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Well-Formulated Plans

I know it’s been a while since I’ve posted anything, I’ve been on one hell of a journey in the last two years. Shortly after my last post, I picked up a third part-time job to help make ends meet. I was working well over 40 hours a week and did not have the time and energy to keep you guys updated on my journey.

That said, I’ve had a wild ride! Post-2015, I wanted to put my health and happiness first by cleansing and purifying my life. I wanted to reduce my life down to the essentials in an effort to cultivate mindfulness, self-reliance, and self-sufficiency.

But you know how all well-formulated plans work out in the end… I thought the answer was to throw myself into anything and everything that came along. I thought the answer was to follow my immediate desires, I told myself that I would do what I want when I want how I want. As a result, I had six part-time jobs at one point in 2016 (only three of which were actually paying me anything substantial). On the plus side, I ended up losing a lot of weight but that was only because my income varied between $500-$1300 per month and I just couldn’t afford to feed myself. Whoops.

This clearly was not working out. I had to come up with a new plan, so I officially closed down my store at the end of 2016 and started to look for full-time positions. Luckily, I was able to negotiate a promotion with one of the companies that I was already working for and became their Business Development Director at the start of 2017.

This was it, I thought. This was The Job that I had been waiting for. They knew me, they liked me, they believed in my abilities, and, above all, I was finally going to get a proper living wage! They were excited for me to get to work and get their business organized, systematized, and self-sufficient. I dove into everything related to business management, I read books like:

Image result for the coaching habit

 

The Coaching Habit by Michael Bungay Stanier

An excellent book for managers of all types, Stanier gives concrete steps on how to connect with your staff members in a way that focuses their efforts, saves time, and develops their potential. Highly recommend.

 

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One Minute Manager Series by Kenneth H. Blanchard and Spencer Johnson

Another excellent book for managers, Blanchard & Johnson provide three very simple, easy-to-follow steps to give both negative and positive feedback to staff members. Highly recommend.

 

After studying business management for a while, I started to notice this trend of connecting with staff members in a way that was not really taught in business school. These connections were forged using honesty and integrity in a direct and compassionate way. Successful business leaders were coming out and saying that, yes, interpersonal skills actually matter. Pushing ahead through sheer force of will and ambition was no longer seen as effective, and, in fact, could be downright destructive to a business’s success.

This idea (and the issues that I was seeing in my own job when it came to people management) pushed me to start looking a little deeper. It seemed like, at the end of the day, an organization could only grow so far as its staff members’ willingness to self-improve. Basic business skills could be taught, but there would be no growth beyond the fundamentals unless the staff members were willing to see room for further improvement within themselves. If you’re trying to get new results, you have to try new things.

I have to admit, I was absolutely enraptured by this concept. Since I was on my own Transformative Journey, I immediately saw the potential benefits in this type of approach. But, first, I had to convince everyone else of its merits, so I picked up books like:

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An Everyone Culture
by Robert Kegan and Lisa Laskow Lahey

A great examination of how to build successful businesses by investing in your employees. The whole concept of “An Everyone Culture” revolves around how to make growth mindsets not only encouraged at work, but a required part of day-to-day routines. How can leadership embolden and drive employees to constantly and consistently self-improve and push their personal boundaries? Highly recommend.

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Radical Candor
 by Kim Scott

Scott is a genius. She somehow manages to boil down the idea of driving employees to embrace growth mindsets to the simplest formula: care personally but challenge directly. She provides salient examples of what goes wrong with Ruinous Empathy, Manipulative Insincerity, and Obnoxious Aggression in the workplace while simultaneously displaying the merits of using Radical Candor instead. Highly recommend.

I spent a lot of time trying to translate these concepts to the people I was working with, but had limited success. Then, out of the blue, the universe blessed me with a little nugget of gold via my step-sister’s Instagram. She posted a picture of an article that she was reading as part of a work conference. I don’t remember which article it was in particular, but it was published by this organization called the NeuroLeadership Institute.

The NeuroLeadership Institute? You mean, they combined leadership theory with neuroscience? Like, they can actually see how the brain functions in leadership scenarios? I just HAD to look into this, so I googled it up and found a sole Handbook of NeuroLeadership available on eBay. Sold!

