Tick Tock, Don't Stop - A Manual for Workaholics by Robert S. Swiatek - HTML preview

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Intrinsically, danger is not far from immorality. And yet people still insist on making a living by engaging in these situations. The list of similar occupations goes on, such as bank robber, loan shark, blackmailer and extortionist, to name a few. If you want to be involved in any of these “occupations,” just remember that you probably won’t have to worry about retirement. You have a very good chance of having a short life. Nonetheless, the danger of the position is exactly what attracts many to these livelihoods.

I’ll come back to morality in work later but for now I’ll just deal with work that is dangerous. I have already spoken of professional athletes such as boxers, car racers, hockey and football players. These people actually risk their lives making a living and many participants wind up being crippled or suffer in some other way from the effects of their job. If you are a professional football player, you have to expect to trade in about ten years of your life for the glory of the sport since the average age of those combatants is below that of the male population.

Some of the apparently safe professions include teacher and butcher. If you are a shop teacher, pray that you are not the former as well (as in make sure you still have all your fingers at the end of the day.) Working in the meat department and preparing beef, pork and chicken for the counter means you can’t be too careful with the cleaver. Even if you teach math or history, you have to be aware of the fact that today’s students not only pack their lunch but their pistol as well. That can’t be too encouraging a thought. Statistics on school safety may indicate otherwise but that won’t reassure you in the least if the school you are at witnesses violence like that at Columbine High.

Wearing the uniform of a law enforcement officer may bring good pay but ask any wife of a policeman about her fears and you probably won’t go into that line of work if you are deciding on a career. It doesn’t matter if you work in the city or the suburbs, both areas will have crime and all the danger that comes with it. There was a comparison of the danger in Vietnam to that of working the ghetto of a major city on the west coast and Vietnam was found to be the safer environment. Never having been in the Far East but having read about that war and seeing depictions of it in movies, I can’t help but think the life of a cop in that particular city could never pay enough.

And while we are on topic of Vietnam, another really dangerous job is that of anyone enlisted in the service. Some joined because they wished to get a good education and they were just about promised that they would never come close to seeing combat duty. They were in for quite a shock when they found themselves on a plane to be a part of Operation Desert Storm in 1991. It really doesn’t matter with which war you had to deal, whether Korea or either of the World Wars, you have to realize just what danger each situation involves. As far as I am concerned, the term “good war” is an oxymoron, as there never was nor will there ever be such a thing!

There are other people who wear a uniform and serve the people but fortunately don’t have to worry about carrying a weapon and staying alive. However, they do have to climb into burning buildings to rescue people and put out excruciating fires. Some rangers actually fly planes over raging fires in the forest and try to control them from above. That’s probably just as dangerous and yet in each case, someone has to do it.

Not long ago there was a PBS series on buildings, bridges, dams and tunnels. The show was quite incredible as it got into how all these structures were finished. The men who were involved with building the Empire State Building needed work since it was the time of the Great Depression, but seeing some of the films of these individuals walking on the steel beams fifty stories or more above only made me cringe. Amazingly, that New York City landmark was completed in thirteen months. If it were attempted today, that length of time wouldn’t be enough to get the ordinances approved!

Working on the tunnels, bridges and dams was just as challenging and dangerous. Each resulted in the loss of human life and yet we rarely take into consideration how any of these structures came to be. Without the Hoover Dam, development of the desert would have taken much longer and journeys from one place to another would have required much more time. The same applies to many of the bridges and tunnels when you consider travel by car or bus. Building the railroads wasn’t any easier and involved many dangers as well.

Today construction of skyscrapers still goes on, as does the apparent danger. Even if you work behind the wheel of heavy machinery, whether it is equipment for the farm, building of a new condo or moving huge logs, your life will be fraught with danger. Everyday you hear of accidents relating to each of these situations, with workers losing their lives. How would you like to be someone on the construction crew doing maintenance to our interstate road system? There may be reduced speed limits but I have seen too many men and women driving as though everything were normal. This means that they are going at least five miles over the usual limit. This is not fair to the workers. They are working so these people can have a smooth highway to get from one place to another and yet their lives are at risk.

What about those who spend their time working in a factory with all the constant repetitious work, not to mention the other dangers? Laboring in a chemical plant or at a nuclear power plant can’t be that healthy either and yet how many individuals spent their entire lives with these dangers? Radiation and toxic chemicals are something we all want to avoid but there are jobs that involve working in these areas to make our lives better. Factories and plants produced goods while at the same time wound up with toxic by-products, and now they have to be cleaned up. Even today, the creation of toxic substances as well as the cleanup of the dangerous byproducts continues.

Some other dangerous jobs include being a lion tamer, a missionary in a foreign country, coal miner or rugby player. It’s true that some of these efforts have to command a high wage in order to get volunteers. As you can tell though, not all of these efforts will reward you that well and even if they do, you will probably sacrifice a few years off your life, if not worse. There are many other jobs fraught with danger that I have not mentioned and the same applies to them as well.

There are some jobs that are not dangerous and yet somehow danger has been attached to them. This is the result of the intervention of “human beings”, who, due to their lack of consideration or prejudice, hate or bigotry, have forced good citizens to worry about their every move. I have already mentioned a few of these occupations, such as missionary and teacher, and there are many others. Anyone involved in any of these professions is just standing up for what is right and defending the rights of the underdog. It may be against big business or against discrimination for any number of reasons and yet this effort is not without danger and risk. But it shouldn’t be.

You were bombarded in a previous chapter with some of the jobs I have had over the years so you can see that I was involved in some danger. After all, I did work at a nuclear power plant, an ornamental iron shop and a chemical company. Fortunately I survived without any obvious impact but some results don’t show up for decades so we don’t know what tomorrow will bring. In each of these positions, I either was unaware of the danger because I was too young or I was looking to leave as soon as I could.

As far as work that was immoral, I got the feeling that the chemical company I had worked for gravitated toward that tendency. The product offered might have been a scam as I heard there were letters written by users of the product who weren’t pleased with the results. I doubt that they got a refund, as the owners of the business were out to make a fast buck, as far as I could tell. I also worked for a few major corporations whose businesses produced pollution as a byproduct or who were accused of policies that hurt powerless people. Needless to say, I did leave these firms but at the time I was young and shielded from many concerns such as these.

Unfortunately, each of us can be at a corporation that destroys the environment or at least will have some future impact on it that is not known today. Other businesses could care less about hurting the planet or the people on it. All they worry about is the bottom line and the stockholders. They seem to forget that destruction of the environment and its inhabitants will ultimately mean that not only will there be no buyers, they themselves won’t be around either. Despite this, many people do get involved with these businesses in order to make a living.

We are well aware of a job involving danger. A job that borders on the immoral is a bit more difficult to qualify. Any position that hurts people or robs them of either their dignity, surroundings, health or their savings is immoral. This poses a great dilemma: if you are unemployed and the only job available is one that is dangerous or immoral, do you accept that position?
10. That’s not for me

From the previous chapter you can see that there are some jobs that I will go to any extreme to avoid. That may not have been true years ago but then I was naive and desperate. Besides dangerous and immoral undertakings, a list of jobs comes to mind that I would bypass. You probably have similar feelings for some reason or the other.

Being a doctor pays quite well although lawsuits can really do you in if you mess up. You may be involved in litigation even though what came about had nothing to do with your competence. To become a practicing physician requires years of schooling. These disadvantages had nothing to do with the fact that I never aspired to the healing profession. To begin with, I’m not crazy about anyone cutting me open and I certainly couldn’t stand to do that to someone else. I don’t care to have my blood drawn nor would I want to insert any instrument into someone else to get a sample of his blood. Naturally I wasn’t entertained watching the blood flow in the first half-hour of the movie, “Saving Private Ryan.”

I feel almost the same when it comes to dentists. It’s quite normal to want to avoid those types of visits and I’m no exception. I don’t like people doing things inside my mouth although I will reluctantly put up with it every so often, especially if it alleviates my pain. It follows that the dental profession is not for me although I am certainly not an anti-dentite! There is one aspect of the profession that I could never put up with and that is the decay part and what goes with it. I have a very strong sense of smell, which can be great on many occasions but a disadvantage at other times.

I have been involved in sales at times, although not willingly. Even if you don’t care for the profession, you really can’t avoid it unless you inherit wealth. Any time you go into a job interview, you have to sell yourself, or else you’ll have to go on another interview and one after that. However, selling a product is quite another story. I don’t believe you can convince others to buy the goods unless you yourself will buy them. You have to be convinced to be convincing, or else you have to be persuasive. If not, you will be stuck with the vacuum cleaner or the car. If you are the kind of person who would sell anything for a price regardless of its condition or value, I don’t want to know you.

I mentioned distributing cookbooks and all it involved and the fact that I didn’t stay long doing this. When I walked into the warehouse for the first time, it was emphasized that there was “no selling involved.” Well, if I didn’t do any selling, there was no way either the company or I could make money. After a short while it was quite obvious that you had to “sell” the books. They certainly wouldn’t sell themselves although that was what we were led to believe. That same summer I had a chance to be a distributor for frozen foods. This time I went with one of the salesmen on his rounds and at the end of the day I realized that this was not for me. You can’t be a distributor without being a salesman! Anyone who says otherwise is smoking weed.

Fortunately I have tried to avoid any job having to do with sales. I had an opportunity to open up an office for computing services in South Carolina but I refused. Once again this would have involved sales, in this case consultants. I just wasn’t into that scene, even though it could have paid more than my salary as a software consultant. .

Being a telemarketer is another “profession” that I wouldn’t even consider. Once again it’s sales, but also I’m not sure that many of these people have any ethics. This seems to be one occupation that borders on the immoral. I’ll have no part of that scene. Being an investment counselor is one thing but selling pork futures or copper commodities is quite another. For plenty of insight into that profession if it interests you, check out the movie, “Boiler Room,” which I referred to earlier.

Along the lines of sales, you can’t omit another job in which I have no interest: politician. This is one job where it seems honesty will get you nowhere. There’s too much power involved and I don’t know about you, but I feel our taxes shouldn’t support people in office who do nothing or very little. If you get paid, you have to produce and Senators and Congressmen are influenced by too many special interest groups to be effective for the common man. It seems that you almost have to be corrupt to deal with the happenings of the country and the world. If not, by the time you leave office, you probably will be.

Another job that we don’t think about as “sales” is that of a lawyer, but they have to “sell” or convince the jury of the innocence or guilt of the person on trial. I truly admire those people who defend others accused of crimes that they didn’t commit. On the other hand I have no respect for a lawyer who represents someone who is guilty and knows this. I find the law quite interesting although I have no desire to be in that field.

Another occupation that I have no interest in is driving. As you may recall, I did earn a few bucks on two occasions by driving a vehicle. When I picked up grocery carts, I didn’t drive faster than 35 miles per hour since the job was in the city. Also, there were enough carts around to enable me to earn a nice rate of pay. The other job of passing out those cookbooks would not have been enhanced in the least if I had a jet engine in my car. As I said earlier, the only people making any real profit on that gig were those in management, no matter how much you hustled.

Driving has a few obstacles to success. Nature is the first one. If you have to drive into the sun on your way to work or on the way home, you probably will change your driving time so as to avoid that bright object. Like most people, I am not thrilled with driving in the rain. It is even more of a challenge after dark. Snow and ice are no picnic either. And yet you will probably not be able to avoid any of these hazards if you drive a big rig. The goods have to be delivered no matter what the weather outside is like.

I have already mentioned my preference for avoiding jobs having to do with sales. In many cases, driving to earn a paycheck will necessitate some sales. It just can’t be avoided. That is another reason why I will find another way to make a living other than getting behind the wheel of a van or truck.

As a consultant over the last few years, I have done my share to put miles on the vehicles I have owned. In the process I have noticed a few other annoying features of driving. Construction is one but there are many others. These have to do with putting up with drivers under some influence. It could be as a result of alcohol or drugs but it could also be a consequence of something else. Most of us will not be too pleased about sharing the road with someone who was just turned away by his girlfriend. Someone who is behind schedule and needs to catch up on the highway could make our trip one to remember as well when we would prefer the opposite.

Then there is the concept of speed and mass. SUVs, vans and trucks are loaded with power and driving one at the normal speed limit might lead the driver to believe that she is traveling much too slow.

But it doesn’t really matter what type of machine people are driving. I see too many men and women traveling fifteen miles over the speed limit. Apparently, if you have all that power you should exercise it! Since the speedometer registers up to 150, this must mean that that speed should be reached. Well that seems to be their feeling. I also witness those in 4 by 4s heading out on the highway covered in snow or ice and not slowing down one iota. They’ve seen the commercial of the truck climbing up a hill of boulders, up a mountain or cliff and figure that winter challenges are no problem...they can get where they are going in their vehicle, despite the conditions. Then they wonder why they wind up in the ditch or off the highway. As far as I am concerned, the only vehicles that can get over snow and ice without a concern are steamrollers and army tanks. Their mileage is not that great, though.

But then the mileage of all those massive machines on the highway isn’t much better and too much gasoline is consumed, not to mention the noise pollution and the effect on the air outside. It seems that these vehicles are much meaner to the environment than ordinary cars. Also, did you try to see around these monsters when you are leaving a parking lot? You also see trucks tailgating and weaving in and out of traffic as well as passing and then cutting right in front of you. All of this behavior is not very intelligent.

