Thursday, May 30, 2013

Money and Motivation

One of the ways in which spending your twenties as a grad student in a humanities department warps your view of yourself and your world is with regard to self-value. Not just "I must be a shitty person and scholar because I don't get this 'body without organs' " deal, but the work we do for which we are not paid, and the work for which we get paid so very, very little.

In graduate school, I planned events, I entered data, I taught myself software programs, I compiled webpages, I proof-read, I managed other graduate students, I researched, I read, I wrote, and I taught.

And for few of these gigs was I paid, and then, it was not well. This translates well to academia, where service and research are the perqs that you earn by teaching. You are grateful to be able to have the time and space to voluntarily, on your own time, research, serve on committees, mentor students, etc.

But this mindset, I am finding, is counter to everything outside of academia. I do not think the importance and value of a job can be measured by its salary. I do not think that those who earn $30,000 must or should work less hard than those who earn four times that. So that's good. But this belief in dedicating all to a job -- and in editing and writing "on the side" of the "real" job -- is not always helpful to getting ahead. I ask myself, is my genuine wish to work longer hours than I am paid fair to me and my partner? Really, I should be compensated for all time worked, so am I being a sucker by gladly bringing work home with me? Or since I am young and trying to build a career, should I be grateful for everything and anything I can get?

What's the difference between an underpaid, part-time editor working harder than s/he's being paid for and a young engineer at a startup sleeping at the company HQ and dedicating him/herself to their launch date? Is it just money? compensation? prestige? Or are they both naive, in fact, and should be rallying with other workers to demand fair wages?

One of the consequences of our new economy seems to be both flexibility and instability. If we are all eminently replaceable, we each must always be working harder than we are being paid in order to be the most valuable person to the company, it seems to me. Maybe all of the American economy is just catching up to a trick that academia's been playing on its citizens for many decades longer.

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