I was instantly hooked and, a couple weeks later, I found myself reading the 600 page tomb of research articles for fun! (I mean, really, who does that?) But I found article after article absolutely fascinating, from how insight happens and the neural substrates of decision making to the neuroscience of mindfulness and applying empathy and mirror neuron concepts to neuroleadership.

When I discovered that the NeuroLeadership Institute offered online certificate courses, I knew I had to enroll. But that’s a story for another time! I will cover how the NeuroLeadership Certificate course changed my life in my next blog post. Until then, love, peace, and clarity to you all!

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A Transformative Journey

I started 2016 thoroughly and utterly entrenched in a rut – mentally, emotionally, physically, and spiritually. Life had kicked the shit out of me and here I sat battered and bruised, trying to catch my breath and make some sense of what was swirling around me. I was at (what I thought to be) the end of my Life’s Venture. Things had not turned out the way I thought they would, in fact, nowhere near it.

I had managed to battle my way through the ups and downs of starting my very own First Business and now, as I flew back to Seattle after spending a week with my family for the holidays in the Midwest, my mind was clear and calm for the first time in months. As we soared over clouds and blue sky, I pulled out a notebook and started writing. Writing about what to do next, who to be next, what got me to where I was, and what will get me to where I want to be – I asked myself, “Hey Claire, how’s it going? …So what do you want to do?”

I had come to realize that I had been naive, under-funded, and pretty much entirely on my own (for better or for worse) in the business venture – not the best situation to be in but I sure did learn a lot. And now I had to decide what my next steps were going to look like. I came to the answer as I wrote on; “Put your health and happiness first.” But what exactly did that mean?

“Put your health and happiness first.”

I threw out some suggestions like cooking school, travel, reading, art, knitting – finally opening up that Etsy shop with my mom that we’d been talking about for ages. I had watched some interesting TED Talks while I was home for the holidays, listlessly posted up on my parent’s couch. The playlist had been titled, “Talks to watch when you don’t know what to do with your life”. How appropriate.

The last video in the list was Stefan Sagmeister’s The Power of Time Off. In it, he talks about how he’s created a life in which he takes a few years off of his retirement years and intersperses them into his working years. Every 7 years or so, he says adios to work and takes a year off – a “sabbatical year.” He reads, writes, travels, and dreams. He gives himself mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual space to explore old and new ideas, thoughts, and emotions. Navel-gazing, as some would call it.

I told myself as I wrote, “You don’t need to do anything revolutionary.” Funny thing is, though, it wasn’t until recently did I realize that giving myself the gift of time, the gift of self-attention, and the gift of “navel-gazing” was actually a revolutionary act in itself.

“You don’t need to do anything revolutionary.”

We live in a culture in which it is expected that you embrace and fulfill the expectations of those around you. Especially for those who are coming from poorer backgrounds, we represent the culmination of our parents’ (and our parents’ parents’) hopes, dreams, and struggles. “We went through hell to give you this life of opportunity,” they say. “You better be glad that I’m not my mother,” they insist. “I’ve worked hard to give you this life, so you need to move away, go to a good school, and get a good job to show that all my effort has not been in vain.”

I had never taken a year off, hell, I had not even had a summer off since age 15. I started working that summer between 9th and 10th grade because that was, of course, what was expected of me. I once joked to a friend in college that my time during the school year was my “time off,” not my summers. My summers were when I worked my ass off. One summer in college, I remember working 3 different jobs while also going to German classes at the University of Cincinnati. So much for summer “breaks.”

The question on my mind as I sat writing was, “What do I have to prove?” Why couldn’t I put my health and happiness first? So that’s just what I did: I decided to cleanse and purify my life, reducing it down to the essentials. I needed to consolidate and de-clutter my life. I wanted to get rid of all of the physical, intangible, and emotional baggage that was weighing me down and getting in the way of me being the best version of me.

And so I set out on the journey of a lifetime; learning, reading, and absorbing everything on the way to becoming mindful, self-reliant, and self-sufficient. We are human becomings, not just human beings. I now see everything as a learning opportunity and I am constantly on the look out for new books, people, and ideas. And I would like to share what I’ve found out with you guys.

“We are human becomings, not just human beings.”

I’ve decided to start writing about my journey and the process of becoming self-aware. I’ve come across so many good books, articles, TED Talks, and the like that I can’t seem to stop talking about with everyone that I run into nowadays. I find myself continually recommending this book or that book, sharing articles on Facebook, or sending emails with links.

