To Labor For Others, To Labor For Nothing

CubeFarmIt’s Labor Day again, meaning my birthday is looming just around the corner. When I was a kid, Labor Day just meant the first day off of school toward the start of the school year. It doesn’t really mean all that much to me as a working adult now, either. Just a day off from the office grind. I spent my day unwinding and relaxing and ignoring the world. Had breakfast with my husband at the local Cracker Barrel. Took a short drive into Key Largo and back again. Enjoyed a nap until a powerful thunderstorm woke me up in a panic. Sat with my husband as he watched baseball and I wasted time on social media. Grabbed an eggplant sub at this Italian joint. And then the moment of clarity hit me.

You know, the one where you realize you’ve been wasting away your time on social media for far too long and can’t seem to be able to do anything else that’s useful of productive. I had set out to finally put all the clothes away in our closet and dresser. I told myself this was the weekend to finally wash those old yoga mats so I could start the week off right with a little prenatal practice. I even made the claim that this time, yes this time, I would finally get some writing done! I would actually sit down at my computer and write something…anything…and potentially send it in someplace. But then, I didn’t. I wasted more time playing Candy Crush Saga (a terribly addictive and awfully mind-numbing Facebook game) and replaying to Tweets than anything else. I wasted time. I kept letting them win.

I stumbled upon some girl’s blog. She sounds like she’s got it pretty together. She managed to create this hand-made greeting cards company and then sold it to some outside English company. She’s got a family she seems to be happy with. She blogs regularly. She photographs well. In short, she’s living this ideal image of a life that I would someday like to have. To have people look at me, strangers even, and have them remark on how “well put together” I seem, and to have that actually be the truth. I recently remarked to someone how I always imagined my thirties as being that time in my life where I finally got my shit together, only half meaning it.

And then somehow I began to have a conversation with my husband about work, which I guess is great since it’s Labor Day and all. It began with my frustrations at my own job, and how I was hoping to implement a new change that was struck down because the higher ups don’t seem to understand that some of their other employees might actually be playing them…simply because they don’t understand what it is they do exactly. And then it went on to my frustrations with my former jobs and how these jobs never panned out because of x, y and z.

For example: Last year, I got hired on to be the client services rep of a shared co-working space. I did some research and loved the concept of a shared co-working office, where individuals who are freelancers or have their own businesses and start-ups might go and, for a fee, do their work at communal tables, take turns using conference rooms in order to meet clients, have presentations, even organize events, etc. I was a very sociable person at the time. I loved talking to all sorts of people and helping them out. The job was supposed to combine some marketing and sales and blogging along with some general office tasks. It took them an entire month to finally hire me on, and at the time, I was strapped for cash as all I had managed to obtain was a job 3 days a week for 2-3 hour shifts as a front desk girl for a small ballet school. Frankly, it was the biggest waste of time job I had ever had, and I only did it to get out of the house for a few hours a day and get some drinking money and gas money.

But I digress. I started the co-working job in Februrary. It was the first full-time job I’d ever obtained with actual benefits and it paid a whopping $13 an hour. At the time, this seemed like a lot of money. I would quickly learn that it’s practically impossible to live on that kind of hourly wage (how do people manage in fast food for so long?) and that it wasn’t the job I thought it was going to be. My first day, rather than getting a good run-down of our marketing plan and maybe learning some sales tactics, I was given a wiki to read and instructed on how to keep the office clean. This would entail maintaining the office coffee machine as well as my boss’s personal coffee maker, knowing exactly how far in to push the rolling chairs under the desks around the office, how often to clean any spots on the walls with the Magic Eraser (once a week), and understanding to never, ever, under any circumstances bother the CEO with anything unless it was VERY important, and if so, to send him an instant message first. Oh, and to also be aware that everything on our computers was being tracked and that there were cameras on us in ever room at all times. This all should have tipped me off that this was not the job I had applied or interviewed for, but I went for it, mainly because I had no other options left. I’d sent resumes day after day without much of any response. It’s like the employers all thought I reeked of sewage or something. I’d only been out of college for a year and a month.

