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Career and Work


The events that happened throughout my life, the paths that got me to where I am today, present an interesting story. I refer back to pieces of this story once in a while here on Consumerism Commentary but I never focus on it, nor do I ever really provide a complete narrative. When I write, I prefer to focus on things external to me. Although this blog started more like a personal journal interspersed with my financial details and interesting bits of information about personal finance, like many other long-lasting websites, it’s evolved over time.

Storytelling fills an important role. A good story triggers powerful emotions in readers or listeners, and these can be emotions of connection (like sympathy or jealousy or inspiration). Humans are emotional, not logical, decision makers, so strong emotions can cause readers or listeners to make decisions they wouldn’t have made without that emotional connection. Emotional triggers are certainly nothing new. Charismatic individuals have been using storytelling for centuries to spread religious beliefs, gain allies, and sell products.

The best salespeople today are keenly aware of this effect and use storytelling to convince people to spend money. A good story can change someone’s mind; a great story can change someone’s financial situation. Sometimes for the better, but often not.

For Consumerism Commentary, I try to think of ways to encourage readers to become better consumers: to make the most of the money they have, to improve their financial situation through building income and reducing expenses, to move towards a better financial situation than in the past even if full financial independence isn’t achievable. And, at least so far, I haven’t used my writing to sell products to readers. Yes, I’ve written or published some product reviews designed to help people make good choices about the financial products they use, including a way for readers to take advantage of those offers, but those have been generally directed at people who had already decided to use those products. I’ve tried hard not to sell someone something that wouldn’t be appropriate for them.

Storytelling has a much bigger benefit than selling products — it can sell ideas. And that starts to get dangerous. An inspiring story about quitting your job to blog full time can easily convince people who would otherwise know better to follow that same path in search of riches. I know for a fact that my personal success has given hope to people, even if their reasoning might have been, “If that fool can quit his job and sell a little blog for an insane amount of money, a smart guy or girl like me can do even better.” This is why I don’t make a big deal out of my story. This is why I take my role as a business coach for select clients very seriously. I don’t want to see people make huge mistakes.

People often ask me if blogging as a business has a future. People every day are quitting their jobs, ready to tell their stories online, ready to find a way to sell things to their readers, and they need to know if there’s a future in blogging. In fact, my girlfriend, who is also a blogger, asked me about this recently, but companies have paid me to hear my thoughts on the future of blogging, even though I’ve often been happy to chat with CEOs about it for free.

They ask me because I’ve been around. I’ve been on the Internet since about 1989. I’ve been building various types of online communities since 1990. I’ve been building websites and teaching people how to build websites since 1994. I know how to manage UNIX servers so I’m familiar with the technical side of the Internet, but I’m also as well as the social side (and that goes far beyond “social media”). And I watch related trends pretty closely, and I see a future that is troublesome for the small-time independent web publisher. Today’s environment is not one in which I’d suggest anyone quit their day job to be the next big blogger. Not without a head start, not without the financial backing that allows you to effectively compete, not without something that makes it clear that success is imminent.

That doesn’t mean bloggers can’t start today and become popular. That happens all the time. But translating that popularity into a sustainable living, or even better a valuable asset with the potential of lasting a long time or being recognized by the market as an acquirable asset, goes from rare to incredibly unlikely. But people beat the odds all the time. In fact, people who are more inclined to ignore the odds have an increased chance of meeting those goals, at least partially. I don’t want to say it’s impossible. The danger is in seeing others who have done something impressive and expecting the same will come with a little hard work. Make a living? Maybe. Make a great living? Well… Make a fortune? Doubtful.

The inspirational entrepreneurial story that spreads the lie that this path is the best way to secure a financial future is often incomplete. And the reason I’m writing this article in the first place is because I recently came across a story from a few years ago that is a perfect example of this. It shows you that a smart consumer will always need to look for the questions that go unanswered in any story.

Someone I follow on Twitter attended her sister’s wedding a few days ago, and posted a photograph of the two of them together, beaming with happiness. The individual I follow on Twitter will become clear in a few moments.

