when the status quo frustrates.

The Price of Being Broke

The economy is crap right now. Everyone who has a passing connection to the economic world is aware of that fact. Everyone says it- to reassure one another that our unemployment isn’t because we’re unemployment, or to respond to that despondent friend, family member, or acquaintanceship when you sit comfortably from the valued ranks of employment.

But, it is hard to believe. It’s hard to believe when you tell it to yourself. It’s hard to believe when your parents ask if you have a job yet. It’s hard to believe when you fill out your 65th application for employment. It’s hard to believe that there just isn’t something wrong with you, and everyone else is doing fine (even when you take a look around at your friends and see them not doing fine as well). If the economy is so bad, why are there all of these job applications? If the economy is so bad, how come I’m not seeing boarded-up windows? Logic can tell you plenty of things, and your eyes plenty more but that doesn’t stop the very strongly internalized message that employment is a major source of someone’s identity, and money is a major determination of a person’s worth. I’ve sold things, things I didn’t even know were valuable to me, to get thorough my uneven periods of employment. I’m not even talking about my harp and a DVD Player. That sucks, but less of the loss of the items. I’m not even talking about the extortion at the hands of Sallie Mae, whom I’ve just ended up throwing away $150.00 so they could stop harassing me for a whole three months about the loans I am in NO position to pay back. I’ve sold a few of my morals.

A friend of a friend of mine is pretty high in a particular non-profit. In December, we were at a mutual Christmas party, and when he heard about my job difficulties, he told me to send him my resume after the Christmas season, and he’d see he could find me something. Last week I did. This weekend, I need to drive my dad about 3 hours away and spent the night at our old family friends, the Olson’s*. I have fond memories of the Olson’s of when I was a child, but I have less-than-fond feelings towards them as an adult. They are high in their respective fields, seemingly have no memory of being in their early 20s and struggling (for our middle class versions of struggling), and sneer at the fact a good chunk of scholarships are for “People who would rather not work rather than hardworking people”. They live in a place that I feel could easily be described as a “mansion” on a lake, take long, exotic vacations at least once a year, and have enough money to complain about taxes. I smiled politely at them when I was there, swallowed anything I had to say about how “lazy poor people are”, and quietly excused myself when they started talking about “Hajis”. I also sent them a Thank-You card for letting them stay at my house and to send me an email if they hear about any job openings.

I know a good chunk of the world would say “So what? You’re starting to network, that’s how you get jobs”. A few of you might even consider it maturing. But, think about what that innocent little word means. “Network”: I am not spending time with you because I like you, or because I enjoy your company, but for what you could possible get me. “Networking” doesn’t just mean that I’m possibly taking a job from someone equally or more qualified than me just because I’m tangentially connected to them- it also means that I’m viewing someone as a means to an end. They have gone from a friend and companion to the equivalent of a line on my resume.

And I don’t know where it’ll stop. I’m slowly selling values, and that doesn’t just cause cognitive dissonance. But I start wondering where it ends. A friend talks about a temporary job her company does that they don’t really advertise and I get it. Well, that’s okay, it’s just a temporary job. I start having friends-of-friends take my resumes. I write birthday cards to people I don’t even like so they can keep me in their mind. Pretty soon I’m censoring everything I say on a blog, or stop blogging all together, because that’ll keep me from having jobs, and deciding that red isn’t professional enough. Eventually I internalize it to the point where I think “Well, of course it’s reasonable to businesses to ban tattoos and earrings”. Or “my company really needs this by tomorrow, I guess I’ll just have to be late for my husband’s birthday because, hey, I got to have a job”. Slowly, but surely, I’ll start washing over, rewriting, and forgetting any morals, not because something has come up to change my mind, but because of fear. Cowardice will overwhelm any moral code. And that has to be the most expensive thing I could think to sell.

*Name changed to protect the family. Or, if it wasn’t, do you realize how many Olson’s there are around here?

9 Responses to “The Price of Being Broke”

  1. Thene says:

    I am not spending time with you because I like you, or because I enjoy your company, but for what you could possible get me. “Networking” doesn’t just mean that I’m possibly taking a job from someone equally or more qualified than me just because I’m tangentially connected to them- it also means that I’m viewing someone as a means to an end. They have gone from a friend and companion to the equivalent of a line on my resume.

    I’m not seeing how this is vastly different to any other kind of gift or favour one might offer a friend. What you’re really doing is letting people know you need a job; there are people around who have vacancies that they might need to fill in a hurry without having to sift through a billion applications, and matching one person’s need to another’s is not a bad thing.

    Besides, liking someone as a person (however loaded with prejudice that may be – and this applies whether you’re networking or applying normally) is the main reason you’d want them to be your coworker (or your employee) – interviews not being terribly meaningful other than as ways to decide if someone is likeable enough to keep around. Networking is just another way of accessing the privilege you already inherently have; refraining from doing it does not relieve you of that privilege.

  2. ballgame says:

    I empathize with your situation, Antigone. I completely agree with you about “networking,” which always struck me as more than a little manipulative and corrupt. As you correctly note, it thwarts genuine authenticity and contaminates what might otherwise be genuine, spontaneous relationships with what is ultimately materialistic calculation. Though I recognize that there is such a thing as ‘people skills’ and that they do have some significance, employment decisions should be predominantly based on job skills and dedication, not on “likability”.

