An Early Round-up: You Have Time To Write That Novel (Or Work a Low-Wage Job?)

I’m posting this week’s round-up on Thursday instead of Friday because tomorrow I will be…closing on a house. Yes, we’ve decided to take the plunge and purchase a home in Gladwyne, PA. My husband has been working in the greater Philly area for quite a while now, and so since I can work anywhere, we wanted to make the commute easier for him. We’re not moving until June since I’m still working on finishing my book and an unfortunate side-effect of moving is that we’ll lose our childcare set-up. That always takes some time to piece back together, and I’m also looking forward to enjoying my last two months in New York City. But anyway, I’ll write more about the house, home ownership, home buying and so forth after we actually close.

This week I had two pieces over at BNET as usual. I’ll be bumping this up to 3x a week in May, so please send your ideas! Seriously. I need ideas. What would you like to read about? The blog broadly covers time management, career, productivity, workplace and social trends. This week we had pieces on two books.

On Tuesday, I told readers that “Yes, You Have Time To Write That Novel.” Jael McHenry’s debut novel, The Kitchen Daughter, is out from Simon & Schuster this week. She wrote the book while holding down a full time marketing job that required her in-office presence for 40-50 hours a week. So where did she find the time? Where you’d imagine: nights, weekends, holidays. She seized weekends when she could work in a concentrated fashion, cranking out 10,000 words at a time. Six such weekends gives you a draft, if a crappy first draft (Anne Lamott uses stronger language). Editing can be done in spurts of 15 minutes after that. I thought it was good advice for tackling any big extracurricular project.

Then today, I wrote about “5 Skills You Can Learn From a Low-Wage Job.” After journalist Caitlin Kelly lost her job at the New York Daily News, she wanted both steady income and an escape from the solitude of freelance life. So she took a part-time job at The North Face in a suburban mall. She had a mixed experience with it (as her book, Malled: My Unintentional Career in Retail, out today, recounts). There are some upsides to a job like this — solving people’s problems, for instance. Many white-collar jobs involve vague work and being removed from anything that actually does anything, whereas when someone needs hiking boots and you help them buy the right hiking boots, you have changed something in the world for the better. On the other hand, it’s tough work, as I can attest from my stints working at a mall drug store years ago. You’re on your feet for a long, long time.

I think there are several lessons one can learn from such a job, that I worry many people don’t learn. The competition to get into top colleges is really stiff these days, as, frankly, is the competition for low-wage but steady jobs. If I’m a store manager, I’d rather hire a 25-year-old who might stick around than a 17-year-old, who I know won’t, and probably lacks a lot of common sense anyway. So many well-to-do teens don’t wind up working in malls over the summer and on weekends. They do other things, like volunteer in Africa to learn about the world for their college essays. Well, some part of the world — and it will probably make for good stories in Davos later on. It may not have much to do with the employees in the companies they’ll eventually be running, though.

Of course, that said, one topic I cover in Laughing at the Joneses is whether I’d ever make Jasper and Sam work in those kinds of jobs. Probably not. It’s not that I don’t think they should work. But even as a teenager, one can develop marketable skills to do something more clearly applicable to a long-term career. At age 19, I started freelancing professionally. My little brother did even better, learning computer skills to build websites and the like. He never had to work in a drug store. And he’s continued doing software engineering professionally. So that was clearly good preparation.

What do you think? Do you think your children should work burger-flipping or shirt-folding jobs as teenagers? Why or why not?

12 thoughts on “An Early Round-up: You Have Time To Write That Novel (Or Work a Low-Wage Job?)

  1. I worked at a vet’s office in high school. While all my friends were stocking shelves or making coffees, I was taking care of animals, learning about lab stuff, etc… I had so much fun, and I still look back on that job fondly. It was a bit of career exploration, too. I never ended up becoming a vet, but I learned a lot about what I like and don’t like in a job. For instance, I liked that I did not sit at a desk – that I was doing something on my feet. I will definitely want my kids to try their hand at something they are interested in.

  2. Here’s something a friend & I were talking about: why do business meetings and Chamber Networking events either start super early (7 am or 7:30) or happen from 5-7? As a full-time working mom, that just doesn’t work for me, and I still want to be a part of it, so do I miss out on networking now that I’m a mom, or do I find other avenues such as the lunch time service clubs meeting. Why can’t the business after hours happen from 7-9? After I’ve had time to get home, see my kid, feed her and put her to bed? Things in the business world are still driven by men and don’t take in to consideration the working mom’s dilemma.

    Also do you know of any professional conferences that have a kid’s camp or spouse activity component? This is another dilemma I’m having about an upcoming 3 day conference. I’d be curious if anyone is doing anything innovative for that.

    1. @Alissa- hard call on this one (what time networking events should occur). Probably, they know that if they start later, so people have time to go home, the vast majority will get comfortable… and decide not to go back out. There’s also the issue that if people have long commutes, they’d have to stick around during the post work window (assuming the event is near a downtown where people work) thus wasting even more time. Personally, because I have kids who go to bed late, I prefer right after work events. 5-7 is perfect for me, I’d go on the early side, and only have to ask my sitter to stay a little later. Whereas a later event would involve leaving my kids (who’d still be awake) — fine if with their father, but if he’s traveling, then I have to find another sitter or convince my nanny to come back. So I seldom make it to later ones.

