When author Richard Flanagan finished his latest novel, relative poverty forced him to contemplate getting a job in the mines in northern Australia. His Booker Prize win has spared him a life underground for the time being, but he did not waste the opportunity to acknowledge in his speech that “writing is a hard life for so many writers.”
And it’s only getting worse, as Elizabeth Renzetti wrote wrote recently in these pages. Twelve thousand dollars – that’s the figure the Writers’ Union of Canada estimates as the average annual income writers make from their writing in this country. I remember what it’s like to live on $12,000. You live in a shabby apartment furnished with hand-me-downs from your parents and garbage-picked gems, you allot $25 a week for food and you wear a borrowed dress when you’re invited to a gala fundraising dinner for writers at a fancy hotel. You take the subway there. If you are in your late 20s, as I was then, it’s fine, you make do because you are doing what you love and most people don’t have that extraordinary privilege.
You don’t squander that privilege. You work your ass off. And hopefully you’re rewarded for that effort. It worked for me, as it did for many writers of my generation, perhaps the last for whom it was possible to live off their writing. In Britain, writers’ incomes have fallen by 30 per cent in the past eight years, collapsing to what one Guardian headline called “abject” levels.
So many writers I know are looking back at this point in mid-life and saying, “I had a good run.” A good run saw us earn increasingly bigger if still modest advances. (Yes, $75,000 sounds like a lot, but when it takes five years to complete a book and your agent is taking a cut of 15 per cent, you’re still below the poverty line if this is your sole source of income.) Publishers were once able to invest in a career, with income from bestsellers offsetting the less sensational works in a catalogue. Now, every book has to be a winner. If you fail to earn out your advance through sales, your next advance will be lower, or perhaps, as has become increasingly the case among my mid-career contemporaries, you will lose your publishing home.
Writing seems to have become one of the few careers where the more experienced and proficient you become over the years, the less you are compensated. And the humiliations of this are great. It does become difficult to uphold belief in the worth of your work. And since this is work intrinsically tied to one’s sense of self, it becomes difficult to uphold a sense of self-worth. It takes ego and adrenalin to work in solitude, through years of confusion and uncertainty, in the writing of a book. If you don’t believe in it, no one else will. Of course, there is reward in art for art’s sake, but few can sustain morale, motivation or mortgage on an income of private aesthetic fulfilment.
Despite an improved job market, employee morale is on the decline, new research shows.
A study by Salary.com revealed an increased number of U.S. employees are lacking fulfillment, pride and commitment when it comes to how they view their work. Specifically, just 38.5% of workers are personally fulfilled by the work they do, down from 59% a year ago.
Additionally, just over half of employees are committed to their work and career, compared with more than 70% who felt the same last year.
Abby Euler, general manager at Salary.com, said that with the economy slowly improving employees may be taking a harder, more critical look at their lives, their work and personal situation.
“They’re evaluating their careers by measuring overall fulfillment and asking, ‘What does my career add to my life? Am I where I want to be in life?'” Euler said. “The psychological toll of the great recession may have caused people to feel ‘burnt out'; where in a down economy employees tended to put their head down, accept lower pay with more responsibility, and were often underemployed or even unemployed.”
The study shows that today’s workers aren’t as willing to do extra work and are more concerned with just collecting a paycheck each month. Less than 20% of those surveyed are willing to put in extra hours simply because they enjoy their work, down from 48.5% in 2012. At the same time, more than 70% are primarily working for their paycheck, up from 55% last year.
Since I have been too busy to post much, here is obligatory catch up post.
- I have had a lingering pneumonia for the last couple of weeks. Lots of fluids in the chest which means lots of coughing up said fluids. It has also meant a lot of sleepless nights. So tired right now. Being sick really antagonizes my neuropathy so not only am I in pain but I think it’s raining all of the time. From the pot into the fire I guess.
- While things are going forward at Stewart Properties, it is slow progress on many fronts. Some of the projects we have going will make a huge difference in the life of Saskatoon and are still really exciting. The key word in that is slow and with not much happening as we wait on architects, government, and then it will be financing; I decided to pick up another job this fall and am working at Don’s Photo where I get to play with and talk about cameras and photography every day. Its temporary but an enjoyable way to spend the day.
