Archive | May, 2013

Proof of Relevance

27 May

This weekend I flew home for a memorial day wedding, one of the largest I’ve been to. The weekend festivities coincided with a strange time in my life. I have to make a decision in the next week on which team I’d like to rotate to next at my job. The last piece of advice I received before boarding my plane for the week home, was what I should do, depends on what I want.

What do I want?

Four simple words coming together to form a query so confounding that I found myself standing among a swarm of dancing, drinking, joyful individuals wondering why I was here. The groom is the son of a close family friends, but in truth I haven’t spoken to him in years and can’t recall us ever having a conversation of real substance. No fault of either of us, just a reality of our relationship. The bride I met the previous night for the first time in an event that had more than 800 attendees. She never got my name much less genealogical relationship to her to prove my relevance. And so there I was, standing in the middle of the dance floor, whose merriment just moments before I had been partaking in, when it occurred that if I wasn’t here, if I hadn’t attended, no one would have noticed.

Maybe it was because there were over 1100 attendees at the wedding. Maybe it was because I haven’t lived at home for seven years, of which the past two have been 2,000 plus miles away (previously I had been only a 3 1/2 hr drive for context). Maybe it’s because we’re all older, forming new friendships that have overlaid the old ones. Maybe it’s because I don’t call enough, e-mail enough, skype enough. Maybe it’s because I had seen my father, a key coordinator in the wedding planning, for a grand total of 45 minutes in the 36 hours since I had landed. Maybe it’s because I don’t have an i-phone and can’t Factime with the rest of my family. Whatever the reason I realized I wanted to feel special. And in that moment I felt utterly un-special, irrelevant and of no consequence.

I absolutely consent this is a fairly selfish thought to have at someone else’s wedding, “What about me!?” But the wedding simply exposed a feeling in me that has been lingering for sometime in the shadows. I want to feel like I matter to other people. I want to feel like I have an influence or impact on their life and my attendance is noticed. I want that feedback, want it to be incorporated into my day to day, my job. And I want to feel like my job enables me to create, whether it’s a physical object or an experience or information assembled in a new way– I want to create as a form of expression. And I want that too to be part of my job.

These two desires: influence & creation really reduce to the same existential notion of proof relevance.

I’d like to say that I have some deep incite to add, an epiphany on this subject. At the very least I’d like to say I didn’t let these big picture concerns prevent me from enjoying the moment. That I’d un-paralyzed myself and  rejoined the celebration around me and danced the night away. But I can’t.

As I drifted off to sleep once home, the last words I read were from author Cheryl Strayed in her book Tiny Beautiful Things:

“I’m not suggesting one deny negative emotions, but rather that you accept them and move through them by embracing the power we have to keep from wallowing in emotions that don’t serve us well.”

Those last few words “keep from wallowing in emotions that don’t serve us well” really resonate. I’m not sure where any of this leaves me. Probably a combination of adjusting expectations and desires along with making tangible changes to my career and lifestyle. I will probably still continue to attend the weddings of acquaintances (I hope with greater compassion and unconditional love). Ultimately I have to reconcile my desire for relevance with my belief that life does not have any knowable meaning beyond what we assign it.  But that will be a long journey. Last night I was a little blue, today I’m more optimistic. There will be many more nights and days like these in the future. Love, human connections and the multifaceted ways that these two elements are expressed, help substantially. That is all. Nothing novel or highly insightful but at least it all leaves me with a little bit of calm.

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Not the “New Normal”

13 May

My good friend The Farlang Lady recently shared an article by Claire Thompson on the Millennial generation. It was fascinating and extraordinarily educational. As a gainfully employed Millennial, the 180 character snapshot of a Millennial doesn’t always relate: underpaid, saddled with student debt, naively optimistic. (Okay maybe that last one does apply).

My self-educational clicking away led to this gem! Someone Bids $13,000 for Huffington Post Internship

The most salient quote to me is

The auction’s beneficiary, the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights, seems exceptionally worthy. But are unemployed media wannabes really this worthless?

I’ve been reading and discussing, lately, the stories of the unpaid, under-paid, over-qualified, or paid & overworked. All making me wonder what should the relationship between a company and employee be? Maybe this is the response. The cause could be worthwhile, the experience, even the company’s intentions, but even so (and especially when not s0) are today’s youth really that worthless that their time does not need to be paid for? Are people so worthless that federal minimum wage is only $7.25 an hour?

I suppose its emotionally manipulative and existentially questionable to equate income with self-worth. And as an individual  (the recipient of either a piss poor paycheck or bucket loads of money) I do not recommend equating the too. But from the perspective of an employer isn’t that exactly what a paycheck is? Stock prices are meant to be a representation of a company’s worth. It logical to suggest that an employee’s income, therefore, represents his or her worth to the employer.

So when a friend worked 65+ hours a week doing highly specialized work for $15/hour, only there was no overtime so really it amounted to $9.23 and hour. Then we subtract taxes, rent, and groceries and student loan interests…what does it suggest about how her employer values her time and effort? Simultaneously when another friend is told at the beginning of a new project as a strategic management consultant that they will try to get them out before midnight Mon-Wed, all of a sudden her otherwise healthy paycheck amounts to $18/hour.  That is more than enough for her to live off, especially when you consider that the company pays for a lot of food and transportation expenses. But what does it mean about how an employer values an employee? Is it actually a true reflection of what they’re worth as a resource? OR is it a reflection of the market doing what the market does best, which is not correctly evaluate assets but find opportunities to exploit the delta between the going price (these days not much for a college degree) and what its true or potential worth is.

My argument is that the un/under employed liberal arts major and the paid but overworked business or engineering major are different sides of the same coin. In both scenarios  individuals adjust and makes it work.

Can’t afford to fix my car? Fine, I’ll use my bike more.
Have to work 80+ hours a week for a few months? Fine, I’ll adjust. Thanks for giving me the heads up.

But does that make it okay? Personally I always thought, “I don’t want to work the 60+ hour work weeks. I value balance and the weekends. But hey, if you Mr. I-banker friend want to, well power to you.” At what point does a bunch of youth making individual trade-offs (art majors choosing to take the risky and possibly less lucrative career path of photography) become emblematic of societal shift that needs correcting?

When it’s no longer a real choice.

In the face of increasing cost of tuition and corresponding burden of student debt, unemployment in the double digits for Millenials, the ever expanding workday, and rising cost of living including cost of health care, the prevailing advice is to compromise. Get a degree in the STEM majors: science, technology, engineering or math or adjust your work-life balance expectations or (as I have been told on more than one occasion) leave. Just because we can make it work in the short-term doesn’t mean that this is an okay path to be headed down in the long-term.  This is NOT the “new normal.”