On Work and Money: Part One

By Troy Headrick

Earlier this week I read “The Shame that Keeps Us in Our Jobs,” an article by Paul Millerd, one of my LinkedIn contacts.  Millerd’s piece, about work, work culture, and money, got me thinking about a whole bunch of topics.  This blog is the result of that rumination.

I want to begin with something I’ve wondered about throughout my career as a college and university educator.  We like to ask kids in their late teens to decide on a major, while studying at postsecondary educational institutions, as a way of deciding what sort of work they want to do and what kind of people they want to be for the remainder of their lives.  So, at a moment when they have little to no work experience and are just finding themselves, we ask youngsters, many of them rightfully confused about nearly everything, to make a profoundly important declaration about themselves that will shape their lives for many decades.  Given this reality, is there any wonder that so many people become disillusioned and have mid-life crises when they get a bit older?

As I began to think about the world of work and money, I realized that we carry around all these binaries in our heads.  There’s full-time work and part-time work.  There are those who wear “white collars” and “blue collars.”  There are salaried employees and wage earners.  More specifically, at the place where I’m currently employed, there are faculty and staff—you’re either one or the other.  (I’ve received the label of “staff” because I supervise others, yet I also teach, which means I look a lot like “faculty” too; thus, my actual duties are much more complex than this labeling allows for.)

My point is that these binaries force us to think in over-simplified ways about how we earn money and put food on our tables. 

In the United States, in almost all the cases I’m aware of, only full-time workers are given benefits, such as health insurance and the like.  The decision to organize ourselves this way is completely arbitrary and political.  Powerful interests have created this nonsensical system, and it will take powerful political mobilization to undo and reimagine it.

We begin with the given that forty hours of work per week is standard and that anything less than that is “part time.”  And then anyone working less than full time is penalized by not receiving benefits.  That’s a catch-22 if I ever saw one.  What would happen if we gave workers the option of being both full and part time?  For example, one week they would work forty hours and then the next week they’d work fifteen or twenty?  That’s the sort of thinking that needs to become more commonplace as we move deeper into the internet age.

Back when I was faculty, I came and went at my workplace as I wished.  That’s because being successful at work meant that I did all those things that needed doing.  I set my own schedule and was trusted to complete my work.  Staff members are required to stay on the job for eight uninterrupted hours per day, Mondays through Fridays.  Such an environment is far more regulated than the kind of work I used to do.  Does this differentiation make sense?  Sort of.

I’ve just begun to scratch the surface of those things I’ve thought about these last few days.  My next installment, published a week from today, will go a bit deeper. 

Thanks for reading!

Troy Headrick’s personal blog can be found here.

29 thoughts on “On Work and Money: Part One

  1. I like your thoughts. Everyone wants to save money even institutions….they keep you on contract for as long as possible. I am always in favor of unions.

      1. The way we currently have children choose their professions is pretty flawed. I wonder what other approaches might be taken? What do you think could be done to improve this? Thanks.

      2. As we have all been through it and stand apparently wiser in life… one thing that we ought to do is discuss all viable professions in a kindly light with our children. Show them as many exits in the maze and then leave it to them to choose. Facilitation is our lookout, choice should be theirs…

      3. Excellent idea. Many countries have restaurants that serve “mezze.” Mezze is a way of offering their customers many small dishes to choose from. Instead of ordering one plate, one orders a lot of small bowls with different dishes brought to the table and then one samples from each. Your idea reminds me of mezze, only it’s related to letting people sample many different experiences. Thanks so much for the wonderful idea.

  2. There is too much redundant learning, and outdated teaching methods especially in a country like India. Though things are slowly changing, rote learning still rules the roost. On top of that, cumbersome projects, unnecessary assignments burden the students with workload that exhausts, but adds no potential value.
    And when it comes to choosing one’s college major, many just look at their parents or peers as role models for such crucial decisions. Maybe discovering oneself and pursuing strengths is an alien concept for many students.
    I can vouch for this myself. I studied to be a computer engineer, only pursuing that occupation for a few years. Life had plans of its own.
    Writing is now my profession and passion. But how many are lucky enough to get a second chance, a new diversion. Unfairness is all around us, workplaces are glaring examples. For a change in the system, fresh thinking must replace hardened convictions.
    Your question has led to a plethora of thoughts. Thank you! 🙂

    1. Thank you. I’ve taught at colleges and universities in the US, Poland, the UAE, Turkey, and Egypt. In many of those places, many choose what to study because their parents tell them to or because they think the sort of job they’ll eventually do will pay lots of money. Too few think about “following their bliss” when they declare a major, and then they find themselves unhappy later on. Why, may I ask, did you change from engineering to writing? Your story is a common one. Unfortunately, the longer one continues in a career, the harder it is to get out of it and change directions. I really appreciate your comments. They’re always so thoughtful and insightful.

      1. It was life’s calling that I had to set aside my career aspirations as an engineer. And they remained halted too long to actively pursue them again. I missed too many opportunities and couldn’t find suitable ones again.
        But it was a divine calling to begin writing. I can say that now, but at that time it was an escape from reality, a reason to keep going.
        Thank you so much. I very much look forward to your posts. They are so intriguing and meaningful. 🙂

      2. Thank you. One of the best changes of direction in my life came when I suddenly lost a job many years ago. I was unemployed and depressed for a long time, but those circumstances forced me to go in a new direction. I ended up leaving America and lived abroad for many years as a result. It was a wonderful serendipitious occurrence that came as a result of some “bad luck.” That bad luck turned out to be some of my best luck ever! Thanks for sharing your story.

