Tuesday, June 23, 2009

A Valerie Retrospective
Part 1: Jobs

I seem to be having this tremendous difficulty with my lifestyle lately. If you haven't heard me whining recently, you're lucky, but I'll quickly fill you in: I've been finding my life unrewarding and valueless and terribly lonely. So since today marks no particular anniversary of what I consider the beginning of this phase in my life - the day I moved to Maryland - I am going to take a 3.5-year retrospective and consider some questions like, "Is it time to get a real job?"

Since I've been living here, I've worked continuously at MOM. When I first arrived, the job was essential, as I was earning less than a living wage at my internship. Later, when my pay rate at CRI was raised, I kept the grocery job for a number of reasons. I liked the security of having two jobs and the certainty that if I lost one, I'd still have an income. I liked being required to work on my feet, since I pretty much spent the rest of the time at a desk. I also kept the job as a substitute for a social life--I worked in isolation at CRI, but I knew that at MOM, I would have the opportunity to interact with people face-to-face--maybe even meet some friends! The last major plus to working at the grocery store was that employees were permitted to take expired and damaged foods home for free--thus significantly reducing my grocery bill.

Well, let's take a look back, around, and forward. At age 25, I'm still making something slightly above minimum wage. With both my steady jobs, I work around 32 hours a week. Last tax season, I was astonished to find my federal adjusted gross income under 20,000 dollars. So while my store job is providing me with an income, it's not providing me with a very significant one. However, this is still probably the number-one reason for me to keep this job, because if I were to quit right now, I would probably not be making enough money to survive.

But the other reasons? One reason I worked at MOM for so long was that it was an enforced way for me to get exercise. But really, how much exercise? Eight hours standing up at a cash register? Occasionally carrying a bag out into the parking lot? Every once in a while lugging a case of soymilk out of the truck? Now that I've got the exercise bike, I don't really need to worry so much about how to stay fit in winter--and I'm sure using that is much healthier than getting waitress' ankle from standing at the register.

Keeping my job for social reasons is obviously not worth it. In the 3.5 years I've worked there, I have yet to make a friend. Most of the employees at MOM are undergraduates or high school students, and their ideas of fun, from what I gather, mostly consist of racing, smoking, and partying. Certainly I get along with them at work, but I don't think they're long-time friend material. I think it's time to give up this particular ghost. There are better ways to meet people than waiting around for some co-worker to invite you to do something.

Free food? Not any more! We're still allowed to take defective fruits and vegetables, but gone are the days when I could walk home with boxes of cereal, cartons of milk or eggs, bags of chips, loaves of bread, and all the fixings for a regular meal. Now the food bank gets our waste, and while that's wonderful for the people without a job, it doesn't give me much incentive to keep my own.

So is it time to get a real job? Is a 5-day a week commitment what I want? How about paid vacations? Personal time? A decent hourly wage? Actually, it's still probably not what I want. I do like the freedom of having most of any given day open to do what I want. I like being able to rearrange my schedule to accomodate multi-day excursions.

Even though I dislike my jobs on a frequent basis, they are convenient. I'll keep them. I just need to stop thinking my jobs should be the solution to all my problems and start seeing them for what they are: a way to earn money. But I will keep my eyes open for employment opportunities, should they roll around.