For some reason, I decided to look for more information, to learn more about her sister. One of the first things I found was her “origin story.” The trend with superheroes in movies recently is to present a character’s origin story — well, entrepreneurs have origin stories, too. And her story is about as sweet as it gets.

Mary Riesgraf — that’s her name — started a confectionery shop, Sweet Mary’s, in Los Angeles. The business is registered to a home address, so there’s probably no storefront. These are the words she told AllParenting in an interview:

Sweet Mary’s was started out of pure joy that my sweets brought to my friends and family. I started making homemade sweets for holiday gifts and everyone kept telling me to start a business. I was afraid of making such a big commitment so I didn’t consider starting a business until Fall 2011. My boyfriend Leif and my three daughters (Grace, 11, Sarah, 10, and Emma, 8) were my biggest fans encouraging me to go for it. I am so glad I started. I have had a blast making sweets and I love hearing all of the great feedback from our customers.

It’s such a heartwarming story about success, and inspiring to anyone who is passionate about a skill and contemplating starting a business to focus and perhaps make a living.

AllParenting notes that she and her shop has garnered the attention of celebrities, making the shop an overnight sensation. Mary took an activity she loved and for which she had a talent, opened a store, and suddenly celebrities were talking about it. Not bad! The story refers to mostly actors who quickly jumped on her team and supported her as happy customers, like Jason Lee (“Earl” from My Name is Earl), Timothy Hutton (“Conrad” from Ordinary People), and Jenna Elfman (“Dharma” from Dharma and Greg).

I don’t want to criticize Mary. She’s done a great job — and congratulations to her on her recent wedding! The story is inspiring, but the interview neglects to focus on the huge advantage Mary has over a typical entrepreneur, tired of his or her job, feeling a pull to do something else with life. Mary had quite a few built-in connections. While she’s an actor and producer in her own right, her sister, Beth Riesgraf, is also an actor (and a talented film photographer). And the business was launched at the height of Beth’s popularity, as her show Leverage was coming to a close and fans were imploring the producers to keep the show running.

In the interview, Mary says, “My sister had tweeted about me and a bunch of our friends re-tweeted… It was explosive!” Today, Beth has 438,000 Twitter followers. I’m not sure how many she had in 2012, but I expect it was a similarly high number. If you want to be an entrepreneur, ask yourself how many Twitter followers your siblings have.

Mary also says about her first celebrity order, “Jason Lee ordered 150 of our Signature Caramel Chocolate Apples for his wedding.” The story of her success would have had less of an impact if she had said, “Jason Lee, my sister’s former fiancée and father of her daughter, ordered 150 of my caramel chocolate apples for his wedding a couple years before I launched my actual business.” Timothy Hutton, also mentioned as a celebrity customer, was Mary’s sister’s Leverage co-star. Sales or gifts, readers aren’t really sure what those orders are, but either way, they’re still in the family.

My intention isn’t to dampen the success of one particular sudden-entrepreneur, but just to show there are often a lot of details missing from our favorite inspiring entrepreneurial stories. This is just an example I came across recently, and one where I happened to know some of the missing pieces.

The problem is that a story like this can easily encourage someone to start their own business. Is that really such a bad thing, when the employment environment today is so bad and it seems to make a lot of sense for people looking for a better financial future to take matters into their own hands? Being a business owner does open lots of opportunities for personal, professional, and financial growth. But you have to do some market research and soul searching first. Don’t be swayed by inspirational stories. Ask questions! Get to the bottom of the issue. Find out why and how people succeed — not just how they say they succeed, because the true story is often much different than the marketing (and every story is marketing).

If you make decisions based on inspirational stories, whatever hard time you thought you had working at “just a job” could be much, much worse, when you find yourself struggling as a business owner. And then years later, when you discover you need to go back to the workforce, you’ll be in further trouble because you haven’t maintained your skills and have a gaping, unsuccessful hole in your résumé. Too many people are willing to be inspirational and motivational, and to be inspired and motivated, and too few people are willing to discuss realities. That just doesn’t sell as well.

