Monday, February 04, 2013

Not Wanted

I must start this post by noting that it is, in many respects, inspired by my dear friend and mentor, Rob Paterson. I am so fortunate that during my years at UPEI, our paths crossed. If it weren't for Rob  quite bluntly advising me not to take a job in the government post-university, I might never have embarked on the travels and adventures that marked my twenties and helped to shape my understanding of the world.  Rob excels at seeing emerging patterns and understanding paradigms, and the underpinnings of them. As of late, he has focused much of his energy on creating a must-read e-book series, which challenges many of our conventional beliefs about everything from employment to health to financial management.  The first in his series, You Don't Need a Job, was published last October and is available for purchase on Amazon.  It is an excellent read and much of what I have written about below represents my own take on some of the things Rob discusses in this book - my vantage point being that of a GenX/Yer (I'm on the cusp!), whilst Rob writes as a baby boomer, who has come to recognize that the world  he grew up in and the one his children were raised in, is disappearing.  I hope that some of you will take the time to read Rob's book as well as my post below.


Societal norms and expectations tend to define the destiny of a generation. For those of us belonging to Gen Y or the Millenia generation, the expectations seem many - we're to go to university, travel the world, get married, buy a house, get a car (or two), have children, look after our parents in their old age, and so on and so forth.  Some of these expectations are ones that have been passed on from our parents' generation (get a house, get married, have kids), while others are relatively new. There is, however, one expectation that is so pervasive it need not be spoken of and that is the expectation that, after schooling is done, one shall get a job.

A job, many would argue, is not a societal expectation, but rather a necessity of life. For how is one to earn an income without a job? ( That is not a rhetorical question, it is one that has an answer.)

And so those of us in our 30s and 20s have been indoctrinated by society (most notably the school system, government and our parents) to believe that we need to get a job. And not only that, we've been raised to believe that if we just work hard, go to post-secondary school and harness our ambition, we'll be rewarded with a 'good', 'secure' job.

There are two problems, in my opinion, with the above noted promise. First - it's no longer the case that a degree of any sort will get you a job. In fact, degree or no degree, the prospects for a decent, secure job have basically been extinguished. Secondly, a 'job' is not really much of a reward.  If we can accept the second proposition, then the first becomes moot.

I don't think I need to spend too much time convincing anyone that getting a decent job is extremely difficult for most young people these days, but let me touch on this briefly for those that care to believe young people are just a bunch of lazy, whiny kids with an inflated sense of entitlement. The fact is, this is an inaccurate portrayal of today's young people. I'm not saying there aren't some lazy folks and some that think they are entitled to certain things, such as a cushy job, but I reckon there have always been these sorts of people throughout history. Heck, one need look no further than a federal government department stacked with grey heads or the tenured faculty at a university to see examples of an over inflated sense of entitlement from the baby boomer generation.

My purely observational analysis, however, is that the large majority of young people will either move to Alberta and get a job totally unrelated to their education or interests, or move back in with their parents (or share a place with roommates) and work whatever job they can manage to get whilst applying on every single decent job posting they see.  These are the underemployed.

Maclean's magazine recently published an article entitled 'The New Underclass' which discusses the challenges facing young people in today's workforce at length.  While the unemployment rate amongst youth hovers around 15%, the article suggests that the bigger issue that this stat doesn't capture is the percentage of young, educated people that are vastly underemployed. I need not look any further than my own workplace, where our summer students boasted 6+ years of post-secondary education and were making less per hour than I was at my co-op work terms 10 years ago, when I had only 3 or 4 years of post-secondary education under my belt! Then there are the friends that have Masters degrees coupled with undergraduate degrees that jump for one short contract job to another, never getting the chance to actually put to use their critical thinking, research, writing or technical skills. And if you think I'm just talking about the folks with degrees in English Lit or Art History, think again. I have several friends with Masters degrees in the Sciences that are struggling to find work. Heck I even know a rocket scientist who can't land a job in the nation's capital and certainly not for lack of trying.  A huge waste of talent and knowledge coupled with discouragement and despair is the real story behind underemployment.