  3. @Laura – you bring up good points. I get so caught up in the “another thing about working moms grip” and forgot about those with commutes, or as you point out parents with kids who go to bed later. I am still figuring out where my time is best spent and I also am selective about which events I attend. For example, I attended an event this morning that has already paid off for me.
    And I like the points you make in the post about kids and work.
    Also, I forgot to say in my earlier comment- Congratulations on your home purchase!

  4. @Alissa — there are actually a *very* few medical conferences which include some childcare — one of the best is a wilderness medicine course which takes place at a YMCA family camp in the Rockies. I am itching to go before my kids get too old to call it fun! I think there’s an untapped market for this in a lot of fields, to provide family-friendly conferences with on-site childcare and/or fun auxiliary family activities.

  5. @Laura — Boy, this is right on topic for me. I worked a variety of jobs including a stint in a canning factory (a true 80-100 hr week, unbearable temps, etc) in college. I also worked as a nursing assistant AFTER college when I was retooling before going back to school, for hands-on patient care experience. And I did learn a lot from these jobs.

    However, my 15-yr old daughter will be sailing competitively this summer and probably working part-time as a sailing instructor. So while I’d like her to get her hands dirty for a couple of summers, when these other opportunities come along, they are hard to turn down. I would really welcome your input and that of your readers to sort out how to weigh the life lessons learned from burger-flipping vs the doors which can be opened with an internship, job at the yacht club, etc.

    And congrats on the house!

    1. @Kario- thanks! We’re excited about the house. Yes, it is a tough call — why deny kids opportunities just to make a point? You can obviously learn a work ethic doing all sorts of things, and competitive athletics certainly push that.

  6. This is a great question. I worked a number of hourly jobs in high school and college – not necessarily bad jobs but not things I’d want to do permanently (babysitting, day camps, retail at the mall, etc.) I needed to work to have spending money. My kids won’t necessarily need to work, but I feel pretty strongly that they should have jobs and a need for a little spending money that makes them appreciate the jobs they have later on. I have a lot of recent college grads today working for me that don’t seem as appreciative of the job they have as I did….mostly b/c it is their first job! However, your points about getting a job in your line of work is spot on and why shouldn’t we provide opportunities to our kids even if we didn’t have them…’s really the dilemma about how much to provide your kid vs. making them earn, what expeirences do you want them to have, etc.

  7. I think the issue is teaching them the value of work. If they can find a skill that allows them to earn money (sailing, teaching music, graphic design, computers, writing, ) and they can MAKE MONEY from it, fine and great and of course better than working in McDonalds.
    BUT if they can’t it is a valuable skill to learn that life does not fall off trees. Maybe you will marry well, maybe you won’t or you will and your spouse will die or leave you. Maybe your parents have money or maybe they don’t. But yourself, your work ethic and drive and your ability to have enough money to make life happen for you as you would like it and reflecting your priorities that is a gift that nobody can take away from you and it is hard to see how a child who only goes to expensive camps that COST money or ONLY does things that cost money is learning this. Children like adults must learn that things cost — this is one of my issues with the stay at home mom –she’s workign but not earning her own way — dangerous
    I work hard and I plan to give my kid every opportunity I can afford, but I also expect when they have a chance be it summers to work and make money doing whatever they can — not at the expense of school or grades or life opportunities I can provide, but certainly as one of their skill sets in life.

  8. Also I do networking events they are essential to being a good salesperson — which I pride myself on. But until my kids are a certain age I have accepted that I must cut back on them and/or get my husband to do more so I can go to them without guilt. They are only very little for a short time so I shoot for a 40 hour work week maybe more — time with them every night and in the morning every day or as many days as possible — either myself or my husband — not paid help — and I try very hard to only very very occassionally work weekends. If I do have free time on weekends, I try to take it for myself, pedicure, reading things that aren’t for work, exercise with or without children… I understand and sympathize with the woman who wrote on here about wanting to do more networking but struggling to fit it in with family time. It is tough.. workweek lunches are great but do cut into the workweek; people like 7 a.m. b/c it gets you getting work in before the real workday begins. I like 7 a.m. for working moms if they can come into the office later or get hubby or grandma to drop kid off at daycare (many women myself included can’t make this happen in a regular way) After work meetings are better right after work but either way cut into family time. We all make tradeoffs and these choices every day and it is very very tough!

  9. One of my earliest jobs was a 4 month stint at Burger King when I was 19 years old. The most important thing that I took away from there was a realisation of what life can be like if you don’t commit to things and finish them. As a 19-year-old I thought education was useless and didn’t serve any practical use… post Burger King I still thought that much of what I was being taught was useless, but I understood the importance of finishing and getting the degree. The value of the experience was not in the skills that I learnt, but the realisation of the destiny that was waiting if I didn’t finish education, commit to a career and get through the obstacles. Thanks for nice post.

    1. @Conor- Thanks for your comment. Yes, certain jobs can be instructive for seeing what is possible with a degree and without. On the other hand, I learned recently that Trader Joes pays their cashiers $40-60k a year — so that sounds like a very good job! I wonder what their education profile looks like.

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