Thursday, October 25, 2012

Working The New Normal


I have been fortunate in that I really don’t have to work, despite my husband’s sometime angst-filled rants about how much is spent on groceries, I am blessed that he really does make enough to provide for the family’s needs and a few wants.  With this as my family backdrop and my number-one occupation being mom for the past decade, I venture into the world of paid work to keep my resume current, my skills sharp, and pay for yet another violin/piano/vocal/guitar/whatever-they-need-lesson.  

I am able to pick and choose my projects as an independent consultant and small business owner.  I’ve devoted the past five or six years to my writing and have acquired a pretty good collection of narrative essays, book reviews, and poetry.  I am deeply involved in my local community and serve on the board of directors to local non-profits, have managed budgets for banquets, and have been a facilitator for community forums.  The past five years have allowed me to stretch my skill set and utilize all those things that make up my professional character.  I've taught undergraduate students and mentored elementary students.  I am circular, spiral in my pursuits, and not easily boxed in.

A recent opportunity fell into my lap, much like my last two opportunities.  I thought, ok, why not, I have experience being a brand champion, working trade shows, and the soft sales of expos.  I became a temporary brand ambassador for a local senior-services insurance company.  It was contracted through a locally owned marketing company that recruited a bunch of us “seasoned professionals” to represent the brand.  The room full of over-40-somethings were part of the new normal.  Some where actors and actresses between gigs, some, like me, were professors without a classroom for the semester, somewhere elementary school teachers who wanted a weekend gig to supplement their gutted salaries, somewhere executive MBA dads who were the stay-at-home-spouse with a child now in elementary school, a few were retired and had fat pensions from the “good old days” of when St. Louis companies understood the commitment and loyalty of thirty years; we were all in a grayer state of life and living a new normal.

The temporary gig was very interesting in how it is set up.  Purposely “30 hours per week” so as not to have to offer benefits or something as basic as a lunch hour.  Most of the ambassadors were getting 12-18 hours and week and many, like me, were wondering why we were wasting our time doing this.  “Gas money” “paying for a lesson” “tuition supplement for the kid” “groceries” – a myriad of reasons why we were enduring the mind-numbing boredom of sitting for six hours (minus two fifteen-minute breaks that had to be taken separately – just enough time to go to the restroom and guzzle a bottle of water) giving out information to a few senior citizens who stopped to inquire.  We were admonished a million times in training not to answer “compliance” questions because we are not licensed insurance agents and were “secret shopped” to make sure we did not talk about “Obamacare.” It all seemed so pointless. 

I realized we were in the new normal of temporary assignments.  All of us were over-qualified, many of us had our resumes received because we were applying for some other brand management position but were told we were very “over-qualified” but they had a great assignment for us.  An assignment at 1/3rd my former corporate salary.  It reminded me of a check that my 18 year old son would be happy to have, not many expenses and requirements being on full scholarship.

The new world of work is either some corporate jobs are making 50-60 hours a week mandatory like a beer company one of my fellow Iowa alum started in Chicago. I couldn't believe it when I read the job description for their marketing communications director.  Americans are literally being worked to death at this pace.  There would be no opportunity for life and family and simply reading a book with that kind of life.  Then there is the uber-ambitious young CEO of Yahoo who went back to work two weeks after giving birth to her first child, I couldn't even walk straight after giving birth to my first child thirty years ago.  I was barely in jeans at two weeks!  Such is the new world, Americans are living to work, not working to live, to have the resources to sustain their lives.  I thought of this even as I listened to an NPR interview with older (over 35) women who were trying desperately to reclaim their waning fertility and “harvest” their eggs because they spent their twenties in pursuit of position, power, and purse. 

This sometimes humiliating world of new work makes you question the so-called “job creators” and wonder if what they are really striving for is either a starving populace or an overworked populace who can not question their antics because they are too tired to do so.

I can only hold out hope for my children to be able to pursue their dreams and keep their dignity in tact while doing it.  My older son, a renaissance man, is striving to do this.  He owns his own lyrics, sells his own music, and makes enough to have a flat on the plaza in his city.  He does not have a wife or children.  Sometimes I wonder if he is missing out on that part of his life because while he is comfortable as a single man, refuses to get married until he can provide for a child, with this economy, a lot of the older millennials like him are finding that hard to do.  Fortunately for him, men can become parents at any age, he may just have to marry a girl a few years younger than he is.

My raising children days are still a decade from being complete.  That means that whatever intellectual (and financial) pursuit I take will have to be with “mommy hours” in mind because I do not want to hire a nanny and leave impressionable young girls on their own from 2:30-6:30pm.  Such is the dilemma of a lot of the 50% of the population who, contrary  the conservative norm, really are the primary breadwinners of their households and really do have a lot to contribute to society.

It is at times when I was sitting in that training room and while at the kiosk, with my brain cells struggling for use, when I held out hope for the new normal to change.  Once-upon-a-time, people worked for what would sustain them, making what they needed, and living full, simple lives.

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