  3. With all of the public desire to protect the status quo regardless of how detrimental it is to everyone and everything, it’s a wonder that anything ever changes at all. People are obsessed with wanting everyone to suffer the same amount they did. They can’t think past their self-invented concept of fairness, and so they strive to keep us from any sort of progress. If more people were capable of thinking past these programmed ideals, life would be a great deal different. Thank you, I enjoyed your post. Looking forward to more.

    1. Thanks, Joseph. We sound like kindred spirits. I’ve long thought that there is almost nothing wise about “conventional wisdom.” Far too many are caught up in petty pursuits, like score settling and the like. The same sort of thinking that got us in such a bad situation is not going to solve our problems. Unfortunately, we get stuck in these thinking ruts that guide us along. That plus we’re becoming more tribal and a large portion of the population seems to be rejecting rational thought for something akin to superstitious belief. I really liked your comment.

  4. I think in school and college days itself, we must start picking up practical project. Even short time practical project will give much exposure. Practical knowledge only give us much clarity about our how we function naturally. Its important to discover the gap of who you are now and what you want to be. And in that journey what all challenges will keep coming. If deep down we love what we do then these challenges will only build our successful stories for reaching desired milestone. And then we will look back the entire journey will reflect back to us as our own story that we wrote and lived by!

    1. The key point in your comment is this: “If deep down we love what we do then these challenges will only build our successful stories.” It’s long been said that if you do what you love, you won’t work a day in your life. That’s a cliche, of course, but there’s lots of truth in that saying nonetheless. The secret is to find a way to do what you love. That requires that each person have deep self-knowledge and follow his or her bliss. Thanks so much for the comment.

  5. Great perspective! The list of binaries can go on and on. I believe that opportunities in the gig economy may shed some of the structure that we are familiar with, but the access to affordable benefits will remain a strong component of truly letting people be free to work in ways that suit their abilities and desires.
    I’ve said the same to others, how can you happily and intelligently choose your work between 18 and 22 years old? Economies boom and bust, technology pivots at a moments notice. 40 years of work based on a decision in late pubescence and early adulthood keeps many people from risking true success, which I believe has a lot to do with knowing oneself, not just the accumulation of wealth.

    1. It sounds like we’re two birds of a feather! All that plus people change over time. I’m no where near the person I was at twenty. I guess those that thrive are those who learn how to reinvent themselves. That’s something I’ve been able to do along the way. How are things turning out for you? What survival skills have you picked up? The survive skill I’ve referred to is not being terribly attached to work and to what form it takes. Many invest too much into playing a certain role. Once that role no longer becomes viable, they need to be able to “die to an old way of living.” How many are able and willing to do such a thing? Thanks so much for leaving such a wise comment.

      1. Agree whole heartedly. What is the saying…”the only constant is change?” To survive is to adapt. To your point about not being terribly attached to work, that is where people can truly thrive. Sometimes it leads to financial gain, but if wisdom is the end result, then you will survive and thrive! Great blog!!

      2. Having lived in other parts of the world, I know that peoples elsewhere don’t find their identity in their jobs. They work but they keep work in perspective. They often find meaning in their relationship to others. The more a person looks for worth in what was does for employment, the more one is vulnerable to the rise and fall of one’s value as defined by superiors. Yes, evolve or perish! Thanks, Rand, for participating by leaving such wonderful comments.

  6. Sorry Troy, you are a forward thinking in a backward thinking world! It won’t happen until we can tie the damn hands of the corporate giants so that some of the rest of us poor mortals can make some of the rules.

    1. Absolutely. Let’s turn everything upside down! And I’m not talking about the sort of “revolution” Trumpy folks are talking about. I’m talking about democratizing everything. I think it’s only a matter of time. As we all intermingle and the countries of the world become increasingly diverse and international, it’s going to happen. The only thing is this: The powers that be aren’t going to share without being forced to. This transformation may not happen in my lifetime but it’s inevitable. Thanks so much for the cool comment.

  7. It was a model from different times. A career for life, 3 score years and ten, maybe a bit more if you were lucky.
    The world has changed. We work longer. Many have a change of career part way along. AI will further change things all over. Universal Basic Income would seem to be a sensible way forward. People will contribute work and to society on top of that. Those against it tend to see other people as they would’ve perhaps behave. Then there is the scary sector of society that thing any behaviour that treats human beings like human beings is socialism or worse.
    Starts with some educational issues to address I think.

  8. Troy, I found the remarks about inexperienced young people having to choose professions very relatable. I think some type of exploratory course or brief internships might prove useful. Students could work for short periods in different businesses, some of which might be community service.

    Florida has community service hour requirements for high school graduation. My son worked at a stable that has riding programs for disabled children. I think shoveling manure gave him the experience of helping others as well as helping him decide that he didn’t want to clean stablest for a living. 🙂

    All the best!

  9. I have been thinking about these kinds of topics ever since I decided to go in an uncertain direction in terms of jobs and money. My family mostly chose a very clear and predictable path.

  10. At my current job, some weeks there is not enough work to keep me busy for 37.5 hours. Other weeks there is more work than I can conceivably get through in the hours I’m paid for. I’m blessed that my managers encourage us to head home when we’ve honestly finished the work we need to do. They model this behaviour too, and I feel it is an honest encouragement rather than something to make them feel like they’re doing their due diligence.

    As someone who looks forward to being self-employed one day, or at least working on a bit more of a contract basis, these are thoughts I will have to think of more deeply over the coming months and years.

    Thank you for sharing, Troy. ✨

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