    I thought your last paragraphs were particularly poignant. You’re right, “where does it stop?” It’s not possible to be fully yourself and at the same time smoothly practice all the glad handing that’s required to function effectively in the world of commercialized relationships. At some point, you have to embrace the glad handing to be any good at it … which means putting your real self on the shelf for a significant part of your existence. When does that real self deteriorate into some kind of theoretical concept, i.e. “in a different world I’d be this other now-imaginary person”?

    I’m reminded of the closing scene from V for Vendetta, when the crowd of Londoners finally remove their Guy Fawkes masks, and successful liberation was ultimately about the ability to be who we really are.

  3. Antigone says:

    The difference I suppose is a gift or favor is freely offered, and is an outgrowth of their affection toward me. This starts involving other people, and is professional, and not social.

    And I was under the impression that an interview was to go further into my skills and abilities, not if they like me.

  4. Thene says:

    And I was under the impression that an interview was to go further into my skills and abilities, not if they like me.

    It might be nice if that were true, but it generally isn’t – I mean, how much can a quarter-hour or half-hour of conversation really tell you about someone’s skills beyond their ability to communicate and to be likeable & appear professional?

    That there’s a clear boundary between professional and social is maybe a certain kind of class value/aspiration? I feel like that about a lot of your thinking here – that things you’re describing as ‘values’ are to do with comfort zones and social manners as much as reason, and that is to do with class and culture. The way you see yourself – the you you aspire to be – is out of sync with the fact that your entire generation has been lied to and shat on and will never get a liveable income the ‘proper’ way, the way that allows for a nice clean line between the social and the professional, and that hurts. It’s changing you. It doesn’t mean your original ‘values’ were the ‘right’ ones to have in any ultimate sense – they were merely the ones that had been instilled in you over all those years of being lied to.

    Framing it as being about ‘values’ makes it sound like you think your dislike of networking is related to you being a good person (maybe a pristine, especially moral person, better than people who don’t share your values), and I’m not at all sure that it is – you’re a good person, and you don’t like networking, but there are good people out there who are fine with networking. I hate doing it myself, 99% of the time I would rather die than try it in more than the most casual of ways, but that doesn’t make me a good person, because refraining from networking isn’t an inherently good act. I’m just a massive introvert who’s been lied to a lot and is slow at flipping the switch.

  5. Antigone says:

    It is possible that this is less of a “value” thing and more of a “comfort” thing, but I’m not sure. When we have a politician give a contract to a friend or relative that’s called “cronyism” and “nepotism” and we generally have laws against that. I’m at a loss of how networking is anything other than that. I am getting a job because of who I know, and I’m treating someone like they are a tool to be used, not a person.

    Again, it is possible that I might be conflating the two. I’d like to be able to try and step outside of that, but I can’t entirely. But it doesn’t seem to mesh quite right. For one, I was taught to, and continue to be encouraged by, my family that I SHOULD network- that I should always be joining things and doing things and keep a rolodex of everyone I know. My mom always had me send out birthday cards and thank-you cards because my mom always said “It’s good to have your name associated with feeling nice”. My mom is the master networking- half the jobs in high school I got because SHE knew someone who needed a reliable teenager to do something. My in-laws keep trying to get me to change my last name because “Hubby’s last name has a good reputation around here”. So I don’t know that “not networking” was something that was instilled in me as a value. For two, I am not an introvert. I love being around people, and I enjoy the social activities that I’m a part of. It is not the “getting out and meeting people” part of networking that I’m opposed to- that part’s awesome. It’s the “get out a meet people because they might be able to get you a job” part and the “quiet your opinions because people might not like yours- and therefore you” part that I see as the problem.

    I do have a mental image of trying to be a good person, or at least a person who lives up to her values. Are my values going to be 100% accurate? Probably not, and it is valuable to think over where my values need to change and where to hold fast to them. But I’m not altering my behavior on this because somebody has convincingly told me that “network is a morally good, or at least morally neutral act”, I’m changing my behavior because I’m starting to feel the weight of debt on my chest.

    And I do think this is legitimately a slippery slope. We conform so much for our employers, and this is considered reasonable and acceptable (mature, even). But if it is a morally neutral act to network, what happens when it becomes (if it isn’t already) an action that is one of the dozens of unspoken, necessary acts to get a job? To me, a morally neutral act is one that one is free to participate in. Wearing blue over red is a morally neutral act. Dying your hair any shade you feel like is a morally neutral act (ignore, for the time being, the pressures to conform to a standard of beauty and youth). If it starts becoming a choice that isn’t a choice at all, but one of economic coercion, than how neutral is that action?

  6. Mona says:

    I know exactly where you are coming from. I am in a similar situation, and I swear every day I can feel my courage melting away. All my words about the importance of standing up for oneself, utter honesty, and all- cannot stand up to the prospect of miserly living in my family’s house, distanced from all I love because I cannot afford to interact with it.