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I’m in the middle, well probably the beginning, of a long-term organization project. I’ve accumulated a lot of stuff over the years, particularly since moving into a larger apartment seven years ago. If I want to live a more mobile life, I need to downsize somewhat. In this process, I came across a plaque I received from my former corporate job, including a note from the company’s CEO thanking me for five years of service.

(I never made it to ten; I quit that job to focus on my own business full-time.)

Do plaques and service awards help employees feel wanted and needed within a large company? Or is competitive compensation enough to keep workers satisfied? You can have one without the other — does recognition matter if you’re underpaid, or if you are meeting your income goals, do you need non-monetary tokens of appreciation? Do any of these things show that a company cares about you?

Does a company have the capability to care? And for that matter, does a company have the capability to do anything? I guess that all depends on what it means to be a “company.” Here in the United States, the Supreme Court has repeatedly ruled that a corporation is lawfully a person, and in this way, protects people who act in groups from being denied rights afforded to people who act alone. A company does not feel, think, or act, but the people who comprise that company do. A company or corporation is nothing more than a group of people feeling, thinking, or acting mostly together.

You can look at a state the same way. A state is a conglomeration of the towns, cities, and other arrangements of people who live within the borders of that state. You can give attributes to that state as a shorthand for the people who live within. For example, New Jersey is a “blue state,” meaning the citizens within tend to vote in favor of the Democratic Party in national politics. But New Jersey is not a person and has no vote in itself. It’s ephemeral, an idea, a non-entity. It’s an arbitrary construct.

And it’s the same with a company. A corporation doesn’t often pay taxes. Its owners or shareholders have that burden. Bank accounts can be titled with the name of a corporation, corporations can own things, but only on paper. Everything traces back to an individual or a group of individuals.

When you say that you feel that your corporate employer cares about you, what you’re really saying is that the management enacts policies that meet the emotional needs of the employees or promotes a culture of empathy among its employees. When the opposite is true, when you feel neglected or ignored by your employer, you may feel like the corporation doesn’t care or is a bad place to work.

Executive management often finds itself between a rock and a hard place. Executives answer to shareholders or owners. They are the people who stand to benefit from the company’s performance, and are thus interested in maximizing profit and reducing expenses. Executives feel that pressure, while still having to deal with what can be a company’s biggest expense on paper, its employees. It’s those executives, not the shareholders, who set the tone for company culture, though.

This is illustrated in small groups best. It’s no surprise to readers that I’ve been involved in marching bands in high school and college, and studied music education, and have worked with a variety of musical groups. The group culture, the tone for behavior and performance, is set at once by the people in charge. In this example, the band director treats everyone a certain way, including other staff members down to the newest freshman. Other staff members pick up this culture of behavior and mimic it, and the members mimic the staff members.

This is how a corporate culture is transmitted. So even though the shareholders have the largest stake in the culture of a company, it’s the day-to-day management that transmits a model for attitudes and generates a company’s culture. Where culture is transmitted well, and that culture is seen as favorable by employees, those employees are ready to believe their company is a great place to work. Where there is no well-defined culture or a culture that isn’t respectful of employees, they take to online forums to denigrate their employer publicly (and presumably anonymously).

Most business owners I know have smaller businesses. They are not managing century-old corporations like the one where I worked previously. Most understand how to transmit a positive culture among people who work for them. But something happens, usually, as those organizations grow. More people are brought into management, more people to lead others. And it’s at that point that a positive culture can break or be diluted. When a successful start-up expands, and the founder realizes he or she doesn’t have the skills to manage a quickly-growing company, the owners often decide to bring in a more experienced executive, someone with the experience of taking small companies to the next level.

But if there isn’t a good cultural match between the founder and the new CEO, the fabric of the company can break.

And as that company grows, more employees come on board with different expectations. A start-up business with fewer than ten people at the core of operations can create a culture that calls for excellence at all times, no need for work/life balance, and personal dedication to the mission. But as the company grows with more employees, different expectations arise, like vacation time, health insurance benefits, and competitive compensation. This can be a gradual transition, or it can be quick, but it can be difficult for management to navigate this while maintaining the same corporate culture.

