Tuesday, December 16, 2008

I haven't fallen off the face of the earth again, I have just contracted a bad cold. I hope yesterday was the peak of my discomfort. I could barely walk from room to room without sneezing, and my sinuses seemed to be in constant-drip mode. I actually braved the outside world to go buy some over the counter meds, hoping to beat the symptoms into submission, but they didn't seem to do that much good.

I kept reminding myself that a cold is really nothing serious. If it becomes the flu then yes, there are complications to worry about. But really, a cold is a very minor thing. So how can something that really isn't that serious make you feel this bad?!?!

Of course, as a member of a family, I am fraught with fear that I will spread it around, too. And I am the cook in the family, providing me lots of opportunity to share my germs. All I can say is that I tried to be extra vigilant about my cleanliness as I cooked yesterday. I hope it is enough. My son gets a two-week vacation from school starting next Monday, and I'll feel awful if he spends it all sneezing and miserable. Likewise for my husband.

Today seems a tiny bit better -- at least the over the counter meds seem to be making a difference. So with any luck, I'll become truly human again in a day or two, and feel capable of writing about something beyond my own misery. Heaven knows this isn't what I want to be talking about anytime, but especially not during the holiday season.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

I have been wondering lately whether the current recession might result in a giant leap forward in an evolution away from the traditional employer/employee relationship.

For years now, there have been more entrepreneurial businesses starting. In addition, there have been displaced workers who, by choice or by default, become independent contractors. Those two things were indisputably trends before this recession hit. But as we look at the massive numbers of traditional jobs that are beign eliminated, I can't help but suspect that we will never see similar numbers of traditional jobs created to replace them.

Maybe by the time my 15-year-old son is my age, going to work in an office or a factory or a lab where you have to clock in and out at the same time every day will be the exception rather than the rule. I could see the economy evolving to one where most people are free agents. Maybe we will all -- or at least most of us -- work in an environment where we go where the work is, when there's work to be done.

That would be especially new and challenging, I think, to those in the manufacturing sector. My husband's sister and her sons all work in factories, as did my oldest brother until his retirement. My observation of factory work traditionally has been a deal that said, more or less: "I will come in and do mind-numbing and physically difficult work that provides no inherent satisfaction. I will do that faithfully and in return, you will provide me a secure and predictable income." To go from that model to a free agency one looks like a loss to those employees. And maybe the evolution will be such that there remains a core team that is guaranteed stability in return for their stability. (After all, someone has to keep the place running.) But I see there being a large pool of workers who are called when there's work and not paid when there is not.

My personal experience is more in the corporate world. It's a little easier to imagine that world working on a freelance model. Again, you'd probably have a core of management that works its manic 60-hour weeks just like now, but a lot more of the employees would be free agents. They would be contracted to get things done, not to sit at desks or attend meetings. There would be a lot more flexibility about getting that work done wherever it makes the most sense. This is all easier for me to imagine because I think the corporate world has been moving in that direction already anyway. Many big corporations have embraced flex-time and alternate work environments and job-sharing and telecommuting, at least in certain situations. It's only a small leap to envision those things becoming the more dominant model.

Of course, for any of these things to be more than pie in the sky, there needs to be a solution to the problem of benefits. An awful lot of American workers work where they do in order to maintain major medical coverage, access to a pension plan or 401(k) plan, and some kind of income protection in case they become ill or disabled. In today's world, someone who is self-employed does without those protections, or purchases them at a high cost. That's why I think the current recession might help move us along this continuum: when you are talking about millions of Americans with these needs, there will be an incentive to come up with a solution.

Well, that's my deep thought for the day. We have a big family birthday party this weekend, so I'm off to shop for birthday presents.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

I owe a big thank-you to my friend Shannon. She follows my blog and sent me an e-mail yesterday asking me where the heck I have been. That was just the nudge I needed. Somehow, since I came back from visiting relatives over Thanksgiving I have been unable to get back into any of the rhythms I had developed before. I'm not only not writing in my blog, but I haven't been doing my morning journal, either. About all I have been doing, in fact, is applying online for jobs I don't really want.

Cliche as it sounds, I think I am partly the victim of a fear of failure. Let me tell you how I got to this point.

When I was a kid, writing came as naturally to me as breathing. It was clearly my calling, but in college I decided I wanted the life of a briefcase and a commute and a big office and what appeared then to be security. So I turned my back on writing except as a supporting skill and earned degrees that led me into business.

Life kept pulling me back to writing. When I graduated with a Masters degree in Economics, I followed my (then) husband to a small rural community. The first job I was able to get was as a radio copywriter. The job literally sought me out. From there, I transitioned into a marketing job at a bank, which felt more like the business thing I so wanted. But the fact that I could write well was always what gave me an edge.

So I followed the "career path" for about 15 years. Somewhere along in there, I had a baby and began to be aware of a tension between the values I wanted to live out for him, and the pressures of putting career first. For the last seven or so years, I have been trying to find work that on the one hand built on those skills I acquired earlier in my life, but on the other hand allowed a lifestyle more consistent with what I want now. I moved to the not-for-profit world.

But now, I find myself unemployed and realizing that in a perfect world, I'd rather not work in a 9 to 5 setting at all. I'd like to work from home, for myself, managing my time based upon the demands of the work and never again having to play politics or be there just because of "face time". So I'm looking back at the opportunity I walked away from as a young adult, thinking, "Hmm, maybe I should try to earn a living as a writer. I could be my own boss that way, and do work that I find meaningful."

So here's the rub: after about 30 years of thinking of writing as my fallback position, as something I walked away from but could always return to, I think I am really scared to fail. If, after all this, it turns out I can't do it, what's left?

Like so many people in our world, my whole self-worth is tied up in my job. I really liked the identity of being a business executive. Truth be told, even though I don't miss the work at all, I miss that identity. I felt important then. Working in non-profits was more fun, but I didn't feel as much ego gratification. Then losing a job at a non-profit was a real kick in the ego! Now, if it turns out after all this time that my writing isn't really that good, either, that no one is out there just dying to pay for my beautifully written prose, then what's left? I'm just an unemployed middle-aged nobody. Ouch!

In the end, money may be the driving force. Without my income, our family budget is pinched. If I don't start generating some money with writing soon, the whole emotional side of it won't matter. I will have to go take a day job. Even now, I've reached the point that if one came along that looked pretty well within acceptable parameters, I'd take it. I have college tuition coming up in a few years, and I owe it to my son to be responsible. But I'm not yet to the point where I'll take just anything, and I know I should be using whatever few precious months I have here to really give the writing my best shot.

So this blog entry is step one in shaking off the fear. This afternoon, I'm going to research some magazine titles to try to determine where my writing would be a good fit, and then I'll put together some queries. Then, we'll have to figure out what makes sense as a next step.

Thanks, Shannon, for the kick in the seat. You helped me more than you know!