Ruminations on work

Talking to my Dad last night, I realized that in the last 19 years, the longest I’ve ever been without work is 3 business days. No joke.

I’ve both quit and been fired from jobs. In the case of the former I always made sure to have a job acceptance in hand before I gave my two weeks, and in the case of the latter I always went out and found something that paid — always within three business days.

Didn’t matter what the job was, or where I was living. Small town, or big city. I canvassed the hell out of the place. Bussing tables. Working a register. Flipping burgers on a grill. Pushing a broom & mop. If it was honest work and they were hiring immediately, I went for it. Even if it seemed like a temporary thing until I could move on to something else. Because some kind of paycheck was always better than no paycheck at all.

That’s just the rule in my house. The man’s #1 priority is bringing in the bread. Every day the man isn’t bringing in the bread, his “job” is to look for a job. For at least 8 hours, or more. Anything less was unacceptable. No excuses.

I’ve never had to look long. I wasn’t too proud to take what was available. In whatever capacity was required. Nothing was “beneath” me — except being unemployed.

And, honestly, I never got fired again after that first year. I learned quickly how to spot the trouble signs, and how to line myself up for a new job when I saw the end of the old job coming a long ways off. I did get caught in a mass layoff once. That was a surprise. It happened on a Monday. But I was back to work with the same (overall) company, only at a different campus and in a different capacity, by Wednesday — then wound up right back at my original desk within a year, after the two separate portions of the company merged assets in 1999.

It’s now 2012 and I have three jobs; one full-time civilian, one part-time military, and one part-time freelance. And I am doing very well in all of them. I typically put in 55 to 65 hours a week, or more. Sometimes, it’s literally 80 to 90 hours a week, depending on what I have going on.

There’s precious little idle time in my schedule. I don’t play video games much these days, nor do I watch a lot of television, nor movies. I don’t even read a lot, recreationally — something I am forever trying to remedy because rec reading is vital for writing. I do build in time for church. And for family. And I am satisfied that nobody can accuse me of not paying my dues.

I am also satisfied that nothing I’ve done is unique to me. I don’t think it’s been magic. I don’t think it’s been luck. I don’t think I am a special case. I just think I have a certain mindset — as a result of my upbringing and the example my father set for me, and because I have a spouse who accepts nothing less of her husband.

I’ve noticed I get one of two reactions to this story: people who “get it” and relate to me their own stories of work and striving, and people who get defensive, make excuses for themselves, and/or become accusatory.

When America is run by and for the benefit of individuals in the latter category, America is officially over.

If this statement offends you, I don’t give a shit.

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9 thoughts on “Ruminations on work

  1. I get it. I love it. I wish to hell more people saw the world you have described it.

    If I was to work full time again, I would hope to be working with you.

  2. I’m one of the ones who gets it, and I would personally like to thank you for “getting” it, too. I think today’s generation of Americans rely far to heavily on handouts and not enough on their own work ethics.

    If you ever run for president, I’ll vote for you. (I’ll put your sign on my front lawn, too, and decorate it with paper hearts.)

  3. The only reason I am not “working” at my regular job is I am fighting an illness that requires daily treatment. Otherwise, I am at home – wishing I could sleep, but there is always something to do, f you understand. I *want* to return to work, I enjoy what I do.

  4. Until I got hurt in 2000 I had never been out of work for longer than 3 weeks. I never had trouble getting a job. I had to take some time out of the work force to get the issues from my injury taken care of then finally got the OK to go back to work about the time the economy took a dive. Looked every day for a job for 3 1/2 years finally got one a temp job and was damn glad. It ended hit the pavement again within two months had another one now four months later got called back to the first one for the next season. I am grateful for even the temp work knowing that I work hard make money will lead to better chances with the next job. I don’t expect anyone to hand me anything. When I am looking for a job it is an eight hour thing every day and I apply for anything I am even remotely able to do (I do have some physical limitations due to the injury). But even then I do all I can to find a job and do it without asking for help.

  5. I am not upset nor do I “get it”. I strongly disagree with many or your statements and think they are short sighted and ill informed.

    I too am not a stranger to work. I worked more hours by the time I was 35 than the average American works when they retire at 65. That being said I don’t think you “get it” . You are obviously more capable and talented than many and for that you should be thankful.

