Thursday, June 29, 2017

The Full Time Benefits of Part Time Employment

I find the more I work as a part time employee, the less I desire full time work. It seems collectively there is something short of a hidden obsession with working full time – almost as if we don’t work full time, we cannot afford the things we need or love; and, in this, surely we could do other, productive things with our time that contribute to our lives. Say, like grow a garden, build a cabinet from second-hand wood, take a child outside, read a book, sew a button on a shirt, or volunteer at a local nonprofit. Surely, one on the part time work train won’t be making bunches of money compared to their full time counterparts, and what you gain in personal revenue is hard to notch on a board of comparison.

Yesterday was Monday; nothing unusual about this Monday at work aside from a few offices sat darkened, as their inhabitants took coveted vacation days (“10 a year, with no rollover”!) If there was to be something unusual about this Monday, it would be that energy and motivation to accomplish work was low. Now, why could that be? A number of factors strike me when I consider the situation: a) the boss was out – she, herself, on a vacation of her own; b) it was a superb summer day, and through their transparent windows, full time workers could only salivate about what they’d be doing with this summer day if  they weren’t working; and, c) let’s be honest, unless you are managing an active project that needs daily tending (like a garden or a child), you probably are just wasting time at work, waiting for either 12 noon or 5pm, piddling in the work you need to do that really isn’t pressing yet. So it begs to ask, what’s the benefit of working 40+ hours a week for an average salary with average benefits, just so you can afford to live in that above average house, and drive that above average car?

I recently had a conversation with my partner about how we, in the future, could have enough, but not too much. She seemed initially puzzled by this question, as it seemed to come from nowhere (which is usually true), and pausing to think, I could tell she was mining gold in her brain. She is a recent graduate with her Masters in Human Resources, and other peoples’ work, to her, is her job. She takes joy in helping others find meaningful work in their lives – something I applaud about her. Though this is her first real “big girl” job, working that nine to five, five days a week. Tis too early to call it a challenge for her, for she is ripe in the game of full time employment. Perhaps there is a honeymoon period for some folks, a time when they are still enchanted by that which they call work, and to me, it’s a needle in the haystack, fortunately found by very few. When I think about the unlikely affinity that some folks call their relationship with work, I know they must be the exception, and they’ve truly found a niche for themselves. My guess is others are married to their jobs because of what it provides them additionally in life.

I’ve had the fortunate experience of working one full time job in my life, and the benefits and pay were not exactly what you’d expect. While I worked 36+ hours a week – considered full time to most employers, State and Federal workers aside – I found that I simply didn’t have the motivation, nor concentration to plug away at work for that many hours in a day or week. I was employed with a small nonprofit food project, working as an AmeriCorps VISTA. To those unfamiliar with this program, these are one year positions that place you in/near impoverished parts of a local community, so that you can experience and work with these folks as you try to generate ideas, funding, and ultimately programming to help alleviate the injustice and cyclical pull of poverty. Generally speaking, AmeriCorps pays just above the poverty line, and if you are fortunate to have housing provided, then you can consider yourself “living large.” For those without provided housing, a second job may be required; which was my case.

Before and during AmeriCorps I worked at a small grocery store, owned locally by a kind and giving Deadhead. It was the perfect job for me at the time: a van-dwelling, life-living dirtbag. When I came back to that remote part of Western Colorado, I was looking for the easy life – no serious full time job, no big responsibilities, just time to work and earn enough to pay my bills. Taking time to recreate and be a part of the community by being in and involved in the lives of others. A few years prior to this, I had thru hiked the Appalachian Trial from Maine to Georgia after graduating with my Masters degree, and that experience imprinted on me the importance in being instead of doing. So when the opportunity came along to work with those around me that were experiencing hardships I’d only dabbled with voluntarily as a dirtbag, I felt it was time to take on additional responsibilities beyond the easy life.