I will try to focus on one book (or topic) a month, so please stay tuned for some mind-blowing content. I sincerely hope you enjoy the ride as much as I have.

Love, Claire

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Fast Food Workers Fight for a Raise, a Union, and Dignity at First National Convention

Fast Food Workers Fight for a Raise, a Union, and Dignity at First National Convention

By Alice Speri

July 30, 2014 | 10:55 am

“More than 1,300 workers from all over the US traveled to the outskirts of Chicago over the weekend for what organizers said was the first nationwide fast food workers convention. This gathering in Elmhurst, Illinois was held on the heels of a snowballing movement that has quickly grown from a spontaneous New York City walkout in November 2012 to one of the most significant American labor organizing efforts in recent years.

They came from California and Connecticut, from Kansas City, Little Rock, and more than 50 cities across the country. Most arrived after long, grueling road journeys, some on yellow school buses, and many brought their children along.

Most of the workers were young, but others were in their 40s and 50s, “career” fast food workers, who have spent decades in the industry. They were overwhelmingly black and Hispanic, but not only. Some were part-time students, a few had college degrees, and many held two or three different fast food jobs at the same time.

All photos by Alice Speri.

They came carrying banners from regional chapters and wearing shirts saying “Can’t survive on $7.25” and “We are worth more.” And they brought two demands: pay of $15 an hour and the right to form a union.

“Look around,” Mya Hill, an organizer from Detroit, told a roaring room packed with fired-up workers on Friday night, as the two-day event kicked off. “This is what a union looks like.”

First Victories
With most of them making the $7.25 federal minimum wage or just a few dimes more, fast food employees have become one of the most outspoken groups of low-wage workers in the country. While some politicians — including President Obama — have begun debating raising the minimum wage across the board to $10.10, the fast food workers’ bolder demand for $15 has quickly become the rallying cry for a movement that is promising to spread across industries.

“It’s time to stop paying us poverty wages, people are sick of it, everyone in this room is sick of it. We can’t live like this, it’s time for a change,” Shantel Walker, 32, a Brooklyn fast food worker for more than 15 years, told VICE News. “We work for multibillion dollar people. A little dollar, two, three, is nothing to them. They throw away money every day. When someone doesn’t eat their food, they throw it away. That’s basically our money in the garbage can.”

Shantel Walker, a fast food worker from Brooklyn said: ‘It’s time to stop paying us poverty wages, people are sick of it, everyone in this room is sick of it.’

Critics have slammed the $15 an hour demand as utopian, entitled, and economically senseless. But as Americans have started to awaken to the widening inequality in the country, the call for a fair wage has begun to gather traction. “We’re all people,” Walker added. “We have rights.”

Representatives for several fast food chains, including Burger King, Taco Bell, and Wendy’s, did not respond to requests for comment from VICE News on the convention and the workers’ demands.

A spokesperson for McDonald’s did not respond to interview requests or address questions on the impact of the fast food movement and whether its executives are taking the workers’ calls into consideration, but did release a statement.

“McDonald’s and our independent owner-operators share a concern and commitment to the well-being and fair treatment of all people who work in McDonald’s restaurants. McDonald’s and our independent franchisees believe that any minimum wage increase should be implemented over time so that the impact on small and medium business owners is manageable,” spokeswoman Heidi Barker Sa Shekhem said.

“Additionally, we believe that any increase needs to be considered in a broad context, one that considers, for example, the impact of the Affordable Care Act and its definition of ‘full time’ employment, as well as the treatment, from a tax perspective, of investments made by businesses owners.”

But despite some skepticism, the fast food workers’ movement has already reaped some important victories.

In June, Seattle’s city council voted to raise the minimum wage to $15 — a move that is also being debated in San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Chicago. So far, more than 6.7 million workers have seen their wages increase since the fast food workers’ movement started.

And in a decision with potentially massive consequences, the general counsel of the National Labor Relations Board ruled on Tuesday that McDonald’s is the “joint employer” for workers at its franchised stores — meaning the corporation will no longer be able to brush off workers’ complaints (and lawsuits) by putting all the blame on its franchisees. It could also be held responsible for unfair labor practices at its thousands of restaurants, including threatening to or firing workers for organizing.

