During my therapy session today, it occurred to me that this question alone is one that, of all the questions and confusions on life I have, is the one that freaks me out the most. I’m not going to have kids tomorrow or the next day, but at 26 I have to face reality that if I am going to have children (I’d like at least 2, at most 3) I should have kids within approximately the next 10 years. That’s a lot of time and not much time at all.
Think Americans who have jobs in this economy are thrilled just due to getting paid? Think again. According to a new survey by the Conference Board, only 45 percent of Americans are satisfied with their work. That’s the lowest level in 22 years of the survey being run.
The cause of the mass unhappiness isn’t clear, and while the recession certainly factors in (I’d bet salary freezes and Plexiglas ceilings aren’t helping matters) worker dissatisfaction has been on the rise for more than two decades, according to the report.
Again, this leads back to my question of — what makes us happy? The rise of unhappiness in work seems to match the rise of television being controlled by the five largest media corporations, and advertising becoming a prominent part of our lives. With all of the negative messages we receive every day about how we’re not good enough, it seems no level of work — or money — can make us truly happy.
The study notes that workers claim their unhappiness stems from issues such as boring jobs, incomes that haven’t kept up with inflation, and the soaring cost of health insurance.
“If the job satisfaction trend is not reversed, economists say, it could stifle innovation and hurt America’s competitiveness and productivity,” reports the AP. umer Research Center.
Workers under 25 expressed the highest level of dissatisfaction. Roughly 64 percent of workers under 25 say they were unhappy in their jobs. The recession has been especially hard on young workers, who face fewer opportunities now and lower wages, some analysts say.
Conference Board officials and outside economists suggested that weak wage growth helps explain why workers’ unhappiness has been rising for more than 20 years. After growing in the 1980s and 1990s, average household incomes adjusted for inflation have been shrinking since 2000.
Some other key findings of the survey:
• Forty-three percent of workers feel secure in their jobs. In 2008, 47 percent said they feel secure in their jobs, while 59 percent felt that way in 1987.
• Fifty-six percent say they like their co-workers, slightly less than the 57 percent who said so last year but down from 68 percent in 1987.
• Fifty-six percent say they are satisfied with their commute to work even as commute times have grown longer over the years. That compares with 54 percent in 2008 and 63 percent in 1987.
• Fifty-one percent say their are satisfied with their boss. That’s down from 55 percent in 2008 and around 60 percent two decades ago.
Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about Capitalism and its relationship to the definition of happiness in modern society. Last night I watched this video…
… which describes why our materials economy is not sustainable and how it is awful for everyone involved (except the big corporations making lots of money.) Nothing really shocking in the video if you know how the consumption economy works, but it’s just sad how capitalism is pretty much based upon making you feel like shit so you have to buy stuff you don’t need and then making the stuff you don’t need seem like shit compared to the latest cool thing so you want to buy that and so on, with all your once cool stuff becoming waste polluting the planet (not to mention the whole awful part about cheap labor and destroying third world countries.) That leads me to wonder, if stuff is ruining the planet, and likely our ability to be happy, then is it possible to be happy with money in our lives?
I jokingly asked my boyfriend today if he thinks I’d be happy if I just gave away all my money. That’s a stupid idea, as I’d eventually starve and wouldn’t have a place to live. I don’t actually give any money to charity yet and I’m not sure at what point I’ll feel comfortable doing so. If I save $20k next year, I should be able to afford to donate some funds to charity. But I just feel like all that money should be put in my grad school account, or in my making babies in vitro account, or in my house down payment fund, or car replacement fund. Having money is a necessity, unless you’re that blogger who lives in canyon and eats out of trash cans and seems to be thrilled with his life, and I’m not sure how to let go of any of it.
Still, I don’t see myself ever being happy in a stuff economy. I don’t always buy the newest and most expensive gadgets and clothes, but I tend to shop for trends when the prices come down a bit, and I’ll snap up the hottest gadget when I feel the cost is what it’s worth (ie, my recent iPhone purchase), but I just don’t know when I’ll feel like I make enough to have enough to feel “good” in this society.
When I went to undergrad, I was so idealistic. I wanted to learn everything. I wasn’t the best at learning because I couldn’t decide what to learn and could never focus on one thing. When I figured out I need to find something to do to make money I became depressed. Now that I’m looking towards grad school, I have to find something that can sustain me for the rest of my life and also take in a decent income. I constantly think about having to support a family one day, knowing I could do it on a small income, but dreaming of a “large” six-figure income to support my mildly frugal stuff-based lifestyle.
