Money makes the world go… hmmm

I got a phone call today — about a job — from someone I did not expect would call me. I still don’t have a regular job, for the record. And it’s not because I don’t have options… just that I’m waiting on a certain option I’ve picked out to either materialize or pan out.

Suffice to say, however, that this particular phone-in option, at least from this particular source, surprised me.

All very cryptic, but hell, allow me this conceit.

And I realized: I keep being asked if money is the sticking point. Is it? Is it, really?

***

When I graduated and entered the workforce, I made a list: Skills, Reasons for Working, Ideal income, Special Knowledge or Interests, Ideal Work Environment, Values List and Ideal Lifestyle.

I was very idealistic. Very. But the funny thing is, very little has changed from a decade ago.

And to be honest, I think I’ve compromised on the money aspect.

Consider my (now funny) computations under “preferred earnings” (based on anticipated monthly expenses) when I first started looking for a job (and bear in mind, this was 2002, and I’ve always been horrible at Math):

Situation I:
Apartment P7,500
Electricity P500
Water P300
Phone services P1,000
Food P4,000 (I didn’t eat much at the time)
Transportation P2,000
Recreation P1,000 (yes, I know, what was I thinking? I ended up watching a lot of free movies, ha!)
Estimated Income Needed P16,300 ~ P17,000

Situation II:
Apartment with siblings P2,000
Electricity and Water P500
Phone Services P500
Food P4,000
Transportation P2,000
Recreation P1,000
E.I.N. P10,000

I ended up taking a teaching job that paid P9,000. Not too bad, I thought at the time.That’s gross, not net. So taxes further ate my pay. (And I forgot vanity wear! My sunblock! Clothes! Little-used makeup! Shoes! Hahahaha.)

Added to which, the computation I made was basic, not inclusive of how I was going to pay for my “special knowledge or interest” activities (and modest ones too), listed as such:

Intermediate Level Nihonggo
Driving Lessons *
Computer Lessons *
Writing Workshops
Arts and Crafts workshops (painting, photography, pottery, etc.)*
Volunteer work (additional transportation, operations money, donation money)
Traveling (Japan, within the Philippines)
MA in Literature

Can you believe it? So whatever happened to those modest goals?

I ended up taking a couple of semesters of MA Creative Writing at UP Diliman CAL, and then attempted a transfer to Asian Studies, but did not enroll due to lack of money, and time. It became “something for later.” I also took lessons in Nihonggo (relearned my basic at Tower Languages) and aikido.

Driving lessons were deferred for “when necessary.” I didn’t list down “get a car” as a goal because it wasn’t, I just thought I needed the life skill just in case I had to drive home someone drunk, or maybe go join Amazing Race, haha. (Mind you, a friend could offer to teach me but I’d say no because I won’t have insurance if I crash the car. And yes, I got variable life insurance way after this 2002 list.) Instead, I took swimming lessons (another life skill), which lasted only until I made one lap around the  25-meter pool, after which I pronounced myself able to swim and never went back again. (Which means I am not a good swimmer and not at all confident in my little-practiced skill.)

As for traveling, it was always because of work (as a lifestyle reporter, and later as a presidential stalker)… and very rarely because I took off from work and paid my way. (This includes those cheap trips with my friends when we were younger and could bear hardship and could afford to take a leave of absence, on the same dates, ha!)

I volunteered on a medical mission, volunteered to poll-watch for NAMFREL in 2004 (and was so disappointed at the results, I didn’t vote in the next elections), joined but wasn’t too active in a UN-sanctioned Solution Exchange for the Community of Practice on HIV & AIDS in the Philippines, but ultimately, ended up just writing for free if I had an advocacy.

All the rest (*) deferred or learned on the job.

Ah, but wait, there’s more.

My 2002 “Values List & Ideal Lifestyle” cited: “I wish to live alone. I wish to have a home of my own (apartment). I wish to have the peace and quiet of a rural area but the progressiveness of an urbanized area (compromise: outskirts of the city). I wish to save money. I wish to travel. I wish to indulge my need for creativity (hobbies) and to own a few possessions related to such.”

And in “future desires” I’d written that I wanted to have a family of my own, so I was open to not living alone too, for the record.

Fast-forward: I got a cat. He’s not that expensive, but quite demanding, and only occasionally entertaining. (And I’m still getting flak from L for allowing R to thrust the cat into my life, when I had been asked numerous times by L to get some of her strays.) Yes, I’m being facetious.

But you’ll agree with me that I was never ambitious. And I never wrote “make a ton of money.”

***

Did I have a vocation, at the onset? I wanted to teach, that was my first option. I also wanted to write.