People want different things from their employer to demonstrate they and their work are appreciated. And as a company grows, it’s harder to keep track of what each employee needs. Thus, I can understand when a large corporation can’t quite figure out how to keep all its people happy. There are some pretty simple, but not always easy, solutions to this problem, but the bigger problem is that for most corporations, paying attention to culture isn’t as urgent as paying attention to the bottom line. Especially for publicly-traded companies, whose management has been trained to care more about their quarterly results than just about anything else, particularly anything long-term.

Keep in mind a “company” doesn’t care, but it’s the executives, those who manage and lead the business, who set the cultural tone. That’s who you need to communicate with if you want to improve the way you are treated as an employee. Of course, it starts with you. You can’t control anyone else, but you can, to a certain extent, control how you react to your situation.

It’s common for leaders, if they aren’t very good, to be unaware of how their employees feel, so resolving a toxic culture starts with communication with those who have the ability to make cultural changes. While a shift can come from bottom of the corporate ladder, it will find resistance along the way. Change must come from the top downward, because people are inclined to take on the attributes of those they would like to most resemble.

What would it take for you to feel appreciated by your company or by your corporate executives? Have you ever felt that corporate appreciate was just a show? Something for making a good impression on the outside while missing substance?

I’m probably going to throw out that plaque. Working for more than five years for that corporation means nothing to me except the one or two friends I’ve continued to have since working there, some experience gained working well in a corporate environment, and my opportunity to earn a master’s degree on someone else’s dime. Some of the top executives knew who I was, but I’m sure I’ve made no lasting difference in their lives. If I had run into the CEO in the office’s elevator, I’m sure he wouldn’t recognize me or know who I was, even I had received that plaque the same day. But at the same time, the company offered decent but declining benefits, a competitive salary, and well, a job when I needed one.

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Over the next year, Microsoft’s executive management plans to lay off 18,000 employees, including factory workers and those in professional positions.

Redundancy. As Microsoft acquired new companies, at least according to the news reports that tend to take a company’s press release and spokesperson responses at face value, they have the potential to take advantage of consolidated businesses. For example, when two companies merge, there may be no need to carry the legal team from one of the companies. The resulting larger company can probably function just as well with one legal team. Administrative departments can be merged and reduced.

There’s good advice out there about avoiding lay-offs. Make yourself indispensable to your company by working harder than everyone around you, gaining more knowledge about the organization, being involved in the corporation at a deeper level than what’s expected. But as good as that advice sounds, events like these — Microsoft’s decision to eliminate 14 percent of its workforce — are good reminders that you can do everything right, follow all the advice, and schmooze your bosses sufficiently, and still have your position end up on the cutting room floor.

Some time ago, I wrote about several signs you’re about to lose your job. These signs are all related either to your behavior or the behavior of people around you. But I didn’t mention factors that have little correlation to you or your performance. As 12,500 of the Microsoft 18,000 are seeing, simply being in a successful company, one that gets acquired by or merged with another, can signal a round of layoffs is on the horizon.

For the small business owner and employees who work in start-ups in today’s feverish start-up economy, it pays to be aware of this.

If your company has been acquired by another, one of the first things you want to do is start looking for a new job. Even when two companies that are roughly similar merge, there is a shift in culture. And that could be experienced not just by the acquired company, but by employees who work for the purchasing company as well. Changes like these shake up the employees and the management, and your routine may change. It could feel like working for a different company, not the one where you’ve been employed for a certain amount of time.

There’s something to be said for being able to adapt to a new culture. Many who do are able to eventually feel comfortable in a changed environment, and many of these with the fortitude to adapt will see themselves succeed at the new, combined organization. But you could still adapt perfectly without being immune to redundancy-based layoffs. Sometimes there’s just nothing you can do.

