600 words

The Time of My Life

Printed title

Your Money or Your Life

Several of the programmers I know move from job to job and make big bucks. They try to convince me to work with them at their company du jour. Because one in ten computing jobs goes unfilled, there are many openings and much money.

But there is lots of work, too. They weren't off on Columbus Day. They work evenings and weekends and often can't take the one week vacation they are allowed. One friend gets two weeks a year but has to make up the time by working extra overtime. She makes more annually than I do, but less per hour. I'd do just as well taking a second part time McDonald's job.

People at the bottom of the pay scale don't have options--they've got to work all possible hours to provide food and shelter. Yet many people even more well-off than I am feel they have to make more money. They've got a bad case of affluenza--compulsively buying possessions to satisfy some inner urge.

Buying into the moneyed lifestyle is easy because we never learn there is a choice. There is no Lifestyle Day at high school similar to Career Day where you find out what options you have. Many people just assume that if you're a doctor you'll make lots of money, live in a big house, and never have any free time. But that isn't so. You can opt to work part time or live in a small town. Even careers that seem to require a certain lifestyle don't actually. Many people think insurance salesfolk and Realtors need to look affluent with nice clothes and new cars. But an insurer in a small country town needs to act like his neighbors. And I've met several Realtors who sell mountain property. They do a lot of on-the-job hiking and cross-country skiing with people who are excited about being in the wilderness--not a bad living.

I don't feel sorry for the affluently-challenged folks, but do feel bad that Americans of all economic levels aren't aware of all the possibilities we have. When I first moved here, I got a job at Yancey's working nights loading trucks with restaurant supplies. One evening, we got to talking about the lottery and some of the younger guys said if they won they'd get the heck out of Fort Collins. I said, "Go now. You're unmarried. Sell everything, get on the bus and find another low pay, night shift job in California." Unfortunately, they had payments for pickup trucks they couldn't bear to part with and chose to complain and buy lottery tickets.

I don't gamble. There are other ways to win at life. I didn't own a car until I was 22. Before that, I hitch hiked or rode the bus. I traveled up and down the east coast enjoying America, working as a laborer or dishwasher or short order cook in various towns and cities. After saving up some money and enjoying the area for a month or two, I'd move on, living cheaply on meager savings until I needed to get another job. It wasn't the true American Dream, but was the sort of freedom many people wish for.

They won't get it with money. As Kris Kristofferson wrote, "Freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose." I can't afford to lose my job now because I have a family and myriad possessions to support. But time is not money. Being limited, time is far more valuable so I manage the costs of my life to allow me to get Columbus Day off.