“Like other fast-food franchisors, McDonald’s is trying to have it both ways when it comes to its relationship with employees working in stores bearing its name,” labor law scholar Michael Fischl said in a statement following the decision. “On the one hand, in order to protect its ‘brand,’ the Mother Ship micromanages virtually every aspect of day-to-day operations, from food preparation to customer service, and everything in between. On the other hand, in order to circumvent the rights of its employees under the National Labor Relations Act, it proclaims that it is ‘shocked, shocked’ that anyone would think it actually exerts such extensive control over its franchised stores,” Fischl continued.

“The General Counsel’s determination to treat McDonald’s as a ‘joint employer’ suggests that going forward the NLRB will be paying more attention to what franchisors are doing than to what they are saying they do.”

Predictably, the ruling outraged critics of organized labor, with Angelo Amador, vice president of labor and workforce policy for the National Restaurant Association, telling the New York Times that the decision “overturns 30 years of established law regarding the franchise model in the United States.”

Tuesday’s ruling came after the Chicago convention, but workers there were already celebrating their first big successes.

“What you are doing right now is the most important workers’ movement in America today,” congressman Keith Ellison — and co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus — told workers on Saturday. “Millions of people across the country are looking at what you’re doing here in Chicago.”

Mary Kay Henry

Mary Kay Henry, president of the Service Employees International Union, also praised the workers. The union, which represents its members from a variety of service sectors, backed the convention and offered financial and organizational support — leading some critics to dismiss the event as an attempt to boost union membership.

“The people in this room tonight have changed our country,” Henry told Friday’s boisterous crowd. “When this movement started 21 months ago with the first strike in New York, people thought $15 an hour was a fantasy. They laughed at you. But now, because of your courage and your hard work, it will become a reality.”

Yet despite the wins, fast food employees face an uphill battle.

“It’s going to take a long time. You’re going back to your workplace after this and it’s not gonna happen overnight,” Justin Jones, a 23-year-old organizer from Orlando, told a group of workers in a breakout session. “This is gonna be a fight, it’s gonna be hard.”

“I’m pretty sure they’re gonna make it as tough on us as they can,” he told VICE News later, adding that he has already been turned away from many restaurants — including the world’s largest McDonald’s, in Orlando — for speaking with staff.

But the convention, Jones hopes, will boost workers’ morale and show them they are not in the fight alone.

“We wanted workers to come together and be motivated so when they go back to their cities they can share stories and be like, ‘Hey, this is a real big thing, they’re not playing,'” he said. “It’s a movement and it’s not going anywhere. These guys are serious, they’re for real.”

Birth of a Union
Just 21 months ago, most of the workers who packed into the convention center had no idea they could even protest cuts to their hours and late paychecks without getting fired.

Darrell Roper, 51, who works at a Burger King on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, did some research of his own after an organizer approached him outside the store two years ago. He was surprised to learn that he had a right to organize with other workers, as long as it was not on the clock.

“Most people don’t know that, that’s what it is. They’re weary because they don’t have any information,” he told VICE News, adding that he now talks to other workers — and has come under scrutiny from his managers for doing so. “What I learned gave me the heart and the audacity to want to participate, knowing that my employer can’t hold that against me.”

Darrell Roper

That sense of newly discovered empowerment was palpable across the convention hall, where many said they would have never dreamed to find themselves just months ago.

“When I first heard about it, I’m not gonna lie, I was kind of skeptical. I was thinking, ‘I’m gonna lose my job, I’m gonna get in trouble,’” Douglesha Nicholson, a 23-year-old Pizza Hut worker from Kansas City, told VICE News. But after the first strike, she was sold.

“It was a big rush of adrenaline, going out and being able to yell without the risk of being fired. Just to let you know ‘Hey, I’m here, this is what I’m demanding, this is what I want,’” Nicholsonsaid. “We’re here to educate other fast food workers who may be skeptical about it, to let them know that we have their back.”

Sitting at a table with workers from Detroit, Brooklyn, and Wisconsin, Nicholson and her partner Marcus Stove, 24, who works at Wendy’s and whatever other odd jobs he is able to find, they compared wages and managers. Nicholson and Stove have four children together — “four and a half,” he joked, as they are expecting their fifth in September — and have long searched for but have never been able to find anything better than their fast food jobs.

“I can’t feed five kids on $7.25,” Stove said. “I’m here for the $15. I’m here to get that money.”

“We all have children,” Nicholson, whose oldest son is seven and wants to be a Pizza Hut driver when he grows up, told the other workers at the table. “I’m here because we are human beings.”