If your department looks like it could be combined with an existing department due to a merger or acquisition, if your role is potentially duplicated elsewhere in the company, or if you’re otherwise affected by a combination even if just culturally, start brushing up your résumé and looking for a new job. Don’t wait for the pink slip to begin your search.

You might feel that you’d rather be laid off and receive a severance package than quit right away, but if you do find a new opportunity that matches the culture you expect and is a good enough offer, there’s little reason to wait around. In fact, you can use an expected severance package in your current job as part as your negotiation tactic if you find a new job ready and willing to hire you.

At the same time, if you have the capacity, it’s always good to spend some time focusing on the potential for starting your own business. Years ago I wouldn’t have even suggested this. After all, most attempts at entrepreneurship fail and people who attempt to open small businesses often return to the traditional workforce. But starting up does work for some people, especially those who have high stakes and are motivated to keep trying. Sometimes, like I’ve found, you never know that you have the potential for business ownership until it just happens.

When this website was acquired by a large company a few years ago, I agreed to be an employee for the purchasing company, continuing to edit the site, work on related projects, and help the company achieve some of its stated goals based on my expertise. But before long, the company included me in a round of sweeping lay-offs, and it took me by surprised because the company had no other person to do the work I was doing.

I shouldn’t have been surprised. I still consult for that company today, as evidenced by my continued presence as editor here, but in a much more reduced role. It actually worked out better for me because it has freed me to do other things I want to do much sooner than I would have been able to do them otherwise. But as safe as I thought I was after being engulfed by the company, no one is ever safe. There’s probably nothing I could have done, no better performance I could have attained, no better networking with the decision-makers I could have done, no self-help book I could have read and internalized that would have changed the outcome. I’m pretty sure I still came out of the arrangement as the “winner,” but that doesn’t particularly matter.

Layoffs can happen to anyone, anytime, and the probability is heightened following mergers and acquisitions, regardless of which side of the deal any particular employee happens to be on. Like Robin Williams said to Matt Damon in the Academy Award-winning Good Will Hunting, it’s not your fault. Well, sometimes it is, but with a massive round of layoffs like the one planned by Microsoft, often it isn’t.

People who have survived a large round of layoffs will happily tell you their secret: the skills they have, the attitude they project, or the corporate political games they play that allowed them to pass through unscathed. I would ignore most of that, because there’s a great chance that many people who have done the same still saw their positions eliminated. There’s a tendency to think that two things are causally related just because they happen around the same time. In this case, those two things are an employee’s behavior and the avoidance of a lay-off round. But when companies make decisions like these, the bulk of the decision making doesn’t take anything like this into account.

In fact, if anything else, the decision is purely financial. Given two people in a redundant role, the winner will probably be the employee who costs the company less. And costing the company less is something that good employees rarely do because they’ve often successfully warranted and negotiated better-than-average compensation.

Have you been affected by a large round of layoffs at a company? What were your experiences?

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This little tidbit of advice gets passed around frequently, whether by employers who feel justified in their poor treatment of employees or by motivational speakers who want to see the masses take control over their professional lives: If you don’t like your job, get another one.

Many people spend years of their lives — perhaps decades — working in unpleasant jobs. I have always believed that every individual owes it to his or herself to be treated well in any employment situation, even if it has taken me more time than I would have liked, in retrospect, to move away from toxic situations myself. In general, if you are in a bad situation, change the situation. It’s good advice, but unfortunately, the advice is often given by people who are unfamiliar with any particular individual’s specific situation. And reality can be a dark cloud hanging over the world of advice full of optimistic aphorisms and motivational quotes.

Why can’t someone with a horrible boss quit? Why can’t low-wage workers simply find better-paying jobs instead of advocating for a living wage? Why don’t women who are being verbally or physically abused by their husbands (or vice versa) simply pack their bags and leave? To those of us who have benefited from some privilege, the inertia might not make any sense.

I have a friend who has been a teacher for fifteen years or so. She didn’t go to school to be a teacher, but when she graduated she realized that education would be a better, more lucrative, and more successful career path than her chosen area of study. Now, she is no longer passionate about teaching; that is to say, she still loves actually teaching and affecting children in a way that will allow them to become competent, intelligent, and questioning adults, but thanks to systemic changes, she doesn’t really get to do that.

