Blog Archive - February 2011
Seth Godin has written another short but wise post, this time exploring anger, wonder, and why they can’t co-exist. Let me riff on Godin’s insight. In managing our careers, especially in a time of mass lay offs and salary cuts, it’s easy to give in to anger. Sometimes it might even be necessary. But to go forward and create the kind of careers and lives we want, it is much better to embrace, what can be, rather than look back and dwell on what was. As Godin says, wonder makes us bigger, more generous people. Anger just makes us small. Choose the better option.
[On Sundays, Career Calling looks beyond our jobs to how work impacts our lives.]
Working for the Earth and Local Economies
This Sunday feature was inspired by the Sabbath poems of Wendell Berry. Now Berry earns our respect by his effort to convince the governor of Kentucky, Steve Beshear, to end the practice of mountaintop removal. Along with 13 other protestors, Berry stayed in the Governor’s office for four days. Beshear did agree to visit some open mining sites and talk to protesters, but he also said that he sees nothing wrong with a practice that scars the earth and pollutes water.
Berry disagrees. He told interviewer Jeff Biggers of Yes! Magazine: “You can go to a little stream that’s coming down off the mountain, and you know that one day that stream ran clear and you could have knelt down and drunk from it without any hesitation—it would have been clean. And now it’s running orange or black. And what people have to understand is that there’s heartbreak in that.” Berry is not a radical or a tree hugger. Anyone who reads his essays or poems knows that he is a traditionalist who loves the land. Coal companies love only money.
Berry is also not a wide-eyed optimist. He tells Biggers that there is no guarantee that the protest will make a difference. What can be changed, he says, is minds. Berry and his fellow protesters will continue to argue and persuade. They are working to save their state and a way of life.
Berry’s current protest can be linked to his broader ideas, which he outlines in the “The Total Economy,” an essay in What Matters: Economics for a Renewed Commonwealth. Rather than simply point the finger at corporations, Berry also implicates all of us as consumers who “have given proxies to the corporations to produce and provide all of their food, clothing, and shelter.”
Two conditions of the current economy are that raw materials must stay cheap and the supply of workers must exceed the demand, which will keep wages low. Berry sees this trend as a world problem in which country people (farmers) are forced into the city. This transformation, in turn, changes farming by making it a mass market enterprise in which the farmer cannot afford just to sell to (or trade with) his neighbors. Not only are price and quality lowered, but there is also no sense of “stewardship” of the land. The agribusiness farmer has the same goal as the coal company that practices strip mining: more money and more money.
Like another of my favorite writers, Thom Hartmann, Berry debunks the claim that corporations should have the rights of individuals: “A corporation is, essentially, a pile of money to which a number of persons have sold their moral allegiance. Unlike a person, a corporation does not age. It does not arrive, as most people finally do, at a realization of the shortness and smallness of human lives; it does not come to see the future as the lifetime of the children and grandchildren of anybody in particular. . . . It goes about its business as if it were immortal, with the single purpose of becoming a bigger pile of money.” Berry clearly states that not all corporations or people running them are bad. However, their domination has hurt our economy by promoting big, cheap, and wasteful.
What is Berry’s solution? We need to go back to a local economy in which consumers know where their food and clothes are produced. We need to think about “human and ecological” costs of production. The heart of this new (old) economy would be the “neighborhood,” an area where people would know and care about each other. Berry is not so naïve to think everything can or should be made locally, but he wants people to have more power, which can only be gained from getting beyond an economy dominated by imports and exports. He concludes the essay with these words: “Without prosperous local economies, the people have no power and the land no voice.”
Berry is not alone in this thinking. In The Omnivore’s Dilemma, Michael Pollan argues that our industrial system of food production is neither efficient nor healthy. Many critics have examined the growing power of corporations and how they influence everything from what we eat and wear to the politicians we vote for. Whether the subject is food or elections, the underlying question is one of power: Who will rule, regular people or faceless corporations?
On the surface, Berry’s Sabbath poems have no political content. However, in the light of his protest against the Governor and the “Total Economy,” we see a deeper ideological blueprint in the respect for natural processes and time, which are often the vision of his poems:
“How long does it take to make the woods.
As long as it takes to make the world.
The woods is present as the world is, the presence
of all its past, and of all of its time to come.