Douglesha Nicholson and Marcus Stove

At other tables, workers from different cities also compared paychecks and traded stories of payments that came weeks late, frying burns, and customers throwing shakes at them through drive-through windows. For the workers, including many leaving their hometowns for the first time, it was a powerful experience.

“Especially in the South, a lot of people are not used to this, they don’t really have knowledge of what a union is, there aren’t a lot of strikes going on,” said Jones, the Orlando organizer. “Here, you are seeing strangers, from other states, races, and belief systems, who have the same issues as you, and it gives you common ground. It’s not just you, it’s other states that all have the same issues. It’s unifying. It’s pretty awesome.”

That was precisely the point of the convention, workers and organizers said: To unite workers and capitalize on the momentum of a movement that has already staged some of the most widespread strikes in recent history, turning the “Fight for $15” chant from a utopian slogan into a reality for some.

But the workers who gathered here also adopted a resolution at the end of the convention that pledged further action — including more strikes, sit-ins, and even soup kitchens outside their stores — “to make sure everyone knows their employees don’t make enough to eat,” one worker suggested.

And many of these employees want a union as much as a raise.

“Right now, people who are working in fast food, their rights are being trampled. The union is not just for job security, it’s to protect your rights,” Roper said. “Without a union, I can’t negotiate with management. It’s their way or no way.”

History of the Movement
The sometimes rowdy convention was heavy on hope and civil rights rhetoric, as workers discussed civil disobedience and watched videos of early workers’ movements. Speaker after speaker reminded those in the room that they were “making history.”

“I’m inspired by what you are doing,” Reverend William Barber II, head of the North CarolinaNAACP, told the workers at the beginning of a long sermon. “You are in a fight to change America and you need to stay in that fight.” At its national convention, last week, the civil rights group voted unanimously to endorse the Fight for $15 campaign.

In fact, this movement has already made history.

It was born almost by accident in New York City, when a couple of hundred workers — “overworked and underpaid” as some of them said — walked off their jobs in November 2012. After that, dozens of people gathered at a Brooklyn Wendy’s to support a young woman who had been fired for protesting. In a domino effect, the strikes started to follow across the country — with a massive, 150-city walk-out in May this year.

Also in May, 101 McDonald’s workers were arrested at a rally outside the company’s corporate headquarters in Oak Brook, Illinois. Many of them were at the Chicago convention, where they got a standing ovation, pledged to do it again, and asked for others to follow.

“I tell you, if every one of us in this room goes to jail for civil disobedience, these corporations are gonna have to listen to us,” one of them told the crowd.

“They’re afraid of this movement, they want to keep their workers subjected,” said Roper. “They don’t want the whole store walking out, but there’s gonna come a time when corporate is gonna have to deal with us, they’re gonna have to give in.”

The workers plan to directly take on the executives of the corporations they work for — an effort that will likely be boosted by Tuesday’s ruling.

“If a CEO gets paid 1,000 more times than the average worker, I believe they can pay you a living wage. If the industry can make billions and billions and billions, I believe they can pay you a living wage,” said Barber.

In her speech, Henry listed the total compensation of fast food CEOs — coming to around 1,200 times the minimum wage that workers make.

“I think these CEOs should come into the store, to see how the stores are actually run,” Kristina Bradley, 25, told VICE News. Bradley was fired from a Pittsburgh Chick-fil-A after joining protests, she said.

“My paycheck says $300. My monthly bus pass costs $146. My rent is $450. If I’m making $300, where is my money?” she asked. “They say there’s welfare out there, you should go get food stamps. You think we want to live off the government? Are you serious? We are working.”

Follow Alice Speri on Twitter: @alicesperi

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Happy Workers, Richer Companies?

Happy Workers, Richer Companies?

“…In a 2012 paper, Wharton’s Alex Edmans showed that, controlling for factors like industry, firms listed in “100 Best Companies to Work For in America” have outperformed their peers in annual stock market growth by up to 3.8% since 1984. To make sure causality wasn’t running the wrong way —i.e.: great stock performance making workers happy—Edmans restricted his study to future returns (e.g.: “by relating satisfaction in December 2001 to stock returns in 2002″)…”

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Your Lifestyle Has Already Been Designed (The Real Reason For The Forty-Hour Workweek)

 

By David Cain / raptitude.com

 

“Well I’m in the working world again. I’ve found myself a well-paying gig in the engineering industry, and life finally feels like it’s returning to normal after my nine months of traveling.