But she’s still teaching for now. She has the talent and fortitude to be successful at any endeavor. We’ve talked about opening a private school where she could have a positive effect under a different type of system. We’ve talked about other projects. But, from a perspective based in reality, she thinks she could be much more successful as a shop owner in a burgeoning middle-class community (that was formerly rural).

That said, it would take a leap of faith and a lot of energy to make this change. Her current job and other responsibilities inside and outside of her family require so much time, money, physical energy, and mental energy that she has little left of herself to give to planning out her future.

And that’s exactly where most people are when they stay in jobs they don’t like. You can’t tell, for example, a single mother who works multiple shifts at two different jobs seven days a week to use her free time to look for new jobs or to gain additional education. She can’t quit one of her jobs because she needs the money today. Living paycheck to paycheck, or even going into debt to afford basic shelter and food, there is no wiggle room.

Survival mode poisons the brain.

Motivational speakers, endlessly positive, want to instill hope. Well, other people have risen from these bad circumstances to thrive. And by admitting it’s difficult, we may not be reaching the one in one hundred who will hear the motivational advice and find a way to take the actions necessary to put themselves in a better position for the long-term. And maybe this is even possible for an additional five in one hundred people who are dissatisfied with their situation, and wouldn’t have done anything unless they felt inspired by a motivational story. Or perhaps this five do have the capability to make these changes and won’t regardless of what they hear.

I’m confident that we’re left with ninety-five out of one hundred people who really hate their jobs (or other life situations) — and this just isn’t because their boss is unfriendly, but because their quality of life is deplorable and they’re unable to think about their future because they’re focused on their urgent needs and the urgency tasks with their roles as employees — who will never be able to put into action the latest motivational author’s twelve-step plan for improving their lives.

If you are in survival mode, upper-middle-class ideals like self-actualization, self-improvement, and planning for the future are impossible. And it’s not a matter of how people work, it involves how people think. Survival mode prevents the brain from operating at the higher levels necessary to guide the actions of a self towards a better future. In general, survival mode hinders cognitive abilities.

This is why, as a society, we have organizations including the government that help people. If an external force can get the most vulnerable people out of survival mode, with the right cognitive training, they can begin to consider more than just meeting the immediate needs of their families. But survival mode is more than just something that happens to people who aren’t meeting their basic needs as one might see on the base of the pyramid that represents Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. If even the threat of loss of life, shelter, or food exists, the brain is still in survival mode.

Work isn’t supposed to be fun.

Not everyone who is stuck is in survival mode. Even people who are relatively secure — or at least, not living paycheck to paycheck — are liable to sit around in a situation that’s bad. In my example about the teacher above, there’s no reason to think she’s in survival mode. Yes, she’s overworked and has little time to consider her alternatives, but her family isn’t starving. Her husband owns a business (and as successful business owners know — you can hardly have a life for yourself if you want your business to be competitive, and an equitable work/life balance is a myth) and provides well for the family, even if income is scattered throughout the year.

Your average corporate employee who has an annoying boss and feels he could be doing something much more fulfilling with his life has something in common with this example: awareness. While they see their situation as unfortunate, they are aware that they don’t have it nearly as bad as the impoverished. People throughout the world seem to be satisfied — or at least not outwardly complaining — with much, much less. This awareness leads to guilt, and this guilt is powerful. When people realize that most of the world has it a lot worse, they feel bad about their petty complaints.

Competitive inertia prevents action.

It can be unhelpful for anyone’s long-term success to compare one’s life or success to another, whether the comparison is favorable (“I’m doing much better than the jobless mom who goes in and out of the homeless shelter!”) or unfavorable (“Some bloggers get all the attention from the mainstream media while I go unnoticed!”). Living life as a comparison for the most part prevents people from taking actions that can improve the situation.