When it comes to those semis on the highway, some of the drivers are courteous and good at what they do but there are others who need some education. You will find drivers of eighteen-wheelers who tailgate you for miles when all they have to do is pull into the left lane, pass you and be on their way. If they don’t do this because they are prohibited from that lane, consider the fact that tailgating is illegal. If they have violated one law, why worry about another one?

I have seen too many drivers of these big rigs flying down the highway well over the speed limit. They justify it by the fact that they get paid by the mile. But consider the consequences of getting pulled over by the police. A speeding citation means their profits will be dented further, not to mention the loss of time. Any advantage they had has just disintegrated and more so. If an accident occurs, there will still be a loss of time and perhaps worse. If the driver gets hurt and has to spend time in the hospital, how can he put on mileage then? If the truck becomes disabled, the scenario is worse. As you can tell, driving any kind of truck is not for me.

Two other jobs that I wouldn’t take are executioner and undertaker. A career as executioner / undertaker could be quite lucrative since you already have the body. Just staring at the gas chamber or hangman’s noose turns my stomach so I would not be the one to throw the switch or do the injection to snuff out someone’s life. Even people who perform these gruesome tasks are affected by the whole state of affairs. As you can tell the funeral business is one of the last ways in which I would care to make a living.

There’s a lot of money in it but I would never stoop to become a prostitute or stripper. In fact I would stay away from any job that has to do with pornography. Unfortunately the Internet owes its success to the world of porn but that’s one success that I don’t want to share. It hasn’t stopped many individuals from earning a living.

I had one occupation for a few years that I will not do again, namely that of a landlord. I even had an agent doing much of the administration but still there are better ways of making money. Fortunately I had fairly decent tenants, with one exception. They were everybody’s worse nightmare but I won’t go into that. Many people rent out their former home or a condo they own and do all right. It seems that many of the people I talked to who did this once will have no part of it anymore.

I mentioned working at a nuclear power plant for a short period of time. The reason I wasn’t thrilled with this contract was because of the radiation threat. You do hear that this is one of the safest forms of energy but let me bring up two reasons to question that theory. It’s a known fact that spent nuclear fuel has to be stored for years before it is inactive. I’m not talking five or six either. If proponents of atomic power can overlook that fact, is it possible they are not quite concerned enough about radiation hazards?

I wasn’t involved with the reactor in any way but incidents in the building where I worked close by were a bit upsetting. One numerous occasions you would hear an announcement over the public address system calling for the fire department to report to a specific fire panel in a specific building. Not long after, there would be an announcement that “the alarm was a false alarm.” I analyzed this scenario and figured that maybe there was a fire and the “false alarm” response was a lie. The other possibility was that it truly was a false alarm. If that were the case, could you trust a place that had all these “false alarms?” Either conclusion convinced me I had to leave as soon as possible.

I mentioned another job I had for a very short period of time at a chemical company. I remember one not too pleasant night there when we had to clear the building because of a fire, which turned out to be insignificant. I also recall interviewing for a job at another corporation that was very big in chemicals sometime while I was finishing college. At the time I was disappointed that I didn’t get the job. Looking at it today, I really am glad that things worked out that way and working at any chemical company is not for me.

A few other professions in which I don’t prefer to be involved are entertainer, actor or any kind of manager. My chapter on management earlier may have convinced you that this area is one in which I want to have as little to do as possible. You may like these jobs but I’d prefer some other rather than being a tax or bill collector.
11. A job I liked

Over the last twenty years I have been a computer software consultant. You can be a consultant even if you think PC means politically correct and has nothing to do with machines. If you practiced law for years and have an encompassing knowledge of how the entire system works, you could become a law consultant. Similarly if you deal with toxic chemicals and their disposal and have a degree related to that subject, you might become a consultant for environmental cleanup. For just about any profession, there are or could be consultants. Of course, to become one you need to have credentials as well as a great deal of knowledge in a specific area.

My job as a consultant has to do with software or programming of computers and all related concerns. I really don’t have to know how to build a computer or install a network since my area of expertise is slightly different. Over the years I have performed a variety of tasks, such as analyzing systems, designing them, writing computer programs in various languages, testing those programs and the systems of which they are a part and documenting the program and the system. The testing itself has involved that of the program or unit testing, system testing, regression testing and whatever other kind of testing management wants done before implementation.

I have also maintained existing programs and systems, taught programming and other courses related to a specific computer, installed systems as well as other miscellaneous related tasks. I also have to know how to use other software to accomplish many of the tasks that I have described above. It sounds like a great variety of detail but I have learned much since I began consulting in the late 1970s. You also find that learning never ends in information technology, since change is an ever-occurring phenomenon.

One of the rewards of this type of life is the high rate of pay that you can command. I have done very well although I have encountered people in the same profession who have gotten paid exorbitant rates for doing exactly what I do. Their skill and experience is no different than mine, and in some cases inferior, but they still get paid huge sums of money. Management has a great deal to do with that. One other reason may be that they have a very specific skill, such as knowledge of a software package that a corporation has. The people with this knowledge are few in number so those who have those skills will command high wages. There is a downside to this situation. If the company using this software decides to use some other package, the consultant will be out of a job. Other corporations could be using this package but maybe they have no need for anyone to come to their assistance. Thus very specific skills can pay very well but the limitation of knowing just one package could leave you on the outside.

Disadvantages of consulting include the fact that you won’t get paid if you are sick, on vacation, it is July 4th or any other holiday and you are not at work or you decide to take a personal day. You must pay for your own insurance coverage and you could be on call and not receive one cent for it. I have already dwelt on the topic of being “on call” so I won’t belabor the point. The contract you are on could end at any time and you may have a period of time with no money coming into your checking account.

On a number of occasions I had contracts end rather abruptly but fortunately I had another place to work within a short period of time. There was one occasion when I went six months between contracts. And that was in the spring when I bought the house in which I currently live. I did manage somehow and you need to be prepared for just such situations. If you are concerned about security, you may not want to be a consultant.

You also need to pay for your own retirement although it is very possible that your consulting firm will have a 401-K plan to which you can contribute. Of course, it still comes out of your pocket. You may also have to pay twice the FICA that you ordinarily would pay but that depends on how the firm pays you. In addition you may also have to deal with the IRS, which no one cares to do.

Another disadvantage is you will have to go on many interviews, even if you never get turned down. After a while you will get used to it although they are some things that are hard to take. Interviewers might say afterwards that they didn’t hire you because they thought you would be bored. In that case maybe they really did you a favor. I had one interview not long ago and found out the person talking to me didn’t think I could “handle the user.” Should I have brought a knife or gun to the interview? On another occasion my interviewer was ill. I didn’t get the work but instead wound up with “pink eye” from shaking her hand.

Contracting means that you will probably get the jobs that the full time employees don’t want, namely maintenance work. Many times these same people will treat you like an outsider, talking about you behind your back. I doubt that they will be singing your praises most of the time. You also won’t be able to take a vacation precisely when you want it and you are stuck with dealing with a consulting firm, which I will get into much further detail later.

Of course there are trade-offs. You will meet many more different people than if you were a full time employee of a corporation, even if you changed jobs every five years. Every year I invite to my corn roast over two dozen people whom I have met while doing contract work. Naturally, since you do meet so many people, there will be some whom you will wish you hadn’t met. Fortunately the end of an assignment means that you may not run into them for a long time.

Some of just those types of people include, for me, a co-worker on the year 2000 project that seemed to have a bad attitude towards everything and everyone. I recall him getting on the phone and complaining to the help desk about the software we were using. The recipients of his ire weren’t too happy and eventually wouldn’t return his calls. I can’t say I blame them. One thing you never want to do is get on the bad side of people who can come to your assistance. The last I heard he was shipped out to some faraway post where he could do little damage.

Even before I became a consultant I ran into one who was hard to forget. He was big and tall and I recall his wardrobe. He had a blue suit, green suit and a red suit. I’m not sure how he covered the other two days of the week, but he did have shoes that matched each suit, one of each color! He used to sit at his terminal and monitor the production system runs and he was quite talented. He was one of the few people I ever met who could do this while not even being awake. Did I mention that he was talented?

On another project I was blessed with not one but a crew of characters. The first person had skills but I really couldn’t figure out exactly what they were. Actually she did have the ability to produce paper as documentation, most of which a year later was irrelevant and useless. The second person was less knowledgeable from a technical point of view but he got paid more than any of us despite the fact that a few of us did all the work for which he took the credit. The last person was also a consultant but he really didn’t want to do any work and seemed to hate most of mankind.

As a consultant you will have the opportunity to learn about all kinds of computer systems and disciplines. You are expected to know just about everything relative to software and to be able to quickly adapt to new environments. You have to know where and whom to get information from to make you productive on your very first day on the contract. This means there is hardly a chance that you will be bored and these circumstances indicate that this way of life is not for everyone.

You will also be able to avoid much of the politics of the company and if not, you can be content that the length of the contract will mean that you will be free of any burden in this regard quite soon. Being a temporary worker could also mean that you can avoid a few meetings. If you do wind up in a situation that isn’t the most ideal, all you need do is remember that each contract has a time limit. Even if you are on a contract that you enjoy, you will still feel great when it is over.

You may also be able to work a four-day week or be allowed to telecommute. I have experienced the three-day weekend regularly on quite a few of my assignments, including the last three. Working at home would also be a plus but you will probably have to really press to do that. Either scenario is something that the full time people already do in many cases.

I mentioned the disadvantage relative to the IRS but there is also a great benefit as far as your taxes go. You can deduct many things that you never could as a full time employee, such as meals, mileage, tolls and parking. Even if the Internal Revenue Service doesn’t consider you self employed you still have some of these benefits. Thus certain costs that you can’t avoid whether you are a consultant or an employee can have an effect on your tax return. This means more money for you and less for the government. I don’t think too many people will complain about that.

The last benefit is probably the best. If you work forty hours, you will get paid for forty. This is in direct contrast to the salaried people who get paid the same amount whether they work forty or sixty hours, if they are on site on the weekend or on call for the night. With this advantage, you will probably get paid more than the full-time employees do and there is a good chance, more than your boss does. From my chapter on management you will agree with the fact that you deserve it since you are more productive.

The way you get paid is simple. On an occasion or two I worked a contract where I billed the company directly and they paid me. Thus I may have gotten $25 an hour and thus got a check from them for $1000 for forty hours of work. Nothing was withheld and I did have to take care of taxes, insurance and so on. You may be able to do this on some contracts but it is rare. More likely you will be working through a consulting firm, who will take a percentage of the billing.

Let us say that the billing rate is $100 an hour. The company where you work pays the consulting firm that amount for each hour you labor and you will be paid a certain rate, say $35 an hour. You might think that they are taking a great deal of the billing rate and you would be correct. Generally, the consulting firm will give you 70% of the billing. So in this case you would get $70 an hour. It varies from contract to contract and from firm to firm.

The consulting firm could pay you through a 1099, without withholding taxes or anything else and it would be more profitable for them. This would be similar to when you billed the company directly and you would still be liable for taxes and so forth. Most of the time they will withhold taxes, Medicare, FICA and disability insurance and pay you with a standard W-2. You would still need you own health insurance and perhaps your own pension plan.

If you want to get paid by a 1099, the consulting agency may demand you to be incorporated. I have a tax ID number but I am not incorporated. One contract demanded me to be so but I really didn’t want to bother so I asked if the firm could write a check to my friend’s company and he in turn could then pay me. This was agreed upon and I was to bill the agency once a month. All the billing and check processing went through the mails, which wound up taking some time. Thus I wouldn’t get paid for the first day in June that I worked until around the middle of July. That’s a sixweek delay in getting paid. No one ever said a consultant’s life is easy.

You could also work for the consulting firm as a full time employee and have all the benefits such as holidays, pension plan, insurance, sick days and paid vacation. Of course the firm would have to come up with money to cover these expenses. They do this by paying you less and this is no different than if you were an employee of some company and not a consultant. But eventually the contract will end and they will then send you to another, if they have one. If not they will pay you and you could take courses or do miscellaneous computer work at the office. This is what is referred to as being “on the bench.” Unfortunately, you could fall off the bench; that is, they could stop paying you and send you on your way. This way of working seems to only have an advantage for the firm and not you.

I mentioned the billing rate split relative to the consulting firm but didn’t mention that some companies won’t tell you what it is. They will just tell you what you will be getting and then cry that they’re not making enough profits. They may also ask you not to reveal your rate to anyone else. On one occasion I was offered a bonus for my good performance and I should have taken it. Instead I asked for an increase in my rate. In the long run I wound up with less cash thanks to the way the agent calculated what I would be getting. He rounded down rather than up.

Unfortunately many firms do things that are really dumb. On one occasion, before I left a contract I was to teach my replacement exactly what I had done for months. I did so willingly and happened to see a copy of his resume, which indicated to me that he had more experience than I had when I began my contract. If that was the case, why did I have to teach him anything? I left the contract and he was booted out of the company a few weeks later. The consulting firm had enhanced his resume just to get him the work. Like I said, that was really dumb.