But here were my (rather embarrassing) reasons for working (I had these listed under “general reasons” because I had separate items under each specific job description):

Financial Security
Independence: I need to be able to repay my debt to my parents by standing on my own two feet and being able to give them financial as well as  emotional support when needed (yes, I actually wrote that *blush*)
Respect (for self and by others)
Obligation/Debt to society (*major major blush*)
Antidote to Boredom/Meaningful life (hahahahaha)

Let’s skip the reasons per specific job and go to the last on my shortlist:
“As writer: Whatever I write will be truthful, as well as creative, well-researched, technically sound, and interesting / Satisfaction gained through the freedom to create, achievement of intellectual status and recognition, the excitement of learning new things and documenting them”

And under Ideal Work Environment, I wrote:

Flexible structure, Variety
Constant education/discovery of new things
Spirit of cooperation/teamwork
Open dialogue between members of the workforce/active participation
Respect for each other’s workspace, when needed
Bonding activities beyond work stations
Fun

So… did I have unrealistic goals? I don’t think so. Did my needs change? Not by much.
Is money important? Yes. But only because it’s an enabler.

***

Again, what happened? Maybe it stopped being fun. I think it stopped being about me.

Someone once told me that we work so that we can live and not the other way around. I always wanted my work to be a vital part of my life.

At some point, from 2002 to 2012, I discovered that work can become my entire life. Not only that, I realized the importance of being well-compensated.

Perhaps I could improve on financial management, but to be honest, I also am of the opinion that most writers are underpaid… especially if they allow themselves to be. Pay fluctuates. A single article (600-1,000 words) could cost P400 to P10,000.

It’s a matter of finding where you fit.It’s also a matter of compromise — not every employer can pay P10,000 per article. But everyone would want to pay lower — or lowest price — if they could. Then again, the higher pay could mean less opportunity for additional work, the lower pay could mean bulk work with the opportunity for additional projects. The higher pay could be a one-off, the lower pay tied to a regular contract, with benefits. So it’s always a negotiation, isn’t it?

I’ve always taken a job that’s a step higher than the previous one. I’ve always wanted the job at hand to have a next tier.

Money is not a measure of self-worth. But it is a measure of how much your work and your contribution is valued. So yes, money is important.

Also important, more so in fact, is the opportunity to better yourself. You don’t work just for the pay and what that means for you; you work because you’re attempting to improve yourself, all the time. It’s not just about upping your standard of living, it’s about finding fulfillment in what you do, and finding the opportunity to grow.

How do I feel about being a cog in the machine? There’s value in it; especially if you believe that you are part of something great. If you perpetuate something bigger than yourself that you take pride in, why not? Everyone needs to have a place, a purpose, a life’s work — and it needn’t be solo, but with (or within a) company.

But what if you struggle to make ends meet, everyday? Will it be worth it?

And what if you lose the joy of working, or lose sight of your personal goals, and it becomes all about keeping the machine going: turning, and turning, and turning, like a good little cog? What if you get stuck in that position, and that shape, and that piece of machinery? And when the machine breaks down, you may be cast aside as something (some “thing”) obsolete — no upgrade for you?

I’m being very careful what I commit to because I can’t commit unless I am sure that what I’m committing to will be good for me.

I haven’t gotten rid of the girl who just wanted to be part of something, not even the driver of something, who wrote on a piece of paper: “I need to believe that what I am doing is important not only to me but to other people, especially the people that I am serving.”

I think what’s changed, after a decade, is that now I’m just a bit more self-serving.

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2 comments

  1. love this post jo. remember all our angst-ridden talks about vocation? at this point, my career goals include: being in a position where i can learn, improve, innovate, engage in issues, substance and ideas i’m interested in, do and be exposed to a variety of things so i’m not bored, have true and demonstrable impact (not necessarily on development, but that’s a plus), and make $. my current job gives me some of that, but working in a bureaucracy/a desk job has its limits. also, now i work to live. living in a city where people are defined by their passion to ‘change the world’, i’ve realized that i’m not consistently passionate enough to be that person. and i like the separation between work and life. money is also more important to me than it used to be. it seems to be the most important thing here, THE reason people work and a measure of worth and value–most angsty conversations i’ve had with americans about career aren’t about vocation, but are about them not being paid what they feel they’re worth (assigning a monetary value to abstract things like time, expertise and experience is unnatural to me, but i’m learning and because being an employee is an economic transaction, it does make sense). and i work in development! plus, you’re right, it’s an enabler and living here is expensive, sometimes you need to pay $100 for eyedrops to treat your torn cornea (true story, and i felt sick when i saw the bill).

  2. “assigning a monetary value to abstract things like time, expertise and experience is unnatural to me, but i’m learning and because being an employee is an economic transaction, it does make sense.”

    so true. it’s a reality we learn as we go along, isn’t it?

    anix had a similar eye operation last year, and it went very well, but it also messed with her savings. she recovered, and she’s in a better financial situation right now.

    i have a friend, ever practical, who has decided on “i want to be able to pay for a caregiver when i’m old” as a goal. she’s fully prepared to be single and fending for herself at 80.

    i told my old boss once that i want to be able to save so i can cope with the possibility that i will have cancer someday (the ladies in my family have had tumors removed, so it’s not that farfetched).

    these are valid considerations. it shouldn’t stop us from pursuing our dreams, but we have to be aware of and be prepared for them.

    … all those angsty conversations of ours were always about striking a balance about what we need and what we want, weren’t they? i think that’s still the same.

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