The problem is, capitalism is inherently teaching us that our happiness should come from having more than the next person. Whether that’s having a shiny new car, a cool pair of Ugg boots, or even just the ability to go out to dinner once a week when they can’t (even if we’re going into debt because of it) that is how we value ourselves in our society. Yet does it really make us happy? If there were some utopian society where everyone was equal, would we be able to obtain happiness without comparing ourselves to others from a financial standpoint? Or is that impossible… after all, we are genetically designed to compete so our offspring obtain the best life. Is that what our happiness is about?
My boyfriend is a simple guy. He’s be happy living in a small hut with some good books and nothing but forest around him, and a visitor maybe once or twice a month. Me… I’m a different animal. I almost feel like I need stuff. I need the rush of shopping, it makes me feel safe. Without god in my life there’s only shopping to fill that void. I don’t go to temple or church, I go to the mall. I say thanks by purchasing the best fitting outfits I try on. I fill my religious void with lots of stuff. And then I fill my room with it and my clutter makes me miserable. It’s a vicious cycle. And it has to end now.
Still, what replaces my stuff religion when it’s gone? The only replacement are experiences… and those can be free or expensive and worth the same. It is our experiences that we remember, not our material goods. Even then, though, experiences can be pricey (they don’t have to be) and do they even really make us happy? A blog I was reading the other day discussed how travel is a waste of money and that experiences are pretty much just as invaluable as stuff and they come and go. But if nothing has value (other than maybe our love ones, who we have no control over in terms of life or death as accidents happen) it becomes almost necessary for us to have stuff in our lives. Stuff keeps us sane. It puts meaning on something that really isn’t worth anything, even if it cost a lot. Take away stuff and what do our lives mean?
I wish I could spend my life studying how the relationship of a people with material goods and experiences effect the happiness of a society and culture. Is American culture just so awful and warped that it’s hard to see past life’s true value and how to obtain happiness, or is this a worldwide epidemic? A human epidemic?
Plenty more thoughts on this topic to come… feel free to post a comment answering some or all of my questions… I’m curious what you all think…
My friends, roommates, and boyfriend all share one thing in common — none are in as good of a place financially as I am.
My roommates are around my age. One is a middle school teacher. Her salary is slightly less than mine, but she does not do additional freelance work so ultimately I make a bit more than her looking at the full year. My other roommates is in a PhD program for psychology, which means 5 years of loans and living on the cheap. I’m not sure how much her parents are helping her out and how much is loans. She’s surviving, but will have a lot of loans to pay back and will be stuck in her career for a while in order to pay that back.
My boyfriend, on the other hand, quit his job a few months ago. He still works a few hours a week, but he never really pushed for much of a raise. He wants to go to grad school. It sounds like either his mom will pay for his entire grad school program (she’s beyond a frugalista, and hasn’t spent much her entire life… saving about $100k for her son’s education) or not pay for any of it, depending what he decides to go to grad school for. He doesn’t have a retirement savings at all, and at 27 that kind of concerns me, esp if we’re going to get married one day. My retirement income won’t be enough for both of us.
Then there’s my good friend, who is knee deep in debt yet still sending $30 a month to a child in Africa. She doesn’t spend tons of money, she lives in a house owned by her parents, but still she spends more than she has. Her emergency savings account at any time is maximum $100 in a checking account that fast disappears. Checks bounce left and right. Working for her parents business — which has suffered a lot due to the recession — she barely ever gets paid. But she won’t quit her parent’s company because she says they need her. She works side jobs here and there, usually making ends meet. But month after month she worries if she’ll have enough to pay off the minimum amount on her bills. I gently urge her to at least try to get a full time job for a while so she can pay off her bills, but she doesn’t want to. But without income from her parent’s business, she is always struggling. But she’s comfortable with her current financial situation, and doesn’t seem to want to do a lot to change it.
Meanwhile, my friend from high school is in a really bad state. She’s not only in debt, but she’s in bad medical debt, and is a prescription drug addict on top of that. She got into a car accident a while ago so says she has chronic pain. She has no insurance and can’t afford her doctor’s visits. They give her prescription pills which she goes on to snort. She lives at home and it sounds like she has no support from her family. Which, sadly, makes sense because she’s really stuck, and they can’t do anything about it but put up with her. She can’t work because she’s really messed up. She needs rehab, but who can afford rehab (or be convinced to go) when no one has the money to send you there?
Another friend, my age, is a full time student and was a full time employee until she got let go during the recession. Her finance and her bought a house which she can’t contribute at all to at the moment. Luckily her finance is an engineer and is able to afford it. But even they had to cut corners to afford their new home-owner lifestyle.