Many firms do this, but it only serves to eliminate that firm from the client company. There is an exception where a firm has a presence within a company and they provide bodies, technically strong or not, and the rest of the crew can carry these individuals until they are proficient. However, you can never do what the firm I was working for did. It will cost you.

An even larger consulting firm bought out another firm for which I contracted. At first not too much changed but after a while certain people in the firm were dismissed for financial reasons. I was working a contract where this original firm had a huge presence but the sales people let go had a big impact with this health care company. After all, they knew management at the company and they brought in the business for the consulting firm. You can probably guess what happened in this case. One representative, whom I have known for a few years landed a job with another consulting firm and edged her way into this same health care company. Eventually her new firm had the larger presence and the other company faded. And they said downsizing was a good thing!

Usually any overtime hours results in you getting paid the same rate. However, on two occasions I did get paid time and a half. I don’t believe it affected the billing rate, meaning the consulting firm had to eat the difference. One of the firms that did pay me for overtime actually gave me a Christmas bonus. At only one other time did I get this extra dividend. It wasn’t a lot, but better than nothing, which was typical for most contracts.

When I worked for the former, I had more experience than any other consultant there did so I’m sure that they paid me the highest rate despite the fact that our billing rates were probably all the same. If you do the math, you will see that I was the least profitable for this consulting agency. When the contract ended, I was one of the first to be let go. Others were assigned to another division of the same company and I was without a contract. I did get work with another firm and on my first day on that contract, I got home to listen to a message on my answering machine saying that the original firm wanted me to start work in this other division the following Monday. Of course I couldn’t do that since I was working. Had they placed me first, they could have placed us all and their billing and profits would have been slightly higher than what occurred. There’s nothing like greed!

And yet companies do just this same thing when they try to place less experienced people just to make more profit. In the long run they lose out, as now they have to bring in reinforcements to clean up the mess that rookies produced. If you were a corporation and some consulting firm did this to you, would you even consider dealing with them anymore? I certainly wouldn’t.

Sometimes on a contract you may not be really happy and decide to leave. Not long ago a contractor of the firm that I also was employed by felt just like that and left. I thought about calling the agency and taking advantage of the predicament by asking for a rate increase. I didn’t even have to do that as they called me and asked what they had to do to make sure that I didn’t bolt also. Sometimes things really work out!

Usually a consulting firm will not move you if you are dissatisfied. If they don’t have a replacement, they may not have a choice. They really don’t want to lose the billing. But moving the person to another contract means that they still will have some money coming in from this worker. If they don’t move him and they lose him, they wind up with nothing. From a financial point of view, it seems to me that they should get him another contract and keep him happy.

Consulting agencies also have a few other practices that should be mentioned. The first has to do with sending your resume to a company without telling you. They say didn’t have time to contact you, but companies don’t exactly rush to fill openings so they have plenty of opportunity to at least leave a message. This is done for a reason. Let us say that consulting firm A has ten candidates for a company that has five openings. Meanwhile consulting firm B has only my resume to submit, which they do with my approval. By firm A’s action of submitting my resume without my approval, you probably can see what has occurred. The manager looking at the resumes will see mine twice and rather than trying to figure out which firm to credit for it if he decides to hire me will just forget about me completely. But that’s fine with firm A since they have nine other candidates and at the same time they have flushed firm B from contention.

I had an interview for a Y2K project and I thought the interview went well. I know the work had to be done and I waited to hear from the consulting agency. A week passed, and then a few more, but no word. Eventually the same representative of the consulting firm called and asked me if I was still available for a contract. I told him I was and asked about the previous interview. He said the company didn’t get back to him and perhaps the company was at fault but he should have at least called me to give me some news.

This is not an isolated case and you can send your resume and not be contacted for weeks. The corporations as well as the consulting agencies can share the blame. Sometimes, the former announce openings that are no longer there or even needed a week later. They may not even return the calls to the agencies, which in turn won’t contact you. When I left one contract, my immediate supervisor mentioned that the representative of my consulting firm could have been more active in pursuing opportunities. I could have been replaced but the firm didn’t offer anyone.

As far as my actual consulting experience goes, I have been doing it for over twenty-two years at major corporations on the east coast from Massachusetts to Florida. I have had over two dozen contracts in at least twelve cities in four states, mostly New York. My experience has involved the food industry, banking and credit, manufacturing, health care, entertainment, utilities, a local government, two computer companies as well as education. I have worked on mainframe computers as well microcomputers and minicomputers.

I have worked for over a dozen different consulting agencies and have been impressed by too few and disappointed by the rest. Most of these organizations could care less about you as a human being. All they really care about is the money that you bring in. Over the years, my efforts have enabled management in various consulting firms to be behind the wheels of Mercedes, Porsches and BMWs.

As a contractor, you hear many untrue statements from the agency. For example, I was on a Y2K project on the testing team when its leader quit for another position. At the time I was attempting to get transferred to another similar project closer to home with the same agency. One manager from my consulting firm asked me to stay on for another month or so until things got settled and I agreed. He also stipulated that he would increase my rate since I was willing to remain. On numerous occasions I reminded him of his promise, which I had yet to see fulfilled but he just said it would be taken care of the next week. After a few weeks I told him that without the increase I couldn’t guarantee him that I wouldn’t take another offer if it arose. To this he said that if that happened, he wanted to be able to make a counter-offer.

I said that the rebuttal could never happen since it would be too late at that point. It would not make sense for me to interview somewhere else and just about accept the forthcoming offer only to turn it down and remain where I was. Not long after that I did leave for a better rate and he did propose an attractive counteroffer, which I couldn’t accept. All he had to do was come up with what he had promised and I would have remained and not even bothered to look elsewhere.

The contract that you sign means almost nothing. It states that you have to give two to four weeks notice before leaving in most cases. However, you can be let go with just cause “in a flash.” Assuming that you “perform,” this means that they can give you a moment’s notice and I have already spoken about my experiences in this regard. This agreement on termination comes from the client but the consulting agency does nothing to have identical departure notification on the part of the consultant and the company.

Relative to the ends of contracts, if you are a competent worker, strive to be the best and work hard, you should have minimum time lags between contracts. Over the years I have had a few long breaks, but in most cases the gap was minimal. In a few cases I ended at one company on Friday and the following Monday found me at another contract. If you do a great job, you will be rewarded by being taken out to lunch (if you are lucky), rather than given a rate increase by your agent.

Most firms will pay you less than you deserve, paying you as little as they can. You really have to press to get what is coming to you. Fortunately you do have an edge since they need you and perhaps can’t find anyone else for a particular spot. You should be rewarded for your experience and if the client likes your work and hates to see you go, you have even more of an advantage. Nevertheless, being a consultant is not for everyone.
12. This agent is not secret

I have already talked about agents in the last chapter. Consulting firms act as agents when they find you contracts and their reward is a continuous part of the billing. Even if you receive 80% of the proceeds they still get twenty cents on a dollar. If they have one hundred consultants working forty hours a week with this same split, that fills their bankroll with $2400, based on a conservative billing rate of $30. That’s not bad and it’s only for one week. Now take into consideration that rates are much higher and so is their percentage of it and that number increases substantially.

For this cash, they really don’t do that much. Sure they have connections and they know where the work is, but you still have to go on the interview in 95% of the opportunities, sell yourself and eventually produce if they hire you. But once you are in, their job is theoretically done. You are the one doing the work and you should get an adequate split of the rate. An agency that takes 30% (or anything higher than that) of the billing is cheating you. However, this is how agents work.

You might suggest that these businesses are necessary for a number of reasons. I have already related my experiences without them when I worked directly for a company. Unfortunately many corporations will not hire anyone except through an agency. Why this is so I won’t elaborate, but if you argue that it has to do with liability, I can dispute that too. I have not heard of too many cases where a corporation sued a consulting firm on behalf of one of its contract workers. In the worse case, if a consultant did not produce after a few weeks, he would be canned and the agency just refunded whatever billing they had received. There may have been some added payments made to keep relationships in tact, but not much more than that.

An individual who is competent and works to the best of his ability should never have to worry about any liability suit. If the agencies were so necessary on the part of the corporations, then there really should be no need for interviews between consultants and clients. Rather the screening would go on between the former and the consulting firms. Think back to the chapter when I described my very first contract and you should agree.

Besides information technology, agents come into play in other disciplines. Consider employment agencies, which are a bit different from consulting firms. They will find you work but will take payment for this effort from the client as a one-time fee only. This sounds a bit better until you think about the company that contacts you in order to move you from company A to company B. A few years later they do it again in order to move you to company C for a higher salary. Then a few years after that they get in touch to try to move you to you guessed it, company A. With each move of yours they make a profit.

There can be agents to serve you and get some cash benefit for just about any line of employment you can consider. In general, agents make your life easier and your wallet lighter by coming between you and someone else. They do this because of their knowledge. Thus an attorney has information on the law and loopholes while knowing judges and other lawyers. A writer’s agent has knowledge of which book companies are publishing what type of books at a given time period. A double agent gets paid by two countries for information he has on each one, and that can make him rich, provided he doesn’t get caught. A good consulting agent knows where workers are required and is on good terms with managers he can deal with at that company in need.

An insurance agent has a wealth of information relating to coverage based on age, area of the country and risk. The person who intervenes between sports superstars and team management knows them both as well as how to manage money and avoid paying too much tax. A labor union representative has knowledge of working conditions and relations. A real estate agent has information on the housing market, the prices of homes as well as relationships with financial institutions. Of course, these by themselves are useless if she does not have good judgment on the ability of potential homeowners to make mortgage payments, thus ensuring her commissions.

I bring up judgment because I was impressed with a real estate broker through whom I not only bought my first home but also sold it six years later. At the time I had a good job and could easily have made the mortgage payments, but I may not have been approved for a mortgage. This agent made sure I got the loan through a bank she recommended. And yes, I did make all the payments on time.

When I wanted to sell the house I called her again and she came through again even better than before. This time another agent got involved for the buyers but I missed the sale proceedings, relying on my broker. I had rented my house to undesirables (I wish I had known that initially) who left the place a mess. It was so bad that the house had to be fumigated. Anyway, I agreed with the prospective buyers to spend whatever money necessary to restore the premises to what they should have been.

I had the work done and it really was not that expensive. In fact when the bill was shown to the buyers as proof that the work was done, the buyer’s attorney thought that what had been done was insufficient and the sale should be put on hold. Recall that what was done was agreed upon by the other party, but not the amount spent. So were they complaining because the service bill was so low? Well, despite this instigation by the other attorney, my agent managed to get the deal finished.

My agent did a great job by taking the selling agent aside and assuring her that without the deal going through, she would have no commission. You can guess what happened, and I was no longer owner of my first home. My agent earned her commission. More people should follow her example.

The broker who helped me sell my second house was also deserving of praise, as was the agent who sold my townhouse in Florida. The latter really did no selling as my tenants bought the condo. That made it easy, not like the sale of my downstate New York condo. I won’t bore you with the details, but this realtor took a very small commission, as he had to split it with another person. However, he was even more impressive than any other agent I have ever met.

He spent hours making phone calls and seeing to it that tasks were done so that the condo could be sold. I couldn’t handle these problems but he did so without complaint and in turn received a small reimbursement. By the time the property had changed ownership, I realized that he was a model for all such brokers.

I wish I could say that my dealings with attorneys were as satisfactory as those with real estate brokers, but they weren’t. The lawyer I used to purchase my first home said his fee was $150. When it came time for payment he charged $300 for his work. I notified and reminded him of our agreement and it did turn out be only $150. Had I not talked to him about the situation, I would have wound up paying him more than the set fee.

So far I have not shown up for closings on the sale of my homes, except for some vacation property that I will talk about later. When my second home outside Syracuse was sold, I had another unpleasant lawyer encounter. I somehow wound up with this attorney although I not sure who recommended him. I was living in Florida and the day before the closing I called the realtor to ask if everything was all set. She then proceeded to tell me that the house had been sold that day. Well, I’m glad someone told me about it! My lawyer certainly didn’t.

Before I left for my new home down south, I asked the lawyer if he could deposit the proceedings from the sale into my checking account. I provided a deposit slip and he agreed to do it. I allowed some time for the check to clear and about a week after the closing sent a check to one of my mutual funds so that I could get a little better dividend than the bank offers. If I recall I even phoned the attorney to remind him of the movement of the money to the bank. About two or three weeks later, I got a notice from the mutual fund that the sale was voided because of insufficient funds. The lawyer hadn’t deposited the proceeds on time. Eventually the money was deposited but I wrote him a letter, which was a waste of my time and a postage stamp.

I dealt with another attorney whose fee was rather high but I agreed to it since a friend recommended him. It had to do with the sale of my downstate condo, which took forever to sell. At the time I was living at my present home outside of Buffalo and I had no intention of being at the closing. The lawyer was well aware of this but he never bothered to have me sign a power of attorney document until very late in the proceedings. Then he charged me extra for this service, which I thought, should have been included in the original fee. I still believe he should have taken care of that document sooner than he did. That same rental unit turned out to be nothing but big cash drain. I had tenants who were fine but commons fees were outrageous and taxes could have been lower. A few years before I sold the place I got a letter from some attorneys in White Plains who offered to try to get the taxes lowered. I could probably have taken care of this myself but I was so far removed from the area and they had the knowledge to get action fast (or so I thought.) Their fees weren’t cheap and they planned to take some percentage of the savings, which I agreed to despite how high it was. It was all spelled out in the document sent in the mail. Of course, you had to be an attorney to figure out what was said.

