A few years back, right after the impact of the 2008 economic disaster began to manifest as pay freezes and layoffs, I was working a full time job that wasn’t paying my bills. I was teaching at a university and had good benefits, but for all the awe and respect that the title “Professor” engenders outside of academia, I was in dire straits. I had student loans commensurate with the advanced degrees that I possess but was making the same amount of money that my 22 year old undergraduates were commanding in jobs they were hired into at graduation. I wasn’t very happy about this – in fact, I was downright mad each month as I juggled and fudged and stressed to pay the bills in my single – parent household.
I’m one of those people who can’t resist talking to folks working in the mall, or at the pizza place or hair salon, so I was aware that a lot of people worked additional jobs. When I engage the clerk or pizza delivery guy, I often find out that they are working a few nights a week and some weekends and that their main job is one that, like mine, sounds respectable, but simply doesn’t pay the bills. I found people at Piercing Pagoda, multiple pizza parlors, Sears, Macy’s, JC Penney’s, Best Buy, Michaels Craft Store and JoAnn Fabric & Crafts and the 3 grocery stores I visit,…all working multiple jobs – and this is important – NOT to buy fur coats or a new Lexus. These folks, like me, were simply trying to pay their existing bills.
As a professor, I was not interested in working at the mall, not because there’s anything wrong with it, but who wants to ask their students, who pay 20-prices in tuition, if they found everything they were looking for in women’s lingerie or men’s shoes?
Lucky for me, with faculty experience, I had other options. I began to find adjunct teaching assignments and curriculum design and development work that I could do from home.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics in 2011, about 5% of the U.S. population works more than 1 job, but I think that’s woefully underestimated. I’m guessing that number is much closer to, if not higher than 10%, and rising; and to me that’s sad as I recall the sorry state of work/life balance when I decided to take on traditional extra jobs.
During this time I was working 1 full time and 3 part time jobs. My multiple W-2 slips that year showed that I made a nice income, but I want to tell you that I was miserable (MISERABLE!). I literally worked myself into exasperation, and it was the depth of that misery that led me to a different (higher-paying) full time job, that wasn’t a super fit, but did give me some much-needed rest as it replaced most of the additional-job income with a single job. Several months into that job I had the opportunity to move in to another higher paying job that was a little better, thankfully and paid me what I was making in 4 jobs – finally!
The decision to take on a 2nd (or 3rd 4th, …) job is at first, seemingly innocuous. We look at the great employee discount, or the other perks and our first few “extra” checks seem to really make a difference. We think, “this is alright!” and we even feel physically and mentally energized by our ability to make more money.
“Take THAT,” we think to ourselves about that cheap boss, who waxed glowingly about what an asset to the company we are, while giving us a 1% raise, or telling us there’s no raise this year.
Yes, for a while, we’re really making our own magic – getting that extra money that we’ve been waiting for, perhaps for 2 or more performance review cycles – and it feels great!
Then it begins to shift.
We begin to resent having to leave job #1 to go smile and be friendly at job #2 when what we really want to do is go home, sit on the couch and put our feet up – maybe even snooze for a bit; but this isn’t even the worst of it. For many of us, before we know it, our lifestyle expands, like a gaseous substance, to fill up to the capacity of our multiple jobs so that even if we wanted to quit the seemingly insignificant part time job, we’d feel some financial pain.
While I’ve been lucky in recent years to have jobs that I could work at home, I remember working full time in retail (on my feet) as a single mother after attending college all day (also full time), in my early 30’s. There were many nights that I would crawl home, barely able to drag myself into the door and then having to chase kids to bed, do the laundry and find clothes for the 3 of us to wear the next day. I was able to keep that up for a time because I knew that I would graduate and that I would not have to keep this up much longer….or so it seemed at that time. For t his reason, I am always (always!) nice and understanding of the people working in retail. I really *do* know what they are living and I am empathetic.
Too many of us live up to the brink of our incomes. Some of this can be attributed to lifestyle choices, but life is different today than it was when I was a kid. When I was a kid, if you could save up enough money to buy a working TV, you could watch it for free, but for the small amount of electric it used. Not anymore: you have to have a cable box to watch even LOCAL channels, and while I’m not sure, I believe that it will cost you at least $30/month. Phones: I know a lot of older folks complain about cell phones, but that cat’s out of the bag. How are you going to live in today’s modern society without some sort of phone? I also suspect that some of the cell phone plans are cheaper than the home phone services available today, anyway. Then there’s the internet – if you’re a single adult, you can probably get away without this, but I struggle to know how with school-age kids, you can be an internet-free home. I’m not complaining – I love all this technology but it does add another layer to the minimum bills people wrangle each month, and each family has their own unique version of this story.
So, are we all stuck on the hamster wheel until we can afford to retire?
I sure hope not. My goal is to work at a job that I love, and that makes me smile when I think about it; happy to wake up in the morning and get to it!
Step 1 for me was to “get real” with what kind of work I want to do. Money isn’t everything, and having lived that (working 20-hours a day, 7 days a week), I have a physical memory of how that feels (never again).
Not having enough money just stinks, on the other hand, so I knew that my plan needed to include work that I enjoy AND produced enough additional income to pay down my debt and save for fun things like vacations. That seems perfectly reasonable in the land of liberty & the pursuit of happiness, right?
Finding Your Way is the formalized version of the process I used to identify what I wanted to do for work, including details on where I wanted to work, and HOW I wanted to work. If you haven’t checked out the free template starter, and you’re working too many hours for too little joy; you owe it to yourself to check it out.
Watch for my next installment where I talk about choosing additional income (e.g. that 2nd job) wisely, and some interesting and exciting options!