We Define Ourselves


Do you want to know one of the lessons I’ve learned from watching my father progress with Alzheimer’s? Let’s start with the fact that he and my mother were supposed to be enjoying their retirement. They wanted to travel all over, maybe move out west or up north, get a nice single floor home in the woods, go for long walks watching for deer, take long drives, visit friends, explore both of their family histories and grow old together. It’s kind of like the American dream we’re all told to want and aim for, isn’t it?

I think a lot about the things my parents sacrificed in order to give that dream a chance at happening. And I think about things my friends and former co-workers have sacrificed for a chance at that, too. You begin to realize at some point that it’s a bit of a carrot dangled on a string in front of us.

One of my former bosses went to work for a company this year that presented her with an offer that included a maximum of 50 hours a week, a supposed rarity in terms of overtime (she’s overtime EXEMPT when it comes to pay, by the way), and the possibility of one Saturday a month. She’s worked all but two Saturdays, one of which she spent in the hospital after finding out her cancer had returned. And when she came back to work after several days of intense pain? Her boss scheduled her for that Saturday, something he’s never scheduled for himself or worked. She went to Human Resources and asked what could be done only to be told she wasn’t acting like a team player. I asked why she hasn’t looked for another job and the answer’s been “Because who’s going to hire someone with cancer?” She’s currently working six 10+ work hour days a week.

I have another co-worker who went to work for a company and started putting in 10-12 hour work days 6 days a week. She doesn’t get paid for her overtime either. Another co-worker from the same company I used to work for is also in the same situation, only she has to travel extensively. Again, no overtime pay. One of my bosses at GM used to go on vacation with his family only to have several boxes of work FedExed out to him so he could do whatever he thought he needed to while his family did whatever they were going to do. Why?

Is it worth it? Maybe in the current economy, but only with the understanding that there aren’t many jobs available and we all do what we have to in order to put food on the table.

But here’s the thing…what are we missing out on? These are people, my father included, who work(ed) holidays, weekends, vacations, birthdays, family events and who knows what else. Was it worth it then? Is it worth it now? Is it worth missing out on time with your family, your children, your grandchildren and even your friends? What about your own sanity time? Is it worth giving that up for a company run by people who don’t give a shit about your sacrifice so long as it increases their bottom line?

Jobs are a part of our lives, but they don’t rule them nor do they define us. In a perfect world, we’re supposed to be given the tools we need in order to succeed at our jobs. That doesn’t happen and all too often we’re simply set up for failure. Maybe that sounds cynical, but that’s been my observation. My new job, fortunately, doesn’t resemble this corporate atmosphere. Other people just haven’t been as lucky, though.

My point, and there is one, is don’t pass up the opportunity to spend time in the now with those who mean the world to you. There’s a balance that can be found, probably over the objections of who you work for. They don’t have to care about you or your family. That’s what you get to do. But you also get to decide just who you belong to, your family or your job. Who defines you more? Who’s going to be there for you when your former employer gets court approval to get rid of your pension and take away your health insurance?

Don’t put off ten or twenty years what you can do today or this weekend. Don’t take that chance because things happen you can’t foresee. Don’t allow yourself to be robbed of telling that person you love them, spending time with them, reading a book with them, watching a movie with them, walking in the woods with them or taking a real life vacation with them. Explore that better part of yourself that makes you who are and don’t be defined by what your job says you should be.

We’re better than that, but we listen to the wrong people.

It’s time we started listening to ourselves.

Kristoffer Gair (who formerly wrote under the pseudonym Kage Alan) is the Detroit-based author of Honor Unbound, A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To My Sexual Orientation, Andy Stevenson Vs. The Lord Of The Loins, Gaylias: Operation Thunderspell, several short stories featured in anthologies (to be combined in a forthcoming book), the novella Falling Awake (also to be re-published under his real name), and the upcoming Falling Awake II: Revenant.

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