Time went by and I heard nothing, so much so that I forgot all about this. Recall that it cost me nothing as the lawyers’ fees came from the tax reduction. One day I did hear from the firm. What they did was legal, but hardly ethical. They dragged the proceedings out for years but the taxes were reduced retroactively. Thus they put into their pockets a large percentage of my savings from two tax years. In addition they also deducted more for the coming year! The high percentage of the take was bad enough but this really was more than I could accept. Of course they had me and I had no recourse.

I have encountered some decent lawyers. My current tax lawyer cares more about helping people than taking their cash. I also alluded to a closing on a sale of my only vacation home, which I attended. I used the same attorney as the buyer and the entire proceedings went well. Maybe more people should use the same attorney. So you can see that there are good lawyers despite some of the others who give the profession a bad reputation.

Another type of agent that is not hard to hate works with sports superstars. He can command 30% of the deal and that can be a great deal of cash. Suppose a pro football player signs a contract for ten million dollars. At the rate mentioned above the agent’s fee would amount to three million dollars. If he has five clients, he will have more than enough money than he can ever spend and won’t have to work too many years. Maybe you should be a real estate agent who shows him some homes!

I finished a contract on Y2K in October 1999 and one day saw an ad for working at home. I had to send $30 if I cared to learn more, but it was refundable if I decided it wasn’t for me. I sent a check and received some information, including a video. I watched it and saw groups of adults yelling and shouting and bragging about how much they had earned that month. It was downright repulsive. From the video, large amounts of cash were the reward and it seemed that you couldn’t possibly earn so much money from selling. It almost indicated they had to be selling illegal drugs, but they weren’t. What they were doing was selling a product related to healthy lifestyles.

Eventually I got my money returned, as I didn’t want to be a part of this endeavor. For one thing even if I was sold on the product, it involved sales so it wasn’t for me. I wondered how someone could make so much money peddling this type of product. It turned out that the big cash benefactors were those people who got others to sell the product for them. The company didn’t care how the merchandise got sold just as long they made profits. If I sold 100 units this week that would be good but not quite as satisfactory as if I had ten people working for me selling the same amount. The success of the laborers came about if they became agents. It’s hard to get away from them!
13. We’ll create a position

From the last example in the previous chapter as well as the treatise on consulting firms, it appears that many jobs are created when there really is no need. This is certainly related to unnecessary work but it does provide a living for many people. However, this creation, along with the unnecessary aspect, might indicate one of the reasons why so many people do nothing but work and are completely stressed. I will once again emphasize that there is plenty of work to be done but it seems the wrong stuff is getting done.

Consider a very short contract that I had at a corporation in Syracuse. I wasn’t on the job long before I realized that things got done very slowly there, so much so that if the company had all its lighting via motion detectors, no one would have really been bothered. I had a few assignments there and waited for various users who responded slowly if at all. Because I sat around in this state, and had not that much to do, I was let go after about a month. In reality, the agent from the consulting firm knew the manager in charge and convinced him to take me on despite the fact that there wasn’t that much work. In this case the job was created.

I have already mentioned admonitions by management to employees to produce, and how if you were all caught up with nothing to do, you should look busy! This applies to full time people as well as consultants. I have been on quite a few contracts when there were periods when I wasn’t exactly overwhelmed with work. And yet if you hired people to do nothing, you, too, shouldn’t be at the corporation. I’m sure you have heard someone say, “He’s on the payroll but no one knows what his responsibilities are or what he does.” Maybe the company doesn’t want to have empty cubicles.

An information technology staff has programmers and systems analysts who are supervised by a project leader. These people in turn report to some manager who in turn reports to someone higher and then those people are responsible to the vice president. This hierarchy is all vividly illustrated in some organizational chart, which has a tendency to change from time to time. Doesn’t it appear that some of these positions are nothing more than jobs and titles that are created when they really aren’t necessary? If you spend some time at a corporation you have to agree.

A short time ago, I had to delete a file that I was working on but I didn’t have the proper authority. I talked to a few people and was informed that I had to fill out some document, get it signed by a few people and then faxed to someone in New Jersey. That may sound funny, but it’s the truth. I did what was required and waited but the file was still there. I called and talked to various people but that did no good. I tried a few other options but to no avail until I came upon a solution. It would take some time but eventually the file would be removed for good, with a minor change to be made by someone else.

The individual who received my fax had a job that had to do with file and space management. And yet, didn’t they have a job that was created when there really was no need? After all, would you want to pay them when they couldn’t even take care of my file? I managed to get the file deleted without their help so it appears that once again we have work created without a true need. However, my solution had a side effect. It meant more work for someone else and this should never have happened. After all, what really should be involved in getting rid of a file?

Most of my contracts involve a simple process of modifying computer programs. Well, that part is easy but then you have to test the changes, making sure you did the right thing. That still doesn’t sound difficult, but there are some pitfalls. If I change a program, test it and put it into production, no one else should be modifying it at the same time. If they did, it could lead to difficulties, as some program changes could get lost. To resolve this dilemma, companies purchase software to keep track of just these situations. It usually works quite well with a minimal amount of glitches, but it can get quite complicated.

It can be so complex that most people using the software are baffled by the entire package because of all the processes and rules. A company can solve this problem by having a specialist with this software package. This is a job that is created but it is needed. It frees people up from worrying about all the details of what they are using. If they have a question, all they need do is contact this guru. It may even be a better idea to have this one person manage the chain of events that are involved when programs are changed, at least to a point.

Today this software process for managing programs is more complicated than ever. In the early days of computing, the problem of program changes was still a concern but there were simple processes to handle this. There were some rules and everyone was aware of what needed to be done. There was a great deal more control at that time than there is today. This is the main reason for today’s complicated software and all the repercussions. This leads to more confusion but also many additional jobs for people. These jobs are created when what really is needed is exercising more discipline in an existing environment.

Consider all the hoopla about passwords. At one contract I had need for remembering close to one dozen of these combinations. The first was to get on the PC, followed by the LAN password. Then if I wanted to check my E-mail I needed another and one more for the telephone for getting messages. When I got to the mainframe and needed to change some programs and do some testing, I needed another three more passwords. If I needed to do any online testing there would be another, but since there were many different regions, depending on the stages of testing, three might be necessary. If you haven’t lost count it’s up to about ten. If you are on this system, there’s a high likelihood that you will forget one of these passwords.

Since there are so many of these unnecessary restraints, how can you possibly remember them all? You could write them down but that would defeat the purpose in the first place. Memorizing them has to be out of the question so the only solution that I could think of has to do with using the same one as often as possible. Don’t forget that you will have to change most of these passwords about once a month. Some may not have to be changed while others will be changed by someone else. You can only hope that they will tell you about the alteration.

Making all the key words the same will be close to impossible, as each system will tend to follow different rules such as you can’t use the same letter twice in succession or you must use at least one number. You can’t use the same password twice in a six-month period or you can’t use words that are similar from month to month. If you figure out how that determination is made, let me know! One system requires you to use from six to eight characters while another has a limit of only six. At the same time a third password has to be five letters exactly. So what can you do to remember each of these combinations?

I did my best by using the same password and for the most part this worked. But one month while doing the synchronized change, I ran into a snag. It seems one system changed the rules for everyone. Before, you could use a password of six characters, but now you had to have at least seven characters. This threw off my system but I solved it by adding a “9”, “X” or “XX” at the end. The “9” would work if you needed to have at least one number present. But now I had another concern as I had to remember all these variations.

My system still wasn’t foolproof but it made the entire process somewhat manageable. To keep the phone synchronized with the others I made a list of words that corresponded to the numbers on the keyboard and tried to use easy to remember combinations such as 667667 and 333363 which translated into MORONS (appropriate, isn’t it?) and DEFEND respectively, both valid passwords. As you can tell, this whole process created an extra job on my part.

If you didn’t do the same thing, no doubt you would forget one of these passwords on occasion. To solve this difficulty, you can call the help desk or security, another job that has been created. Naturally there would be security for each system so many people have jobs. Meanwhile the people who these magic combinations of letters and numbers are supposed to keep out of the system, namely the hackers, don’t have any problem with passwords. They’re in without them while the normal users are locked out on occasion. But at least people have jobs!

If you work with computers you will be aware that there are many jobs that run each day, week or month that produce reports for the user. I created one of these listings and each month someone got this small report. One day I got a call that it was missing. When I did some further checking, it turned out that there wasn’t one for the previous month either. And yet no one had complained. If that was the case, maybe the report wasn’t really necessary.

I vividly recall a regular report that one corporation spat out that resulted in five boxes of paper. That is not a big report; it’s a huge one. Do you actually think anyone looked at that mess? Would you want to look at it? I certainly wouldn’t nor would any normal person. Assuming someone did look at it, here’s what probably took place. They went to the last page in the last box of paper and glanced at some totals and used them for balancing. Wouldn’t it make a lot more sense to just produce a one-page summary and not waste all that paper? That’s how I would handle it and the environment would be much better off.

I have already mentioned the Y2K dilemma, one of the greatest examples of a job that was created when it should never have even been around. Many people reaped the benefits of this fiasco, whether they were management of companies or consulting firms or the consultants themselves. All the testing that was done was way beyond what was really necessary and much of the work could have been neglected without serious repercussions. In reality this was nothing more than a simple maintenance project, not unlike many of the unnecessary jobs that are involved in everyday corporate America.

Having been exposed to so many different corporations, I have seen so many tasks that are completely unnecessary. So many systems should be much simpler than people have made them to be. This complexity creates a false sense of “job security” and incompetence at all levels of a business. It certainly cuts into profits and yet companies still manage to survive and be somewhat successful. But downsizing has had a lot to do with this and could be avoided if only systems were better designed. This would do much to keep shareholders, employees as well as customers extremely happy.

I worked at one contract where the corporation realized that it had more space for the workers than was necessary so the building was put on the real estate market. It had a beautiful atrium that contributed sunshine to the atmosphere in more ways than one. One day a firm bought the building and the deal was that the original owners would lease part of the structure. The new owners set about spending millions of dollars in renovations, including elimination of the atrium from the ground floor. The work took months to complete and was still going on when my contract ended there. At least some jobs had been created so someone could make a living!

How many times have you seen a pristine wooded area completely leveled and houses or condominiums erected in its place? Eventually, new trees and shrubs are planted and with time they will approach what had been there when the land was cleared. But that will take many years. Why not just build into what is already there, removing only what is completely necessary? Of course, the alternate process creates more jobs.

In the outskirts of major American cities sit new buildings housing many corporations that once inhabited dwellings in those same cities. The grounds are covered with trees, shrubs, plants and grass that is mowed at least once a week. This is done whether it is needed or not. Here again we have work created so that people can make a living. This is unnecessary work as I have seen laborers cutting grass that really does not have to be cut, since only a quarter inch has been removed. Don’t forget the ever-present blowers that move clippings and leaves from one place to another only to eventually be put into garbage bags. Wouldn’t it make sense to have mulchers to keep the clippings on the ground or some device that sucked in the leaves rather than move them around? I won’t even get into the effect that all this created work has on Mother Nature.

Whether it’s corporate America or in our own homes, there is a great deal of work that is created when it really is not needed. I have already mentioned the fact that there are numerous tasks and plenty of work that has to be done today. Unfortunately those are not getting accomplished whereas others not needed are being done. People are getting paid but the wrong jobs are being completed. There can be other side effects of this process as well.
14. You pay for the shoes

There are many costs to making a living. Consider working outside. We are well aware of the impacts of too much exposure to the sun, specifically melanoma. Another effect might be dehydration or heat stroke. Conversely if your job takes you outside when the temperature is below freezing, you risk getting frostbite. Being a postman may give you plenty of exercise as you deliver the mail but there are drawbacks, and that doesn’t even include the pit bulls.

Another serious side effect is burnout. If you put in fifty-hour weeks, it probably won’t take too long before you get it. Young people are filled with enthusiasm but even they can succumb to burnout at an early age. You could be hit with it despite the fact that you only put in a forty-hour week, implying that it comes over time. I was once told that in the information technology field I would experience some form of burnout after a period of ten years. They were right, and I am sure that timeframes for different occupations are very similar when it comes to being fed up with your job.

Addiction is another result of having to work. Besides becoming a workaholic with all its devastating effects, you could become addicted to alcohol or drugs as a result of working. The job could be so overwhelming that you turn to these means to somehow get through life. When five o’clock rolls around your first stop is at the bar for a drink. You eventually get home and have a few more. It could even be much worse as you head out for a drink at lunchtime. To help you cope you might turn to drugs. In either case you now appear to have more control and work becomes more bearable. But your health will ultimately suffer.

Long hours at the office can have other effects as well. Family life can be disrupted and relationships fall apart when spouses don’t arrive home at a reasonable time. This situation in turn can lead to a person being intimidated by a spouse, which then results in a person staying away from home even longer. Actually many people may tend to be removed from the home scene for that very reason. They may wind up at work longer or at the bar. Office affairs are not that unusual and they further complicate matters, with divorce resulting. Who said work is good for you?

