Workaholics

It’s Sunday.

I’ve already edited Essay #1 and gone to church. The Broadway play that I saw last week has me thinking about an essay that I want to write about journalism. Do here or do it elsewhere? Mmmmm. Thinking, thinking. I have to plan the chore chart for the week, but still must print out the weekly after school calendar for the fridge. Essay #2 is done and needs to shopped around to editors. I checked in on my mom who has a sinus infection. Ian needs to be walked around outside and needs his Kumon worksheets checked. Must call Jonah to see if he’s working or hungover. Weekend cleaning has to happen. I have a name of a housecleaner, but haven’t had enough time to interview and hire someone, so our bathrooms are seriously toxic.

It sounds like a lot, but it’s just life. Much of it shouldn’t really be categorized as work, like the kid and parent and house stuff. Even the writing stuff isn’t like a traditional job, because I love it and I’m not getting paid much.  I could quit and get a proper job that has regular on and off times and pays proper money, but I keep going because this lifestyle is working for me and my family at the moment.

I think about writing and ideas all day, every day. I wake up in the middle of the night thinking about I could fix the eighth paragraph in a project.  If the document is on google docs, sometimes I will do the edits in the middle of the night on the iPad that is always on my night table. Once, when I logged into make edits during one of my bouts with insomnia and compulsive editing, I found my editor there looking at my document. Together, we edited an article at 2am. I was in bed the whole time.

Of course, I’m not working every single moment. Being a freelancer means that I can go to the gym for an hour and half whenever I like. I can take breaks from writing to play really dumb video games. I’m also doing laundry, driving Ian places, food shopping, making dinner, cleaning up after breakfast. Some days, I get so overwhelmed that I have to just read a romance novel for an afternoon. All that is work, but it’s not a job-work.

And then there’s social media. Pushing articles through twitter is just a part of the job of being a writer these days.

Ann Helen Peterson had a viral article in BuzzFeed a couple of weeks ago about how millennials became the burnout generation. Her article spawned a whole slew of copycat articles and more think pieces. Here’s one in the NYT.

Peterson writes,

Why can’t I get this mundane stuff done? Because I’m burned out. Why am I burned out? Because I’ve internalized the idea that I should be working all the time. Why have I internalized that idea? Because everything and everyone in my life has reinforced it — explicitly and implicitly — since I was young. Life has always been hard, but many millennials are unequipped to deal with the particular ways in which it’s become hard for us.

Read the whole article. It’s a fun read.

But I don’t think this is just a millennial thing. I don’t even think it’s a modern writer thing.  Overworking is a way of life in certain industries in certain parts of the country.

My husband is in the investment banking industry, and he’s probably border line burnt out. With his 90 minute commute, he’s gone from the house for about 12 hours a day. He’s dealing with work e-mails on the weekend. It’s always on his mind. My brother the journalist, my brother in law the architect, my sister in law the teacher, my cousin the lawyer — everyone is working much crazier hours than their parents and everyone is tired. Those with kids are putting in much longer hours parenting than their parents ever did.

Now, some of this is by choice. There are certainly jobs that pay very well that have much more normal hours. I could get a job as a medical technician with a two year college degree and make a bazillion times more than I do now.  College administrators never look like they’re plagued with editing insomnia. We choose the burnout jobs for a variety of reason — prestige, excitement, big money, whatever.

The problem is when there are no alternatives. If people choose a crazy way of life, then that’s fine. But if crazy jobs are the only meal on the menu, then that’s not cool. Not everybody can take my hypothetical sane jobs in college administration or in a hospital. Are there enough options out there for people who want a steady salary with regular hours? I’m not sure.

The real problem with workaholism isn’t just that we’re too tired to do the more mundane chores on our lists. Rather, it’s that we don’t have enough time to live. We don’t have enough time to spend with our loved ones and make huge meals and to hike around a forest crunching ice, because breaking ice is super fun (that’s what Steve and Ian are doing right now). We don’ t have time to experiment with genealogy websites like I did yesterday and found that I’m related to half of Iowa and Bari, Italy. We don’t have the brain space to make new friends at the gym or read silly books. We live in our heads too much and not enough with our bodies.

So, on that note, I’m walking away from the computer for a couple of hours.

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Jobs and Kids

I’m taking a brief hiatus from holiday consumerism to write a brief blog post about college kids and jobs. I finished an article last week on the topic. I’m not sure when it will come out, but I’ll puff it here when it does. In the meantime, let me just pass along advice that I picked up when doing the article. This is advice that I’ve been hounding my own college kid about this past week.

The job outlook for college grads isn’t wonderful, especially for kids who have just concentrated on finishing their degrees without much thought beyond getting the BA and for kids who don’t have parents to grease the wheels of the economy with connections.

I spent a few hours doing keyword searches on the online job boards for college BAs with a liberal arts and no experience. Most of the jobs that turned up were Dunder Mifflin type jobs selling random stuff for about $15 per hour. That might be fine. It’s a way to move up in a company. Research shows that most kids with liberal arts degrees start off in sales positions; some move into Human Resources or marketing. But college grads should know what those kinds of jobs are and be aware that that’s where they’re going to end up with a major in History.