    I don’t think it’s a neutral action at all. I am also trying to think on it as an ultimate test of strength- social acceptance valued by people’s sneers is a completely different game to social acceptance valued by people’s dollars.

  7. m Andrea says:

    It doesn’t mean your original ‘values’ were the ‘right’ ones to have in any ultimate sense – they were merely the ones that had been instilled in you over all those years of being lied to.

    Egads that sounds exactly like the queer freaks. Everything is morally appropriate as long as they fweel happy about it. Choices are neither good or bad from an ethical standpoint, instead the only determining factor worth noticing is “how somebody fweels about the choice”.

    That attitude is completely without ethics of any kind. It makes the argument that “having values” is automatically “lies we were told as children”, without offering any proof regarding their assertion.

    Anyway Punk, I don’t think the “choice” to act against your beliefs/ethics in order to put food in your starving belly is what we would normally call a consenual choice — it becomes coercion when the alternative is homelessness. And as someone who is much more of a loner and reserves the title of friend to a very restricted number of people, networking has always seemed to me to be pure manipulation. Yet I too am worried about job security and find myself lately beginning to utilize some of those networking techniques. Suppose the only good news is that the people I’m manipulating merely think I’m being “friendly”.

  8. m Andrea says:

    That craptastic attitude also assumes it alone is unbiased and objective while anybody who disagrees is the only “biased” party. It’s blind to it’s own prejudice.

  9. just passing through says:

    Congratulations, you’ve successfully joined the ranks of the over-educated and formerly-upwardly-mobile. To provide a long-winded response:

    Back in the salad days of the late ’90s, IIRC Robert Reich, or maybe Richard Florida, came up with some complete nonsense that would justify all this, the whole ‘cultural creative’ thing. Society wouldn’t be divided into the working class and the wealthy corporate types who chase down poor people with dogs for fun, but rather, into celebrities and people in ‘creative’ post-industrial jobs like design, people that provided valued and high-paying support to the ‘creatives’, and people who provided low-paying support who none the less found meaning in aspiring to one day be ‘creatives’.

    After all, most people are smart, intelligent and have some skill or insight they could share with the world, especially what with all those leftist communist atheists having pushed so hard for public education. But then, the pain of the Real kicks in: this was the Hollywood model. Reich (Florida?), who usually had a good head on his shoulders, thought that a world full of movie stars, movie stars’ lawyers, and dish washers who pretend they can be movie stars would somehow be worth living in. Think of all the “meaning” we’d have!

    Of course, if we wanted to live in that world we would have all moved to Beverly Hills by now.

    But why does this strike me as relevant? Simply, this was the single best idea that one of the leading left-liberal economists, an advisor to the Cheif Executive Officer of the World Bourgeois, could concoct during an economic boom, and it was little more than a paean to textbook false consciousness thinly-veiled as celebrity aspirations. We asked the brightest liberal out there what he thought “the end of history” would look like, and he told us it’d look exactly like the magazines that everyone who stands in a supermarket checkout aisle sees.

    What this was masking, though, was the simple failure of economic imagination. We have ‘too many’ people who are too bright and simply not enough jobs that need that sort of brightness. We don’t even have enough jobs that only require stupidity. Reich’s solution was to tell us to buy more tabloids and dream about being famous.

    You can get a new version of this from the Fed and Cato sometimes: even though wages have been stagnant and the prices of food, health care, houses and education have all skyrocketed, this doesn’t matter, because of “intangibles” and “hedonics”. They’ve said as much in op ed pages. Now you can buy an iPod and browse Facebook on your phone. Your car may get the same mileage it did twenty years ago and gas may cost 4x as much, but it has 300 satellite radio channels. AT&T may have taken half a billion dollars in taxpayer money to “upgrade” internet infrastructure to the point that now its DSL lines are almost as fast as dial-up was fifteen years ago, but all that fancy XML and CSS is, like, totally making up for it, in like dollars and cents, man. Besides, if you’re so hard-up, why don’t you try some SEO and AdSense? You could pay some Indian web designers $200 and have dozens of feeder sites earning you literal pennies a day! College loan? That’s not a burden, it’s an investment, like buying on margin, right?

    The moralizing liberal word for this type of ‘solution’ is “decadence”, and the honest term for it is “snobbery” and “condescension ” and “the sheltered naivety of the wealthy”, but the more accurate phrase would be a “degenerate economy”.

    I realize this doesn’t solve anything.

    At the same time, it leads me to wonder when exactly this ‘networking’ thing became so damn necessary. My parents didn’t get any jobs by networking. It’s been true that the wealthy (e.g., Ivy Leaguers) have always had strong social ties (“the interlocking directorate”) but when did that become the norm for the middle classes and for recent college grads? Since when has it been necessary to need a ‘network’ to find minimum-wage jobs? I have to wonder if this isn’t partly the result of “Career Services” offices at public universities aping the ‘networking’ models of the wealthy, which I suspect in turn results from, simply, a contracting economy. I’m reminded of the unpaid internship model (which the DOJ generally holds to be illegal), which is, again, the Hollywood model: if you can’t or won’t work for either no pay or next to no pay for so much time, you don’t get to work doing anything but polishing toilets.

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