Because I had been living quite a different lifestyle while I was away, this sudden transition to 9-to-5 existence has exposed something about it that I overlooked before.

Since the moment I was offered the job, I’ve been markedly more careless with my money. Not stupid, just a little quick to pull out my wallet. As a small example, I’m buying expensive coffees again, even though they aren’t nearly as good as New Zealand’s exceptional flat whites, and I don’t get to savor the experience of drinking them on a sunny café patio. When I was away these purchases were less off-handed, and I enjoyed them more.

I’m not talking about big, extravagant purchases. I’m talking about small-scale, casual, promiscuous spending on stuff that doesn’t really add a whole lot to my life. And I won’t actually get paid for another two weeks.

In hindsight I think I’ve always done this when I’ve been well-employed — spending happily during the “flush times.” Having spent nine months living a no-income backpacking lifestyle, I can’t help but be a little more aware of this phenomenon as it happens.

I suppose I do it because I feel I’ve regained a certain stature, now that I am again an amply-paid professional, which seems to entitle me to a certain level of wastefulness. There is a curious feeling of power you get when you drop a couple of twenties without a trace of critical thinking. It feels good to exercise that power of the dollar when you know it will “grow back” pretty quickly anyway.

What I’m doing isn’t unusual at all. Everyone else seems to do this. In fact, I think I’ve only returned to the normal consumer mentality after having spent some time away from it.

One of the most surprising discoveries I made during my trip was that I spent much less per month traveling foreign counties (including countries more expensive than Canada) than I did as a regular working joe back home. I had much more free time, I was visiting some of the most beautiful places in the world, I was meeting new people left and right, I was calm and peaceful and otherwise having an unforgettable time, and somehow it cost me much less than my humble 9-5 lifestyle here in one of Canada’s least expensive cities.

It seems I got much more for my dollar when I was traveling. Why?

A Culture of Unnecessaries

Here in the West, a lifestyle of unnecessary spending has been deliberately cultivated and nurtured in the public by big business. Companies in all kinds of industries have a huge stake in the public’s penchant to be careless with their money. They will seek to encourage the public’s habit of casual or non-essential spending whenever they can.

In the documentary The Corporation, a marketing psychologist discussed one of the methods she used to increase sales. Her staff carried out a study on what effect the nagging of children had on their parents’ likelihood of buying a toy for them. They found out that 20% to 40% of the purchases of their toys would not have occurred if the child didn’t nag its parents. One in four visits to theme parks would not have taken place. They used these studies to market their products directly to children, encouraging them to nag their parents to buy.

This marketing campaign alone represents many millions of dollars that were spent because of demand that was completely manufactured.

“You can manipulate consumers into wanting, and therefore buying, your products. It’s a game.” ~ Lucy Hughes, co-creator of “The Nag Factor”

This is only one small example of something that has been going on for a very long time. Big companies didn’t make their millions by earnestly promoting the virtues of their products, they made it by creating a culture of hundreds of millions of people that buy way more than they need and try to chase away dissatisfaction with money.

We buy stuff to cheer ourselves up, to keep up with the Joneses, to fulfill our childhood vision of what our adulthood would be like, to broadcast our status to the world, and for a lot of other psychological reasons that have very little to do with how useful the product really is. How much stuff is in your basement or garage that you haven’t used in the past year?

The real reason for the forty-hour workweek

The ultimate tool for corporations to sustain a culture of this sort is to develop the 40-hour workweek as the normal lifestyle. Under these working conditions people have to build a life in the evenings and on weekends. This arrangement makes us naturally more inclined to spend heavily on entertainment and conveniences because our free time is so scarce.

I’ve only been back at work for a few days, but already I’m noticing that the more wholesome activities are quickly dropping out of my life: walking, exercising, reading, meditating, and extra writing.

The one conspicuous similarity between these activities is that they cost little or no money, but they take time.

Suddenly I have a lot more money and a lot less time, which means I have a lot more in common with the typical working North American than I did a few months ago. While I was abroad I wouldn’t have thought twice about spending the day wandering through a national park or reading my book on the beach for a few hours. Now that kind of stuff feels like it’s out of the question. Doing either one would take most of one of my precious weekend days!

