are there all of these job applications? If the economy is so bad, how come I’m not seeing boarded-up windows? Logic can tell you plenty of things, and your eyes plenty more but that doesn’t stop the very strongly internalized message that employment is a major source of someone’s identity, and money is a major determination of a person’s worth. I’ve sold things, things I didn’t even know were valuable to me, to get thorough my uneven periods of employment. I’m not even talking about my harp and a DVD Player. That sucks, but less of the loss of the items. I’m not even talking about the extortion at the hands of Sallie Mae, whom I’ve just ended up throwing away $150.00 so they could stop harassing me for a whole three months about the loans I am in NO position to pay back. I’ve sold a few of my morals.

A friend of a friend of mine is pretty high in a particular non-profit. In December, we were at a mutual Christmas party, and when he heard about my job difficulties, he told me to send him my resume after the Christmas season, and he’d see he could find me something. Last week I did. This weekend, I need to drive my dad about 3 hours away and spent the night at our old family friends, the Olson’s*. I have fond memories of the Olson’s of when I was a child, but I have less-than-fond feelings towards them as an adult. They are high in their respective fields, seemingly have no memory of being in their early 20s and struggling (for our middle class versions of struggling), and sneer at the fact a good chunk of scholarships are for “People who would rather not work rather than hardworking people”. They live in a place that I feel could easily be described as a “mansion” on a lake, take long, exotic vacations at least once a year, and have enough money to complain about taxes. I smiled politely at them when I was there, swallowed anything I had to say about how “lazy poor people are”, and quietly excused myself when they started talking about “Hajis”. I also sent them a Thank-You card for letting them stay at my house and to send me an email if they hear about any job openings.

I know a good chunk of the world would say “So what? You’re starting to network, that’s how you get jobs”. A few of you might even consider it maturing. But, think about what that innocent little word means. “Network”: I am not spending time with you because I like you, or because I enjoy your company, but for what you could possible get me. “Networking” doesn’t just mean that I’m possibly taking a job from someone equally or more qualified than me just because I’m tangentially connected to them- it also means that I’m viewing someone as a means to an end. They have gone from a friend and companion to the equivalent of a line on my resume.

And I don’t know where it’ll stop. I’m slowly selling values, and that doesn’t just cause cognitive dissonance. But I start wondering where it ends. A friend talks about a temporary job her company does that they don’t really advertise and I get it. Well, that’s okay, it’s just a temporary job. I start having friends-of-friends take my resumes. I write birthday cards to people I don’t even like so they can keep me in their mind. Pretty soon I’m censoring everything I say on a blog, or stop blogging all together, because that’ll keep me from having jobs, and deciding that red isn’t professional enough. Eventually I internalize it to the point where I think “Well, of course it’s reasonable to businesses to ban tattoos and earrings”. Or “my company really needs this by tomorrow, I guess I’ll just have to be late for my husband’s birthday because, hey, I got to have a job”. Slowly, but surely, I’ll start washing over, rewriting, and forgetting any morals, not because something has come up to change my mind, but because of fear. Cowardice will overwhelm any moral code. And that has to be the most expensive thing I could think to sell.

*Name changed to protect the family. Or, if it wasn’t, do you realize how many Olson’s there are around here?

New Year’s Resolutions Aren’t For Me

Wednesday, January 5th, 2011

Welcome to 2011! Along with novelty- themed parties, and drunken singing of Auld Lang Syne, this is a time of year that is marked by an idea of renewal, growth, and rebirth; and with that comes resolutions. New beginnings means new actions, right? Time to start over, and do things right.

While I have nothing against the idea of self-improvement, picking New Year’s seems like the dumbest time to do it. For one, the day is completely arbitrary. There is nothing about the Gregorian calendar that makes you have extra-special powers of change-ness. Better to pick a day that has some significance: pick a day that is close to what kind of resolution you have. If your resolution is to spend more time with the family, then choose an anniversary of some sort. If your resolution is to learn something, than the start of school makes a good time. If your resolution is to be more involved in your community, election day’s a good time to try that. You pick a day that has some pretty powerful attachments to the idea that you are trying to improve upon. New Year’s, on the other hand, is something that people forget about until they awaken around the 27th from their post-Christmas gluttony coma.

The second objection I have against them is that they are generally a result of social pressure. We come up with a resolution because someone’s going to ask what your New Year’s Resolution is going to be. While this can be a good thing, and I understand the value of social reinforcement, if there isn’t an internal drive to improve, no amount of social censure is going to suffice. Additionally, as most can attest, that drive to improve oneself tends to taper off in about three weeks are so, and the social censure even earlier. There’s a reason that we have the same New Year’s resolutions year after year: we generally have reasons (if not great reasons) why we do what we do. For a funnier explanation, I refer to this particular cracked list.

Finally, the third objection I have to them is a matter of practicality. The things that top out New Year’s Resolutions are pretty standard: lose weight, save money, spend more time with families, get organized, and quit smoking. These are resolutions because for most people it is impractical if not flat out impossible to change these things. For the first I shall direct you to the brilliant writer over at Shapely Prose. For the last, I shall assume people know why addictions are near to impossible to give up, but in case you don’t, let me direct you to some interesting research by Malcolm Gladwell. So, let’s just focus on the middle resolutions: saving money, spending more time with the family, and getting organized.

The first reason that these resolutions are impractical to impossible is because they near directly contradict each other. The best way to save money is to make more money without adjusting spending habits, and generally the only way people have to make more money is to work more hours. Organization is a skill, and like any skill you need some natural talent and then time honing that ability. Spending time with family is an exponential amount of time, not a direct one, because in a modern family it will take time to coordinate with schedules and, if the reason you aren’t spending much time with them in the first place is because they drive you bonkers, mental clearing time after words. All of these require time, time, and energy. If people had a ton of this lying around, then they would already have started to accomplish this before. People don’t generally decide to waste money (assuming they can accurately gauge what constitutes “waste” which is a lot harder than people think considering how susceptible to advertising we are and how much advertising there is), don’t generally avoid spending time with people they like spending time with, and aren’t slobs for the hell of it.

The second reason these resolutions are impractical is because the advice given on it is either narrowly tailored to a specific group of people, or is just in general crap. Take, for a great example, saving money. A quick google of “how to save money” sends me to debtguru.com, but the advice is similar to anything that anyone would say. The “11 Money-Making Strategies” tend to be things a) people are already doing (brown bagging it, purchasing generic, taking public transit), laughably impossible (pay yourself first, quit using credit cards, have a two-month emergency fund) or not going to add up to any significant amount. The advice all assumes you are a middle-class person with lots of free time. If you’re not, the advice is worse than useless.

And, now to contradict almost everything I just said, I ask you “What was your New Year Resolution?” For myself, I do not make them. But my birthday resolution was to read a non-fiction book every two weeks, which I have had a fairly good time keeping up with.