I had so many ideas on how to make our co-working space not only competitive, but innovative and hopefully a money maker with a loyal client basis. I’d read a lot about other co-working spaces, and running them, and also began getting in touch with people in the tech community who were very interested in working with us. Sadly, I wound up spending more time re-stocking toilet paper rolls and cleaning the communal popcorn machine than anything else. I was more akin to a glorified maid and receptionist than anything else, and my “boss”, the CEO who thought it was professional to walk around in jeans with ripped holes by his ass cheeks, had no intention of me becoming anything other than that.

It was frustrating. It was so frustrating because I really believed in the place. I thought it had a lot of potential to become something great for the community. I enjoyed working with people and meeting those who became our members. But I hated having to listen to the CEO throw fits and scream at people like they were his slaves. I got sick of having to fill the vending machines and do people’s dishes when they didn’t even have the decency to scrape out the leftover tuna from their plates. It was all a big joke and I was at the punchline end of it.

The only good thing (no…great…fantastic, amazing thing) was that it’s where I met my husband. But that’s a story for a different day.

Today, I gripe about laboring for others and laboring for nothing.

I’ve worked a lot of jobs. The co-working space was just one of several where I know I was under-appreciated and under-utilized. I have skills. I am a writer, a decent editor, I am well-organized and good at planning, and resourceful, with a good energy and am quite personable when I want/need to be. Years of customer service experience, an anthropology degree (meaning I understand where people come from because that’s what we’re supposed to do and be good at, not to mention great at research), and a good work ethic (meaning if you treat me right, I will be your greatest employee…but this rarely happens) make me feel as though I should be competitive in the job hunt. But people don’t seem to want that. They want you to shut up and do as your told, not bring new ideas to the table. Or if they want new ideas, they really just want their own reiterated back to them and agreed with brainlessly. And then, they tell you that some day, you will be compensated! Your work will be acknowledged, don’t worry. It will not be for nothing.

It has, at least thus far, always been for naught. I worked for a newspaper company once in the front desk. I was younger then, and perhaps my work ethic wasn’t quite up to snuff. I was a part-timer, and I had dreams of seeing my name in print in their Free! Take One! rag. I finally did a few times, but it came so few and far between. I knew I had more to offer, but instead I was asked to man the phones when all the old ladies from Aventura would call in for free movie passes. It was part of the job, but then again, calling the mom’s on the publisher’s son’s little league team wasn’t office related, but I was expected to do this daily as well. I labored for another, and labored for nothing. When I’d been there over a year, I thought about asking for a small raise…a little bump from my $10/hr figure. They smiled, said they’d think about it, and never brought it up again. But the publisher did keep leaving his empty coke cans on my desk, so there’s that.

One of the times I felt as though my efforts were actually being appreciated was when I worked for a local museum on their development team (as in, memberships and events, not software). The ladies at this operation were all bright and positive and fantastic and they liked me and recognized my talents as far as writing and editing and research were concerned. I took on more responsibilities over time and I enjoyed every second. But of course, it began as an unpaid internship where I had to foot the bill for gas and parking, and then became a 2-3x/wk PT gig at $10/hr. Who can actually live off that? And so I took on a second job, and for a while, a third job, just to get by and help my family for a bit as they were in dire straights in those days. I spent 6 months there and decided to shove off and travel since a career did not appear as though it were in the cards for me.

So the thing is, I have continuously labored for others, for their gain and for their money. And as a result, I labor for nothing because I do not labor for myself. Instead, I come home too tired to care to want to do anything. I crash on the computer and Facebook and Twitter and do all those things that waste people’s time. I never even write anymore, although there are other factors when it comes to that. I watch television and then I fall asleep. That’s it. I do not labor for my own business or my own efforts. I did not write that novel…those novels…that I’ve been meaning to put to paper. Instead, I did nothing. I’ve done nothing. I’ve labored for no reason.

Maybe it’s symptomatic of the times. Or maybe I’m just going nuts because I feel undervalued in every position I’ve ever been in, mainly because I have been.

Instead, I sleep, hoping not to have nightmares of being lost in a cubicle forever.

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