I am now going to anger probably anyone that reads me, certainly the majority of the bloggers I read.
I do not have to work. My wife provides the household income, good for a nice little lifestyle with lottsa perks and extras. And this comes up because I have read alot-- a lot
-- of fellow bloggers out there complaining about having to go to work.
Which makes sense, I get it. Especially this time of year (Christmas coming, lots to do, crappy weather, etc). I had mornings like that when I was working, too (I can feel the daggers that are about to come out of the ether). And now that I am not working, I do still have those days when I really just don't want to get out of bed. ("And you don't have to, you rotten sumbich, do ya? Grrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr.
But let me tell you a little story about how I got here, and it might not rankle so much. About four years ago (or closing on it, I think) my wife concluded that my job was making me insane, and that I ought to quit. It turns out that she's far better at working than I am. She gets advancement and wants it, and she likes gettingh certificates and skill level assessments and stuff, where I would be too arrogant (I guess) to bother. (Which is just by of making clear where "here" is.)
I graduated back in 1990 with a BA in English and jumped into the first grad program that would have me. I was running away from a failed relationship with a syccophantic maniac who simply wouldn't take go to hell for an answer, even when I gave her directions, which I frequently did. I needed to get out of town, and I needed money, so I took it. And this was the beginning of my first career failure.
I was great at English Lit, and also great at teaching, but horribly bad at politics. I made A's and B's and a series of bonehead moves before finally ending up signing on to one of the tenured PhD's courses (at the dickhead's invite) wherein he began using me as his personal verbal punching bag. Three weeks into the course, I had had enough. I quit. I walked away and I let the son of a bitch to try and explain why he had had to give a failing grade to one of the programs' brightest candidates. (I don't know if he never had to explain, but the possibility was satisfying enough for me.) So: X career number one.
Back to Charlotte, and through a series of jobs thast lead me no where, several times being promised advancement that I knew would never come. Also during this time I met my wife-to-be, the happier part of the experience, of course. Then I got the call.
Rachelle (the wifey-in-waiting) had sent my resume off to a company called CMD, Construction Market Data, that had an opening in town for a construction reporter (I'll get to that shortly), and I got called in for an interview. I did a fine job in the IV, and was in the top 3 (so the guy said), but the job went to someone who had some "experiential" advantage over me. But, he said, there was a similar post available in Atlanta, and even though he would ratehr have had me working in Charlotte for him, he thought it was in my best interests to know about it. So, I threw a resume down to Atlanta. A couple of weeks later, the editor of the Atlanta branch of CMD was making me an offer, more money than I had ever earned in my life, and I took it. I became a construction reporter.
We moved to Atlanta, and, in retrospect, that turned out to be the hard part. I loved CMD. There was a collegial tone to the interactions between reporters. there were no real peramters you could use to judge who might be good at the job, so the basic requirement for applying for any given position was "must have college degree." Nobody ever went to college thinking "I want to be a construction reporter," so the people who ended up there were an ecclectic mix of people who got more-or-less unmarketable degrees, along with a smattering of people who got business type degrees but didn't want to put up with the kind of frat-guy bullshit the vast majority of business type atmospheres teem with. The job was basic: call the sources, get the info, write the reports. I got very good at it very fast, not only knowing what questions to ask but how to ask them. I got plaques, I got raises, I was esteemed for the most part. That lasted for about a year. Then it started to go sour.
Although the atmosphere was blessedly free of the business world jargon I so despised (these were the days of "work-stations" and "synergy"), I had a hint early on when my editor took me to lunch to ask some questions in order to get what he called a "comfort level" (DANGER! DANGER, WILL ROBINSON!) and proceeded to ask some thoroughly meaningless questions. Later on it became clear that the guy did nothing but stare at his computer all day, every day. He wasn't even surfing, he was just staring at the damned thing. He did work once a year when budget time came and he had to spend two weeks doing the numbers (he could have had them together in an hour if he knew what he was doing, I later found out). And way once in a while he'd have to make calls on behalf of one of his reporters, and he did stand up for his people, I have to give him that. But the sight of the guy sitting at his desk staring at a screen saver was just . . . creepy
The second in command, the Associate Editor, was a bully who-- to use the proper workplace parlance-- jumped my shit twice before I let him know in no uncertain terms that I wasn't going to put up with his bullshit. After that he left me alone, and I just got to deal with his habit of reading the sports section and listening to abusive right-wing talk radio all day, making just enough phone calls to justify his reportorial duties (he was supposedly the Architectural Reporter for Tennessee, about which more shortly (along with the promised explanation of what a construction reporter does)), every once in a while jumping the shit of another reporter, usually for the flimsiest of reasons, until I had about had enough.
Construction reporters, broadly speaking, call on sources in the construction industry to find out what is planned to be built; the audience is contractors who want to submit bids to build things, or sub-contractors who want to submit bids to the general contractor, take-off artists who put pricing scenarios togetehr for contractors and subs, suppliers who want to contract with them, etc etc etc. Specifically, while in Atlanta, I was a Negotiated reporter. My main subject was supposed to be planned projects where the general contract had been pre-negotiated, so subs would submit their prices to a single player, which was supposedly a safer kind of bet than general bidding on an open contracts, but I saw lots and lots of projects that got priced out for years and never built. (Mainly hotels. Go figure.) It was sometimes a pretty seamy business.