30 percent of kids don’t make it past their first year of college. A huge chunk fail out their first year, or they leave because they can’t handle the independence of a school or they hate the chaos of a dorm. I see this among the kids that graduated with Jonah. Some are honor student kids. One had a big running scholarship to a fancy school. College is tough, and many can’t handle it. They end up at community colleges or trade schools. Two of Jonah’s classmates are now selling stocks at Boiler Room-type places.

I’m hearing anecdotal stories about massive student loan debt. Like $100K to $200K. I think those numbers are super high in the Northeast, because working class families around here make too much to qualify for Pell grants. Then they have to go to grad school, because 65 percent of all jobs now require advanced degrees. And they can’t afford that next step, because they owe too much from undergraduate education.

Internships are the new normal for college students. But internships are for rich kids. Kids who have to work in the summer to help pay for college can’t afford to work for free. And many of those internships at the fancy colleges actually cost money, because they are in foreign countries or in other cities. Families who are struggling to just pay for college can’t take on that extra burden.

Colleges have dumped a ton of money into career development centers, which is great, I suppose. Some are better than others. Some offer real help; others hand the students a pamphlet on writing resumes. And only a small percentage of students are going to the centers, because it’s not required.

Guys are choosing very different majors than girls and are having much different outcomes on the job market.

Students, especially the dudes, are choosing large public colleges over small liberal arts colleges. In some ways, this is a good thing. The large public colleges are cheaper and have more resources. But many students can get lost in the system. The kids who survive the big school experience learn how to manage the system. They learn how to tap into the resources. Others get in the bubble of student life and have little contact with adults who can help them.

Alright, done with the brain dump right now. More later.

 

 

 

 

 

And More Gossip From the Mechanic

Last night, Jonah drove home from an evening of Fortnite at Jimmy’s house and announced that there was a bad smell coming from the car. Bad smells aren’t enough to move us to deal with car problems. But when black smoke started coming out from under the hood this morning, we agreed that prompt action was needed.

I wasn’t in the mood for prompt car action, because I had a full day of work planned out. Instead, I had to drive 30 minutes to the mechanic and pick up a spare car from my parents. Any trip to my parents now requires an additional 30 minutes on simplistic tech problems and lunch and tea. On the way back, I had to pick up groceries.

The day is shot. Ugh. Might as well blog.

When I dropped off the car, I had to do some mandatory chit-chat with Jimmy the mechanic. Jimmy fixes my extended family’s fleet of Toyotas and Subarus. He’s honest and hardworking and worth the 30 minute drive.

Jimmy was in a bad mood this morning, too. His best worker, Dave, quit, after working with him for eight years. Dave went to work for a dealership where he will get paid more money and get health insurance and benefits. As a small business owner, Jimmy can’t offer health insurance. His own health insurance is 20K per year.

Jimmy needs to find a replacement and is stuck. He had one guy for two weeks, but he showed up late every day and he only lived a block away. He fired him. He said that all the guys coming out of tech school are terrible. They don’t want to work hard or get dirty. I guess tech schools aren’t attracting the highest quality workers. I also guess that not too many people are willing to work at a job without health insurance.

Anyway, this gossip is interesting mostly because it is almost the exact same story that I heard from my contractor two weeks ago.

I’m interested in these stories not just because I think it’s a sign that there is great unraveling of the economy. I’m paying attention, because it’s personal. I can’t imagine that Ian is going to be able to attend a traditional four-year college. His reading skills aren’t on grade level, and he certainly could never manage the social skills of dorm room.

He does, however, have mad computer and engineering skills, so I’m started to dip my big toe into information about technical schools and community colleges. What’s the best way to get him in a cubicle with a computer? There are lots of stories about how vocational schools are the wave of the future, but I suspect it’s more hype than reality.

Contractor Blues

So, we are nearly finished redoing the kitchen and ground floor of our house. The remaining issue — the TV hookup — is going to require a visit from the cable guy tomorrow morning. In the past 24 hours, I have learned volumes about the exciting world of HDMI cables. I’ll add that to the vast amount of arcane information that I’ve picked up in the past six months.

Because when I am about to spend a shitload of money, I do what I do best — I research the hell out of it.

Yes, we spent all the moneys on this renovation, but I still did it tens of thousands of dollars cheaper than other families in town. First, I came up with the perfect design for the room by going to five or six different kitchen designers and stealing their ideas. I pinned hundreds of pictures in Pinterest and watching hours of HGTV.  Then, I found a cabinet wholesaler to get me the right price, and I had him redesign the plans three times until it worked perfectly.

