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Getting a Job: The Death of an Individual

January 21, 2011

As nearly all of the people my age and older, I have had a job in my lifetime. In fact, I’ve had a couple of different actual jobs, as well as a number of smaller service jobs that I performed simply on my own in my neighborhood.

And I hated each and every one of those jobs.

Now, that hate didn’t stem from the jobs themselves. Even the “worst” job that I had– working in a warehouse during two summers after the school year–was not a bad job. Although the pay left a little something (or maybe quite a bit) to be desired, it was a job in which I could easily meet the requirements, I was guaranteed forty hours a week, and there were plenty of people that I could at least talk to during the day. I made about $2000 each summer, with about $200 or $250 coming back to me when I filed for my tax return. That is not a bad amount of money for someone who is going on seventeen or eighteen years old.

And as for the other jobs, I’ve worked on a farm managing the property, I’ve shoveled snow from driveways, I’ve mowed lawns. In short, I’ve done the usual outdoor chores that anyone does during their adolescence to earn a little extra scratch. My negative feelings didn’t stem from the activities. Quite the opposite, really, as I enjoyed doing such tasks to an extent. I get satisfaction from manual labor and from completing a project I had been working on.

Why, then, do I talk about hating my jobs?

What it comes down to for me are two different intellectual screws that are twisted into my gray matter. The first is the act of turning time into a commodity. The second is the intellectual, emotional, and spiritual decay of an individual that results from devoting oneself to a job.

The first point was shepherded into society by the industrialization of major countries and the prevalence of capitalistic tendencies. This isn’t a rant against capitalism by any means (not that it is a support of capitalism, either 😉 ), but capitalism did seem to cause this phenomenon, at least in part. With the advent of commercial super-efficiency, every business has for the past century or so has tended away from any kind of waste– not that I protest a lack of waste, but rather the more indirect effects which I’m going to try to detail here.

As businesses have become leaner and leaner, they’ve increasingly looked for more ways to improve efficiency, more ways to slash waste and therefore costs, and as many ways as possible to increase profit. A large part of this practice is the science of efficiency. Everything involved in the business at every point and every level is measured, weighed, and judged necessary or wasteful. A number is applied to all these different actions, in terms of how much money it costs the company to do something in a certain amount of time. Less time per action = more actions in a given time = more money made in a given amount of time. This is where we run into problems with having a job.

When companies become this concerned with how much money they are making in a certain amount of time, we start changing the old saying “Time is money”. There’s nothing wrong with that– time is money, and if you want money you have to use some of your time to create something of value. However, with the air of efficiency, the saying becomes “____ time is worth ____ money”.

This is the attitude that determines part one of why I hate jobs, and why having a job is terrible. Someone has put a number to your time, the worker’s time, and decided how much it is worth.

Why does that make sense?

Suddenly, according to some goon at the top of a corporate food chain, your hour of time is worth $8.25. Eight dollars and twenty-five cents. That hour of your life, that you spent in a warehouse, or behind a cash register? It was worth 33 gumballs. That’s right. Empty a few out of that machine there, and you work for me for an hour, doing what needs to be done to make me some money. Meanwhile the owner of this company, or even the manager of a branch of the company, is making how much more than you?

What makes your hour less valuable? Why (other than the obvious economic rules for making a profit, of course) should your hour be worth $8.25, when an hour of the manager’s life is worth some other, greater, number? Your heart still beats, your lungs still breathe, your brain is still firing away, and you’re still an hour closer to death.

Someone has literally put a cash value on doing something you don’t wish to do while still drawing closer to your death.

Now, while that’s unacceptable just in terms of human interaction, the second point really is more dire overall, and that’s the degradation of one’s aspirations and life which comes from having a job.

Let’s take the average Joe just out of college before the recession hit: he’s in his 20’s, has a degree, but hasn’t yet found a job that deals with the profession he’s chosen. Okay, that’s fine, he’s just going to get an entry-level job to help tide him over until he can get that really great job his college degree was obtained for.

To that end, Joe goes to work for some big corporate business. McDonald’s, Target, WalMart (shudder), Wendy’s, Payless Shoes… most businesses you can name will do here. He goes through training, gets his uniform together, and starts work. Joe is looking at working forty hours a week, at $8.25 an hour (the current minimum wage, though it would have been a tad lower before the recession), with the possibility for time-and-a-half over forty hours, and receiving little-to-no benefits, especially in the first year of employment.

Think about the costs involved for Joe. To use an example, he’s working a 9-5 job, every Monday through Friday. Supposing he sleeps eight hours and wake up at seven each morning, with an hour to get ready for work each day, Joe has seven hours to himself each day. To speak nothing of preparing meals, interacting with family, dealing with finances, staying informed in some way (watching the news, reading the paper or articles online, etc.), Joe has little time for himself. Joe is alloted seven hours per day in which he can do the things we all want to do. Joe has seven hours in which to have fun, improve himself, visit others, do community service, visit his church/synagogue/mosque/unitarian place of meeting/meditation chamber, and even commute back and forth from work. When we factor in all the different time-sinks that come from the different parts of our lives, it starts to show that a job is one of the ultimate inhibitors to living a fulfilled life.

What could all of us be doing with forty hours a week? For most of us, that would mean a whole lot of positives being fulfilled that are otherwise neglected. We could get enough sleep at night– because most of us don’t get even eight hours, as Joe does, though the average adult needs anywhere from 7.5-9 hours. We could spend quality time with our significant others– because though Joe is single right now, he might not be in the future, and though the relationship expert Terri Orbuch says only 10 minutes of quality interaction are necessary, many families don’t even have time to eat dinner together. We could exercise more– because Joe is young and relatively fit now, but if he doesn’t exercise for a significant amount of time he’s liable to become part of America’s obesity epidemic. We could express our creativity and our skills– because most 9-5 jobs don’t allow us to use our creativity and skills meaningfully, but being able to use those skills is an excellent way of leading a fulfilling life.

Joe from our scenario isn’t even in the worst-case situation. Many jobs are even more deadening, due to terrible hours and commute, labor or an environment which causes long-term harm, or any of a myriad of reasons.

Think about it. How many people do you know who are fulfilled by their job? This isn’t to say they aren’t content with their positions, because they may be. But how many jobs actually lead to self-growth and fulfillment? Now, how many people do you know who hate their jobs? How many people do you know who are constantly wishing they could quit their job and walk away to something better?

Compare the numbers. Isn’t it odd that having a job, which is supposed to be the accepted norm in our society, is such a negative in the lives of most people? The best position it occupies in the lives of most people is that of a necessary evil. There are a lucky few who manage to avoid such a necessity, but they again are a rare few.

I’m not offering a solution here. If I knew exactly what to do to make a few million and live comfortably for the rest of my life, I’d be doing it. I know there are things which can be done. A book can be written, a business started, any of a number of things.

All I’m speaking against is the accepting mindset. The idea that a job is not only necessary, but good for an individual! That idea not only seems wrong to me, but disgusts me in that it prevents so many people from reaching their highest potential.

How many skills could you learn, were your time not devoted to a job? How many different things could you accomplish? How could your relationships differ, or be strengthened?

What would the world be like, if we had back the forty hours a week, 2080 hours a year?

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