Architectural Reporters, on the other hand, talked to architects. About theoretical buildings that didn't really exist. And very rarely about the dirty business of winning design contracts, although that did come up. The Architectual reporter for Atlanta was an older guy, ready for retirement, who occasionally let me call his guys (as he put it) for information on projects that were going to become negotiated. A few times I talked to Tennessee architects, since the Architectural reporter for Tennessee, it will be remembered, was a lazy prick. Once, pretty close to the last months of my emply in Atlanta, I had one of the Tennessee architects on the phone getting data on a project, and at the end of the call he said "Oh. So THAT's what you guys are supposed to do." We laughed together over it, but my Associate Editor overheard and seemed to get the gist of the laughter. He looked daggers at me and then gave me static for a week.
So: Atlanta, position going sour, bosses=bully+idiot. Then one day the Charlotte Architectural guy had decided to quit, and half a week later I was on the phone with the Charlotte editor, and we start joking around about it, then she said "You wanta come work for me?"
Charlotte. Architectural Reporter. It would be a lateral move, and I didn't really know
the people there, except over the phone, but still. I took it.
And I was good. It took me a few weeks to settle into the office, but I was so good that the petty office space bullshit that usually comes with any job just didn't stick. The company had forged a program that measured the reporters' performance by tracking the number of project listings created & how well they were handled, and handing out bonuses based on that. I got an award once, Reporter of the Quarter, but I didn't need it. I made top money, all the bonuses, a grand per quarter, four grand a year. I was in the top ten percent of reporters all the time; I was among the top ten in the country every quarter, every year.
Then suddenly the company decided there were three or four reporters who had gotten so good, with little chance of advancement beyond where they were, that they stood a chance of losing us. We were people who were in love with our areas, home for most of us, and we couldn't advance unless our local editors quit or died. (And a good reporter does not have an editor he or she wants
to lose, trust me.) So they announced that they were going to create the posts of Regional Reporter. The idea-- and it was one I had been on record as supporting earlier-- was that these reporters woudl be based at their current locations and call on posts across the country as needed. We would be Super Reporters, taking over and calling on any post, any territory, as needed until the position was filled or taken over by a local reporter or whatever.
Here's the funny thing: I didn't need it. I was making above-average annual bumps, five percent when everyone else was getting two or three. I was making bonus money. I was happy, for the most part. So I didn't have to take it. But I was expected to. So I threw my hat in the ring, and a few weeks later I was one of five Regional Reporters. And for the next eighteen months I found out what I should have known to begin with: The job was undoable.
When I went in to take over a territory, it had been untended for at least six weeks. That meant a mess. More often than not, it meant the reporter who vacated the territory had been lying and cheating and screwing around until they were just about to get caught, so there were lots of fake reports to sort through and clean up. Or the reporter had been canned, which meant they weren't doing the job to begin with, or had never caught on to how to do it, or flat out hadn't been trained. So: big bad demoralizing mess to clean up.
The conventional wisdom had been it took any reporter six months to completley own a territory. I was changing territories at an average of three weeks at a clip, sometimes less.
Sometimes the local editor would say the priority was bidstage, getting projects put out to bid. And that was where the rubber met the road, and we all agreed that our effective bosses would be the local editors we reported to, and so the company recognized that there was little or no time to collect new project info, so we wouldn't be treated as regular reporters.
And then we were suddenly being told that if we didn't get our numbers up, we might have to revise our job performance evaluations, that we weren't making our bonuses, and if we didn't start, we might not get raises, all kinds of little things that just didn't sound right. And the worst part of it was that this happened when I was fighting burn out, balancing long, hard bouts of reporting and writing reports and getting bid notices and turning them into coherent listings and making phone calls and on an on an on with long swaths of time when I just didn't feel like doing anything at all.
So I said to hell with it, and spent a long January ignoring pleas to get more stuff out to bid (while covering four different territories) and concentrated on getting enough new project information out to guarantee that if I kept it up for another two months I would have enough new projects to make a first quarter bonus. Then the call came: it's not working out, you have your choice of working as a Regional for another three weeks, after which we will re-evaluate you, and in all likelyhood can you, or we can shift you back to the local branch into a vacant Negotiated Reporter position. (It had been vacant for seven weeks. I had picked up some projects for the sake of rounding out the North Carolina bulletin four or five times over the course of those weeks, as a favor to the editor.) It would be a lateral move, no loss in pay grade, and I would still techically be a Senior Researcher, so technically, not a demotion.
I was almost ready to tell them that I was on track to get a bonus at the end of the quarter, but I knew better. The handwriting was on the wall. I took the Negotiated position.
I did it for about a month before I was just plain burnt out. It felt like a demotion, and I felt very ill used, and then I got my evaluation for my final year (out of 18 months) as a Regional, and it was the first mediocre evaluation I got in the six years I had been at CMD. That was it. I had had it. I quit.
Since then I have done a seasonal job reading and evaluating essays by grade school and middle school students, and I have taken on a couple of gigs, tech writing once, answering phones at a help desk once, but by and large I don't have to work. And I don't want to. Unless there were a job out there that was something I were uniquely equipped to do above anyone else, I'd gladly take it. But the odds of that job ever materializing are extremely remote. I think I had it, for about three and a half years, when I was Charlotte Architectural. But I think I would have burnt out on that eventually too.