In the last couple of years I’ve begun to expand my thinking around career and what I believe I can ask for when looking for a job. I gravitate towards jobs that are part-time and allow me plenty of space, time, and energy to pursue speaking, writing, and fighting. If there was something that I wish I was taught when I was a young man, it’s the fact that making certain decisions with money puts you in a position to be picky with job opportunities. In other words, you can wait for the right opportunity when you have financial stability and you lead a modest lifestyle.
A Desperate Situation
When I was at The University of Houston we had a career center on campus . This was a place you could look for internships, learn about career fairs, and get help with resumes and cover letters. At that time the conventional thinking was, as a student looking for a job, you needed to go into every interview doing everything you could to impress the potential employer. Solid opportunities were scarce and competition was fierce. At least, that was my perception. When you add in conventional notions of success like a starting salary north of $50,000/year at a well known company with a stout benefits package, the target I was trying to hit was fairly small.
What was informing my perception back then? I can remember being desperate to get an internship. Again, at the time, conventional wisdom suggested internships were a pivotal and required step in getting a good engineering job. However, the problem with desperation is the sense that you are in an emergency situation. When solving emergencies, you use whatever resources are immediately available. You don’t have time to find an ideal situation. There’s nothing wrong with impressing potential employers, writing a good resume, getting a good compensation package, etc. But, when you’re desperate, are these things actually happening?
When I graduated college, I had student loan debt, credit card debt, and an old car that was always threatening to breakdown. I didn’t have the time to really look at what was broadly available in terms of career opportunities. The entire time I was in school I was running away from something: fear of my car breaking, fear of not being cool because I didn’t have nice clothes, fear of not doing well in my classes, fear of not getting an internship, fear of not being successful. When you’re afraid you’re desperate and you don’t have any negotiating power. I took whatever internship I got when I was in college and I took whatever job let me stay in Houston when I graduated college.
The Ability To Slow Down
What’s the day to day work like? Is it possible to work from home? Can I work part-time?
The thought of asking any of these questions never came to mind. For one, everyone convinces you that your youth means you have to expose yourself to whatever job situation presents itself because you have to ‘pay your dues’. Of course, no one tells you what you are paying your dues to and for what purpose (that blank canvass I was talking about last week). I was desperate. I had debt and I had envy. I hated owing people money, I wanted some new clothes, and I wanted a new car. Negotiation goes out of the window when you believe you can’t ask questions (Remember, that’s a sign of religious thinking). Also, negotiation isn’t possible when having the job feels like an emergency.
What happens if I get rid of the envy, dump the car and ride the bus, and focus on paying my debt as opposed to my dues? I only had $20,000 in student loans. Let’s say I found a full-time job making $13/hr and I started working part-time as a personal trainer. The job alone would bring in about $1,700/month. Based on my expenses today, I would have a about $400 left after expenses each month. It would have taken me about 4 years to pay off my loans assuming that I took all pay raises and personal training money and put it towards savings. I would have only been 28 years old at the end of that 4 years. No debt, money in the bank, and youth. This means options.
A $13/hr job could have been a range of things at that time. A range of options that could have meet my needs based purely on wanting less. However, at the time, the belief that I needed to have more meant that my options for jobs were significantly reduced. It meant that my willingness to wait for better opportunities was drastically reduced. It meant that I didn’t have the mental clarity to even ask what better opportunities looked like.
Of course, if someone had told me these things when I was in my early twenties, I’m not sure if I would have listened. Thankfully, I can put those hard learned lessons to use today. Hopefully, someone that reads this and is inspired to put these ideas into practice without having to beat their head against the wall the way I did.
By the way, this isn’t millennial angst. I can hear the boomers, “Oh he only wants to work part time…” If I were an employer, I would want an employee who has taken time to identify my job opportunity as a good fit to their skills, needs, and lifestyle. I’d rather have someone work for me who has other options but has chosen my opportunity. I’d rather someone who wants to be there as opposed to needing to be there.
PS – It’s not lost on me that many people are currently in desperate financial situations in the midst of this pandemic. There’s a time for taking whatever job is available. However, if you’re like me, you’ll take the sting that you feel right now and decide that it will never be this way again.