Stress is related to all these problems. It can cause all different types of health problems, such as heart attack and high blood pressure. An employee can leave the office and bring home frustrations, which are then taken out on his spouse and kids. And yet he has to make a living. The solution might be as simple as changing professions. For some that is nearly impossible but staying in a stressful job will not help matters. Stress has to be controlled or it will kill you.

There have been too many people in upper management who couldn’t handle the stress and the result was suicide. We are aware of this practice in other countries but it has happened in our own hemisphere. Any industrialized country can’t escape this possibility but there’s no reason for it. This situation only points out the fact that something is wrong with our culture when suicide is a solution to a problem.

Health is affected by too much work and too much stress. In either case control is needed. You won’t survive if you are tired on the job and can’t function. If you consider the workday, it shouldn’t be too surprising to see that no one can “work” twelve hours and be really productive. If you do this you will tend to be worn out and susceptible to making mistakes. There can be no doubt that a seven-hour day is the ideal, with a ten-hour stint the rare exception and certainly not the rule. Stress and the rush-to-complete-mentality limit productivity. I have seen too many examples over the years in too many corporations to feel any other way.

Besides these disadvantages, working can cost you in other ways. Let’s face it, in order to make money, you will have to spend money. Consider my day at work on a contract in Rochester, New York. Let us say that the commute is eighty miles each way and this trip takes one-and-a-half hours. Thus if I work a normal eight hour day, I will spend a total of eleven hours traveling and working. Some jobs will pay you for your travel but mine doesn’t. That certainly makes for a very long week.

Staying overnight at a motel can lessen this trip. Of course that costs $50 a night or more. Let us say that I can negotiate a deal for a rate of $35 per night with the provision that I will spend three nights a week for the course of at least an eight-month period. I may even reduce this rate further but that could be offset by the cost of the gun and ammunition. However, I have stayed at good motels in Rochester for rates between $35 and $45.

The motel costs a bit but it saves drive time as well as mileage and normal wear and tear on my car and me. Believe me it’s well worth it. I will still have to pay for tolls and gasoline. My car gets about forty miles to the gallon (that’s great but not normal) and the tolls for one day are about $4, so assuming I drive back and forth and one gallon of gas costs $1.50, my daily cost will be roughly $10. Notice that I did not include parking because I could park for free on this contract. That may not be true for others.

Of course, I could go out for lunch and that would increase costs further. I only do that occasionally so I won’t include it, but I do have to follow a certain dress code. Even if it’s not a suit and tie, there will be laundry or dry cleaning that has to be done that may not all be necessary if I were telecommuting. If you work at a job that requires a uniform, you could be the one paying for it. Even if the company pays, you are the one who has to pay the cleaning bills. Either scenario will increase your costs.

You may ask why I choose to work a contract so far away, when one in the city of Buffalo would involve fewer costs. The job in Rochester pays $10 more an hour, and that is a yearly increment of about twenty thousand dollars, no small change. That means that I can retire sooner. Don’t forget that my mileage is deductible, so all the extra miles give me a bigger tax advantage.

Despite any advantage, it will cost you to work whether you drive or take the bus or train. It could be more than $10 a day, but it may not be that much. It all depends where your work takes you. If you travel on business, your expenses may all be covered, but you will have to spend some cash. In most cases the expenses involved will be insignificant, but what about if you have a son or daughter who needs childcare? It could result in your spending more than you make, although someone might say that this is fine since you have a career. With this situation it seems like your career will be very long indeed.

Another expense that could result because you are working is an increase in your automobile insurance payment based on the additional mileage. You may have to include the expense of speeding tickets, but this really depends on your driving habits more than the fact that you have a job. Speeding tickets will boost the cost of your insurance. Because of the crowded highways, road rage and road conditions, you could wind up in the hospital after a traffic accident and this will be another expense. The collision may not even be your fault but your insurance premium could rise once more. As I said, you will have to spend cash to make money. It gets worse if you have to survive on the minimum wage. Now your expenses will rapidly get close to your take home pay. This explains why people refuse to work when they can collect unemployment. It’s not practical to spend more money than you can bring home or to get so little after all you shell out. Anyone who doesn’t agree with this probably flunked economics. 15. Work and revolutions

The nineteenth century brought the industrial revolution and changes in the way people worked. The movement greatly influenced how things were done and made life easier for many workers. New inventions meant more leisure time and a better way of life but they also had their shortcomings. Many of these effects were not felt immediately but continue to haunt us today, such as pollution and destruction of our planet, all in the name of progress. Change is necessary, but not if it means our water and air get to the point where they can’t be drunk or breathed.

The computer revolution accomplished many of the same things that the industrial revolution did and more. It may have had more profound effects on our society than its predecessor. Again, the long-term effects will not be realized for some time. At this point it appears that the introduction of these machines has been beneficial to some degree. However, it should be quite obvious that there is a down side to the computer revolution. Some of what has been discussed earlier should convince you of this fact.

Certainly the computer has generated a great deal of work for everyone. Even if you are not a computer science major, your work can involve these machines to a great degree. They are everywhere and can’t be avoided. You can use them without really understanding them. I majored in computers and there are way too many times when I can’t comprehend some of the software, machine failures and system crashes that seem to be as pervasive as the silicone chips themselves. These are some of the effects that illustrate that the product could be a great deal better than it is.

But this innovation does give people work. Some of the work we really don’t want as we are inundated with processes and features that we neither desire nor need. They may be added bonuses, but they can get in the way. They make things more complicated than they have to be. We wind up with work that we never intended to do and it takes us twice as long to do a task that we did before without any machine or with a simpler device. To really bring home this point let me share some of my experiences over the last decade.

In the early 1990s, I had a typewriter, as most people did, but I decided to purchase a word processor. It was a large improvement, as I had the option of looking over a page of a document before printing it. Thus I really didn’t need whiteout and my page would be free of erasure marks. In fact I wrote a cookbook using it, and there was even the opportunity to save this entire document to a disk or two. This meant you could return later to the document and make changes. I couldn’t access the Internet with it nor could I sell stocks or play games, but I had no desire to do any of these things so I was satisfied.

It was a very good machine and someone else felt the same way, as they broke into my house and absconded with it as well as with a few other electronic devices. I never recovered it but I got over it. Eventually I had a new word processor that was included in a used PC that a friend of mine provided me for almost nothing. This computer was old but functional and I was happy with it for what I could do relative to word processing.

I used it for some time until one day I was editing a page of a document when my screen went blank. PCs do that at times. This meant that either the computer or the word processor was on its way to the scrap heap. Since I was using the PC to write, I had to either get it repaired or buy a new one. The former option was not practical as it would probably cost as much as buying a new machine and there was no guarantee that the blank screen wouldn’t reappear. I had my important documents on floppy disks (these were the original kinds that really did flop), so I bought a reasonably priced brand new functional PC.

This new personal computer had a CD-ROM drive so I could play CDs and read them and it also had the ability to read floppy disks, though not the kind that flopped. Thus I had to somehow convert documents from one medium to another before I could move them to my new system. There was another far-fetched option. I could get some software that could be used to tie the old and new PC together and then transfer the files from one to the other. The cost of that software as well as the concept of that whole process easily convinced me to forget that alternative.

I decided to have someone else transfer the files through a machine that had both types of floppies. There was just one little problem. My old PC used one type of word processor while the new one used a different one, which meant that the documents weren’t compatible. What I would have to do was manually change it so it would be acceptable to the new system. This took some effort and it would have to be done for every page of every document. Aren’t computers fun?

If you talk about compatibility between computers, I think you can make one definitive statement: any two computers are compatible if you have enough money! I might also add time and patience. It’s not just between computers, but peripherals as well. I saw this firsthand not too long ago when I decided to buy a scanner. I wound up buying one made by the same company that produced my PC. This should work with my computer, wouldn’t you think? If you said yes, you would be wrong just as I was for buying that model. Eventually I returned it and was told that I needed a slightly different model, which I took home. I never did get that one to function with my system so I returned it as well.

In the process I realized that I had spent time driving to the store twice each way, buying and returning the scanners. I also wasted a great deal of time and effort in trying to get them to work. After some thought I realized that I really didn’t need that scanner. I had survived so many years without it and I would live without it now. You may think that I should have had the same attitude about the PC and if you did, congratulations. Maybe I should have kept my typewriter. The final result would still be the same and the amount of work reduced as well as all the frustration that the computer revolution has wrought.

I’m sure that as you read this you will completely agree that, “Yeah, that happened to me too.” It may not be the same scenario but certainly similar. Unnecessary work has resulted along with all the frustration brought on by technology. The industrial revolution gave us machines that reduce the time it takes to do a job from two hours to one. The machines that the computer revolution has given us may be able to perform billions of calculations in a second. At the same time many tasks that required one hour will now take twice as long. Is that progress?

One of the main problems of the computer revolution has to do with software. If you buy a PC you will have to deal with the software that is included. I have been writing computer programs for over a quarter century and I would never sell any software to anyone if it had the least chance of failing. If it somehow didn’t work, I certainly wouldn’t charge a penny to fix it. Unfortunately the business world not only sells you bug infested software but then it has the nerve to bill you when they fix it. On occasion you may get a fix to your problem without any cost but there should not have been any difficulty in the first place.

One of the reasons for this has to do with competition between companies to rush a product out to the public without thoroughly testing. This was illustrated not too long ago when an executive was demonstrating some new software that would soon be on the market when the system crashed. That indicates that more work was necessary at this point. I guess it could have been a lot worse. Suppose this crash didn’t occur until after you got home and installed the software on your system.

Haste is not the answer. Consumers would be a great deal happier if they waited longer for some new product but it came without any bugs. I cannot fathom why this is not the way for doing business. After all, this approach will only enhance profits. If there is some product that is bug free and works the way it should, it stands to reason that this software is way ahead of a similar untested product. Another feature that anyone I talk to wants in a computer is simplicity. Unfortunately PCs have never been user friendly. When a model arrives on the scene that is, all the others will be obsolete.

Not too long ago I had difficulties with my online service. It took ten days for me to get on the Internet. One of the reasons for the problem was that I had the wrong version of the software. That points out another huge problem of software. There are too many versions. Why not just work and come up with a good one and have only one? If it has no problems and does all that people want, why improve on what you already have? How could you improve it anyway?

Of course then you couldn’t sell the new version and make money. With the new version and all its needed modifications (bugs really), the help desk can rake in more cash as well. One complete version with no need for another means customers are satisfied and may even tell their friends, thus increasing sales. There wouldn’t be lawsuits if software did what it is supposed to do.

From this discussion you might conclude that you won’t be able to collect any payments for fixing problems if you put out bug-free software. There’s more truth to that statement than anyone in corporate America will confirm. I have been at corporations where the highest paid consultants were involved in software that was almost impossible to understand let alone modify. In one instance when someone informed me of the billing rate that this consulting firm charged for their services, I could not believe that any person would shell out that much money for this inferior software.

I have witnessed similar situations where money was spent on software that didn’t do what it promised. I have worked with tools that were supposed to speed up the testing process that had more bugs than a hotel room with surveillance equipment. So instead of getting through a session in an hour, it took me just that amount of time to realize that the problem was with the tool. All along I thought these tools were meant to help us. Once again work was created but it was the wrong type of work, along with the frustration.

The computer revolution has generated work for many people. At the same time, many individuals have been brainwashed into thinking they need to have every new and improved PC that arrives on the scene. The same applies to releases of software and all the latest gadgets. But this involvement in technology to the point of addiction can be good only for big business and not for consumers. Perhaps another type of revolution to counteract the one dealing with computers is really what is necessary.
16. Have you done your home work?

You will have home work whether you go to school or not and even if you don’t own a home. If you make payments for a mortgage on a townhouse, you probably will have fewer chores than if you own a house in the suburbs. If you merely rent an apartment you still will have to put forth some effort relative to work. How much you do in any of these housing situations is up to you. As I mentioned earlier, you could be like Felix Unger (the workaholic) or Oscar Madison (the lazy bum), but more likely you will fall somewhere in between these two extremes. The best outlook to take is one of moderation.

You can’t live in a pigsty (no offence meant to you porkers), but cleaning everyday is not the answer either. You just won’t have time and even if you did, I’m sure you wouldn’t really want to be bothered with this daily routine. Obviously you will have different levels of cleaning each time you embark on this endeavor. At times you will vacuum thoroughly, even moving furniture around. You will encounter dust that is older than your children and in the kitchen the remnants of meals that will bring back fond remembrances. Doing the work with your spouse will make it easier for both of you but perhaps more important is the feeling of not being overwhelmed by the work.

Outdoor work should be handled in the same way. If you have big plans for a vegetable garden but wind up spending the entire weekend keeping up with the weeds, maybe you have too large a garden. After all, this endeavor is supposed to be fun and rewarding. Any time it fails to be that, you really have created unnecessary work. Everyone needs to take it easy too. The same can apply to projects around the house.

Just how much work you can handle will actually determine what your home will turn out to be. You could be a billionaire and buy a three million dollar home and have all kinds of servants taking care of the grounds, the cooking as well as the cleaning. You may have a smaller income and really want a house but even in that choice you have to consider how much effort it will take to maintain. If your job requires much of your time and leaves you gasping for rest on the weekend, a house in the country may not be for you.