- No one comes in upset at a camera store. They are coming in because they a) have researched a product and want your opinion b) are so excited about a new camera they can’t sleep (it happens a lot c) are stressed because they broke their camera and are hoping you can fix it. If you can’t fix it, they know it’s their fault but if you can, they are very, very happy. (pro tip, hit the “Restore to default settings” button and see if that helps). Most people leave really, really happy.
- Favorite customers are on Thursday evenings when the hardcore camera enthusiasts come in to talk about things. It’s quiet and you have conversations about cameras, technology, film, and amazing vacation stories. One the other night ended with, “I took the picture and then the wolverine started to get closer”.
- My time slot on the Saskatoon Afternoon Show has now changed on Mondays. Instead of being on at 5:15 with Ian Goodwillie, I am now on with Bronwyn Eyre at 4:20 p.m. Expect us to get a bit more political. I am still on the air at 5:15 on Wednesdays.
Earlier this year, two tech entrepreneurs, Aaron Swartz and Jody Sherman, committed suicide independently of each other. Both faced incredible pressures. And both suffered from depression.
It’s not a topic the start-up community understands well. After all, this is the very culture that turned the chestnut “pick yourself up by your bootstraps” into a much-celebrated verb. Admitting you struggle with depression is like admitting you can’t reach your bootstraps. It’s assumed that successful people can just “shake it off.”
But that’s not how it works.
I know. I’ve struggled with serious bouts of depression three times in my life. I’m not talking about a series of miserable days or struggling through the pressure and stress of a failing company. I’m talking about months of feeling emotionally drained.
The email and phone number are mine. The fax number goes to Tyler’s email account. This is what the office looks like
1. What is your typical day like?
Everyday for me is different. I can tell you how a typical Saturday is like: first I wake up around 8am to go to work at Burger King from 10am to 6pm. After I get off of work from Burger King, I go to my second job at Jet’s Pizza from 6pm to midnight. After I get done with working, sometimes I hang with friends, sometimes I just go to sleep.
2. There’s been a lot of talk lately about people wanting work/life balance. Does your job provide that?
My work/life balance is pretty rough at times. There’s not even much time for me, let alone anyone else. In a weird way though, having both jobs does provide balance to me and a change of scene, but I’m not sure about others.
3. What’s the craziest/most unexpected thing that’s ever happened to you while on the job?
The most unexpected thing that happened to me when I was at work is when I witnessed a robbery at the Burger King I work at. The guy tried to get away in a cab. One of the cashiers and my manager at the time ran outside after the cab and chased it down to get the cab driver’s attention. The driver stopped and got out of the car while the cashier and the robber tussled in the backseat for awhile. In the end, the robber got out of the car and ran across the street and got away.
4. What makes for a really good day on the job?
A good day on the job to me is when I arrive on time, and everyone is in their position and ready to work. There aren’t many bad attitudes and the customers aren’t being rude. The best kind of day is when everyone is doing their job and the day goes by swiftly.
5. What’s your annual salary? Do you get benefits?
I get paid $7.40 an hour. My annual salary varies depending upon how many hours I work, but I have not made over $15,000 ever annually. I do not receive benefits. I have worked as a cook, cashier and in just about every position short of management off and on for the last three years. I still live at home with my mother and try to go to school on the side. I do dream of something more, but it’s really hard to get jobs right now.
In the last 50 years, this country has done a great job— by maintaining Social Security benefits, expanding Medicare, underwriting home-ownership, securing pensions, and the like— of improving the economic circumstances of the generation that rode the postwar boom years to wealth and comfortable senior citizenship. This country has done an increasingly poor job— by letting the minimum wage stagnate, dis-investing in schools, public colleges, and infrastructure, undercutting workers’ leverage, and the like— of supporting the economic aspirations of that generation’s children and grandchildren.
I realized the other day that I haven’t written about what I am doing now since I left The Lighthouse. I left The Lighthouse without a Plan A or a Plan B. When Wendy and I sat down and talked about Plan C, we actually spent a lot of time talking about selling the house and exploring options to work anywhere.
We talked a bit about moving to her home country of Guyana and I looked at some jobs in Europe. The idea of selling everything and starting fresh was interesting and exciting to us. We have a lot of equity in our home and benefitted from buying long before the real estate boom hit Saskatoon. We looked at moving to Victoria, Nunuvuk, and even Newfoundland after some job offers came up.