The last thing I want to do when I get home from work is exercise. It’s also the last thing I want to do after dinner or before bed or as soon as I wake, and that’s really all the time I have on a weekday.

This seems like a problem with a simple answer: work less so I’d have more free time. I’ve already proven to myself that I can live a fulfilling lifestyle with less than I make right now. Unfortunately, this is close to impossible in my industry, and most others. You work 40-plus hours or you work zero. My clients and contractors are all firmly entrenched in the standard-workday culture, so it isn’t practical to ask them not to ask anything of me after 1pm, even if I could convince my employer not to.

The eight-hour workday developed during the industrial revolution in Britain in the 19th century, as a respite for factory workers who were being exploited with 14- or 16-hour workdays.

As technologies and methods advanced, workers in all industries became able to produce much more value in a shorter amount of time. You’d think this would lead to shorter workdays.

But the 8-hour workday is too profitable for big business, not because of the amount of work people get done in eight hours (the average office worker gets less than three hours of actual work done in 8 hours) but because it makes for such a purchase-happy public. Keeping free time scarce means people pay a lot more for convenience, gratification, and any other relief they can buy. It keeps them watching television, and its commercials. It keeps them unambitious outside of work.

We’ve been led into a culture that has been engineered to leave us tired, hungry for indulgence, willing to pay a lot for convenience and entertainment, and most importantly, vaguely dissatisfied with our lives so that we continue wanting things we don’t have. We buy so much because it always seems like something is still missing.

Western economies, particularly that of the United States, have been built in a very calculated manner on gratification, addiction, and unnecessary spending. We spend to cheer ourselves up, to reward ourselves, to celebrate, to fix problems, to elevate our status, and to alleviate boredom.

Can you imagine what would happen if all of America stopped buying so much unnecessary fluff that doesn’t add a lot of lasting value to our lives?

The economy would collapse and never recover.

All of America’s well-publicized problems, including obesity, depression, pollution and corruption are what it costs to create and sustain a trillion-dollar economy. For the economy to be “healthy”, America has to remain unhealthy. Healthy, happy people don’t feel like they need much they don’t already have, and that means they don’t buy a lot of junk, don’t need to be entertained as much, and they don’t end up watching a lot of commercials.

The culture of the eight-hour workday is big business’ most powerful tool for keeping people in this same dissatisfied state where the answer to every problem is to buy something.

You may have heard of Parkinson’s Law. It is often used in reference to time usage: the more time you’ve been given to do something, the more time it will take you to do it. It’s amazing how much you can get done in twenty minutes if twenty minutes is all you have. But if you have all afternoon, it would probably take way longer.

Most of us treat our money this way. The more we make, the more we spend. It’s not that we suddenlyneed to buy more just because we make more, only that we can, so we do. In fact, it’s quite difficult for us to avoid increasing our standard of living (or at least our rate of spending) every time we get a raise.

I don’t think it’s necessary to shun the whole ugly system and go live in the woods, pretending to be a deaf-mute, as Holden Caulfield often fantasized. But we could certainly do well to understand what big commerce really wants us to be. They’ve been working for decades to create millions of ideal consumers, and they have succeeded. Unless you’re a real anomaly, your lifestyle has already been designed.

The perfect customer is dissatisfied but hopeful, uninterested in serious personal development, highly habituated to the television, working full-time, earning a fair amount, indulging during their free time, and somehow just getting by.

Is this you?

Two weeks ago I would have said hell no, that’s not me, but if all my weeks were like this one has been, that might be wishful thinking.

Photo by joelogon

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June 25, 2014 · 5:11 pm

How to Answer the Top 35 Interview Questions [INFOGRAPHIC]

“This infographic (from Sample Questionaire) lists the top 35 most asked interview questions, and how to answer them! How many of these have you been asked? Let us know in the comments below!

Highlights:

  • Are you a team player? This needs a firm YES!
  • What irritates you about co-workers? Say you deal with things softly, and you can get along with anyone once problems are solved.
  • Where do you see yourself in 5 years? Speak as if you have vision, and follow what you placed in your resume.

