I know someone who has been out of work for four or five months. (He had been a big-wig at a financial/investment firm and got laid off.) I greeted him the other day when we were both out raking leaves and asked how the job hunt was going.
“It’s been hard. I can’t find anything,” he said.
“So you haven’t even had any nibbles?” I asked.
“Oh, yeah. I’ve had a few interviews and one even offered me a job. But none of them wanted to pay me as much as I was making before. And the one that offered me the job wanted me to do grunt work for about half of what I was making before. They didn’t respect my talent at all.”
“Hmm,” I said, not wanting to say what I really thought. “What about another line of work? Have you thought about taking something else, like retail or contractor work, until your dream job comes available?”
“Oh, no. If I took something like that, it would cheapen my skills and make me look foolish. I need to stay on top of my game and I can’t waste time doing menial work.”
I bit my tongue, again. “Well, wow. You must have a lot of money saved up to be able to be this picky. Not everyone’s that lucky. Most people can’t get by that long without money.”
“Well,” he admitted, “We’ve already gone through the money we had saved. But I’d rather go broke than take some cheap job. It’s just too demoralizing to work fast food or something like that. We’re getting by on credit cards until something else opens up.”
As if this wasn’t bad enough, a few days later I ran into his wife. She wanted to talk about how hard things were getting for her family so I lent an ear.
“It’s just so frustrating. He’s home all the time, working on resumes and networking, but he’s not getting anything. We’re so far in debt now, he’ll need seven figures for us to get out of it.”
“Wow,” I said, because I couldn’t tell her that she needed to smack him.
“He won’t just get a job, any job. He insists on only taking the perfect job. And it isn’t out there right now. I don’t know what we’re going to do. I’ve been looking into getting public assistance.”
“Have you thought about going back to work?” I asked.
“Oh, I can’t. I have to be home with the kids. It’s too important to be with them right now. They need me.”
“But if he’s home all the time…” I let my thought trail off, hoping she’d see that he could be with the kids while she worked.
“No way. I will not go back to work under any circumstances until the kids are gone. They are my job right now. It’s a higher calling than any other job.”
I didn’t say, “Yeah, but they can’t pay you.”
I just offered a generic reply and headed off to do other things. I knew if I stayed I was going to say something I would regret.
I just don’t get people like this. They would rather rack up the debt or even go completely broke than take a job that they consider undesirable, beneath them, or in any way “imperfect.” As a result, they go deeper and deeper into debt while waiting for the perfect job that may not come along any time soon, if ever. They believe that they are somehow “above” certain jobs and that it isn’t worth their time to “degrade” themselves by doing something menial or lower paying. They refuse to enter the workforce if it means sacrificing pay, time with kids, or any other ideal situation. They are so afraid of looking silly or lower class that they cannot bring themselves to take anything less than what they think they “deserve.”
I was always taught that any job that paid you the money you need to live on was a good job. No, it might not be your first choice or something you want to do long term. It might not even be something you really want to do at all. But I was taught that you took whatever job you had to in order to get by. You can always change jobs later when something better becomes available but when you need money, you take what you can get. You also go to work for the first time (or back to work) if your household needs the money. Staying home with kids is a noble goal, but if you are needed out in the workforce to make money while your partner is unemployed, you do what you have to do. Yes, you might miss some time with the kids, but which is worse? Missing some time with them or getting them (and you) tossed out of the house when the bank forecloses?
This lesson is more important than ever in a down economy. The great, high paying jobs are scarce these days. Many companies that previously offered these jobs are laying off left and right. If you or your partner end up unemployed and you need money (and that would be almost all of us), you’re probably going to have to consider some less attractive alternatives.
There are still places that are hiring, but it may mean retail work, contractor work, farm work, delivering packages, cleaning houses or businesses, sorting freight, taking out the trash, working fast food, or some other occupation that you consider demeaning. The thing of it is, none of these jobs are “demeaning.” They are jobs that provide valuable services and pay real money. There’s nothing wrong with taking a job in order to get by. There’s nothing wrong with piecing two or three lower paying jobs together to bring in extra money. I have much more respect for someone who is doing what they have to do to make ends meet than I do for the whiny, pampered, over-indulged former executive who thinks he’s above certain jobs. I respect the mother who makes the hard choice to go out into the workforce because her family needs the money more than the one who sits at home and whines about how it is all slipping away.
No one is “above” any job. We all have our preferences and things we’d rather not do, but when it comes down to the fact that you have no money, you throw all that away and you get to work. You stop whining about how unfair life is, or how you can’t do this or that, or what your friends will think. You stop worrying about how your talent is going to waste or how your career will never recover from a stint in the fast food industry. You stop all of that and you go to work doing whatever you can find that pays money. There will be time to indulge your preferences and desires later, when you’re back on stable ground.
You might be surprised at what you can learn or discover about yourself when you take a job that is “beneath” you. Working with the public in retail can help the former executive learn how his business is seen from the customer’s side. Serving fast food can teach you the workings of the restaurant industry and maybe you decide you’d like to have your own franchise. Selling cars will sharpen anyone’s sales skills. Manual labor gives you exercise. You can cancel that gym membership. Working on a farm might give you a new appreciation for where your food comes from and part of your pay might be produce or meat that you can use to feed your family.
There isn’t any job that doesn’t offer some sort of valuable experience, if you choose to open yourself up to that experience. Nothing is beneath you. Honest labor for honest money is always respectable. It might not be your first love, but none of us gets everything we want in life. Sometimes you just have to suck it up and do what you have to do. Otherwise, you risk irreparable damage to your family’s financial future. It’s a lesson my neighbors haven’t learned yet.