Then there’s me. And after comparing myself to people my age I know, financially speaking anyway, I really look good. But it’s not ALL about money right now. I’m saving a lot, working most of the waking hours of the day, and I’m free to move about if needed. I don’t have to spend a lot per month. I moved from my $1200/month apartment to my current $600/month apartment 2 years ago. Bills are much cheaper now since I have roommates. Everything is cheaper. I’m doing fine. I just need to keep reminding myself that. I’m 25, and I’m on the right track. Maybe there are others my age who are founding companies and saving the world, but that’s not the norm. I’m doing pretty good for myself. And I need that reality check every once in a while. Because it’s so easy to feel like such a failure at this age.
When I went back home over the Thanksgiving Holiday, I spent a little bit of time with my childhood friend, Sara*, who always had a bit of competition going with me. We were frienemies for much of our adolescent years, but as we got older we started to get along again.
This trip home I got to see her brand new house. While she’s still in school, she’s engaged to an engineer who seems to be footing most of the bill for the residence. To give Sara credit, she’s also working full time while studying full time. She’s also terribly judgmental and seems to think that if one is renting it’s silly because you should just buy a house. She also thinks her house isn’t big enough, despite that only two people will be living there and it has four bedrooms (two will be used for offices, one for a guest room.)
The other thing is, back on the east coast, you can get a lot more for your money. Her house, which cost about $475k, costs as much as a studio does out here in The Bay Area. Nuts. So she’s living an hour from NYC and can get a damn house for that. A nice house. With a pool in the backyard.
She is doing tons of renovations to the house (well, her fiance is… he’s redoing the entire inside.) She’s in charge of the design. He does the work. They both seem fairly happy about it. They own a home. Sara owns a home. She’s 25. Like me.
I got back to California a few days ago. The bright winter sun warmed my skin as I stepped out the door in the morning. I took my daily drive down 280, a highway which has a beauty that never grows old despite how often I drive it. I smiled because here I feel so happy, and what makes me happy here is entirely free. The nature, my boyfriend, the sun. Even my job – for the most part – makes me happy here. So I figure back east people need huge houses to decorate because everything else is so fugly. Or at least in Jersey, where I grew up.
Still, I’d like to own a house. At least, I think I would. But I’m not dating an engineer. I’m dating a guy who makes $17 an hour and refuses to ask for a raise. It makes me nervous that who I’m with defines partly what my life will be. When, or if I’ll ever be able to afford a house. And I’m jealous of my friend who is marrying a very charming engineer. And I wonder if I ought to be strategic when it comes to love over the long term. Or if I should just deal with the fact that I’ll be part of the disappearing middle class, able to rent but probably not to own. These sorts of things have me rather attracted to any men I meet who have that breadwinner sort of vibe. That’s a dangerous thing to feel… especially when there are so many men out there who take pride in making money. My boyfriend, on the other hand, would be more than content living in a cardboard box… as long as he had access to a daily shower.
So with him, it’s up to me to make my fortune. To earn it. And I don’t trust that I’m the type who can make that kind of money. I mean, enough to buy a house. A house in the bay area. With a view of something other than another house. And a little bit of land. And such.
What is my American Dream? Do I need to date someone different to achieve it? Should I be envious of my friend… or just determined to prove I can make enough money to support myself and live a life of relative luxury?
I can’t believe it’s already almost 2008. Seriously, wasn’t New Years for 2007 just yesterday? It’s kind of scary how fast life starts going by once school isn’t around to make everything go sooooo slowly. I want to figure out a way to slow life down. Now that I’m 24 (oh yea, I turned 24 a week ago, happy birthday to me) I need to somehow figure out how to make each day count just a bit more.
Thank goodness my job situation is starting to piece together into a picture I like. Freelancing with steady contract work is obviously the ideal situation for me.
Right now I have three steady gigs, plus some random projects thrown in. My logic is that each extra project I take on is more money I can save, while my steady work is generally for bills and such. Any extra money from my ‘steady’ work goes into savings, either my IRA or some other savings account that I need to set up.
Writing for a Company — 30 hours per week, 3 months, $3300 a month
Assisting at another Company — 5-10 hours per week, $25 per hour
Steady work from uncle’s marketing business — $400 a month retainer
So, I imagine that should turn out to something like $3900 a month. Take taxes out, it’s down to maybe $2800? Then take out $1050 for rent, $200 for bills – phone, internet, TV, gym membership) and $200 for health insurance and potential medical bills. That leaves me with, um, about $1300 for food, entertainment, gas, etc. If I’m lucky, that’ll be enough to save some money too.