To come into the woods you must leave behind
the six days’ world, all of it, all of its plans and hopes.
You must come without weapon or tool, alone,
expecting nothing, remembering nothing,
into the ease of sight, the brotherhood of eye and leaf.
Fire Dog Lake reports that over 100,000 workers and supporters of organized labor gathered in Wisconsin’s state capital today. Along with the report there is some great video from the rallies. Meanwhile, John Nichols questions whether the Governor could have crossed the line by admitting that he thought about having supporters disrupt the peaceful protests. Working people have not given up the fight in Madison. Let’s hope that they never do and that others learn from their example.
Huffington Post reports that nearly half the jobs created in the U.S. over the last year were in low wage industries. Job losses in higher wage industries were 40% with only 14% growth in that area.
What do these numbers have to do with the protests in Wisconsin? Public sector work have good jobs with benefits. As those jobs are taken away through lay offs and privatization, everyone will suffer, not just the people who lose their jobs. Lower paid workers buy less, which means other people will be laid off because stores and restaurants will close. The growth of low wage industry jobs is a clear sign of a national problem. Some leaders (President Obama) don’t seem to care. Others (Gov. Walker, Gov. Christie) seem to want a country that is poorer and weaker. Something has to change.
I was listening to the radio today and heard that the song “Roxanne” by the Police is now 32 years old. A few years ago Sting and his band made millions by singing their old hits. Earlier same day, I was surprised to hear a commercial promoting a tour by the Monkees, a group that is a generation older than the Police. The Rolling Stones tour almost every year. Bands that were stars now cover their own hits. Some still play in big stadiums and arenas. Others have moved to the smaller halls and theaters.
What’s the moral of story? Work changes. Few people do the same thing in their 40s, 50s, and 60s what they did in their 20s. The key to being successful is to adapt and to keep doing the kind of work that makes you happy. If you’re stuck in your current job, that’s a great starting point for change. Ask yourself these questions: What kind of activity or skills makes me happy? What kind of work doesn’t feel like work? Take a lesson from Mick Jagger. Keep singing and dancing.
Employers want workers who have the skills needed to fill an open position. At the same time, they want someone who will work hard and bring extra value to the company. One way to show yourself as this kind of ideal employee is to list an example or two in your resume of ways you have shown initiative.
For example, you could write:
• Took initiative to launch a new tutoring program that improved reading test scores.
• Demonstrated initiative by training employees before/after business hours.
• Completed projects on time by working with focus and self-motivation.
• Solved problems for clients by being resourceful and working extra hours to provide same-day results.
• Exceeded goals for performance by taking the initiative to pursue a new client base (students).
When writing or updating your resume, try to find a way to present yourself as the kind of employee every boss would want: someone who works hard and looks for new ways to improve performance.
A client called the other day to tell me he hadn’t heard from any employers. It had only been a week since he received his resume, and he had only applied for three jobs. Budgeting time and managing expectations are very important skills in a job search. You need to keep the right perspective while moving your job search forward.
The first issue is time. There are several rules of thumb in finding a job. Some people say the average time is one month for every $10,000 you earn, which means that someone making $50,000 should expect an average job search of 5 months. Others say the average time is three to six months. With my clients, I have found this formula works better. However, I caution clients about the word average. If the average is 3-6 months, some people will find a job in one month and others might take a year. In the current economy, some job seekers have been labeled 99ers because they have been out of work for more than 99 weeks.
A good job search also needs realistic expectations. Most employers will not respond to a job application. Many don’t even send thank you letters after you go to interviews. Expect to hear nothing. Your job is to stay focused, keep networking, and apply for open positions until you land a new job. If your expectations are unrealistic, it is likely that your job search will stall or – worse still – you will stop looking for work.
Staying motivated is a key to success. Once you start looking for a new job, don’t stop until you have reached your goals. Know that there will dips in the road and obstacles that you must overcome. Those are realities in almost every job search. Managing your time and expectations well will not make your job search easy, but it will usually make the process of looking for work faster and help you find a better job.
[“Sabbath” is this blog’s Sunday feature that explores work and life.]
