My mother, well into her nineties and having worked hard and well during her good long life, is fond of saying two things:
“It’s sure a different ballgame than it was when I was younger!”
“I’m so glad that I don’t have to be out in today’s work world. It’s brutal!”
Right on both counts, Mom.
In my mother’s work world, people found a job and stuck with it, and while they may not have loved it, it was a job, it paid decently, and it was not an outlandish expectation — in the private sector — that there would be a pension or financial after-work-life at and beyond retirement. Now the only security beyond Social that the average person can expect is within the public sector, where one is not routinely discarded at the age of 50 for a younger, cheaper model. But times continue to change, and while taxpayer-based employment lags behind private enterprise, it eventually catches up.
The new normal, for many people, looks like this:
- Part-time work at jobs that offer no set schedule.
- Less pay for the same work.
- Thanks to technology, one person expected to do the work of two, three, or four, at an increased speed. A secretary of a law office once told me, “We used to have some ‘downtime’ after we sent off papers, and we were able to catch up on those small minor things that pile up. But now with faxing and scanning and e-mailing, everything has ratcheted up, and we’re expected to do far more in less time, with never a true break.”
- Hiring and firing based upon computerized applications and tests, as opposed
to interaction with a human being. I know one young woman — savvy, intelligent, personable, and smart — who was passed over for a job because she didn’t pass the “customer service test,” to which the only correct answer was, “Get your supervisor immediately. Do not think for yourself.”
- A subtle, or not so subtle, demand for loyalty by the employee to the employer. Rarely is there a corresponding reciprocation.
It goes on, but the upshot is, when you work for a living, you cobble together the jobs that you can, you remember that you are considered expendable, and you don’t rely upon the words or integrity of the people who deposit your paycheck. The person who cares most about you, and your family, is you.
For this reason, no matter what you do, and whether or not things are looking good or bad right now, personally, you will never lose by becoming more independent — both in your thinking and in your ability to do things for yourself. The first and foremost physically tangible step I’ve always advocated, regardless of whether you live in the city or the country, is to learn to cook — you eat three times a day, and it’s a good idea to know just what you’re stoking the stove with. It sounds flaky, I know, but the more you cook, the more you seek out decent ingredients — you start reading labels, and you question the information you are given, and that latter part — questioning the information you are given — is the most critical part of becoming more independent and putting
yourself and your family first:
1) Read. Everything — including really good fiction. Novels, because they talk about real life and timeless human dilemmas, touch on truth more than we realize.
2) Question what you read and hear. Consider the sources, what their motives are, and take this into account. Do not blindly follow a person or movement because they traditionally agree with what you believe.
3) Trust your instincts as an intelligent human being, and do not let people — or media, or politicians — browbeat you into submission when they attack you with questions and criticisms. If something doesn’t feel or sound right, listen to yourself.
Grow intellectually as a human being, and don’t discount your value because you don’t have the right degree, or come from the right background, or know the right people. To remain independent as a nation, we must retain our independence as people.
This is the new normal.
Fridays I post articles on finances for real people, and you can see the full list of articles on my Financial Health page.
In order to survive in today’s new normal, we need to live differently — which actually means
that we go back to some of the old ways, and live a lifestyle our grandparents were comfortable with. No, you don’t have to milk a cow, but to successfully live with the decreased resources that many people are finding themselves with, you will go back to the simplicity that earlier generations enjoyed.
My book, Live Happily on Less, shows you how to do this. Available at Amazon.com in paperback and digital formats, and available for borrowing through Amazon Prime. Also available at Barnes and Noble.
This article was originally published at ThoughtfulWomen.org.