During that time I was having conversations with companies staying in Saskatoon, including some service providers. For some service providers, I was a good fit but I wasn’t really passionate about what they did. Just going to work didn’t appeal to me and I wanted to do something that would continue to make a difference.
I had been talking with Tyler Stewart of Stewart Property Holdings. Tyler is creating affordable housing suites out of old buildings that everyone else has given up on like The 525 and 820 20th Street. He also salvaged 340 Avenue D South which is a story that is so incredible that it needs its own documentary/horror film.
During those times, I took some time to think about what I wanted to do and I read some good advice that said, don’t look for a job but rather look for an organization that you want to be a part of.
In talking more and more with Tyler, I realized that rejuvenating buildings and finding people quality housing is something that I care a lot about. There is also the excitement of being part of was is essentially a start up.. His values of affordability and heritage appeal to me.
The exciting thing for me is the opportunity to do something right that will be a part of the city for generations. Some of the properties are already 100 years old and this is part of their midlife rejuvenation. Done right, they could be good housing stock for another hundred years. That and it means staying in Saskatoon.
With new properties, it is the ability to bring in new ideas and make them fit in neighbourhoods, within budgets, and within city guidelines and regulations. In both cases it’s seeing ideas come to light with the result being better homes for people in Saskatoon.
I am also working on the homelessness issue. As Tim Richter, the head of the Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness has talked about, don’t build shelters, build housing units. I agree and the opportunity now is to build housing units that match up with the needs of the residents. For years I have had to make do with what we had. For the first time I am able to work with agencies and build around the needs of people, regardless of their age, mental health issues, or their journey in life.
Anyways, my new job title is Vice President of Community Development and my email address is jordon AT stewartproperties.ca. While I am not in the office a lot, it’s located at 500 Spadina Cres E which is right on the corner of 20th Street and Spadina Cres.
I went freelance full time in December 2011 and made $17,000 in the first seven months, an average of almost $2500 a month. Making that little was, more or less, the plan. I had savings and I knew I needed to “get my name out there.” I wrote for free. I wrote for very little. I wrote pieces I didn’t want to write. I said no to almost nothing.
Slowly, it started to pay off. A story I wrote for The Awl prompted an editor at The Verge to contact me. I’ve written a number of features for them that paid between $750 and $1,500. After flying on Emirates Airlines and enjoying the in-flight magazine, I pitched the editor. He liked them and I continue to write features that pay a little less than a $1/word. I wrote slideshows for Complex.com for $10/slide (about sports, not hot women). I wrote a feature ($1,000) and blog posts ($250) for ESPN.com’s Grantland, and a photo-driven bit for ESPN The Magazine ($800).
I did pieces for BuzzFeed ($300), Penthouse ($750-$1,500), The Wall Street Journal’s sports section ($1/word), SBNation’s Longform unit ($1,750), Splitsider ($100), Guyism.com ($300/story), Street Fight ($0 but a slice of equity), The New Republic’s website ($150), and other outlets. Some paid more than they needed to, some paid less than they should. Deadspin gave me $100 for two pieces I wrote in Kiev, Ukraine. That seemed low, especially when they offered Jay Mariotti $1,000. (I’m 1/20th as valuable as he? Perhaps not untrue, but still, ouch.) At various points, I had contracts with mediabistro.com ($900/month), NBC ($350/month), Outside ($433/month), and Pacific Standard ($600/month).
I pitched and wrote constantly. I submitted invoices to between six and 12 outlets a month. But while I found consistent work, there were no massive payoffs. The most I made for a single piece was $2,200, although I did help launch and continue to edit American Soccer Now, a soccer website. I was paid a one-time fee of $10,000 and given a bit of equity. In my accounting, I spread that money over the six months starting in June, 2012 and now spend two hours a day working on the site, essentially for free.
I did less glamorous work, like ghostwriting a self-help guide ($40/hour) and some light editing and web production for a major media company ($50/hour). These weren’t my favorite assignments, but they paid well and freed me up to take a flyer on other pieces with low rates but potentially a bigger impact. Plus, while we’d all like to think there’s some magical fairytale land where freelancers write what they want when they want, that simply isn’t true. I have talked to many, many freelance writers while trying to figure out how to make it as one over the past eight years, and the vast majority take the occasional (or frequent) lucrative gig when it arrives.
