Tuesday, October 2, 2007

More about money and self worth

Let me be clearer, since I really wasn't on Friday when I first wrote about this: I know what I need to do to make more money. What I need to do to make more money is to trade in on job satisfaction. I can go back to an office; I can take a job in an office doing corporate PR. I don't want to do the first one, though I will if I have to; I *really* don't want to do the second one, though I will if there's a gun pointing to my head. (Sometimes, a gun is shaped like a mortgage payment for which you do not have the amount of money needed. Luckily, we're not there yet.)

The thing is, I thought that there were ways I could make more money withOUT trading in on job satisfaction...at least not in a big way. As a long-time science and medical writer, I know that having such a specialty can up your per-hour/per-word/per-whatever fees. I like writing about science and medicine, and while I was kindasorta hoping that when I went to my current job I'd be moving into parenting writing for more-or-less good, if that's not to be, that won't kill me.

Except that those jobs that I'm looking at now, the ones that are paying less than I made 20 years ago? They ARE science and medical writing jobs. I think that's where my deep, dark mood of these past few days is coming from...the discouragement of realizing that my fallback may not be there to catch me, that Plan B needs a Plan C. Or, rather, that Plan B isn't going to be enough on its own, and I might have to institute multiple Plan Bs...a surefire recipe for mental collapse...to make it work.

Nothing is dire, and nothing is set in stone, and there are exceptions galore to this rule, I know. I know people who are making very nice freelance salaries in my field. I know people who don't have to work 60 hours a week to make that happen. I know people who are very happy with the way their careers are going. But there ARE fewer and fewer of those people, and I just don't happen to be one of them. And because, in the past, I *was* one of those people, I'm feeling really...lost right now. Twenty-plus years into a fairly successful and seemingly well-planned career, and I'm not really where I assumed I was. I think I only paid mental lip service (try to untangle THAT metaphor, why don'tcha?) to the idea that taking my work home--i.e., giving up an office job--might put me back a few steps on my career path. In reality, I thought I would be different. I always had been in the past. People knew who I was; they knew my work, and my track record. They thought me talented. They wanted me on their team. When push came to shove, surely they'd still be there for me.

And maybe they are, but I'm not finding them right now. Right now I'm only finding people who are interested in me...if I will work for $5 to $10 an hour less than what I'm currently making, and a good $20-plus an hour less than what the going rate for such work was in 1990. And that's one of the LESS offensive options in front of me right now.

Stop me if I've told you this story before, but...Back when I was an associate editor at ABigScienceMagazine, I was once talking with an assistant editor/fact-checker--i.e., someone who was below me on the masthead for the magazine. Inadvertently, she revealed her salary to me, and I realized that she was making the same amount of money as me...with a good three to four fewer years in the business, in a job below mine, and with an hourly salary that meant she was eligible for overtime, whereas I was not. I blew a gasket, ranted and raved to friends and family for days, and finally decided that I had to say something to my boss. Whose response was something along the lines of, "You shouldn't measure your self-worth in terms of the money you make."

I was caught off guard at first, because this seemed to be true, and rather deep as well. And then I woke up and realized that that was complete and utter bullshit. I pointed out to my boss that if he thought that way about the magazine ("We shouldn't measure our worth in terms of how many copies we sell, or ad dollars we take in") he'd be out the door by the end of week with his Rolodex in his pocket and his future in publishing fairly well over. He had the good grace to blush, give me an immediate $5K raise, and then to promote me just a few months later, to the tune of another $15K. Which, I might point out, put me at a salary--in 1993--that I am now having to fight to get back to.

And that's why I'm cranky. And I think I have a right to be. Even if I really don't.

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