Friends of mine bought a house in Pennsylvania not far from Binghamton, New York, and had plans to do quite a bit of remodeling. They were young and eventually reached their goals, getting the place the way they envisioned. I will never forget how spectacular their kitchen turned out, compared to what it had been. However, if they had foreseen the long months of effort, they might have reconsidered their plans. They began the project and spent countless hours but saw no results at first. Eventually things took shape but it took time and was a great deal of work.

Many people do just this same thing. Some have great luck on their projects while others have regrets, even if they are satisfied with the outcome. An alternative may be to have someone else do the work but that could turn into a disaster. You have to know who is doing the renovations and unfortunately there are construction contractors who only care for your money and have no pride in the job that they are doing. Remodeling may be better than buying a different house but you could have problems doing it yourself or hiring someone to do the work.

A good friend of mine owned a two family home not far from the city of New York. He had tenants and had some renovations done but eventually decided that the place was too much for him. He sold it and bought a townhouse and couldn’t be happier with his decision. We talked about being landlords on numerous occasions and both of us agree that someone else can have that occupation. Whether you rent or own depends on how you care to spend your weekend. So before you sign a contract, you have to give it some serious thought.

You will agree that owning a home implies responsibilities. However you should never buy a home that will be a burden to you or your family. Certainly others can help with the chores, but you shouldn’t rely on them to do everything. If there comes a time when you become overwhelmed with all the work, some of which is unnecessary, perhaps it’s time to sell and move into an apartment or condominium. It could be better for you, your spouse and your family.

There is another type of home work. It’s that which is handed out by the teachers to their students. The main concern is how much homework should be assigned. Some advocate six hours per night while others think a half hour per night is fine. Obviously a distinction needs to be made for the grade level but before deciding on what is sufficient, you need to consider the purpose of the exercise. Before doing that let me relate a few experiences which might shed some light on the proper amount to be doled out.

While at the State University of New York at Binghamton in pursuit of an advanced degree in computer science, I recall one weekend when I had quite a bit of schoolwork to do. I probably could have made excuses and not done it but I did the next best thing: I procrastinated. Eventually I sat down on Sunday night to get started. In retrospect that was a huge mistake. I should have begun the work on Saturday and that would have really helped. As it was, I recall laboring until the wee hours of the morning. I don’t think I got more than an hour or two of sleep before I awoke and headed out the door to teach three classes at North High School and I wasn’t too excited. This was then followed with a few classes at the university, but at least I could get some rest there. Fortunately my day came to an end and I got some much-needed sleep.

The semester before at that same institution I had had an excellent professor. He had a great philosophy about education: there would be no tests, no final exams and no term papers. He was intelligent, kept the class so interesting that you really didn’t want to miss it and he also was director of the university orchestra. I did say he was an interesting person and we did learn a great deal from him even without tests. He gave homework assignments but they certainly were not overwhelming.

At the university, you got a “PASS” or it was as though you never registered for the class. Thus we had to work to make sure we succeeded but we weren’t overwhelmed with trying to get A’s or B’s. Also, most of us paid for the courses ourselves, so none of us cared to not pass the class. It was a good way of getting graded.

Years before that, I had taken a college chemistry course from a professor who really cared about the students. His philosophy was that your final grade was just about determined from the work you did during the year and the test grades at the same time. The final exam would count very little; it would be used primarily to separate borderline grades. Thus if you had between a C and B average, this final test would determine what you got for the course. I thought that was really fair and on the morning of the final I headed to the college to study before my test that afternoon. There was only one hitch: my exam was scheduled for the morning. Thus I wouldn’t have time to study anymore but it didn’t matter as I got the grade I had carried all year anyway. I also saved all that study time.

Obviously you can have learning without tests. In fact, many times they only get in the way of education. But you will need to read and study so homework of some sort is needed. However, some of it can be done in study hall so your burden will be less. In the process of writing this treatise I have learned a great deal. And yet I took no exams to accomplish this although I did read quite a bit and did much research, including observations over the years when I had no idea that I would be writing this.

With that in mind, how much homework should you, as a teacher, give a high school junior each night? First you need to be aware of your goals for the class but you must also be cognizant of the fact that each student has five other subjects. Some may not involve much, if any, work but history, English, physics and languages will undoubtedly require some time. If you decide on three hours then consider what the total load of her work will be for the evening. Assuming a half hour for each of the other five subjects, that adds up to between five and six hours of assignments for the night. However, some students have part time jobs and they may even have to work, so it is not an option. Assuming this job requires three hours of effort and the student arrives home at three in the afternoon, this means that eleven o’clock may arrive and the assignments may not be done. This assumption doesn’t even allow time for dinner or relaxation.

No doubt the three-hour assignment is out of the question for any teacher. It’s way too much. If you as a teacher need to hand out work that requires that much involvement, perhaps you should consider another profession. If each teacher gave one hour per subject, that would be six hours a night, and if they gave only three quarters of an hour it would be four and a half hours of work per night, both very difficult for most students to complete. Thirty minutes per class adds up to about three hours, which is more easily attainable. Any students who work will still have a struggle, though.

I taught high school mathematics and for a normal class, would cover one or two topics, say adding and subtracting fractions. I would give two or three problems for each and this should reinforce the necessary learning that was needed. This should not take more than a half hour to complete. You don’t need to assign ten problems that deal with adding fractions. A student who can master three of these certainly can handle ten without having to actually do the work. Assigning ten when three will do is overkill.

When I gave a test, I would hand out no assignment the night before. After all, they had plenty to study, although if I did my job as a good teacher it shouldn’t require that much time and effort. Just recall my chemistry test in college. The day of the test I probably wouldn’t give any written homework, maybe something to read. The same would apply when I handed back the test and went over it. If each teacher had some days when he gave no specific assignment, the students would probably be better off and more learning would take place.

Remember that education should occur primarily in the classroom rather than at home. When the weekend comes, teachers should realize that students don’t have sixtyfour hours to spend exclusively on assignments. If you teach, be considerate on Friday afternoon and don’t overwhelm the class. Don’t put them in the position that enveloped me that one Sunday evening during grad school.

Remember that if you overwhelm the students, you risk the chance of turning them off and education cannot take place. Learning can occur if students work together. In some cases this technique produces results that are superior to situations where students go it alone. In graduate school, most of my assignments were team efforts. We couldn’t have finished the work on our own. Teachers illuminate their students but the kids can also teach and reach each other.

For other subjects such as history and English, there will be reading assignments that can be given ahead of time, giving the students a chance to start early on the work, unlike what I did that one night. I can only plead that teachers of subjects that have these types of requirements give the students ample time to read a novel or write a paper on Walt Disney. Put yourselves in the kids’ shoes.

If you are in a music course you may be blessed with minimal homework each night. On the other hand you may be swamped with piano practice if you aspire to a music career. Another consideration, which I didn’t get into, had to do with household chores, which can cut into homework time. Extra curricular activities such as the drama club can really take up much of your time, especially on the weekend of the big performance. Being on the basketball or football team not only involves your time, it also will drain your energy. Of course you will be worn out from being on the stage as well.

I didn’t get into homework for students in grade school but it should be obvious that the time will be adjusted downwards from high school. My feeling is, and most educators will probably agree, that the lower the grade the shorter the assignment. Kindergarten and pre-K teachers won’t have to worry about homework.

College is another story. When I was in college some teachers got carried away with handing out work. It’s probably even worse today, but then it almost seemed as if they assumed that their class was the only one. My related experiences illustrate that tests aren’t needed. In fact through my degree program at Binghamton I took a grand total of one test...the nerve of that professor! This minimization of testing could indicate that a similar practice relative to homework is preferable.

All through college I had good teachers, as I mentioned, but I also had those whom I had no intention of emulating. You can’t rate a teacher based on the length of the assignments he gives. Perhaps you could say that the more work he handed out, the less competent he was. Maybe he was using the students to write his thesis. This practice is more common than you might imagine and it represents laziness. 17. There’s a better way!

Each of us has a certain amount of laziness that is part of our makeup. Even people who say, “I’m not lazy” are being dishonest since otherwise, they would be potential stroke victims. But this particular trait can be a huge advantage as it forces one to perform a task in a better way. It leads to creativity as a job that ordinarily requires four hours can now be accomplished in half that time. This is a great thing.

I mentioned my scanner fiasco but you should agree that a bit of laziness weighed in with the frustration for my decision against this device. My word processor adventures also involved this supposedly evil trait. Of course I don’t advocate total laziness, but a healthy amount is needed. I like to think that the real result is “working smart.” At various points of this work I have mentioned examples of this concept despite the fact that I really didn’t use that specific term. Recall my comments on snow removal or mowing the lawn. Think back to some examples in the business world, such as those “necessary” monthly reports or that file that I had trouble deleting.

There are numerous other examples that I didn’t mention. The Catholic Church that I attended in my youth had BINGO two nights a week not that long ago. Now they only have it on one evening. What led to this cutback had to do with the money being raised. It seems the evening’s event was losing money but even if had turned a slight profit, this reduction to a single weekly occurrence could still have been the right thing to do. After all, there are costs such as electricity and heating and if you spend $50 for these and only net $50, it is hardly worth the effort. This would not be “working smart.”

Every summer brings with it lawn fete time in many areas of the country. The various churches in the area take turns having summer picnics, extravaganzas selling food and beer with carnival rides and games of chance. This is done to raise funds for the church and some of the prizes may even be donated. It involves a great deal of effort and I can’t imagine the cost of insurance involved in obtaining the temporary liquor license for this once a year occurrence. I don’t work at this event but I do buy the raffle tickets that I get sent.

Sometime in September, parish bulletins announce how much profit resulted from this affair. In 2001, I did some calculations based on those statistics and the church reported a profit of approximately $100,000. We have 1,823 families and if each would give an extra $1.06 per week in the collection basket the result would be well over $100,000. This means that by each family additionally donating $55 annually there would be no need for any volunteers to labor before, during and after the lawn fete and no worries about repercussions from alcohol consumption. This may be a smart alternative to the huge weekend of festivities.

The profits for the 2002 lawn fete only totaled $44,000, so maybe my suggestion is to be considered. The only problem with this idea is that many people will not shell out the extra cash, even though it may only be a dollar a week or less. This is true whether they can afford it or not. These non-contributors will also be the ones who will refuse to volunteer to help at the picnic.

Additionally, if you think I am being hypocritical after the discussion on my corn roast, consider this. The intention of the church picnics is to make money, unlike my yearly event. If people still insist on the lawn fete for the socialization aspect, why not simply have a yearly picnic somewhere for all the parishioners?

Perhaps that is what occurred years ago, with each family bringing some contribution of food or drink. Those who didn’t could still pitch in a cash donation and be a part of the festivities. These events went on for some time and then someone suggested expanding the affair to make money for the church by adding amusements, games of chance, a beer tent and music and letting anyone attend. Thus the lawn fete was born.

Some time ago, I lived outside Tampa and had joined the church choir there. The group was planning a trip to Italy and Austria and a few other countries. It would involve some singing and it promised to be a great journey but they needed money to pay for it. The solution proposed was to collect bottles and cans and turn them in for cash. This may bring to mind Kramer and Newman in the United States Postal Truck on their way to Michigan with a cargo of empties. That trip ended in disaster and I’m not sure how the choir did as I left to move north soon after the refund proposal. To me this idea didn’t appear to be working smart. It seems you would be better off getting a part time job. Just consider how much each can fetches, how many you have to collect and from where will you get them? Then think about all the effort that is involved. And yet high schools and churches go through the same trouble to fund the band or some school function. There is good news though. I donate my returnables in this way and it saves me a trip to the recycling center. For me, that is “working smart.”

One occupation that I cannot see as “working smart” is a scalper on NFL Sundays. I guess you can do all right if you buy a ticket for $50 and sell it for $100. Even if you get back exactly what you paid beforehand, at least you won’t lose money. But what happens when game time arrives and you still have a dozen tickets? You can’t sell the $50 ticket for $30 because then those who want those seats would all wait until kickoff time for a bargain. But if you don’t sell the tickets at all, you’ll lose even more money. You can’t win either way, so what do you do? Don’t become a scalper.

If someone offered you a ten-dollar bill for a single, would you take it? Surprisingly many wouldn’t, fearing that they would fall victim to a scam. If the $10 bill is legitimate, it would be foolish not to do the exchange. On the other hand, would you invest $2 to make $1, that is, exchange the two dollars for one dollar? No one in their right mind would agree to that and yet many people in fact do just that on too many occasions. Consider spending great sums of money in a lawsuit just to prove you are right or to see “justice prevail.” If you have all kinds of cash it probably really is not that big a deal, but is it smart?

Lending institutions spend ten dollars in processing fees in order to collect a five-dollar payment. Just consider what the United States government spent in the year 2001 relative to a small tax refund. The total refund was $38 billion but the cost of pre-rebate notices turned out to be $35 million. It also turned out that some of these notices were in error. Wouldn’t it have been cheaper and smarter to omit the notices and just send the checks? The media made it quite clear who was eligible for a rebate although the amount was not specified.

