Broke But Happy – Work That Serves Others

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10 Responses

  1. greginak says:

    I’ve made my career in human services also, mostly in the psychology side. While i now have a good state job with a retirement plan and everything i’ve worked for large charities and non-profits and small poorly funded non-profits. It is a way of life, that is for sure. It is work you have to love because it is hard and their are sacrifices. Money and often a retirement plan are the biggest sacrifices. If it wasn’t for getting a Masters there is no way i could have stayed in human services while having a family.

    I’m proud of the work i have done and still do. I want work that has meaning and valuable purpose. I don’t want to make Spacely Sprockets or work that is mindless. And for some reason i like working with people. I’m not sure whether that is a talent or a curse.

    It is truly sweet when people praise you for working in charity or as a helper. Some of those people who praise even donate money to charities, which is nice. But charities are organized beggars. They can do some things well, but not others. The absolute best thing charities do is make people who donate feel good about themselves. This is not to take away the good works they do. In fact i loved working at the large charity i worked for and we did great work. But the reality of charities is they are almost always poorly funded, constantly begging and always at the mercy of bad PR or a recession to see their funds dry up. The charity i worked for was only able to some of the good works we did because we got Fed gov grants. Oh we had plenty of kids in need ( that was easy to find) and good proven programs but even a relatively rich Catholic charity didn’t’ have the bucks to put a slight dent in the needs the kids we served had.Report

    • Kim in reply to greginak says:

      The cynic believes in a sort of triage, helping those who need help the least (and who benefit from it the most), in the hope (often proven true) that they will be able to devise better forms of helping people.Report

  2. Road Scholar says:

    My niece recently graduated law school and passed the bar in her state. Shes now working for a non-profit as an advocate for abused women and children. The money’s crap but her work is important and spiritually satisfying. I couldn’t be prouder of her.Report

  3. Patrick says:

    I will say this, when (if) the post-scarcity commodity world becomes a thing, and you no longer need to work for money to buy stuff, one of the more likely avenues for all that interaction force to go to is working for access to services that don’t depend on stuff.

    But, of course, “working” is going to involve very few people producing stuff (most of the stuff producing will be automated) and more people working to provide services.

    I don’t know how that will shake down, but since it’s typically a lot harder to produce a quality service than it is to produce a quality good…Report

    • Kim in reply to Patrick says:

      That’s the real bugaboo. what we do with folks that can’t work?Report

      • Miss Mary in reply to Kim says:

        Some people can’t work due to major medical or age related complications, but a lot of people can and want to work. Certainly more people in the disability world then are currently employed. You just have to look at work differently.

        When I help people with disabilities get jobs, we look at their skills, not deficits. Cindy might not be able to read or write, but she loves to fold papers and stuff envelopes, and so she works for a few local insurance companies sending out their birthday/holiday cards and promotions. She folds pizza boxes and rolls silverware at restaurants. Betty works part time making copies and filing at someone’s office. Johnny can’t make change or work on a register, but he loves to pick fruit in the summers, mow lawns, and collect carts at the grocery store. We rely on “job carving” – we find a portion of the job the person we support can do, and that frees up the full time (and often higher paid) employee to the highly skilled portion of the job.

        You think a 9% unemployment rate is high? It’s more like 35% or more for people with disabilities! There are ton of able people that are bored stiff at home because people don’t want to hire them. Loyal employees with great attendance records going to waste. It’s a shame.Report

  4. Maribou says:

    Much of what you say about your work resonates with me, about mine, as well. Especially this part:

    “No one makes a career in to human services for money. We’re here for the people. I don’t make a product. You can’t bottle or sell what I do. And I never work with two different people in the same way. My work is about relationships, and each one is as unique as the relationships in your own life.”

    I think to some degree my titular job serves as a smokescreen for the importance of what you describe in what I quote above – so they aren’t paying me to be around, mentoring students, being in a complex, multi-faceted, and yet safely bounded relationship with them – they’re paying me to lead the departmental management team and schedule people and keep track of our processes and help people find information, etc. And yet I usually feel like ever so many people could do those jobs, but few people could do as good a job as I do of the REALLY important work of providing an experienced, flawed, loving, and proactive human being as part of the community support structure for a vulnerable population (and make no mistake, college students VERY much are that).

    Thank you for putting the appeal (and conflicts) of service work into words so eloquently.Report

    • Maribou in reply to Maribou says:

      A professor whom I really admire once told me that all we really have to do is bring our wholest and best self to work every day that we can, and we’ll overcome every obstacle. He was very fully aware of how hard that is, and it made him mean it more, not less. I can’t imagine having a job where that wasn’t important.Report

  5. David Ryan says:

    It’s worthwhile to consider both the tangible and intangible rewards offered by one’s vocation. If one has enough money, abundant intangible rewards can more than make up for a modest financial situation. On that point, I’d like to unpack “broke”.

    Departed OGer Freddie once called me a “rich buddha” when I presumed to suggest to our beloved JK that he put is principles ahead of money. This same Freddie also offered on his own blog that as a grad student he was getting by on a mere $16K (in a self-pitying tone, I might add.)

    In fact, our family’s household income has never risen above the middle quintile nationally, let alone regionally (the NYC metro area is famously expensive). More-over, when Freddie accused me of being a “rich-buddha” our household income was, and had been for a while, less than double Freddie’s professed income. That’s a family of four living on less than $30K.

    Now petty as I am, some of this is score-setttling (if there’s one thing I can’t resist, it’s the opportunity to throw a barb for an insult long forgotten by everyone else.) But also, whatever our income has been, I’ve never felt broke. Never.

    Stressed about money? Sure, I’ve been stressed about money. But guess what, you can find people who are stressed about money at every income level. But if you’re in a situation where you can even begin to contemplate the balance between the tangible and intangible rewards of your vocation, being stressed about money is mostly a state of mind, and mostly a choice.Report