Still don't think it's all that bad out there in the marketplace? Peruse the online career sites and maybe you'll realize just how few jobs there are. A recent browse of Career Beacon and the Job Bank suggests that people with +10 years of managerial experience/technical experience as it relates to a particular job might have some luck. Those that are willing to work shifts at a call centre or fast food restaurant may also 'get lucky'. But for the majority that don't fit into either of these categories, the options are pretty bleak At least for those that have been led to believe that getting 'a job' is the key to a happy, secure life.

And this brings me to my second argument, which is that getting a job is, for most people, the most hazardous, life-depleting thing they could ever try to achieve.  Before I get any further into my argument, let me note that there are some people who love their jobs.  They often have a lot of autonomy over the parts of their job that they are most passionate about and tolerate the parts that they don't have as much autonomy over. For example, some people absolutely love teaching, and their classroom time provides great fulfillment, while administrative tasks are merely tolerated. But, let's face it, most of us don't wake up every morning full of excitement about the prospect of arriving at work (even those of us that have a decent job). So, for the rest of us, is a job really a good way to spend most of one's waking hours?

The short answer, in my opinion, is no, for the following reasons (and others):

1.  You Get Stuck Utilizing One or Two of Your Many Potential Skills 

Almost all job environments now employ the Ford model for mass assembly production.  People and machines, alike, are expected to carry out one or two specific tasks.  This, in theory, will result in higher efficiencies in production due to the lack of complexity involved whilst reducing wage costs (after all, anyone can be trained to do one or two things!).  Now maybe I'm being a bit unfair with this assertion. Certainly, in any given day, a person may be asked to write a briefing about something, respond to client inquiries, attend a meeting, and prepare for a presentation to clients, but by and large most jobs are comprised of one or two main tasks and any other tasks that befall the employee often utilize similar skills.

The problem is that once we've mastered the skills of our job, things get kind of boring.  You reach the point where you can't really improve any more, and the novelty of showing off your skill has worn off completely. People aren't even impressed any more.  It's probably around this time that you start to wonder if, in fact, you actually have any skills beyond the ones that you've been using for your job or if you have the capacity to develop any new skills at this point. And so, you plod on in your job, feeling grateful that your specialized skill is still in demand, while at the same time feeling diminished and defeated.

2. You Spend Money Just to Have a Job

Yes, your job delivers you a salary every second week, but have you ever considered the costs associated with your job? Individual circumstances will determine your 'costs of working' but could include - transportation/commuting costs (bus fare, gas, parking, etc.), costs of work clothes, childcare costs, money spent on lunches that wouldn't otherwise be spent (at one of my jobs in a big insurance company, the only option for hot food was the cafeteria..there were no mircowaves or fridges for employees to use), etc.  These costs can certainly add up.

There are other costs too - costs measured in time.There is, for example, the time you spend commuting to work (add this to the number of hours you work in a week to figure out actual hourly wage after accounting for traveling time). There's the time it takes you to get ready for work, time you need to unwind after work, time you are thinking about work while not at the office, etc. 

All of the above does not even take into account the number of years you've forgone an income in order to get an education so that you'd be qualified for your job and the associated tuition.

So, at the end of the day, on top of the taxes you pay, there are a lot of other costs to having a job. Do the math and figure out how much you're actually making at your job. Here's a helpful link to a book that sets out the calculations., it's called 'Your Money or Your LIfe'. You'll have to scroll down the page until you get to step 2:

3. You Don't Have the Energy or Time to Grow

Looking back on my life, I can see that most of the times I've been able to invest in personal development, try something new (such as training for a half marathon), enhance my education and skills, or truly enjoy doing something I love (writing and reading), I've been jobless. I've either been travelling, which affords great opportunities for self-development and big chunks of free time, or I've been studying, which also allows for a flexible schedule and tends to open one up to a lot of new things, via the classroom as well as new social networks.

I'm not saying that having a job means one is destined to be stuck in a rut forever, but rather that having a job (that you don't love) does tend to deplete your energy levels as well as the time you can devote to other things in your life. Once you factor in spending time with family and friends, doing chores, exercising, eating, and sleeping, there's precious little time to do much else, and rarely are you afforded big chunks of free time.  Aside from your vacation time, of course, but most of us use that time just to recover from the energy-drain of the job we're away from.