I’m lucky. I’m making it work. I learned plenty about the economics of business, the good and the bad, especially that I am a poor negotiator. Still, I made a little more than $50,000 in the last six months of 2012 and around $45,000 during the first half of this year. It’s possible to succeed in this gig economy. It’s also exhausting. I’ve grown more ambitious and pitched bigger stories to larger outlets, but nothing has hit yet. Still, I keep trying.
Deciding whether to stick it out or leave your job and explore new opportunities can be one of the most stressful decisions you ever make. How many reasons do you need to take the leap and pursue something different? Well, we’ve rounded up eight scenarios to help you make this difficult life decision a little easier.
1. Your relationship with your boss changed. For years you’ve had a fabulous working and personal relationship with your boss, but you begin to sense a shift in the organization’s culture and your boss’s leadership. You are being asked to take on more responsibility and do more with fewer resources. The relationship is deteriorating, and you feel like you are losing your support system within the organization.
2. Work and life values are no longer being met. When you were hired, you knew the organization and role were a good fit that met your work and life values. However, with the changes in the organization you’ve noticed you are no longer feeling satisfied with your work. Or maybe the culture shifted, and you are not able to perform at your fullest potential. Ask yourself: If you interviewed at the company today, would you want to work there?
3. You are left out of decision-making meetings. A business decision was made without your input and you don’t agree with the direction. You’re losing influence with upper management and are no longer “in the know.” Your subordinates begin to ask others for input and decisions, which further diminishes your authority.
4. You are not being asked to take on high-visibility assignments. What about me? You begin to notice that your subordinates are now in the spotlight and asked to lead a major project working directly with your manager. Your high-performing team is being broken apart and moved onto other teams to maximize their strengths. Not only are you not being put on highly visible assignments — your team is being broken apart.
5. You are frustrated with the direction of the company and are more vocal than usual. The company is changing its focus, and you do not support the decision. You are becoming more vocal about your disagreement. You are feeling frustrated; your input is not being heard because management is hearing undertones of dissent in your voice, as opposed to the content of what you are saying.
6. You find yourself awake at night with an anxious feeling, replaying conversations. The pressures of work assignments, tight deadlines or disagreements with your manager resulted in not getting a solid night’s sleep. The anxiety over work is increased, and the lack of sleep has prevents you from performing at your best.
7. You are managing the political arena more than performing your job. There are rumors the company may be bought and “every person for himself” seems to be the mode of operation, which doesn’t allow time to do the work. At the end of the week, you have spent more time managing the politics than accomplishing something on your to-do list.
8. You are no longer passionate about your work and dread going to the office each day. Do you wake up in the morning energized and look forward to your day, or do you dread it? If getting out of bed each morning is becoming a challenge, then you need to listen to your instincts and ask yourself, “Why?” We spend a majority our lives working, so don’t ignore the signs that are telling you, “It’s time to move on.” You will find another job in which you look forward to going to work each day.
So for those of you who follow me on Twitter know, I resigned from my job at The Lighthouse Supported Living Inc. this week. Of course being me, I did this without another job to go to but that happens sometimes. Yes it is a terrifying move as working in shelters is not a profession that is bank account friendly.
It means that I am now in search of a job. Financially we are okay because Wendy has worked at Safeway for 15 years and is still under their old collective bargaining tier which means that she makes a decent salary. This gives me some flexibility in knowing that we can get by on minimum wage if needed although I really don’t want to do that.
Since 2005 I have been working with the homeless and hard to house and while I love it, there has been some really hard days along the way as well. If I have an opportunity to go back into it, i will but I am always ready for a new challenge that doesn’t involve dirty needles, death threats, and the pain and suffering that I have seen day in and out over the last 8 years.
If you want to hire me, check out my LinkedIn profile at www.linkedin.com/in/jordoncooper. I am proud of the work that I have done and I think that I have a lot to give but it will be somewhere else now.
If there is one thing I like about me, it’s that I have enjoyed my jobs. I have worked retail and loved the interactions. I have worked in very difficult situations and loved the challenges. Not a lot of people know this but I started mopping floors at The Salvation Army and I liked that as well. I think I am also lucky in that I am not defined by my job which makes it easier to step back. That being said, I have a lot of experience doing what I do so there is a nice comfort zone there.
If you are hiring (we would consider moving) or know of a job, let me know at email@example.com.