Remembering What Was Gained – and Lost
Once upon a time, working people in America lived at the mercy of their employers. They labored twelve hours or more, often in unsafe conditions, with no minimum wage. The people who worked then were different too. Children and women toiled for low wages, often in the most brutal environments. Old people clung to their jobs as long as their bodies allowed because they had no Social Security or pension funds. The generations who built this country in the 19th century also included slaves and immigrants who were treated as slaves.
The middle class that so many Americans look to as proof of what makes this country special really bloomed in the 1950s and 1960s. It came to be in large part because working people organized and demanded their rights from both employers and the government. What made the middle class? A 40 hour work week that let people have time for life outside of their jobs. Minimum wage laws and union contracts that raised salaries for working people and let them buy a home or send their kids to college. Pension funds and Social Security that let people retire without living in poverty. Workplace safety rules that kept people from being killed and maimed on the job. Public schools and state universities that let many Americans get the education was once available only to the privileged.
What has happened over the last 30 years [A.R., After Reagan]? Has the middle class disappeared? No, but membership in that club is becoming more expensive. Most families rely on having two bread winners, often with multiple jobs. Few people work 40 hours. Those that are paid well work 50 hours or more. Those with low-paying jobs scramble for hours, going from part-time job to part-time job. In the 1970s, factories started to close and that trend has accelerated through the first decade of the 21st century. Unions have become less influential as their membership has declined with industrial America. Now public sector workers are a target because they are said to make too much. Maybe the real problem is that non-union working people have given up too much or had too much taken from them.
Large business interests and their agents (a.k.a. politicians from both parties and the corporate-owned media) have collaborated to move wealth and power to those who have the most. We are told by conservatives that the wealthy “make” jobs or “give” jobs. If that’s true, why have so many jobs been offshored, so many factories closed? Greed, naked greed.
What’s wrong with a me-first philosophy? Isn’t that part of our freedom as Americans? No, it’s not. The first 15 words of the Constitution (so loved by the Tea Party) clearly say that we’re in this together: “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union.” The Libertarian myth that has come to dominate conservative thinking goes against the most basic American values. This country was founded by leaders who understood the need for “common defence” and “general Welfare” – things we share.
America after Reagan still can claim economic wealth and displays of consumer freedom: SUVs, flat screen TVs, and iPads. But what freedoms have we lost that our grandparents enjoyed? Stable employment. A good wage. Time off to enjoy life. Protection from a boss or company that went too far. Unions have not been perfect, but they helped working people (most of whom were not union members) live a better life. They also recognized that working people shared a responsibility to help and protect each other – solidarity. Too often in today’s work world, each individual is alone, looking over his or her shoulder, afraid.
This last week’s protests in Madison probably won’t stop Governor Walker from further limiting worker rights. Other states will follow his example. What the rallies in Wisconsin show is that working people can fight back. We have to remember the history of labor, how men and women sacrificed and died to improve how workers are treated in this country. Then comes the hard part – fighting for our rights and freedoms. The teachers and union members in Wisconsin have shown the way. Will others follow their example?
Editorial Note: On Saturdays, I will write posts under the title, “Bread and Roses – Our Heritage” that will focus on labor history. Monday through Friday, posts will continue to examine careers and related issues.
Sunday Extra Helpings:
A great website with links to labor history sites
The AFL-CIO’s Labor History Page
A Labor History Timeline from the University of Hawaii
This day in labor history
Child Labor – from the History Channel
The protest in Wisconsin has brought a focus back on a topic I’ve written about several times over the last year: the value of teachers. From Kindergarten through graduate school I went to both public and private schools. Most of my teachers were good. They taught during the day. They graded papers and planned lessons on nights and weekends. It’s not an easy job.
So let’s think for a minute about what opponents of teacher unions want: lower pay, fewer benefits, and no union protection. As I say above, teaching is a tough job. Take the good stuff away and who will want to do it? Yes, good teachers don’t just work for the money. But, at some point, even the most dedicated teachers will say that it’s not worth the sacrifice.
The same people who complain about the quality of American educator are doing everything they can to drive good teachers from the classroom. The same people who say we need to compete with China are driving out our country’s most important resource: Educators.
Shame on Governor Scott Walker and his Tea Party supporters. The have an odd way of showing their love for America. Three cheers for the young students who are marching in Madison. They remember what the old and selfish have forgotten. They know how to say, “Thank you.”