Energy comes from doing things that ignite your passion, things that make you smile and might even make you giddy on occasion. I don't believe humans are emotionally or physically built to withstand the day in and day out of working an office or labour job that doesn't energize them.

4. It's Not As Secure As It Seems

The appeal of a job is, I believe, in large part that it offeres stability and security, a predictable routine and assurance that the future will be similar to the present.  Us humans tend to be drawn to security and stability like moths to a flame. The entire agricultural revolution, after all, was founded on the desire to have stocks of food for the future and avoid famine.    There are few that would feel comfortable with the notion of not knowing what their income will be in the next month or the one that follows.  We want a guarantee that the future will not be scary.

Well, I got news for you...except it's not really news, but rather a reality check: today's job environment does not offer even the remotest sense of stability or security.  Gone are the days of company pensions and 'permanent' positions, to be replaced with the offer of a 'flexible' workplace and contract positions.  Although I've not surveyed my friends or fellow grads, a mental review of their current employment statuses, suggests that the majority are working at temporary or contract positions and many of them are underemployed.

Instead of bargaining for better pensions or striking because we want more vacation time, Gen Y and the Millenials tend to repeat the following refrain often: "I'm just grateful to have a job."

Sidenote: It is, in fact, this sentiment which has driven me to write this blog post, as I feel the youth of today deserve better than the leftover scraps that the Babby Boomer generation is willing to offer up by way of entry-level-with-no-chance-of-promotion-and-no-security jobs. Young people have and always will be the greatest source of vitality, optimism and innovation, regardless of the era, and they deserve the opportunity to be heard and accounted for.

5. You Won't Pursue Your Dreams

 I believe that most of us, when we are teenagers or young adults, want to make a mark in the world. We want to contribute to the legacy of humankind, we want to make a discovery, or provide great leadership, write a novel or design spectacular homes. Whatever our dreams may be, it seems to me that far too often they get put on the back burner as time marches on. We convince ourselves that we cannot pursue our dreams until we reach some particular financial status or job status, which we then spend our entire lives in pursuit of just so that we can be 'ready' to carry out our dreams.  Most will either never reach the financial or job status they want to, or will convince themselves once they've reached that goal that they are too old or that they actually should have set their goal higher.  It's not a terrible fate, to be fair, as we can find happiness is the gifts that each day brings, from sunsets to good wine to being with the ones we love. But wouldn't it be fabulous if we could have those sources of happiness AND spend some of our time carving out a legacy? To be sure, the world needs as many dream-weavers as possible today, given the state of the environment, the arts, human rights, health and so on.  A job rarely affords the opportunity to pursue one's dreams, and often they get lost in the mix.

6. It's Unhealthy

I've come to the conclusion that having a job is detrimental both to one's mental and physical health. Now, every job is different, and surely some are health-promoting, such as that of a yoga teacher or perhaps a professional gardener, but by and large our jobs destroy our health through various means.  For those of us that sit all day at a workstation, there's the emerging research that suggests sitting for long periods of time is as detrimental to our health as obesity. There is growing concern that our inactivity as a society may be detrimental to the health of individuals, productivity in the workplace and the overall well-being of society.  Yikes.   It's also well-recognized at this point that stress is one of the greatest contributors to a myriad of Western diseases that afflict us, from haert disease to insomnia to cancer.  Stress can be insidious and, in my own experience, stress tends to  be rooted emotions of discontent and anxiety that one might experience, for example, when not happy with their job or concerned about losing their job.   Workplaces do not tend to encourage healthy eating habits either.  Coffee is the office worker's best friend, and sugary pastries are commonplace sights at morning and afternoon breaks. Often we eat at our desks or while on the road, certainly not a model for encouraging good digestion, as research shows that we digest best when relaxed and in social settings.  There are plenty of other ways a job can be unhealthy for the mind, body and spirit. Each person will be affected differently, depending on their unique circumstances, so perhaps it's worth taking a moment to consider how your job is impacting your health and how your health might be different if you didn't have to go to your job every day.