Because of the expansion into the suburbs, many forests and wetlands have been eliminated and their inhabitants displaced. This results in rabbits, woodchucks, deer and raccoons moving closer to the population’s homes and gardens. Thus you may not have a garden for long. I soon found that keeping the animals out of my produce would be nigh impossible. A dog would probably keep them away whereas a shotgun could also work to some degree but I had no intention of buying a firearm of any kind. Since I was away from my home for long stretches of time, it would be unfair to get a pet such as a dog or cat. I also had no desire to employ a pet alligator. Can you imagine the look on the face of the woodchuck?

My choices were limited, but I had a six-foot high fence erected to enclose my garden. The woodchucks could have tunneled underneath, except I lined the inside of the fence with patio blocks. This did the trick, along with the fact that my soil is inundated with rocks, which would help discourage those cute critters. The rabbit problem wasn’t completely solved by the fence. One day I saw a bunny or two behind the fence or so I thought. After a second look, I realized that they were inside it and I watched as they leaped through the chain links (about a two inch square) as though the fence weren’t even there. Apparently if they can squeeze their head through an aperture, they can get their entire body through. The problem was solved with a bit of chicken wire and they haven’t been inside the fence since.

This strategy has worked for a few years now and I grow all kinds of vegetables such as okra, pole beans, Swiss chard, lettuce, honeydew melons and tomatoes. Had I not had the fence installed, it would have been foolish to grow anything unless it was for the deer and woodchucks. And yet some people don’t restrain their menagerie, but they still try to grow peas and cucumbers. The rabbits and raccoons are quite content. This is not “working smart.” It’s a losing battle and not worth any effort whatsoever.

If you are fortunate enough to have a critter free garden, there are many opportunities for “working smart.” Being a gardener, you probably have a book or two related to just this aspect. I have a few myself and the more you read, the easier will be your efforts. For example, the best time to weed the garden is after a nice rain as those atrocious additions are easier to remove. If you don’t get much rain but still need to pull out some weeds, turn on the sprinkler. That will do the trick and it will help the vegetables grow too. If you raise asparagus, you will never have to weed the beds. Put down some rock salt and all the undesirables will be gone shortly. And yet there is no effect on your crop. Nothing else will grow there for a while but that’s fine.

Some time ago, I was a consultant living in the first home I had bought. I had a woodstove, which helped with heating, and I noticed a huge fallen oak tree in the woods down the hill near my property. I decided to cut some wood, split it and save some money on heating my house. I spent a few hours doing this one Sunday and gathered a nice supply of fuel. Unfortunately I got sick and missed work the following day. Since I only got paid if I worked, this meant no cash that day. Most likely the value of the wood I cut, split and stacked didn’t come close to what I would have made had I not been home sick. As you can tell, that was not “working smart.”

You can have a similar experience by deciding to fix a leak in the sink. That’s fine if you can handle it. However, if you only make it worse and ultimately have to call a plumber, you’ve wasted your time and certainly more money than you had to spend. It may also be embarrassing to you. Doing work on your car might turn into a similar fiasco. Either of these situations is not the way to work.

If you own a restaurant, “working smart” is hiring people who treat the customers well. This applies under all circumstances such as an onslaught of patrons or some other unexpected disaster, whether man-made or from nature. If you run a good restaurant, a customer will tell five of his friends. If either the service or the food is bad that same person will tell ten of his friends. It also helps to have an above average cook. This philosophy of dealing with customers applies to any business.

I already mentioned truckers who speed to make a living, and as you can tell, that is not “working smart.” Putting in long days at the office isn’t either. I recall a former boss of mine who did just that and the result was he was so tired that he fell asleep driving home. He was all right and there was negligible damage to his car, but he was fortunate. If you take the subway and don’t drive you won’t have to worry about the highway. The long hours may have no effect on some workers but could have devastating results if you are a Sherpa on Everest, a brain surgeon or any other kind of surgeon or an airline pilot.

In my years of consulting, I have seen too many cases where programmers and analysts just jumped right in and began work on a problem or project. A better alternative may have been to spend some time analyzing before taking any steps. The time spent in this approach would most likely have saved time in the actual work. It also could prevent problems in the future, as the right approach to a system would have been taken. I specifically recall writing a computer program at the same time that someone else was developing the specifications. This is not the best way to get any desired results.

On another occasion, the company I worked for was to install a purchase order system for one of their clients. I was asked to check out a similar system that we had access to. I took into consideration what our customer wanted and needed and what was already available and concluded that it was more beneficial to write the system myself and not use the existing software. From my point of view, it would be quicker and more cost effective to do it that way. The client would also be more satisfied.

The vice president of the company insisted that I use what was there and if need be, modify it to the needs of the customer. This person was not a programmer so he really shouldn’t have made that decision, as he wasn’t knowledgeable in this area. I tried to convince him that modifications would take longer, thus lowering profits but he wouldn’t buy it. I had to do it his way. It did take a great deal longer and he wasn’t thrilled that it took me so much time. But he did ask me to tell him which was the best way to do this and he never listened to me.

In most information technology projects it is always easier and more cost effective to start a system from ground zero rather than modify an existing piece of software. This same logic applies to computer programs and there are many reasons for this. To start with, an existing system has much that is excess and not even needed. Why bring all these extra capabilities into a different system? The alternative is to delete these unwanted features, and that is a good idea, but it involves extra effort.

Next, different people have patched existing software so there is a very good chance that it is not structured. This means that someone looking at it will encounter difficulties trying to understand what exactly is happening in the program, even if he is experienced in the language. This also implies that it will not be easy to modify the system, if the need arises. If you write software to fit a variety of situations, you generally have systems that will not be good for anyone without major changes. Why not just design software for one company and then something different but perhaps related for another corporation? That’s the smart way to do it.

The difference between modifications to software and writing original programs can be compared to buying a house. If you are in the market for a home, you could buy an existing one or have one built to your specifications. In the former scenario, you will probably eventually have some remodeling done. This will cost a bit but your feelings could be that the brand new home is not within your budget while the old house is. Once you have more cash you can splurge on the additions and upgrades. When your house is finally the way you want it you will probably discover that you would have saved both time and money by having the house built rather than doing all those renovations on the old dwelling. Somehow you should have come up with a way to finance the project but you learned a good lesson.

Not long ago my contract ended and I had two months of the year without any income. That may have been a bad thing, but on April 15th I got a larger tax refund than if I had worked the extra eight weeks. As you go through the work year you need to realize that there will come a point when it won’t pay for you to put in extra hours. You will be working and Uncle Sam will be the one who benefits, not you. If someone asked you to work at your job without getting paid, would you do it? That is just about what can happen when you work all those extra hours, and it’s not very smart.

As you can see “working smart” transcends the business world. It applies to all our daily endeavors. Doing things the old way may be the only way you know but it doesn’t have to be. If you can have more free time, less hassle and frustration, doesn’t it make a lot of sense to do things in a way that would accomplish that? This way of doing things means that you think about what has to be done before doing it. This brain effort should save you physical effort. On so many occasions people have something to do and they just dive right in, without considering better and quicker ways for achieving the same results. Why not spend some time to consider alternatives? Your reward will be less effort and more freedom. I don’t think anyone will argue with that.
18. Why we work

We have to work primarily because we need food, clothing and shelter. If you think back to our friend Charlie the caveman, you will recall that his first concern was survival so food and drink were necessities. He had his cave, so shelter was not really a concern, and clothing in his day was negligible. He had basically one need. Modern day man works to pay for food, clothing and shelter as well as transportation, gifts, insurance, taxes, services and entertainment. These categories encompass all the reasons for work and anything you can envision will fall into one of these categories. Unfortunately, from the work aspect, the new millennium is more of a challenge to us than it was to Charlie.

Not long ago I wrote a computer program to track my spending habits. The main reason was to figure out how much money I had remaining each month to pay down my mortgage. This information would then tell me when I could look forward to retiring. The details of the program are not important but when I saw the results I was very discouraged. You won’t comprehend how much cash you spend until you begin to track it. There is good news though. By seeing these expenses you can control some of your spending. Some you may be able to control and some will rise each year and you can’t do a thing about them.

Let’s begin with the main necessity: food. You could reduce your costs for groceries by growing some of your own vegetables if you had the desire, land and skill. This effort will save you some money, but you also have control of what you are eating; that is, you won’t have to worry about pesticides and additives. Also the produce is so much fresher and tastier. This may not be an option for you, but you can also reduce your food expenses by buying fruits and vegetables at their peak season. This reduces the cost and also the taste is better. Of course if you want a delicious tomato in February (that may be an oxymoron), you may not have a choice but to spend more to get it.

You can pick your own and save some cash but remember that the money you save is in exchange for time. It may not be beneficial for you to save one dollar on strawberries if you have to spend an hour or two of your time. The trade-off may not be smart. But that is something you will have to determine along with your weekly budget for groceries. If you don’t have a limit, you certainly won’t be able to control spending in this regard.

Obviously if you eat shrimp, lobster and filet mignon regularly you will have high food bills. They could rise even further if you eat out at a lot at pricey restaurants. You certainly need to get out and you don’t want your exquisite dinner to be at a fast food restaurant but once again a budget could help in limiting spending for food. There are many ways to eat well, even at fine establishments, and not wind up destitute.

Any way you look at it, the costs for food will be small compared to that for housing. Whether you rent or the bank owns most of your home, you will have to come up with plenty of payments since you need insurance, utilities, taxes and maybe commons’ fees. Homeowners also need to worry about shelling out money for repairs and improvements as well as other miscellaneous things. Renters are spared some of these expenses.

You can minimize some of these housing costs by not buying a home with 3,000 square feet of living space, especially if you are single or married with no children. If you buy a condominium, you better do your homework first as otherwise it may cost you later. You may not want to live in a development that charges you a $400 monthly fee to maintain the pool, lawns and shrubs and plow the snow in winter. Of course you won’t know what the cost will be until you investigate before you buy. Property taxes might be higher than you care to shell out, so that needs research, as does the cost of heating and cooling.

Shelter involves more than just the rent or the mortgage and yet when people decide to move in they look only at that one payment and figure that they can really handle that. Those other expenses can really be a setback if you wanted to do some investing or set up a retirement account. You can’t save anything if there is nothing remaining after all the expenses. Just as you may want to track food expenses, you may want to do likewise for housing.

Being conservative when it comes to buying a home or renting means that you won’t have to work extra hours each week or get a second job to keep up the payments. Spending $80,000 for a townhouse when you could get a fancier one at $120,000 will enable you to retire sooner. You can be just as happy in the former as in the latter, maybe more so as you won’t be so burdened by fifty per cent more in expenses. You can still get cable and have Internet access or whatever you like and have furniture in your place.

Clothing may not have been a worry for our friend Charlie but it is a concern for us today. Even if you don’t work, you will need socks, shirts, pants, sweaters, coats and other pieces of apparel. Of course you need not spend $150 for a pair of jeans as this high cost indicates that you are paying for a fancy name. Forget that and you can get by with half a dozen pair of jeans for that price, perhaps more. You also can avoid spending $175 for fashion footwear. Not long ago I went to a very reputable shoe store that specializes in comfortable footwear and I entered with $30 in my wallet and left with change as well as a pair of shoes. You can manage even without spending a great deal of time comparison-shopping.

If you have a closet full of fancy $1000 suits and most have yet to be worn, perhaps you overspent on these items. To begin with, you probably don’t have to have seven suits and you certainly don’t need to spend a grand for each. One thousand dollars can probably be enough for three or four nice suits. They say that clothes make the man but if you spend more than you have to, clothes will make you “broke.” Once again you’re probably paying for the name when you fork out exorbitant amounts of cash, but fortunately you can get top fashion brands for a great deal less and still have both pant legs and coat sleeves.

In three contracts that I consulted on recently, my work attire was casual as each assignment was in the basement. On one assignment, I brought in a sweater to keep warm that was as white as snow. A few months later I took it to the cleaners as it had a new hue: gray from all the dust and dirt. I couldn’t believe the place was so filthy and there was no way that I was going to wear any expensive clothes at that location. I will add that the people who cleaned this garment returned it to its original brightness.

In today’s business world you don’t need expensive suits and are a fool if you dress up while everyone else is casual. At one recent contract the normal attire was laid back and one new contractor wore a suit for a few days before he toned down. Some of the people kept badgering him to lose the suit and tie. Maybe they figured that if he kept it up the dress code would change and we all would be required to wear those funny suits. If you don’t need all that fancy attire at the office, why would you want more than two or three suits for the times when you are away from work? I don’t know any people who wear a tie for dinner at their own home.

As far as “clothes making the man,” the real value lies within that person and not in outward appearances. This also applies to the opposite sex. So you can spend whatever you like for draping your body, but that will not necessarily result in you being a better person. Also remember that the more you spend for attire, the longer hours will you have to work. It may help the economy but it sure won’t speed the time until you can retire.

Besides the basic necessities of food, clothing and shelter, there are a few more reasons why we have to work. The first of these is transportation. A car is not always needed; some people who live in a major city such as New York can get by without owning an automobile. The subway, buses, planes and trains can enable people to get where they desire without getting behind a steering wheel. Of course, transportation will still be an expense, but most likely not as costly as moving about in a van or SUV. You could live or work in a major city and have both the expense of mass transit as well as that of a car. When I had my first contract near the World Trade Center in New York, I drove, took the train and rode on the subway.