The honeymoon period for me in my AmeriCorps job lasted for the first three months, maybe four. I started in Spring, and when working for a food project, the summer growing season is your boom time. As the coordinator of volunteers and seasonal garden staff, I was alive with purpose and projects to manage. It was quite a different experience than the laid-back hippie-esque grocery store I worked at 4 days a week prior. An experience that pushed me to accomplish tasks not for personal financial gain, but for the greater good. I was a classic case of volunteerism. And while the thrive of it was good, the good of myself wasn’t thriving. It had been a 90 degree turn from what I was used to, and I couldn’t justify the increased hours by uttering “at least I’m making more money.” When push came to shove, a self-reflection assured me that this was what I had signed-up for: a more meaningful take on work and giving in my local community; also, this experience was just for a year, and short of sounding like a privileged yuppie, it was good for me to be pushed beyond my self-serving comforts. I was used to thriving by trending that medium line of fineness, not working too much to be over-stressed, and working just enough not to be under stress. So while it was an insightful and meaningful experience with people in real need, I eventually, after the buzz of purpose wore thinner, uncovered a recessed desire to work more part time and less full time come the future and my next job beyond AmeriCorps.

Volunteers in the a community garden

To calculate how much work is enough, the equation seems complex and highly personal. And really, maybe a bit of soul searching is essential before even considering inputs into the equation. And, there is something to be said about the benefits one can gain by working part time. If only we had a clearer portrait as a society of what it meant to be employed part time, and engaged full time in purposeful, life-enhancing tasks. You’d wonder if our overall health would improve; if our reliance on fossil fuels would decrease (no more daily commutes in the metal box!); if we’d realize the value in doing things for ourselves and those we loved – if only we could remember what it meant to be a tradesperson, to cultivate life in a garden, to produce our own, rather than always consuming; to be challenged though present in working through financial shortcomings. These seeds of ideas may never take hold in ripe soil, unless of course the idea of working full time was no longer viable, nor purposeful. Like hamsters in a hamster wheel, we’ll collectively continue to chase that which is always just out of reach, again and again, and when we realize we are chasing that same thing day after day, perhaps we’ll give thought to the possibilities outside of the endless cycle. Though, the requirements for full time living don’t come easy to those whom are part time employed, and thus, some could never conceive how to make it work without those digits and decimal places in their bank accounts. And, if we’d just try…

I think back to my colleagues working their full time obligations in the office. Would they rather be enjoying a casual morning, sipping coffee, or a confining office with dictates and expectations? Correct me if I’m reading this differently, and my impression of those working the full time life is you work more to pay more. This idea baffles me, and as I sit here, I intend to not experience this – though maybe it’s just what people see as their option; you know, the American Dream. Work hard, work diligently, and you’ll be rewarded…eventually...maybe. And for me, I’m not really into that version of the American Dream; I guess it just boils down to how hard I work when I’m not at work. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is what brings separation from those in the full time employment game from those seeking the innumerable, sometimes irreplaceable, benefits of part time employment.

We, as an American Society are a diverse bunch, and there seems to be a secret driver to our lives: some may call this clandestine operator work, others may call it family priorities or life goals; yet, even more may call it absolute necessity; survival. Either way, the tides are shifting, and will continue to. Just like more Millennials are realizing that the hardwork and steadfast dedication of their parents or grandparents isn’t how they will go about work in today’s world, there are motivators that ultimately bring likeness to some and division to others in our society and world. Like our preference of what to do with a day off from work, we are so very diverse and unique that truly a life of part time work may never be for the masses. In which case, just like the self-chosen life of a dirtbag, there is a niche for everyone – and in this, I’m happy to call my part time affiliation with the world of work just that, part time; it dispenses more opportunity to be full time as a human being, not a human doing.

I would describe myself as privileged in opportunities and fortunate in choices to pursue the counterculture lifestyle. I am gainfully employed part time, allowing me to write and reflect, build wooden pieces of furniture/cabinetry around the house, and wander aimlessly in the woods. I profess to mean well in my writing, and feeling disturbed or challenged by what I write is exactly in line with the point of intellectual conversations and individual expression. Beliefs you hold ought to be tested, for change in life is ripe when we water the roots from which it comes. Comment below or browse my expression as a creative writer.  Respectful disagreement and discourse are welcomed – as we all have something to learn from one another!