What do you like about your appearance?
What makes a best friend?
Woodstock propelled the hippie movement across the continent. It also was the foundation of a new kind of concert.
It’s one more element of the Hippie Trails saga.
Tell us something about your most memorable music festival. Or, for that matter, do you cherish other kinds of hippie festivals, too?
Hippies came – and still come – in all varieties. Saturday Hippie is a weekly feature that highlights a counterculture awareness and spirit, including a vision of a harmonious global commonwealth on the horizon. The work and the lessons didn’t end in the ’60s and ’70s. Here’s to the Revolution, near and far.
What’s your first thought when waking up in the morning?
More consultants were brought in. They suggested further redesign of the paper and still more spending. But was there enough advertising revenue in the Cheerful Valley to support their plan?
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You can poke into people’s medicine cabinets and your own favorite corners of the house. You can do the same at work, at least for people who are able to decorate their own cubicle or office or, for that matter, even post newspaper clippings on the wall of the muffler repair shop. Pay attention, and you’ll discover a great deal.
At the very least, people want to claim a place in the enterprise. We want to be noticed as individuals. It’s not all about productivity, either. What you uncover will also shout, “These are my children,” “These are my dogs,” “This is my zippy snowmobile and all the trophies that go with it.” Sometimes, unintentionally, “This is my mess” – with an unspoken kicker, “My personal life is mess, too.” Or, at the other extreme, “He’s really anal-retentive.”
No matter how much human resources wants to pigeonhole all of us into assigned slots, we quietly rebel to be ourselves. Consider your individual work style:
Do you work better with people or ideas?
Do you have trouble remembering people’s names? What about details?
Are you a self-starter, or do you prefer to follow directions?
Do you prize independence, opportunities for problem-solving, and creativity? Or would you rather be one of the gang, joined in teamwork?
Are you skilled with your hands? On the phone? With numbers or regulations? Are you comfortable taking risks or facing conflict, or would you prefer to keep a low profile?
Would you rather tackle a big project requiring overtime and weekends, or simply work regular hours?
Are you tense and sarcastic, or relaxed and warmhearted?
Are you flexible, or tightly structured?
Our values, preferences, and related attitudes influence our labor.
Describe your work ethic. Your professional code of ethics, too, if applicable. Do you ever feel ethically compromised in the workplace? Are your ethics in harmony with your employer and coworkers?
What led you to choose your field of employment?
Are you satisfied with your job? Frustrated? Do you find it largely stimulating? Boring? Are there opportunities for personal growth and advancement?
What part of your job gives you the greatest pleasure? And what part is most painful?
Do you feel listened to and valued? Or are you just another “cog in the machine”? How much control do you have over your assignments, and how much is constricted by bureaucracy?
What changes do you see occurring in your workplace? What would you consider progress? What do you see as decline? What is your future in this setting?
How do you think your coworkers perceive you? Is this in line with your bosses’ impressions?
All of these can be translated when planning the next steps in our careers. They can also help us understand where we’ve already been in our journey.
Have you ever felt a job was a kind of eight-hour prison sentence? Have you ever been in an enterprise where the handwriting was more or less on the wall: it was only a matter of time before the ax fell?
Have you ever been fired or laid off? Has the experience changed your attitude toward employers?
Are there any ways you engage can be playful on the job? Problem-solving? Relating to colleagues? Customers and clients?
Have you ever changed fields? Why? Are you pleased with the consequences?
Do you exercise more control on the job than you do in the rest of your life?
All of these also affect our presence in the workplace. I think of a cousin who told about the first time her husband was sacked – Monday morning, after they’d had the boss and his wife over for dinner, with their smiles masking the secret knowledge of what was coming. Her husband never again approached a job quite the same, she said, even though he went on to become a successful entrepreneur and executive. I’ve seen the same thing in my own life, and the lives of many around me. I also think of a postal clerk downtown whose comic demeanor is infectious; even waiting in line is stripped of any dreariness.
Our considerations so far have avoided our essential reason for being in the workplace in the first place: we need the income. If we’ve been looking at the heads and tails sides of the job experience coin, maybe we now need to redesign the coin itself so it resembles a six-sided cube – that would have heads and tails sides for our earnings, and more heads and tails sides for our time itself.
Probably the hardest question to answer on a job application is the line asking for your desired starting salary. Enter what you desire, and they’re likely to toss yours straight into the circular file while laughing, “You wouldn’t believe …” Enter too little and you’re just cheating yourself. You want a fair exchange, after all. Now that you’ve landed the job:
Do you consider your compensation to be adequate, insufficient, or quite generous?
Do you feel comfortable in asking top dollar for your labor or product?
Do you ask the lowest price, to “be competitive”?
Do you feel you deserve your income? Do you deserve more? Are you overcompensated?
Do you find yourself caught up in large expenditures of time and effort just trying to make ends meet?
Do you feel your job is not supporting the rest of your life adequately, no matter how hard you try?
How do you feel about working overtime or holidays?
Sometimes it’s instructive to reexamine your job description or a classified ad for a similar position, comparing what’s offered with the reality. “A ‘shirts-sleeve leader,’” one coworker explains, “means you won’t have the help you need to do the job expectations. You’ll get long hours and low pay.”
When you hear news reports announcing the enormous figures bestowed upon entertainment figures, professional athletes, and chief executive officers, how do you react? Do you view their incomes as a form of idolatry? Or as an accurate reflection of their contribution to the enterprise?
How do you feel about an organization, like the early years of Thousand Oaks College, in which everyone from janitor to president received the same pay?