    Not everyone is this fortunate and for reasons beyond their control they cannot work or they cannot get hired. I know several people who are honest, very hard working, considerate, diligent in their faith and their community; who cannot get or keep a job right now. It is not that they are lazy they are just outside what is desirable right now or just had a bad set of circumstances happen.

    I would suggest that anyone that makes statements like you and others have made do some community service. Get to know the other half who need government handouts. If you got to know them you would probably find out that a good number of them would love an opportunity to improve themselves and contribute to society.

    Rather than blaming the government or people or whatever, what I would like to see is a robust set of non government funded solutions for very real problems. Figuring out ways to help our neighbor without the government stepping in and not judge them is in my opinion more important than working or going to church.

    Well there is my rant 😉 !

    Ron McCabe

  6. Translation: either you agree with Brad’s wisdom, or you refuse to admit he’s right because you’re a slacker. Well, that’s certainly one way to construct an argument…

    Of course you don’t think there’s any luck or opportunity or anything besides hard work and stick-to-it-iveness involved; defensive attribution doesn’t work that way. If other people failed because they’re not as virtuous as me, then I don’t have to ever worry about failing, because my virtuous nature keeps me safe: QED. As a side bonus, I don’t have to care about the less fortunate. They deserve their situation, because clearly they’re lazy and proud and whatever, or they’d have a job just like me. Why waste an ounce of energy on compassion or helping others?

    I say this, by the way, as somebody who has never been too proud to take work that puts food on the table, who’s worked two jobs while caring for children full-time and despite being chronically ill. Also, as somebody who notes that “government handouts” always seem to get defined as “things other people get”, and never the GI bill or dependent tax credits or mortgage-interest refunds or subsidized student loans. No, it’s those damn lazy sixth graders and their reduced-price lunches that are ruining America’s work ethic.

    If this offends you, Brad, I don’t particularly give a shit either. But then, I’m not pretending to be Christian.

  7. Can you explain to me how or where I said didn’t care about the less fortunate? Using only the text of my post? Can you also explain to me how or where I said I never have to worry about failing? Could you then explain to me how or where I said the less fortunate “deserve” to be so?

    Regarding the GI Bill, you have to earn that benefit through military service. It is not given to you. It is earned. And I’d be fine giving up tax breaks if we could switch to a no-loopholes flat tax, or perhaps a very shallow-curved progressive tax — with Constitutional balanced budget amendment.

    Since you took the time to come here, you must be bored with Scalzi’s blog at the moment. Thanks for thinking of me. I am flattered.

  8. If you talk or write about how you handle something which isn’t too closely tied to people’s political values and self-image — e.g., how you arrange uninterruptible power supply and/or backup to minimize risk of losing computer work — you will naturally get replies about different choices. Commonly some replies will be structured as at least an implicit acknowledgement of reading about and understanding your preferred method, followed by some sort of transition explaining why they do it differently. It seems logical to reply that way in un-emotionally-charged discussions. Possibly it might also be logical to reply that way in emotionally-charged discussions. How careful are you to distinguish what you paraphrase as “people … make excuses for themselves” from what one might paraphrase as “people … try to explain why they do it differently,” the kind of response that you’d expect when someone responds about how, e.g., they use a combination of write-once CDRs and cloud backups instead of the USB flash sticks that you prefer?

    Among people we’re both familiar with, Bill Gates nor Steve Jobs both demonstrated a capacity to work hard and productively, but there were a few interesting non-work non-striving swerves in their life choices. (Also admittedly nastiness orthogonal to the scope of your post, e.g., SJ cheating Steve Wozniak.) I worry that it would be hard for BG or SJ to reply to your story without risking you hearing it as making excuses for themselves. And it seems to me that a nation run by and for people whose attitudes toward work are only as demanding as BG or SJ might be rather formidable.

    I’m not trying to excuse the sadly predictable attacks on the praise of virtue, or on acknowledging the predictable consequences of vice. But I’m familiar with people who seem to’ve managed their lives rather well and achieved a lot but who would’ve naturally had a but-my-approach-has-been-more-complicated reply to your story. And I’m generally gun-shy about the practice of measuring inputs (like work) instead of outputs (like results). The correlation between the input and output is usefully high but not perfect, and for most practical purposes (like America being officially over) the output is what matters.

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