While some people thrive under this type of competition, it’s certainly not the majority of people. Competition causes stress, and stress, especially when it is placed on top of layers upon layers of other stress, pushes people back towards survival mode. I’m familiar with competition because it’s always been a part of my life. Employees deal with competition all the time in their workplace, but like many people, I’ve always participated in activities that rely on interpersonal competitiveness.

I started learning to play the clarinet in third grade. It was a horrible experience, and I was terrible. The teacher made sure I knew I was terrible because he had all the clarinetists sit in a row of chairs, from best to worst. I was the worst and was made to sit in the last chair. (Of course, this is for the most part how musicians are seated in orchestras as adults as well; the “best” performer gets the first chair. The teacher was simply reflecting real life for the third-graders.)

Did that make me want to try harder? No way. I hated it. But I continued, and the next year I moved to a state where the fourth-graders were learning their instruments for the first time. I had a half-year of experience. Suddenly I was the expert — and I stayed “first chair” for the rest of my time through high school (except as a freshman) and pursued music education in college because I loved it so much and thought it teaching would be a great career for me.

The reality is that competition, awareness of the world, most often doesn’t inspire people to improve, it allows people to resign themselves to their situation. This is an attitude that can be overcome, unlike survival mode which happens at a subconscious level, but it isn’t something that’s going to happen just because someone says, “Get a new job, slacker.”

Let’s not forget about the economy.

I never want to be the economy to be an excuse for the choices I make. In fact, it’s hard to know what is really happening in the economy because the news is filtered and changed by the opinions of the people who write about it. But if government statistics are to be believed, the job economy hasn’t truly recovered from the recession that took hold of the world a few years ago. The unemployment rate soared, and the jobs that have returned have been lower-paying jobs.

Companies wanting to survive the recession, a disappearance in customers willing and able to pay for products and services, reduced expenses. And mostly, they reduced their expenses in human resources. Like humans, corporations entered “survival mode,” and employees got the worst of the effects. Employers found ways of surviving with fewer people, pushing for higher productivity from some employees while eliminating others.

This news permeated society, and certainly turned employment into a corporate-favorable buyers’ market. With this impression, people are most likely to “be thankful for the job they have.” They’re less inclined to improve the situation because they believe it’s somewhat futile to do so. This actually makes those who are able to make the sacrifices, leaving a job, stand out more, so it’s still a good idea to seek out better employment situations if you can. But like most things in life, the best opportunities go to those who can afford to take the risk. The survival-mode single mom working two jobs can’t afford the risk.

So if you hear someone say, “If you don’t like your job, get another one,” they’re either talking to someone who has a support system in place to make that risk possible, or they have little understanding of the realities that people who are truly stuck face.

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Self-Proclaimed Experts and Other Potential Bad Choices

by Luke Landes
Expert [via Flickr]

Who do you know that calls himself or herself an expert in order to gain customers? Should you avoid people who market themselves aggressively in this fashion?

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What I Learned on Father’s Day

by Luke Landes
Father's Day

I met my dad for dinner on Father’s Day earlier this month, and we had a deep and somewhat difficult discussion.

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Overtime Pay for More Workers

by Luke Landes
Would you like fries with that?

Wages for the working class tie directly to the performance of the overall economy. When the largest group of consumers feels they have money to spend, they will do so. This spending may be to the detriment of their own quest for financial independence, but it also allows businesses to thrive. It’s always been the ... Continue reading this article…

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Should You Work for a Non-Profit Organization?

by Luke Landes
Non-Profit

As I’ve mentioned often on Consumerism Commentary, after a a false start or two with jobs following my undergraduate studies, I started my career working for a non-profit organization involved in the arts. I followed one of my passions without considering my financial needs. I want to be able to look back and see that ... Continue reading this article…

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The Myth of Early Retirement for the Middle Class

by Luke Landes
Is early retirement a myth?

