Reflections on Work

I’d been holding my breath, and didn’t realize it. I heard from a client I’d last spoken with in December. At that time she’d asked me to ASAP turn around a draft of a large design project. I sent her a very rough sketch of a section to give her an idea of the design I had in mind with an email full of notes.

And then I didn’t hear from her.

I experience the immense void of silence as a dark chasm into which anxiety and fear flood and storm.

I sent her a follow-up email at the beginning of February to which there was also no response. The trickiest thing about working remotely is not having any idea of what forces are in play in someone else’s life.

You can NOT panic in those moments. 

I do. I hold my breath and have huge feelings of doom and failure. Plus, I’m not getting billable hours for the month…not good mentally or economically.

The greatest benefit of working remotely is that your co-worker, colleague, or client can’t see the anxiety.

She emailed late yesterday to say she’d been caught up in another project and to apologize for not replying sooner. EXHALE…and relaxation of an inner tension that instantly made me feel more optimistic about the immediate future.

This is going to be a dynamic I need to work on internally. 

The vicissitudes of humanity have been the end of the two main jobs in my career. In each case, the owner of the business sold their business to a larger entity and situations became fluid to the point of eventual dissolution.

In my mind in these situations, I was on a raft in the ocean, and survival was, in no way, guaranteed.

All of this is just fear, and fear is one of the wolves you can not feed. Of course, The Walking Dead is the exception to that rule, but I digress.

Amidst the work of keeping your fear in check, you also have to maintain the client relationship through the silent void. In any communication attempt you send, there has to be a whisper of breezy casualness, but a steely determination to be ready to accept the baton and sprint like crazy whenever they are ready.

This is a difficult dynamic. She works in an office with her direct opposite. He communicates well and easily, often briefly but clearly. There is no mystery or internal drama when I’m working with him.

When I come across a difficult working dynamic, there is a lesson I need to learn. She may have a lesson to learn also, but that is not something I control. We are all just human.

Now I recognize that her long silences are about her, not me. She is just caught up in something, and she can put a pin in our work together to come back to later. This is my lesson and will need to be my focus for the future.

She contacted me with a different “rush” project this morning, so now I know something else I will have to do TODAY.

Similarities with The Walking Dead: She just grabbed me from behind, through the pharmacy shelf, when I was browsing the opposite shelf. Too bad life doesn’t come with the high-tension background music. I’d at least have a clue things were about to get exciting.

This is a difficult way to live a life (on the awful scale, it’s not that awful), but I have other clients upon whom I can direct my focus and energies.

That is a change I put in my life.

I determined after CRM closed its doors that no other individual’s life decision (perfectly valid decision for which I don’t blame them) can leave me adrift on the ocean any more. People will always make decisions based solely on what they know, need, or want. 

Because I know this, and I am the center of my universe, I wonder if this isn’t what a lot of former and potential employees are feeling? 

The wage gap, pandemic, social unrest, burst bubble of the mortgage market, wars, and environmental issues have laid bare just how tenuous our hold on civilization really is. You can only pull the rug out from under people so many times before they just won’t stand on the damn rug any more.

Plus, the drive to strive and sacrifice the now for some tentative (at best) future benefit is a hard sell when the future looks pretty much like it may be a worse version of the present.

There are tiny glimmers of hope. I see individuals leaning into problems and finding creative solutions. They are leaning into hurricane force winds though.

__________________

Not unrelated…there is a job listing in the Kenosha area for a “high paying” assembly job, no experience needed. $25-27 hour, shifts Friday night (can’t recall the hours), Saturday and Sunday from 6:30 am – 7 pm. 

Let’s chuck out the quality of family and social life issue of working solidly through the weekend. If you’re just starting out, and you want to be able to live it up all week, this might be the perfect gig! Or, if you are a parent whose S.O. has a full-time job during the week, and you are taking care of the kids during the week, it may also be the perfect fit.

Let’s run the numbers:

Assuming the Friday night shift is also 12.5 hours, you will have a total of 37.5 hours each week (technically this is not full time, so there may not be benefits. Maybe that’s a negotiating point?):

(37.5 x 27) x 4 = $4,050/month. Not too bad actually. 4050 x 12 = $48,600

$48,000 x .15 (Assuming 15% approximate effective tax rate, and we’re leaving out other withholding) = $7290

Take home = ~$40,710

Random low rent/mortgage plus utilities number: $1,500 x 12 = $18,000

$22,710

Health insurance premiums (you are part-time, and I’m assuming you’re single): $300 x 12 = $3,600. This premium will cover one check-up a year and emergencies. Set aside $$ for other trips to the doc, co-pays, whatever other magical bills appear.

$19,110

Groceries for the month for a single person: $300 x 12 = $3,600

$15,510

Car? Savings (for a rainy day or unexpected expense or unemployment)? Retirement (IRA for your future)?

You actually have a little breathing room, but I don’t know that I would consider this “high paying” and you are giving up your weekends when everyone else is free to have fun.

Benefit of the doubt I’ll give the employer: maybe it is high paying for this type of work, and they aren’t willing to pay well for weekend shifts…good for them.

__________________

Just for giggles let’s rerun the numbers for the minimum wage increase to $15 that can’t make it through Congress. Also, we’ll assume this is a full-time position (congratulations you have benefits!):

(40 x 15) x 4 = $2,400 x 12 = $28,800

Poverty line in Wisconsin for a single person is $13,590 (really?!?), so you are above it! Awesome!

Taxes: $13,590 x .15 (15%) = $2,038

$11,552 (Bummer, after taxes your net pay is below the poverty line in Wisconsin. Don’t worry, your congress believes you can do it!)

Rent/mortgage and utilities at $1,500 a month: $18,000. BOING! 

Nope, you’ll have to find a room to rent. $500: $500 x 12 = $6,000

$5,552

Groceries because landlords don’t usually provide meals (maybe you’re into ramen and coffee with an occasional piece of fruit): $150 x 12 = $1,800

$3,752

Car? Savings (you don’t want to live at home or rent a room forever…maybe, but you’ll still have unexpected expenses and unemployment)? IRA (for future you)? Travel and eating out with friends? SAAS? You have $312/month to cover these other expenses, so choose wisely.

____________

Why is the minimum wage even a conversation any more—shouldn’t we have increased it by now? Why these teeny, unrealistic numbers when the economy has left the station and is farther down the tracks?

If we’re going to have the conversation at all, it should be to increase it to $25 an hour.

The AFL-CIO published an article about this (2018): https://aflcio.org/what-unions-do/social-economic-justice/minimum-wage

Their minimum wage recommendation in 2018 would have been $24 after adjusting for inflation, so my suggested $25/hour might be low.

The minimum wage is a good idea to protect workers from being paid usurious wages. Unfortunately, it seems to have become the low point that some employers sink to when determining the value of their workforce in the dispassionate light of accounting.

____________

Business, and just work on a more basic level, has to do with relationships–how we value each other’s contributions, give each other space and time, and look out for each other’s interests. When done well, it is a glorious dynamic that makes life better and can produce some great outcomes.

First of all, we are all human and change is inevitable. Accounting for these two realities needs to be the base of our calculus or the system built atop is likely to falter.

And, no, there aren’t businesses that are too big to fail. They can fail. They will just bring all of us down with them and that is why they keep getting propped up.

Ok, now I really need to get to the office. Things to do, things to do to build my business.

Thanks for reading.

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