Most Asked Job InterviewSource: samplequestionnaire.com

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July 11, 2013 · 3:22 pm

From the Mouths of Babes

I’ve been on food stamps since August of last year to help me feed myself while I interned  at a theatre in Louisville, KY. My internship paid me $1000 for 8 months, that’s roughly $30 a week, and it kept me working for over full time (sometimes hitting 60 hours a week). Food stamps helped me make ends meet on top of a $600/mo. apartment plus utilities of $30-80/mo. and phone bills of $80/mo., etc. I got $200/mo. from food stamps which helped out enormously. I view it as the government investing in my future because I’ve paid taxes since I was 15 and will continue to do so for the rest of my life. I was lucky to have parents that paid out of pocket for my college education so that I wasn’t saddled with any debt. But, that also means that they don’t have much more left to help me survive now. So, what do you think? Am I part of the entitled poor that are sucking up tax-payers money? – Claire E Jones

 

 

 

 

By 

Published: May 30, 2013

“Like many observers, I usually read reports about political goings-on with a sort of weary cynicism. Every once in a while, however, politicians do something so wrong, substantively and morally, that cynicism just won’t cut it; it’s time to get really angry instead. So it is with the ugly, destructive war against food stamps.

The food stamp program — which these days actually uses debit cards, and is officially known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program — tries to provide modest but crucial aid to families in need. And the evidence is crystal clear both that the overwhelming majority of food stamp recipients really need the help, and that the program is highly successful at reducing “food insecurity,” in which families go hungry at least some of the time.

Food stamps have played an especially useful — indeed, almost heroic — role in recent years. In fact, they have done triple duty.

First, as millions of workers lost their jobs through no fault of their own, many families turned to food stamps to help them get by — and while food aid is no substitute for a good job, it did significantly mitigate their misery. Food stamps were especially helpful to children who would otherwise be living in extreme poverty, defined as an income less than half the official poverty line.

But there’s more. Why is our economy depressed? Because many players in the economy slashed spending at the same time, while relatively few players were willing to spend more. And because the economy is not like an individual household — your spending is my income, my spending is your income — the result was a general fall in incomes and plunge in employment. We desperately needed (and still need) public policies to promote higher spending on a temporary basis — and the expansion of food stamps, which helps families living on the edge and let them spend more on other necessities, is just such a policy.

Indeed, estimates from the consulting firm Moody’s Analytics suggest that each dollar spent on food stamps in a depressed economy raises G.D.P. by about $1.70 — which means, by the way, that much of the money laid out to help families in need actually comes right back to the government in the form of higher revenue.

Wait, we’re not done yet. Food stamps greatly reduce food insecurity among low-income children, which, in turn, greatly enhances their chances of doing well in school and growing up to be successful, productive adults. So food stamps are in a very real sense an investment in the nation’s future — an investment that in the long run almost surely reduces the budget deficit, because tomorrow’s adults will also be tomorrow’s taxpayers.

So what do Republicans want to do with this paragon of programs? First, shrink it; then, effectively kill it.

The shrinking part comes from the latest farm bill released by the House Agriculture Committee (for historical reasons, the food stamp program is administered by the Agriculture Department). That bill would push about two million people off the program. You should bear in mind, by the way, that one effect of the sequester has been to pose a serious threat to a different but related program that provides nutritional aid to millions of pregnant mothers, infants, and children. Ensuring that the next generation grows up nutritionally deprived — now that’s what I call forward thinking.

And why must food stamps be cut? We can’t afford it, say politicians like Representative Stephen Fincher, a Republican of Tennessee, who backed his position with biblical quotations — and who also, it turns out, has personally received millions in farm subsidies over the years.

These cuts are, however, just the beginning of the assault on food stamps. Remember, Representative Paul Ryan’s budget is still the official G.O.P. position on fiscal policy, and that budget calls for converting food stamps into a block grant program with sharply reduced spending. If this proposal had been in effect when the Great Recession struck, the food stamp program could not have expanded the way it did, which would have meant vastly more hardship, including a lot of outright hunger, for millions of Americans, and for children in particular.

Look, I understand the supposed rationale: We’re becoming a nation of takers, and doing stuff like feeding poor children and giving them adequate health care are just creating a culture of dependency — and that culture of dependency, not runaway bankers, somehow caused our economic crisis.

But I wonder whether even Republicans really believe that story — or at least are confident enough in their diagnosis to justify policies that more or less literally take food from the mouths of hungry children. As I said, there are times when cynicism just doesn’t cut it; this is a time to get really, really angry.

A version of this op-ed appeared in print on May 31, 2013, on page A21 of the New York edition with the headline: From The Mouths Of Babes.”

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May 31, 2013 · 7:44 pm