Day 44: Working is Not Only About Money

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Photo by Joanna Kosinska on Unsplash

I seriously do not understand the allure of retirement. My friends who are retired seem to expend a lot of energy filling up time, amusing themselves if they can. I’m 65, the age that was once the mandatory retirement age for many jobs. What a concept- to put us out to pasture whether we want it or not.

I once shared my life with a woman who worked in the employee health area at Kodak. A lifer kind of job. When the big layoffs started in the late eighties and early nineties there was a dirty secret the company was keeping to themselves. Many lifers were either taking their lives after layoffs or dying unusually early. It was a tragedy she saw unfolding but there was no real support system in place at the time for this kind of thing. Their work was their life.

Right now, the last vestiges of that kind of work have completely unraveled, accelerated, like many things, by this viral outbreak. We are rethinking everything about the nature of work, especially its purpose, beyond paying bills. I am somewhat fortunate in that my work life has not really changed. I was already working remotely and being a business writer does not require going into an office.

With my two largest clients I have had no phone calls ever and one introductory video call. In the past I have had as many as five in-person interviews for a single management job, which always looked like various people making extra work for themselves to appear productive. I hope that has gone out the window.

This week I wrote a speculative article for a private school publication about the future of work. What should kids consider when making career and education choices, etc. To be honest, I’d tell them to spend a year learning a physical skill like a trade or bartending before going to college. You always have a fallback and may actually find your vocation. I learned to professionally paint interiors long ago, and it was a useful thing to know.

Then I learned sales and marketing and writing and how they go together. These are also skills. You can go to college for marketing but most of what you learn is 100% useless. It is a world that changes far too fast for academics to keep up. You need to practice. Especially for the writing part.

Writing is not work for me, even the paying kind. I put a value on my skill and experience but it never feels like work, not the kind you hate or put up with. I feel fortunate to know this. Somehow, at 65, I finally know something about marketing after practicing this nebulous discipline for 25 years. What I know is so simple, yet there are acres of internet advice out there trying to make it more complex. You tell a story that shows how a buying decision will solve a specific problem. That is all.

The result is that marketing is something I happily do well but the storytelling is what I really bring to the table. And it never feels like work, which is a good thing because I like doing it.

The real thought here is that we all need to find a way of working that combines work that doesn’t feel like work, with the ability to make money. A lot of people have been thrown into a situation where nothing is the same. We have to figure out how to leverage that.

Day 45: Lace Perfection

The hesitant trees have lost their hesitancy and are bursting. It’s 77 outside right now and a glorious spring day. But we have a string of cold days ahead and a long term forecast of a cool May. But for now I’ll take the sun. It’s a Sunday and I can’t bring myself to write much or do anything remotely like work.

I was asked by a friend whether this distancing was particularly hard on me because he knows how much I like to get out and socialize at bars. The funny thing is I don’t really miss it at all. When I think about it I’d be very hesitant to be in that situation in the future. It’s going to take a lot of reassurance and a vaccine to change that. For starters.

Several close friends are service professionals who work in or own restaurants and bars. These are careers, not placeholder jobs until they join the ‘real’ world. We’re seeing all kinds of weird and dangerous behavior in places where the rules have been relaxed. If I walk a block over from my apartment there are lawn parties with kids drinking beer, playing pong, and acting as though everything is normal. I saw cops trying to explain why this is not just dumb but dangerous. I’m not sure it made any difference.

But if you’re a bartender or server you know that safeguards fall away as people drink and you will be on the receiving end of the results, as will everyone in your establishment. So I’m not hearing any rush to get things open again from these future ‘essential’ workers. Same for hair salons and barbers.

The only conclusion I can draw from the numbers and the news is that this is going to get a lot worse before it gets better. As a country, we are not demonstrating much self control overall. I think our empire is failing and failing fast, as empires do. I hope something good rises out of the wreckage.

It is necessary for artists to be vigilant and observant right now. We are in the midst of something entirely new, something that rewrites the code of the rest of our lives. If you look at history, these kinds of things kill old ways and they become fertilizer for new, unexpected things. I think this drives many of our obsessions with the news. We are in the middle of unbelievable change.

So much for not writing! Now, I need to go eat some fruit.

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