Self-Investment

I am in the unique position of being able to ask myself,
"What do I want to be when I grow up?"

If I could be free to choose, I'd choose to be everything. I'd want to live in such a way that I could live on my creative efforts. I'd like to sew a quilt and sell it on E-Bay. I'd like to write a novel, weaving a tale that keeps people spellbound, and get it published. I'd like to buy an old house and fix it up, make it something beautiful once again for someone to make into a home. I'd like to invent something and market it. I'd like to paint beautiful art and display it in a gallery. I want to have a greenhouse and sell my flowers and fresh produce at a farmer's market. I want to learn to develop software and come up with a great web site that people will love. I want to be a freelancer, writing articles about home schooling and about life. I want to be a teacher and teach classes on writing and scrapbooking and home schooling and whatever else I have learned. I want to be a psychologist and study child development and help parents learn to understand their children.

Why not? Why does our society say that we must get jobs, work for someone else, doing the same thing year after year, until we're old, and then retire when life is gone? We're slaves to someone else's agenda. I could have been done with my work 5 hours ago because I'm good at what I do, but I still have to sit at my desk to fill up my 8 hour day. They own me for 8 hours. And responsibility is the task master that keeps me in my seat. If I were to fail on my own, 3 little children would pay the price for my selfishness.

After all, I am the sole bread winner for my family as my husband is the wonderful stay-at-home dad. That is, until one week and two days from now. Then they lay me off and I step into the great world of unemployment.

Hoping that somehow I can put food in front of a family of five. Hoping that we won't be living in our van, bankrupt and homeless. Hoping that life has something more to offer than busy-ness and frustration and stagnation. There's gotta be something more out there!

The Betrayal of College
"Look to the person on your left and the person on your right. They won't be here when you graduate," this is what my husband TJ was told in his college orientation class. He was attending a major university to study architecture. They bragged up front that their goal was to make him fail.

And every class he took, he realized just how much they meant that.

He had stacks and stacks of note cards about skyscrapers that seemed to look exactly alike. He had to memorize the architect, the year it was built, and the reason the building is significant for hundreds of buildings so that he can answer only three questions on his fifty question test. Each test had a larger stack than the test before.

Then he had art teachers that seemed to enjoy finding fault with his projects over little things that had no rhyme or reason. My husband had this wonderful model of a restaurant or night club that had a stage for a musical band. It took him all quarter to design and put together, and one week before it was due, they made him start over.

"You should separate these stairs so that you can put tables on the steps," his teacher told him.

In one week, he had to recreate what had taken him months to do because of this one change. Funny thing is, I could see several, very good reasons why separating the stairs was a very bad idea:

  1. Waitresses, carrying heavy trays full of food, would have to navigate these stairs that are placed at random intervals. They would have to watch their feet and watch their trays and watch for people just to be sure that they don't trip.
  2. Patrons probably would not be as alert for the stairs as a waitress would be. This would make it more likely for a patron to fall, a recipe for disaster and a very good way to get sued.
  3. People sitting at the tables on the bottom level will probably not be able to see the stage. That is the reason that stages are elevated, so that people can see over the heads of others.

TJ was not the only one who had to restart projects from scratch. Architecture students spent every waking hour in the art lab. Let me rephrase that: architecture students spent EVERY hour in the art lab. There was no sleeping. TJ jokes about how this was a psychologist's fantasy: an experimental study on the affects of sleep deprivation on a large group of people.

Some students would take No-Doze with a jug of Mountain Dew. Oh, they'd be awake! But they'd also be so shaky they couldn't hold a pen. No sleep AND no progress on their project. Others would fall asleep with their heads in their projects.

"Should we wake him?"

"No, his project's already ruined from the drool. Just let him sleep."

Then came time to present their final projects to the class. Those that slapped their projects together without giving it any effort got A's. "Yes, this ink smudge over here represents my mood that day." And those that poured their hearts out into their projects failed because they were too tired to B.S. their way through the presentation.

After two years, TJ failed architecture, and it took him close to five years before he was even willing to pick up a pencil again. They killed his love for drawing and for art, and they gleefully bragged about it before they did it.

Having failed architecture, he went into environmental science. Now he had math and science teachers that barely spoke English who would mumble into the chalk board and then erase the notes before the students had a chance to see them because they stood in the way.

