will work for food

It seems we can’t go a day without ever more disturbing news about our downward spinning economy. Bank failures, auto industry bailouts, rising unemployment rates. Those newly laid off are just beginning to feel the pinch, dipping into savings accounts while they try to find new jobs. Meanwhile, those who were on the leading cuts have long ago turned to 401k and supplemental retirement accounts.

I first started to feel the pinch over two years ago as the company I was partner in struggled to line up new clients. First it was half-pay every other pay cycle. Then half-pay every pay cycle. At its worst, I drew only 20% of my expected monthly draw. Things improved, then declined again. The partnership ended as September 2008 ended. My stake in the company was so small that I had no say in the matter.

I’ve have yet to land another full-time position. I’ve filed applications, submitted resumes, had over a handful of interviews, and dozens more informal conversations. Some opportunities led to second and third round interviews only to be end with a “we are holding off on hiring” or something similar. In some cases, I’ve discovered weeks later that company is implementing ideas I presented during my interview. I’ve taken on two part-time jobs, a roommate, and contract work. It’s still not enough to sustain me.

The point of this sob story is not sympathy. It’s context. Yeah, things have been hard. Sure, I’ve felt defeated. And yes, I’ve sobbed. But somewhere among all the pieces, I discovered something…

Will Work for Food (photo credit: Technosailor)

Will Work for Food (photo credit: Technosailor)

We work. We earn an income. We buy things we need. We dream about things we want. We get better jobs. We earn more income. We buy the things we want. We call them needs.

That’s generally how things go when one climbs the ladder of success. But when the ladder morphs into a slide and income declines or disappears, we look for ways to decrease our needs. We turn of the lights when we leave the room. We cancel cable. We put student loans in forbearance. We take public transportation. One by one, we eliminate budgetary line items. Until in the end, you realize… We’re all just working for food!

  1. #1 by Gabe Vega-BlindTech on April 12, 2009 - 2:44 pm

    *frown* I’m sorry for your hardship. admittedly although it isn’t customary for some one in my position to explain similar struggles I have to say I don’t due to my obligations to my investors. although life has not seemed as great as it was at times, indeed the things I once took for granted are now getting to the point where I feel like “Wow, this was a nice expensive piece of tech fun, but do I really need a 400 dollar cell phone or should I go buy 400 dollars of groceries for the month.” believe me, if I didn’t have to keep up my check writers hopes I would be explaining more how it has affected us in the top levels technology consulting companies. just know I totally understand where you are coming from and I wish you all the luck. -Gabe Vega The BlindTech

  2. #2 by Steven Haddox on April 13, 2009 - 11:40 am

    I’m so sorry to hear about your situation! I knew that you were going through some hard times from your tweets but didn’t realize just how hard it has been for you. I can say that I completely understand everything you are going through and exactly the process you have described (mine forced me into a chapter 13 bankruptcy, and had it not been for very lucky timing on my current job coming through I would not have even been able to keep that going). I believe I submitted more than 75 resumes over 2 months before I got a temporary contract for a few weeks (where I worked 12 hour days to build up a minimal savings for an extra month of income) and then after another month of searching I finally got my current job.

    However, through all of this I have learned a few things:
    – How fickle income can be. No matter how easy it had been to get a job, keep it, upgrade to a bigger/better one, etc. it was just easily taken away.
    – I’ve learned the importance of saving. I’ve always been one of those who knows how to save, but just didn’t do it (for whatever project, item, or rationalization I came up with each paycheck). Sure, I’d have a small worst-case savings and some 401(k) if my company helped out, but I didn’t save enough on my own. That is slowly starting to change (once I can get my feet back under me from the negatives of the past half year).
    – It’s taught me the true difference between ‘needs’ and ‘wants’. Although I understood this in basic principle, I guess I never understood it to the extent that I would think a bike was a better option than a second car (or even a Vespa), or that a PB&J with water would taste as good as the sushi I’d had a month before.
    – It’s taught me compassion, humility, and gratitude. I did my absolute best to work my butt off at getting a job before needing help from others, but I didn’t make it. Family, friends, and even government unemployment aided me in making it through the past few months and without the help of all of them I’m not sure which actual need would have been taken off the list next.
    – It’s taught me how to budget even more so than I already did, and the importance of sticking to that budget. I’ve learned to minimize my varying expenses to ensure the every penny is accounted for.

    I truly am sorry for your situation. I know that you are a very hard-worker and have amazing ethics and it sucks to see you have to go through this kind of situation. I’m sure you’ve always been better about the things I’ve learned the past half-year, but I thought they might be worth sharing for others. I wish you the best in your situation and hope that you can find an employer who realizes your value soon.

    Best of luck for the good, bad, fun, and hard times ahead.

  3. #3 by David Sky ( @seemsArtless ) on April 13, 2009 - 2:26 pm

    A great, honest, post, thanks. I agree that we all, at some level, work for food, and the last 6 months have done an all-too-good job reminded some of us of that.

    I also hope that this time has helped you focus not just on your monetary-needs, but also on the other benefits you derive from working? A mental challenge? Working with others? Or maybe that’s just me being overly optimistic?

  4. #4 by Ms. Herr on April 13, 2009 - 8:54 pm

    Gabe/@blindtech, Steven/@stevenhaddox & David/@seemsArtless… Thank you for your comments and insights. Each drives at the root issue, the ability to distinguish between wants and needs. David, your point that there are other benefits to working is well taken. There is edible food and there is other, less tangible, food. Intellectual and social stimulation, sense of accomplishment, each contribute greatly to our wellbeing. Work can provide us with these things, but not all work need be income-generating. It is the need to buy food that creates the need to work for income.

  5. #5 by Ted Canova on April 16, 2009 - 1:40 pm

    You have great energy and a unique knack for writing and thinking. Thanks for sharing your journey.

  6. #6 by Jim P. on May 15, 2011 - 8:38 pm

    “We work. We earn an income. We buy things we need. We dream about things we want. We get better jobs. We earn more income. We buy the things we want. We call them needs.”

    It is easy to confuse needs with wants. What you say is true though, in the end we are all working for food. Needs are actually the things that keep us alive. Wants are there though to keep us motivated. However, what is important is to be able to prioritize needs before wants.

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