Then, I found a contractor who wasn’t a darling of the rich families in this town. Rich the Contractor was cheaper than the town groupies, but working with him required me to do a lot of supervision of the subcontractors. Rich did a great job with the woodwork and installing the cabinets, but everybody else — the plumbers, electrician, tile guy, sheet rockers, floor guy, fireplace guy, painter, architect — needed oversight and sometimes, I had to pay them separately, because the contractor didn’t want any liability for their work.

I could probably run any kitchen renovation in any home right now. I just got a PhD in kitchen repairs. I briefly thought about going into the home flipping business with Rich the Contractor, because I don’t suck at this. He was hinting at it, but that’s not my path.

And Rich the Contractor is thinking about moving into home flipping, because his job is ending. My guess is that our kitchen is his last job. His best worker left last week, when he was scooped by a big corporation that could pay him ten dollars more per hour and give him benefits. Rich can’t find anyone to replace him.

His business is barely profitable. Rich spends $24,000 per year on health insurance for himself, his wife, and his two 20-something kids. He can’t compete with the guys who get their health insurance through their wives or go without. He insists on following the letter of the law for everything, so he pays tons for workplace insurance, workman’s comp, social security. He gets inspections and follows local codes. He hires other guys like himself — middle aged, white guys who live in the area — to do the subcontracting work.

When it came time to do the painting, Rich recommended one of those middle-aged, white guys from the area. His quote was a $1,000 more than the Latino from Newark. Carlos and his friends did a fabulous job and were in and out of here in a day.

Like the contractor from Murphy Brown who never left, Rich has been here for two months. Whenever I needed a break from work, I would go upstairs and pick a fight with him about politics. He’s a Trump voter, so there was lots of fodder. In fact, Rich gave me a question or two to ask the high profile subject that I interviewed last month.

On top of losing his career due to competition from big corporations, more agile immigrant businesses, and his aging knees, his kids are struggling. One is doing okay at a local state college getting a degree in communication. He says that she’ll find a job. But his son, who wanted to be a cop, can’t find a job without having a family connection in the business, so he’s waiting tables and living at home.

Rich is ticked off about a lot of things, so he wasn’t really able to sort out how he can’t be upset at the high costs of health insurance on the one hand and then resist efforts to reform the system on the other. You don’t have to go to West Virginia or Kansas to meet people who aren’t thriving in the new economy.

How Hard Do Professors Actually Work?

If there were a “10 Things That Piss Academics Off the Most” list, ranking near the top would be the perception that academic life is easy and relaxing. Professors get annoyed at having to explain to their neighbors and family members that their work extends far beyond the lecture hall—and far beyond the seven-month-or-so academic year. They might be seen walking their dog in the middle of the day, but chances are they’re going back home to grade papers or prepare a seminar discussion or conduct research.

Despite broad consensus among professors that their job isn’t for slackers, they tend to disagree, primarily among themselves, about exactly how hard they work. While some scholars say they maintain a traditional 40-hour workweek, others contend they have a superhuman workload. Take Philip Guo, an assistant cognitive-science professor at University of California, San Diego, who on his blog estimated that in 2014 he spent 15 hours per week teaching, between 18 hours and 25 hours on research, four hours at meetings with students, between three hours and six hours doing service work, and between 5 hours and 10 hours at “random-ass meetings (RAM).” That amounts to as many as 60 hours per week—which, he noted, pales in comparison to the 70 hours he worked on average weekly as an undergraduate student at MIT.

America’s higher-education system is under increased scrutiny largely because of rising tuition costs and ballooning student debt; concerns about liberal indoctrination on college campuses, which are subsidized by taxpayer dollars, have also started to bubble up. People want to know where their tuition and tax money is going—are professors working hard for that money?

More here

What Will Help Working-Class Americans?

If we’re looking a silver lining in the whole Trump election business, then we have to say that it’s a good thing that the media is shining a light on the problems of working class Americans. They have been forgotten. Whole sections of the country are struggling. I’ve seen it when visiting family in Cleveland (here and here).

So, now that the focus is on this group of people, the debate has begun about what to do to help. Should we bring back the labor unions? Do we need stronger boards and trade restrictions? Can a president really do anything to turn back the clock?

It’s a good debate, I think. I’m looking forward to seeing how this whole thing plays out.

Should Professors Be Fired For Damaging a College’s Reputation

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This January, two students at Mount St. Mary’s University reported in the campus newspaper, The Mountain Echo, that their college president planned to dismiss about two dozen students in September in an effort to improve the school’s retention rate. In a now-infamous conversation with a small group of faculty and administrators, the president, Simon Newman, explained that professors shouldn’t feel so sentimental about holding on to students who are unlikely to succeed. “This is hard for you because you think of the students as cuddly bunnies, but you can’t,” The Mountain Echo quoted Newman as saying. “You just have to drown the bunnies … put a Glock to their heads.”

Needless to say, the story of a college administrator who compares struggling teenage students to fluffy woodland creatures that should be murdered with a semi-automatic pistol is a PR disaster. It’s not exactly the caring sentiment that parents expect from a small, traditional Catholic college in rural Maryland that has promised to protect their children.

More here.