This Is All to Say...

There are so many reasons that a job should not be the first or only means by which we consider earning a  living.  We must explore options beyond 'The Job'. The Job is a relic of the past. Unfortunately, because it did well by our parents, the Baby Boomers, we have been raised to believe that it is the only path to a secure, good life. But we are not living in the same world. We must turn our attention to the world we are living in today and the world that is being shaped, for this is where our future lies.    If we cling to the idea of getting a 'good job', we will undoubtedly be disappointed and discouraged as we pursue contract after contract and, in the process, lose sight of all the skills and knowledge we have to offer the world. There is nothing more destructive the future than a dis-enchanted generation of young people.

It is, therefore, up to us to embrace the new world that is emerging and accept that our livelihoods will not be tied to a job in the future. We will not have the same security that our parents did. We may not have the same financial stability they did(or we may), but we will have the opportunity to earn an income free from the confines of being a cog in a big machine. We will have more opportunities to create, to innovate, to utilize our skills and continuously develop new ones. Most importantly, we have the unique opportunity to be ourselves and be confident that being authentic is to the new world, what being highly educated was in the old world: an in-demand quality that will take you far.


 But How Do  You Survive Without a Job?

You will survive without a job, because, quite frankly you are unlikely to have any other option. With few to no jobs available, you will have to adapt. But this is not something to fear, this is not a crisis point, rather this is a chance to create a life and livelihood that are in sync with your desires and skills.

But I digress, you want practical answers to the question of how you will pay rent and buy food. A reasonable demand, I daresay. Well, I'll give you a earn your income by selling your skills within a network. There is much more I could write on this, but I will defer to my good friend, Rob Paterson, who sheds much light on the opportunities that await us in his book, You Don't Need a Job. You can also browse his blog, it's full of valuable insights about this and other subjects.

You also learn to live within your means. It's easier to live within your means, when you aren't burnt out from a job that you don't get contentment from.  I lived on very little when I was travelling through Australia. I did a thing called Help Exchange, whereby you exchange your labour for room and board with families.  I'd spend 3 to 5 hours working and be fed three meals and given a warm bed to sleep in.  I stayed at one place for a month and spent less than $60. I had so much free time and I filled it with reading, running, good conversations with the family I was staying with, contemplation, and much more.  I'm not saying you can survive life by dong Help Exchange, rather I am saying that as you move into the New World and accept the conditions of it, you will come to treasure the free time it provides you. You will be less likely to turn to spend money on expensive 'escapisms', on entertainment that would have distracted you from your discontent in 'The Job.'

Not Having A Job = Having Life Energy

Over the past few years, as I have sought to learn more about myself, about the world around me, and as of late, about health and nutrition, I have come to conclude that life energy is an extremely precious resource. We are all  born with an abundance of life energy. Somewhere along the way, that energy starts to dissipate and with each choice we make in our life to follow the path society dictates rather than the one our heart desires, our energy lessens.

 The job is probably the biggest source of energy depletion for most people, and yet we all scramble for jobs and most can't imagine not having a job, which, I must emphasize at this late juncture  in my post, does not equate to not working . Rather, not having a job means having more autonomy over your daily choices as to how you will earn an income, it means being able to utilize various skills to meet the needs of various clients, it means feeling a sense of pride and accomplishment when you complete work and are able to deliver it, it means  not having to deal with poisoned organizational environment and office politics, it means being able to see how your work impacts others' lives, it means feeling good about how you are earning an income, and it means having a great deal of life energy so that you can go out into the world and do great things.  When I look around me, it seems to me that the people I know who are working for themselves, whether by farming, managing musicians, or making pottery, are the ones that smile the most often.

I think we are entering an era where we might be able to break away from the shackles of the industrialized Ford model of work that deplete us of life energy, and instead sustain and even increase our life energy stores by doing various  projects for different clients, by innovating, by creating our own work schedule and our own expectations.  When we feel powerless and uninspired we lose energy, when we have autonomy and are doing something we enjoy, we gain energy. I believe the world would be a better place if more adults had the life energy that we did when we were younger.  And I believe this world is within our grasp, if we only choose to reach out and embrace it.

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