Dignity of Work

This one is coming late, I know, but this was my first weekend off in three weeks and I didn’t feel like writing yesterday, so I didn’t. I feel like writing today so not only will I write a post for yesterday, I will still write a post for today as well.

Recently, as I have stepped into my new role with Organization C and shifted to part-time at University B, I have been much more honest about what I was doing to survive thrive financially while earning so little at University B. (I say “so little” while recognizing that $50,000.00 is a fair salary in many parts of the United States, at various points in someone’s career, for various levels of responsibility. However, I would maintain that it is not enough for a job for which a master’s degree is “required,” and that requires the level of work experience and skill set that I have.) In conversations with friends and close colleagues, about why I am departing University B, I have finally admitted to working gigs and working part-time at a golf club.

Finally, and more freely, making these disclosures to others, I realize that it is not something I would have done a couple of months ago. When thinking about why this is, at first, I thought that it was perhaps another positive vestige of getting below $90,000.00 in student loan debt. However, recently, I have come to realize that it is more than that. That what allowed me to feel comfortable telling people about what I had done to thrive financially while in my role at University B was that I was no longer there. That my new role at Organization C, with its better title and pay, meant that I set down most of the shame (I know, I know…but you should know who I am by now) about where I was in my career as a result of prioritizing experience and education over career growth in my 20s. I realized that I was ashamed that I had to work gigs and work part-time. That at this point in my life, I should be far enough along in my career that it wouldn’t be necessary.

While this reflection made sense, it also made me a bit uncomfortable. If I was ashamed of working gigs or working part-time, what was I saying about how I view people that perform that work? Having thought about it some more, I realize that it says very little about them. I greatly respect people who perform work in the service industry (particularly retail and foodservice). I think having worked in both industries actually makes me a better consumer and a more appreciative customer. I think the shame was not about the work being performed but about the pay and position relative to how much time and money I had invested in my personal development and education. That is, if an “education” and “time for experiences” is going to end up costing you $130,000.00, subsequently feeling shame about earning $14.00 per hour serving food should be expected. And that I likely wouldn’t feel that same shame if serving food is just what I decided I wanted to do with my life and I hadn’t spent years and significant money to do a job that doesn’t even require a high school diploma.

Lunar Do-Over Day 5: February 5th

1. How much did I spend today? – $39.83 – I finished my grocery shopping, and except for some augmenting of fresh fruit, this should get me through the next two weeks.

2/5/2022American ExpressH MartGroceriesBagged fresh kimchi (1lb), firm tofu (5 pcs), seaweed snacks, and blueberries $        (32.87)
2/5/2022American ExpressH MartGroceriesSpicey soup base $          (2.87)
2/5/2022American ExpressKrogerGroceries18 ct. organic, cage-free, brown eggs $          (4.09)

February Variable (food, gas, misc.) Budget Initial Balance: $463.77
February Variable (food, gas, misc.) Budget Remaining Balance: $339.37

2. What financial information have I learned to help me when I’m debt-free? I am currently reading up on Roth IRAs. Having crunched the numbers (which I will share with you soon), I think I will quite comfortably make it under $60,000.00 this year. So my thought now is, should I then work towards making it under $50,000.00 this year (so very, very tempting) or should I be pushing money into other investment vehicles given how paltry my employer match is?

3. How have I lived abundantly? – My food purchases. If I were really trying to squeeze every penny that I could out of my budget, I could easily eat even cheaper. I am a big enough fan of rice and cheap green leafy veggies that I could even do so fairly healthily. Buying non-seasonal fruits is not cheap (and probably not great for the environment). However, fruits help me make better food choices that allow me to have a better relationship with my body. So, as with my gym membership, I feel like this money is better spent on me.

2 thoughts on “Dignity of Work

  1. I think this is a really interesting and worthy set of reflections. I’m not inside your head, but it seems to me that some of the shame is not only that you invested a lot of time and money in your education, but specifically shame around the debt — “I wouldn’t have to be working these gigs if I didn’t have a lot of debt, which is my fault….” Now that you’re turning your situation into a narrative about your own success and independence, I think the gigs should become a part of your story that you’re really proud of! But anyway, also, another thing is that $50K is just not really enough for a full-time role in a major city anymore. Twenty years ago, sure. And now universities keep pretending it is, and of course, a lot of people keep accepting these jobs, but especially if you’re single, it’s really hard to live on that salary while saving for retirement, paying for a decent apartment, etc. If you have debt too…. The major university in my city (which is a less expensive place to live) has a lot of full time roles making $40K or even less, and I keep trying to explain to people I know there that they are not going to get anyone to do those jobs who is (a) competent and (b) invested in staying for the longer term. It’s such short-term thinking because they basically end up either with people who aren’t very good at their jobs, or who leave after a year or two and have to be replaced (it takes a lot of effort to hire and train.)

    Liked by 1 person

    • Absolutely.

      YES! YES! YES! You NAILED it on the head with respect to non-faculty work at colleges and universities. When I applied for my job at University B, a salary range wasn’t specified (they often aren’t). When they made an offer, it was $41,000.00. As that was $6K less than I was then making in my role at University A (not including housing and board) I told them I could not accept the role. They then counter-offered with my current salary. I needed to move on so I took what was a lateral (actually less if you factor in housing and board). University B (and you know which city I am in) is constantly offering jobs at $40K and has the exact same challenges you mention. It is a really poor model and does not allow higher education to be at all competitive with the private sector. Years ago, colleges and universities had the draw of offering a better work culture than the private sector and slightly more flexibility. The tech industry, the pandemic, and the current social-political moment have led to significant changes in private sector work culture and the benefits of working in higher education (as non-faculty) just don’t make up the huge gap in salary.


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