I grew up in a time where a man went to work, every day the doors opened, and short of there being a seven-foot-long rattlesnake attached to one of his legs, he was expected to do his job. His family came second, at best, and it was only through the cash flow from the company was he able to feed his children and keep his electricity on. Everyone worked for a living, and young men were expected to have jobs after school, and certainly during the summer between school years. I started working in the fields during the summer when I was fourteen. It wasn’t like anyone was doing anything else.
Nearly everyone in my father’s generation got a job, after high school or college, and they kept the same job until they reached retirement age, and then they got another job after that.
I took a job with the Georgia Department of Transportation in March of 1992. It was a temporary gig. I had fallen on hard times, and needed some money. Twenty-seven years later, I retired. Yeah, it really did happen that fast. I swear.
During that time, how people looked at their jobs evolved, and how companies looked at their workers did, too. Gone were the high paying jobs with great benefits, unless the employee had an advanced degree. People switched jobs, or were laid off, with more frequency. Meanwhile, in what I had always been told was one of the most secure environments in the world, the government job, they began to restructure what benefits employees received, and how much the employee had to contribute. As I began looking towards the door, new employees were not guaranteed a retirement.
The attitude of the people who trained me to build bridges and roads was one of “We are the last line of defense against bad workmanship and poor quality”, but the attitude of the new employees was, “We’re doing the same job you’re doing and we’re getting a hell of a lot less out of this.”
I’m not entirely certain how this is going to work out. But then again, when I was a part of the system that built roads and bridges, I butted heads with those people who said, “Good enough is good enough” rather than sticking to exact specifications. This new age of people who don’t care as much, I’m not sure where they’ll draw the line, that to me, was etched in concrete.
Here’s where all of this is leading, I think: Back when I was just starting out, people in general, and men in particular, were defined by success in their jobs. When businesses began offering less to employees, they began to get less from employees. There was a tipping point, when people began asking, “What’s the point?” and the younger people began being happier with smaller cars, smaller houses, and a hell of a lot less stuff.
When I decided to retire, I was looking for more time, not more money. I wanted time to write, and to be with dogs, and to simply be. I started unloading a lot of clutter in my home. What I am making right now in retirement isn’t nearly what I thought I needed to live comfortably, but up until the Plague hit, I was going to manage.
It’s an illusion, I think, to believe we need more and better stuff. It’s a myth that we need to devote our lives to work. It’s a shame, that people in particular, and men, in general, define themselves by their occupation.