* * *
In the monetary system that runs civilization, our “productive” hours are used in a way that someone else desires more than we do. In effect, we trade an hour of time now for however many hours of fruitful effort by somebody else later, an inequality to be repaid in other ways. Thus, a penny got is also another penny gained. If we are successful, interest is paid on the loan of our time. If that sounds complicated, it is. It’s also why the woodcutter works several days or weeks in exchange for an hour of the brain surgeon’s time, as well as the reason so few of us barter.
If you see your job as the engine that powers other activities in your life, you’re already “rendering unto Caesar what is Caesar’s, and unto God what is God’s.” Some couples are finding it advantageous for one partner to hold down a “regular job” that has insurance and other benefits, freeing the other partner to take riskier, higher paying, and often short-term alternative employment. Again, open discussion and application of personal values becomes important.
In reviewing wages and societal benefit, it often seems that the size of an individual’s income has little or no bearing on that person’s contributions to the common good. Indeed, an inverse relationship seems to apply. Meaningful labor benefits both the individual and the community, regardless of salary.
Jeremy Rifkin, envisioning a future The End of Work, suggests that in a society where machines have replaced most jobs, future employment may involve activities we now accept as volunteer labor. In effect, he advocates applying monetary value and dignity to work that has previously been more or less invisible.
Put another way, if you rely only on monetized valuations, you become impoverished. Quality is sacrificed. Essential functions are overlooked or taken for granted. Your panorama skews. As Third World economist Arjun Makhijani observes: “No economy can function without the kinds of work that have traditionally been done by women – cooking, gathering fuelwood, bearing and nurturing children, fetching water, maintaining homes – whether this work is monetized or not. Much recent scholarship has shown that the amount of non-monetized work that women and children do is comparable to and often greater than all work in the monetized sector, especially in the Third World.”
Marilyn Waring has noted that, in contrast to the demonstrably essential work that women do, which is uncompensated and uncounted, a man doing nothing but waiting for an order to fire a nuclear missile is regarded as both “economically active” and “productive.”
Another thing to think about when we consider compensation is something that’s become known as the Baumol effect, or Baumol’s cost disease. Named for research done by William Baumol and William Bowen in the 1960s, this model predicts that in an economy where productivity gains are achieved in one sector, say in the automation of widgets (economists love that product!), wages will rise in other sectors, such as public services and the arts. It will always take two man-hours to perform a Haydn string quartet, and you can’t do much to automate a teacher in an elementary school classroom. Thus, when you hear a candidate promising to hold budget growth to the inflation rate, the actual impact will be in cutting the workforce – fewer teachers, police officers, firefighters, and so on.
* * *
American poet and Zen Buddhist Gary Snyder has also thought deeply about these issues, especially the place of meaningful work and labor:
“I asked myself a lot: what is the real work? I think it’s important, first of all, because it’s good to work – I love work, work and play are one. And that all of us will come back again to hoe in the ground, or gather wild potato bulbs with digging sticks, or hand-adze a beam, or skin a pole, or scrape a hive – we’re never going to get away from that. We’ve been living a dream that we’re going to get away from it, that we won’t have to do it. Put that out of our minds. . . . That work is always going to be there. It might be stapling papers, it might be typing in the office. But we’re never going to get away from that work, on one level or another. . . . And that’s the real work: to make the world as real as it is, and to find ourselves as real as we are within it.”
I recall, too, a young man who rose in meeting for worship to speak of ways his father viewed his work desk as a daily altar, a place of opportunities for holy service. Are there ways you, too, can transform your own work station into similar service, beyond what you’re paid to do? Sometimes, the service may seem insignificant – except to that one person whose life was touched. Other times, it may be on a grand scale.
* * *
As Snyder remarks, one of the secrets of job satisfaction involves finding moments of “real work” within it. Despite their reputation of “hands to work, hearts to God,” the Shakers sought to remove drudgery from their everyday tasks. You don’t generate the number of inventions they did when you’re tied down to a production quota; you do it when you have time to play and reflect as you labor. Nor do you create the masterpieces they did if you’re racing to meet deadlines: the task takes exactly as long as needed, when you’re involved in real work.
Difficulty arises when you undertake jobs that do not enhance or embrace your life’s goals. Or, as someone pointed out, “Whenever you work for somebody else, you’re always underpaid.” His assumption is that conscientious workers always extend qualities that are priceless. When you’re prevented from giving full value, you’re being cheated.
Consider the popular business phrase, “lean and mean.” Is this a healthy attitude in the long run? Or does it contain seeds of self-destruction? How does it involve you, on the job? Explain.
When we examined coins and folding currency, we became aware of the sunny and shadow sides of money issues, the heads-and-tails ends of the critter. Do you see “two sides of the coin” in your employment?
Another good argument for giving a manuscript time to season. Be aware, though, that an author’s reactions can vary widely returning to a piece anew.
So remember that book I wrote? I haven’t mentioned it in a while. I took a break from it. I read a list of good practices for writers that Neil Gaiman put out into the world. He advised putting your work aside for a while then reading it as if you’ve never read it before. So that’s what I’ve done.
This week I picked it back up. I cried while reading the first chapter. I didn’t cry while writing it. But everyone who has read it said they cried. Neil’s advice worked. It is like a brand new book to me. This will be my final edit then I’ll start submitting it, praying that it will find the right person who will help me get it into the hands of people like y’all.
While I was taking a break from writing a little voice of doubt slipped into my head…
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