Furthermore, changing majors caused a great deal of trouble. He had to retake electives to meet new graduation requirements, and he needed new paperwork. It was like changing colleges rather than changing majors. But then there was the hassle with getting the right class at the right time to finish his degree. Again and again, they screwed him over, canceling classes he needed or scheduling two classes at the same time, delaying his expected graduation date.

"Nope, sorry, you will have to take that class next quarter, and graduate next year. That will be an additional $1000. Thank you. Have a nice day!"

Finally after seven years, he finished college with a Bachelor's of Science in Environmental Science, a degree that actually did not prepare him at all for the direction he wanted to take. The science program was mis-advertised. He had planned on working in parks and with animals, and instead he was trained for water sewage plants.

And TJ was the lucky one. He could have been one of those upper-classmen architecture students who got in a car crash when they drove themselves on the class field trip. It wasn't drugs or drinking that made them ram the semi in front of them. It was lack of sleep. The driver fell asleep at the wheel.

After four years in architecture, enduring to the end, one student lost his right arm, and he would never be able to draw again. So much for a career as an architect. The other occupants of the car were all seriously hurt or maimed, including paralysis.

"Look to your left. Look to your right. Your classmates won't be here when you graduate."

The Frustration of the Work Place
"You wrote an awesome performance appraisal this year," Kevin said to me. "Lisa asked me to review it. It was great. So how'd you do?"

"She gave me a three," I answered. A three. It means that I met expectations. I saved a project from utter failure while balancing two other projects that I was also responsible for. I wrote over a hundred defects for one release alone. I talked Product out of not releasing a project by explaining why one bug could be a very nice product feature.

I was so proud of my performance, but my boss saw all that I did as nothing more than what was expected of me.

Being a three means no promotion this year. Being a three means I only got a very small merit-based raise. The raise was eaten up by the increased cost of health insurance. I actually got about $100 less this year per paycheck than I did last year. Being a three means I was included on the list to be canned. I wasn't valuable enough to the team.

Looking back at our last few product releases, I shake my head in disbelief. I cover two-thirds of the product functionality, and we have a team of three. This means that the other third is split between two other employees. That does not include the other projects I cover where I am 100% responsible for the functionality.

But I am not valuable to the team.

I was proud of my work. It felt like the projects I was responsible for were my own. For years, I nurtured them like babies. I planned the tests. I ran them. I verified the results. I researched the defects. I wrote careful documentation so that developers could easily fix the problems. I was good at what I did. And I was proud of that.

It was mine. My very own. Dare I say, "My precious?"

And then it was theirs. They snatched it away and gave it to contractors in India who had no clue what they were doing. And I was expected to continue my duties while training my replacements. I spent 3 hours explaining the same functionality, and after three hours, they asked the same questions as when we started the training session. Didn't they get it the first five times I explained it?

One week and two days, and I will be on my own with no job lined up. I have tried to find another testing job, but I have been met with one closed door after another. The city where I live isn't hiring testers. I'd have to drive to a neighboring city to get a job. If I'm lucky, that will add only an hour to my commute.

To find a job, we may have to move, cramming our large family into a small apartment. Because we couldn't afford to keep an apartment and the house on one income, we would have to try to sell, and as this is a slow market and our neighborhood is deteriorating, we would probably have to abandon our house. This could mean foreclosure and eventual bankruptcy.

I feel trapped and frustrated, and I don't really like software testing anymore. I yearn for something more than jobs and the rushing around that we do. Yet I have to feed my children, and I like having a warm home to live in.

The Disappointment of Retirement
My father-in-law worked at a major power plant in Ohio until he finally retired four years ago. He had worked swing shift that required long hours, and overtime was often not optional. You did it, or you lost your job. So he was often not home. He barely got to enjoy his children growing up, but he plugged away, just thankful that he could put food on the table and keep a roof over their heads. And he dreamed about someday, when he retires.

It was shortly after retirement that he found out that he has emphysema and lung damage caused by years of exposure to asbestos. The plant never told their workers that they were being exposed to very harmful material. Now he is on oxygen, and those dreams of gardening and bowling are marred by the difficulty of breathing. The doctor says he won't make it to 80.

And his father before him retired from coal mining in Pennsylvania with third-stage black lung. Selling your soul to your job doesn't pay in the end.

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