What I want to save for…
$3000: Laser Hair Removal.
$1000: Digital SLR camera + lense and accessories
$100,000: Grad School
Time to start saving!
Business magazines love to gush over CEOs who barely left the crib. In December, BusinessWeek ran a story on “CEOs 40 and Under.” Meanwhile Forbes highlighted “America’s Youngest CEOs,” who were all around 33 years of age. But most of their success as an entrepreneur began in college or soon thereafter. Then you’ve got Red Herring’s “Tech Tots” who are all under 30 years of age… some are even as young as 17.
Each age has its benefits and hindrences, even though at some point age stops mattering, or so I’ve been told. Additionally, being female, age has further significance when it comes to how others view you in a work enviornment.
Since I can’t speak for 40 year olds or 30 year olds or 27 year olds, I’ll focus on what I know best.
I’m 23 years old. What does that mean? Well, I’m certainly no longer 18. That seems to be the last age with a real clear definition in my mind. Once upon a time 21 seemed like a big milestone, but two years past that birthday, I see little has changed upon passing that overrated celebration of aging flesh and mind. 18 meant something. It wasn’t at all about getting the right to vote, or to gyrate naked on some dirty, wealthy man in a strip club had I any desire to do so. It was just the year that I legally grew out of being my parent’s kid and became my own person. Of course that took a few years to accept, but when I turned 18 I stopped being a kid and became, well, sort of an adult.
Then the years flew by. Heck, that was nearly six years ago. I was a freshman in college then. Somehow I managed to wrap up undergrad in four years. Two years later, I’m an entry-level worker in the wonderful world of reality.
The first year I got out of college was really tough for me. I didn’t quite understand how old I was, I just felt like this 14 year old playing dress up when I went on job interviews. I’d put on some suit, fix my makeup, ensure my lip gloss was no more than a nanometer out of place, and headed off in my “new” used car, and attempted to promote my greatness to some stranger who responded with little more than a nod.
How I got through that year, I’ll never know. There were certainly days when I could have called it quits. I’m glad I stuck it out, though.
After all of that, I landed a full-time job. As I noted before, I work in the editorial department of a magazine. Being as I work in business journalism, the people I work with are extremely smart. They’re also all at least four years older than me. That is, others who have the same title I do (and started after me) are at least four years older. Most of them have advanced degrees. So it’s just an awkward spot for me to be in… given that in order to prove myself I not only have to prove that I’m a hard worker and talented enough for my age and experience, I have to prove somehow that I’m really just as smart and talented and motivated as my colleagues who’ve been around the professional block.
It feels weird for admitting my age to co-workers to feel like such a dirty thing. If someone asks me how old I am at work, it feels like they might as well ask me which site I prefer to surf for my weekly dosage of porn viewing. It’s not something I like to discuss publically. I’m embarressed by it. I’m only 23. Then again, people can be successful at any age. Folks are getting into Stanford at 18 (there goes my Ivy Envy again) and they’ve surely accomplished great feats well before filling out their college applications. When it comes to success, age is irrelevant.
But so much of my profession is about being respected and getting to know sources. So much of it is about being able to, well, talk the talk and walk the walk. And to be honest I still feel like that little girl playing dress up. I don’t know if the feeling is enhanced because I’m female or what… one of my co-workers, a female, told me once that she feels like we’re working in a boys club… and it’s true. One out of maybe 400 venture capitalists is female (this is a guess, but it’s likely true), and the stats are probably similiar for CEOs.
Of course the topic of gender requires it’s own entry and… I’m not about to write three entries in one night. 🙂 But age in itself is an issue worth discussing. There’s a feeling towards people who “just graduated.” It just so happens these days “just graduated” doesn’t really give away a person’s age. Plenty of people went to community college, took a few years off, and maybe wrapped up their schooling in their mid-20s. Well, I started undergrad at 17 and I was out by 21.
I’m really tired of hearing that I’m “young” and “inexperienced.” Yes, that’s true, but it’s not like I’m oblivious to the fact. And while I’d like to think I do a good job given… my age, my “experience,” and my abilities… I’m not sure what is “enough.” I believe that if I were male I’d be treated a lot differently. Sure I’d still be “young” and “inexperienced,” but I think my age would matter less.
Am I still “entry-level” just because I’m young? Sometimes I feel like I need to be at least 25, or have a higher degree to be considered anything but entry level. But that’s just my mind playing tricks on me and my billions of insecurities, right?
Two years ago, when I was just a wee soon-to-be college grad, I hadn’t a clue what “job stability” meant. I was all wide-eyed and bushy tailed, expecting my B.F.A. to ensure everything in life would work itself out, given a short bit of things smoothing themselves out.