Owning a car or truck involves many hidden expenses such as tolls, parking and insurance, to name a few. If you spend $40,000 on a fancy van you will probably have to get another job or work fifty-hour weeks. That’s almost what I spent on my first home, and it was in Westchester County! You don’t have to spend that much dough for a vehicle. Despite the fact that cars, vans, SUVs and trucks are expensive these days, you can still save money by not buying a new car. I bought my last two vehicles as used and when I got rid of the first, it had almost a quarter of a million miles on it. It also averaged close to fifty miles to the gallon over the time I had it, highway and city combined.

The car I currently own has over 165,000 miles registered and so far I am quite happy with it. You can buy a new car and still not spend more than $15,000 and get good value. You can save even more by buying the same brand vehicle used but you may get a 2000 or 2001 version rather than a 2002 or 2003. In either event you can be quite happy with your purchase. Leaving a showroom with a brand new vehicle means an automatic depreciation of a least $1000 has just occurred. That won’t happen if the car is used.

I can’t advocate taking out a second mortgage just to buy a car. Paying cash may be fine although a better deal is a 36-month loan at 2.9% interest, if you can get it. Even if the rate is higher you could accept it and eventually pay it off with a home equity loan at a much lower rate. You do need to remember that the more you spend on your transportation, the longer hours will you have to work and the longer will it take before you can retire. Also take into consideration those other related costs for that truck or car such as insurance, gasoline, parking and speeding tickets. You can’t ignore those.

If you are married without children and have two cars and a van in your driveway, you just might have too many car payments each month. Even if you need your van for your business, there still is the possibility of eliminating one of the other vehicles and saving some cash. Of course, you can have as many cars as you like and spend as much money as you desire on your transportation. Just remember that you will be the one who has to work to finance those machines that sit in your garage.

You probably will not have many people inviting you to their home if your allowance for gifts is zero. This necessarily includes charitable contributions and giving funds to family or close friends who are in dire need of assistance. When it comes to giving, there’s a saying that if you give, you will receive double in return. Give freely and expect nothing in return and you will be rewarded time and time again.

However, you should be cautious when contributing to any charity. Make sure that your donation is going to the purpose for which it is intended. This may require some effort on your part but you can get help through the Internet. Doing a little research will help you determine what charity will see your gifts. Any organization that spends too much money on administrative costs may not be a cause with which you care to deal.

Giving to others in need, whether relatives or otherwise, even though you may not get a tax deduction means you are truly concerned about your fellow man. The less affluent you are, the more praise you deserve. If you have plenty of resources and fail to help others when you have ample opportunity, then you may be able to retire sooner but you will look upon your life with regret. You may have to give up one of your BMWs or vacation homes, but how many cars do you really need?

When it comes to passing out gifts at birthdays, Christmas, graduations and the like, there is a fine line between being generous and overspending. Some of the gifts that society recommends every kid should have may be a bit too pricey. After all, you don’t want to have to spend the next six months paying off your charge cards because you went overboard for a few gifts at year’s end. Perhaps more concern for friends and relatives would be a much better gift than handing over a PC with a DVD player. I’m not advocating replacing gifts entirely with your presence but too many people feel that splurging on their children can take the place of spending time with them.

I have almost never given a gift to my nephew, nieces and my good friend’s boys. Instead I set up mutual fund accounts and each time a birthday, graduation or similar important event arises, I write a check for these investment venues. It accomplishes a few things. I don’t have to worrying about buying a chemistry set that destroys the home of my brother or sister. Second, do you really think children need more toys or certain types of clothes? The alternative I use can be a good start for a college fund as well as a motivation for young people to save by investing.

The next reason why we need to work has to do with insurance. I have already touched on auto and home insurance but there are a few other types that each of us should have. Health, life and disability insurance are not required but in the event of sickness or an accident, they can make quite a difference. Not having health insurance can be a very risky gamble even if you don’t smoke, drink and are in the best of health. The same applies to disability insurance. If you are married it doesn’t matter if you have children, you should have life insurance. Insurance for an appliance or high tech toy is another concern but that is minuscule by comparison and optional in most cases.

We don’t usually think of investing for the future as insurance, but putting money aside for retirement as well as simply saving for college education is just that. In the former case we are attempting to insure our life beyond our careers and this means sacrifices and another necessity for success. This will be a huge investment done over time. The effort will pay off in the long run.

Just as we should work smart, we should do our best to make sure that our money works for us in a “smart way.” Just exactly what that means can be illustrated by a simple example. Joe and Frank are both just out of college and Joe decides to begin saving in an individual retirement account. He starts with $2000 and will invest that much for seven years until he is 28. Frank on the other hand decides to wait and he begins investing $2000 when he turns 28. He will continue to invest the same amount each year, even when he is 65. Each individual account earns a fixed rate of interest of 10% from year to year.

At age 62, who has more money in his account? Before answering that question, note that Joe stopped investing at age 28 while Frank started later but didn’t stop. This meant that Joe invested a grand total of $14,000 while Frank by the time he was 62 had invested a bit more at $68,000. It turns out that Joe had over $640,000 or $46,000 more than Frank, who wound up with a bit less than $597,000. The key is to start investing as early as possible to take full advantage of compounding the interest.

Let’s carry this a bit further. Suppose that Joe kept investing $2000 each year. At age 70 Frank would have a nest egg of over $1,300,000. This assumes he keeps putting in the same yearly contribution until that age. However, Joe would have slightly more in his account. He would have over 2 and a half million dollars. Getting the head start really allowed his cash to “work smart!”

The next reason for working is taxes. I have already spoken about real estate taxes and we can’t overlook all the taxes and surcharges on the telephone bill. Unfortunately there are more, such as federal income tax, state income tax, estate tax and sales tax, just to bring up a few. The only way to avoid some of these headaches or to lower them is by not working or reducing the number of your hours. That approach could leave you with no food on your table or no place to live, so it may not be an alternative. If you buy a car, the more it costs the higher will be your sales tax, so you want to consider that fact. The same applies to spending in general; that is, for most goods that you purchase, you will be required to pay sales tax. Thus the more times you open your wallet, the more sales tax will you get hit by.

The next reason for getting a job has to do with services. Anyone who wants to be a writer should probably get an agent and take advantage of her services. If you happen to get too many speeding tickets, you may need to talk to a lawyer or else forget about driving for a few months. That alternative may leave you with no means of transportation to work so you can rule it out. Just writing a will or dealing with an IRS audit could lead you to look in the phone directory for an attorney. There are any other number of reasons why you may need an agent to work on your behalf, but in any case, you will have to do some spending.

The last reason for working could be the one that does you in: entertainment. Today a concert of a major star could easily set you back $100 or more. Going to a movie might lessen your bankroll by $10 with little effort, and becoming a season ticket holder in the NFL may require you to spend quite a few extra hours at the office. The other major sporting events won’t be any kinder to your wallet unless your town has a good minor league baseball team.

Even if you decide to be entertained at home, you might need to take out a second mortgage for your television / theatre room and all its high tech equipment. Your cable bill alone might set you back $45 or more each month, not to mention the cost of the monthly magazine that tells you what is on your satellite dish and when. And what about all those DVDs or videos that you will be purchasing to build up your movie collection? They won’t come cheaply either.

As you can guess, entertainment runs a wide gamut of possibilities. You can go to see a play or journey to a nice restaurant and both of these fall into this category. If you argue that the latter belongs to the “food” category, I would contend that some of the expense does belong there, but some would fall into the entertainment class. A vacation also fits in here, as well as many more things that we do in our leisure time. By now you probably realize why I mentioned that this classification of spending could require a great deal of your money.

Of course you need not get season tickets to pro basketball or pro hockey and still follow your favorite team via television coverage. Instead of taking a safari to the middle of Africa, you could have just as good a time in Rome or Germany on your vacation. You probably will have a lot more cash after you get back as well and not have to worry about malaria. Instead of seeing a flick as soon as it opens, wait a month and you can see it at the less pricey theatre or on video or DVD for a fraction of the cost. By waiting you may also get enough feedback from others to realize that the movie is not for you, thus saving even more.

As far as collecting flicks, if you have a roomful of movies that have yet to be opened, maybe you should collect something less costly, especially if these are DVDs. Since there are so many movies, you really don’t have time to watch the same movie a hundred times or even thrice. Granted, there is a lot of junk, but if you want to collect videos, just remember that you may have to work longer at the office to pay the credit card bill from the entertainment place.

Entertainment expenses can be controlled and reduced in many ways. If they are out of hand at your house, consider alternatives that are just as good or better. That PC in the den was not on the scene thirty years ago and yet people still survived. You probably can get along without 150 cable stations, maybe even without cable or a satellite dish itself. If you move about the country in a travel trailer during the summer with a few of your videos, is that really a vacation? Instead see the sights and learn a bit about the country in which you live. Get in touch with nature as well as with your family and friends.
19. Working it out

As I have pointed out before, there is plenty of work to be done. And yet, somehow, it is not getting accomplished. Unnecessary work is being tackled, and new jobs to do it are being created all along. Working hard is one thing but a better alternative may be “working smart.” This approach will still meet the objective but the results will be apparent in less time and with less effort.

Someone said that “work can’t kill you” but as I have illustrated that is not true in all circumstances. The main reason why anyone hates work has to do with “control.” When those in charge tend to control people that work for them rather than be in a position of control, employees may feel like rebelling. This eliminates creativity and productivity and only degrades those who do the actual work. If that is the environment that you see at your office, there is small wonder that company turnover is high.

Management needs to do a better job at what they should be doing. If there comes a time when the only solution to a bad year is downsizing, perhaps that should occur in the halls of upper management itself. This solution may involve nothing more than a salary adjustment (downward rather than the way it usually occurs) but it would spare the men and women who need to support their family. After all, if a company suffers a bad year, the real blame should be placed on those in charge who probably didn’t perform to the best of their ability.

One area in which management needs improving has to do with the length of the workweek. Because of all the technological improvements, the same work that years ago took ten hours should now be performed in a lot less time. However, the workweek today is not shorter than it was a quarter century ago but even longer. No human can work fifty hours a week and be truly productive consistently. Not only that, the long-term effect of this drudgery can only be burnout, perhaps not at first but over time.

If an employee has the opportunity to work thirtyfive hour per week but feels that he needs the overtime to pay his credit cards and make the mortgage payments, it may be time for that individual to assess his spending habits. Maybe the three cars in the driveway aren’t really needed and perhaps the four-bedroom home isn’t really necessary for just he and his wife. You are welcome to spend all you want since America is a free country. Just remember that you will be the one who has to pay for all these things whether you need them or not.

Materialism is at the root of why we have to labor so many hours at the office. At first I thought that cutting back on all the technological toys and lobster and caviar would have a debilitating effect on the economy. On the other hand if you slave and become a victim of overwork and wind up in the hospital, you won’t be doing much spending for a while. The health care industry may be content, but certainly not the merchants.

We really need to question if that satellite dish is worth the money. Could we get along without cable and the 150 channels that it provides? Why not reduce the monthly bill and be content with just the basic service? A 48-inch TV screen isn’t really necessary when a 27 inch one will suffice. And is replacing your PC every six months that important a priority? Do we have to possess cell phones, pagers, laptops, microwave ovens and global positioning systems?

I just watched the 2000 movie “Cast Away” and perhaps that is what we should do with many of these gadgets. In the beginning of the movie, Chuck Noland was obsessed with time and his life was filled with timers, beepers, watches and schedules to be met. “Tick tock, don’t stop” was Tom Hanks’ character’s gospel, but a singular misfortune changed his life forever. By the time four years had passed he came to a realization. If you have seen the flick you will know exactly what I am talking about. If you haven’t seen the picture, do see it and you will realize the point that I am trying to bring home. Hint: I’ve been making it throughout this book. Indeed you can work less and be all the richer for it!

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Buffalo Evening News (Friday May 25, 2001)


Dubofsky, Melvyn and Dulles, Foster Rhea – Labor in America: A History (1984)

Gibbs, Nancy; Lacayo, Richard; Morrow, Lance; Smolowe, Jill; Van Biema, David with the editorial staff of Time Magazine – Mad Genius: The Odyssey, Pursuit and Capture of the Unabomber Suspect

Hammerslough, Jane - Dematerializing: Taming the Power of Possessions Perseus Publishing (2001)


Kolchin, Peter – American Slavery 1619-1877 N. Y. Hill and Wang (1993)


Peter, Lawrence J. – The Peter Prescription N. Y. Morrow (1972)


Peter, Lawrence J. – The Peter Principle N. Y. Bantam Books (1969)


Lewis, Sinclair – Main Street NY Harcourt, Brace & World (1920)


McKibben, Bill – The Age of Missing Information NY Random House (1992)


Philipson, Ilene – Married to the Job NY The Free Press (2002)


Snyder, Don J. – The Cliff Walk: A Memoir of a Job Lost and A Life Found Boston Little, Brown and Co. (1997)


Stampp, Kenneth – A Peculiar Institution: Slavery in the Ante-Bellum South N. Y. Vintage (1956)


U. S. News and World Report (April 2, 2001)


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