Financial independence has become an important topic for me over the course of my adult life. It’s been a progression. First, I discovered the concept of spending less than I earn — simple mathematics but a behavioral change — and how that, in addition to making better choices, could eventually lead to financial independence through ... Continue reading this article…

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When Do You Call Out of Work Sick?

by Luke Landes
Flu

Looking back over my career, which for me started in non-profit out of college in 1998 and 1999, included teaching middle school and high school, transitioned into the finance industry, and eventually culminated in working for myself full-time, I’ve had an opportunity to consider my approach to “sick days.” In the early days, I took ... Continue reading this article…

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Failure and Systems Lead to Success, Goals and Passion Lead to Failure

by Luke Landes
Dilbert

Scott Adams, the creator of the “Dilbert” comic strip, recently shared his thoughts about success through an essay in the Wall Street Journal. His premise is that business leaders who share advice for the masses who want to succeed lie about their own experiences. Failure, which Scott Adams feels does not get enough credit, is ... Continue reading this article…

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Adult ADD/ADHD Limits Financial Success

by Luke Landes
Bored Girl

As a kid, I might have had attention deficit disorder (ADD). I was never diagnosed as far as I know, but I had many of the symptoms of the “inattentive” type of ADD, and some of those symptoms continued into adulthood. An actual diagnosis of ADD as an adult would require exhibiting at least six ... Continue reading this article…

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Real Financial Progress Requires Quantum Jumps

by Luke Landes
Quantum leap

I don’t completely agree with the “get rich slowly” theory. I accept the fundamental advice, like paying yourself first, making conscious decisions about big financial decisions as well as the full series of small financial decisions, and setting long-term goals, but there is a fundamental flaw with taking this theory as the sole approach to ... Continue reading this article…

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Blogging Will Enhance Your Public Image and Help You Succeed

by Jim Wang
Ink, pen, and paper

One of the most effective ways of boosting your human capital is to publish your well-edited and relevant thoughts in your particular field. Blogging is a great way to communicate with an audience, establish your credibility, and enhance your public profile. Jim Wang is the founder of Bargaineering.com, one of the earliest blogs (along with ... Continue reading this article…

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8 Reasons to Sell Your Business

by Luke Landes
Handshake in suits

I was an entrepreneur by accident. When I started blogging in 1994, I didn’t expect to earn money; I wasn’t even trying. But almost ten years after building my first website, I created Consumerism Commentary to learn about personal finance and to improve my own money situation. Within about a year, much to my initial ... Continue reading this article…

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5 Keys to Full-Time Employment for Young People

by Luke Landes

The latest economic news from the Department of Labor paints a mediocre picture at best of the employment situation in the United States. It’s still difficult for young people to find full-time jobs. There may be some concern that this lower level of employment is going to be the new norm, and whether American society ... Continue reading this article…

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Is Your Unpaid Internship Illegal?

by Luke Landes
Printer

In certain fields, internships allow younger people in the formative stages of their careers get experience with major companies, make connections with influential people in later stages of their careers, figure out if their career goals are worth the effort, and possibly put themselves in a position to be hired full-time for the company that ... Continue reading this article…

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What Happens When Companies Pay Employees the Best Salaries

by Luke Landes
Cubicle

I worked at a non-profit organization for a few years, and the employee turnover at that company was frightening. This particular group attracted young adults right out of college, like myself, who believe in the mission, work hard, settle for nothing short of excellence, and are willing to sacrifice personally for the good of the ... Continue reading this article…

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Debit Card Pay: Extra Fees or Money-Saving Opportunity?

by Luke Landes
McDonald's Pay Via Debit Cards

Last month, a McDonald’s employee in Pennsylvania sued her employer to receive all of her rightful wages. This was a class-action lawsuit for the benefit of all employees now faced with an annoying trend. Employers are forgoing paychecks and direct deposit in favor of distributing wages on prepaid debit cards. Here’s how it works. When ... Continue reading this article…

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Responsibility Without Authority

by Luke Landes
Soldiers

A past employer had a hard time keeping his employees from running away within three years of starting their jobs; for this small organization, the turnover rate was high, and without consistency, the organization compromised the service it intended to provide and the mission that was its essence. There is nothing unique to this situation; ... Continue reading this article…

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