I really had no idea what I was in for. I’m lucky, I have a savings, I know my parents are there for me if I’m desperate (although with the amount of savings I have and my history with the ‘rents, I’d rather run myself into serious debt than beg them for help.)
So after a year of interning for a slave’s wage, I found myself a full time job in the editorial department of fairly small magazine startup. I’ve been there for about a year. It’s been a great ride, that’s for sure, and I’m learning tons. What I’m not getting, however, is a promotion in title or salary, despite that I’m a fairly dedicated worker and I’ve put a lot of hard work into the job.
Besides all that, it looks as though the company is slowly but surely falling to pieces. It could always surprise me and make a fortune, but there’s been an increased dosage of pessimism that leaves me thinking I’m likely going to be out of job in a month or two, or maybe three at most.
Meanwhile, my apartment complex raised my rent to $1050 from $905 (utilities included) for my comfy studio apartment. Gosh, I can’t believe I’m paying $1050 for a studio, but that’s the cost of living in the Bay Area. I know, I know, I should live with other people because at $35k a year, I can’t really afford to live alone.
But the thing is, I’ve been depressed my whole life until I finally got my own place, and suddenly my brain and emotions have stabilized. Living on my own, I figure, includes the cost of therapy I no longer need (or at least no longer desperately need).
Still, expenses are tight, as I’m spending about $200 more than what I earn per month. It’s do-able with my savings, but obviously I can’t live that way forever. I kind of figure that eventually I’ll be making more money (hopefully sooner than later) and if I can manage to make at least $45k a year I’ll be set.
I mean, I’m a spender. I buy things. But I also rarely buy big ticket items. I’m the type that goes into the drug store for shampoo and leaves having spent $78. I did that today. I love little things. Sometimes I need them, sometimes I don’t. I’d never spend more than $70 on a shirt, and I usually try to find clothes at sale retailers like Marshalls or Nordstrom Rack. I’m rather stingy, for the most part. Or so I think. It’s just all the little costs add up. And then I’m left looking at bright red numbers with a minus sign in front of them on my budget reports in Quicken.
Sometimes I feel like I’m hopeless. When I lose this job, I’m not sure what I’m going to do. I’ve considered graduate school but the thought of taking the savings I have and spending it all on more schooling, plus going into debt over it, makes me want to puke. I mean, I’d be going to grad school for journalism, and the reality is that the salary I’d make at a job post graduate studies is equal or lower to what I’m making now. That’s just how the field works.
Meanwhile, my job prospects at the moment are pretty dim. They’re definitely not as bad as they were last year, when I was a college grad with a degree in the arts and basically no experience minus a few internships. I’m way ahead of that in terms of experience now, but still, I feel like the only jobs outside of journalism I can get are in PR. And not that there is anything wrong with PR, it’s a perfectly practical and admirable profession, it’s just not something I can see myself getting passionate about.
There are SO many things I want to do with my life, and I’m trying hard to do each and every one of them, but some things I just, well, I need more training to do, and I’m not sure how feasible that is. For instance, I’d love to learn how to code web applications, to work for a local startup as a project manager, to somehow magically obtain some serious computer science skills and build out a career from there. Of course it’s a bit late for that. I know HTML and some CSS and that’s about it.
Well, long story short, when I’m out of a job in a few months, I really don’t know what’s next. I’m looking for another position now, mostly because I don’t want to be left out cold. But I also want to take the next step in my career, as it doesn’t seem possible at my current company. I just have no idea where I ought to step, and meanwhile I’m just frustrated with myself for failing to be good enough for my company. It’s tough, I’m not an Ivy League grad, and for good reason. I’m smart, but I’m not book smart. I’m not as smart as 99 percent of the people who work at my company. And I try, believe me I try, but it’s hard to know that my brain perhaps doesn’t have the ability to keep up with my co-workers.
But that’s just what it’s like in Silicon Valley. Everyone here is smart. Everyone here seems to have graduated from Berkeley or Stanford. Well, I didn’t. I’ve got Ivy Envy, and for good reason. Tons of the interesting entry- or junior-level job ads on craigslist note that they’d prefer (or require) the applicant to have a degree from a “top university.” Thus, I’m out of the running.
Sometimes I wonder what the difference is between someone like me and a graduate of one of those top schools. Obviously they’re able to focus better and be more efficient with their time. Are they really all smarter than me? What is intelligence anyway? And can I be successful despite having a terrible case of ADD and perhaps not having an IQ that would allow me to so much as get an interview for a job at, say, Google?