Yesterday I started following the hashtag #PrecarityIs on Twitter. The tag was created by Myron G of the well known lib-blog Bibliocracy.

This hashtag hits me right in the belly button, and I am sure there are others with similar sentiments. Based on what I’ve seen today. there is a lot of chatter about the associated anxieties with having a negatively irregular or impermanent working arrangement. I can relate. I will never forget how petrified I was to take two days off to have my abscessed wisdom teeth removed, back when I was on contract with the government. Never mind the cost of the surgery, how was I going to afford to miss two days’ pay?

I have a really great job now. It is permanent, tenure-track, with  good pay and benefits. I pay into a pension, which eases my mind like you wouldn’t believe. My hours are mind bogglingly flexible. But I am frequently reminded that life wasn’t always this way.

I have debt. Lots of it. Student debt. Revolving debt. I may owe Satan a kidney. All are remnants of my former precarious employment. My OSAP payments are a monthly reminder that I come from a lower class family, and that although I may have deserved the same education as my richer peers, I certainly do not deserve the same full paycheque after graduation.

I have habits. I check job boards constantly, even though I’m not looking. I check them more often than I check my own personal e-mail. I try and see what’s out there, just in case I lose my job. I know I probably won’t lose my job. BUT WHAT IF I DO THO!?

I trust no one. Is there a difference between a well intentioned peer who wants to genuinely collaborate, and a malevolent peer who wants to figure out how to scoop in on my job? Doesn’t matter, we won’t be trusting any of them. Nope, nope, nope.

Addendum (01/06/13) I don’t think I gave this line on trust enough attention when I originally wrote this post. I had included it in what I thought was an ironic tone, but in retrospect that tone didn’t really come through. Please allow me to elaborate.
Precarious employment scenarios can often breed irrationally high levels of competition between peers. The reason is simple: anyone can be cut. Ever seen an episode of Survivor? It feels like that. So instead of working together to get things done, you end up trying to outshine your peers, or kiss enough tail to ensure that when it’s time to go to Tribal Council, you’re not going to be voted off.
The survival mentality is tough to shake. Even now in my stable job, my instinct is to question people’s motives even though I know that here we’re working with, not against, one another. The real issue is, I work with a fantastic group of intelligent, motivated people, who deserve trust and respect. Our goals aren’t competing, so why can’t I shake the me-against-the-world mindset? Precarity, get outta my brain!

I have regrets. People who say they regret nothing have to be lying, right? Here is my regret: going into countless job interviews with a no-I-can’t attitude. In one particularly embarrassing interview, I convinced myself that I didn’t speak French. This is ridiculous. I speak French. I confessed to having been laid off by the government in that interview. Who does that? Ugh, my now-stable self is sad for my then-mentally unstable self.

I get countless e-mail alerts. Sometimes they come from UofT or UBC, asking me to donate (ha, that’s rich guys, I only just graduated. Chill out for like, half a decade then get back to me). Sometimes they’re from job boards notifying me that they’re hiring metadata professionals in the middle of the Martian desert. Or Montana, I forget.

I have a second job. A completely non-library second job. I bartend for the local NHL and CFL teams. It’s a pretty great gig, I just sign up for the games I can work at the beginning of the month. Then after my real job, I head on down to the arena, put on a uniform, smile for the hockey fans, and mix them drinks. I make a pretty mean Caesar. And by “mean,” I mean “average.” I make server’s wage (one step below minimum wage), plus tips. The sad part is, on a good night I make more per hour than I do as a librarian. Almost all of what I earn goes straight into my student loan(s), but lately I’ve also been putting some of it aside to pay for library work-related travel as well, since our conference travel budget got the axe last year. I actually really like my second job, but sometimes it stops me from doing other things, mostly sleeping. I am aware that working two jobs from 8am to 11pm is only possible because I am 26 and still on a caffeine high from the two metric tonnes of coffee I consumed in library school. I am also aware that if I had come from a less poor background, or if I didn’t have the world’s largest student loan to pay off, I wouldn’t have even considered finding a second job. However, I am on the very bottom of the ladder at the arena, and I think that seeing how my superiors act there reminds me of how much of an impact I have as a manager at the library. So being a bartender may help me be a better librarian.
It is worth noting that my part-time bartending gig is more stable than any library contract I ever had before I landed the dream gig I have now, which is both sad and enlightening.

One of my colleagues mentioned to me in conversation that poverty has a long tail. She was absolutely right.
If I could tell my formerly precariously employed self one thing, I would tell her that a great job won’t save you from poverty. I would also tell her that poverty is more than a financial situation. It is a lifestyle – in my case involuntary – that has social, emotional, physical, and mental ramifications, which should not be underestimated nor ignored.

So for my precariously employed friends and peers, you are right, it sucks. It sucks a lot. I’m not going to throw cliched optimism your way. There is a chance it won’t get better for a long freaking time. I hope you’re strong enough – or lucky enough – to see it through, and that you land on your feet one way or another!


3 thoughts on “#PrecarityIs…

  1. Definitely a bummer about the past experiences, but I do hope you can relax on the trust issue over time; some colleagues are trustworthy! But it’s ok to take your time to figure out who they are too…

    1. Hi Paul,
      Thanks for pointing this out. I really didn’t give that point enough attention. I’ve added some content to clarify what I was going for.
      You’re right, I’ve got a whole whack load of trustworthy colleagues! The issue isn’t their trustworthiness, it’s a lingering feeling from a past that included consistently competing with my peers when four colleagues would be laid off and left to apply for the one remaining post. Around here I’m more worried about someone stealing my pen (though to be honest, I’m the real pen thief around here).

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