Recession Etiquette: Removing the Fear Factor

October 14 2009, 10:31 AM
Last year, I had a week of contract work near Christmas that, after it was over, I promised myself I would never do again. During that week my boss continually acted more and more erratic, often screaming at my colleagues and using withering sarcasm to give us comments. His expectations changed by the minute, and as much as we'd try to adjust to meet them, we found ourselves greeted with more yelling. The work came to a close on my birthday when, after another evening of degrading behavior, I returned home in tears to find a chilled martini glass waiting for me in the freezer. My boyfriend was standing near the kitchen table wielding some vodka. The combination of my boss's open mocking of my work in front of my colleagues and his inappropriate anger levels made me anxious for months. I started to doubt myself in new work situations and fell into several more jobs that took advantage of me. This year, I got called for the exact same job with the exact same boss. And, despite the promise I made to myself last year, I hesitated. I needed the money, and there weren't any signs of other work. My stomach immediately tightened, the familiar pangs of anxiety working through my gut. I made calls to friends, asking for advice. I heard over and over again that it was good money and that I needed to take any work I could get right now. And, frankly, they were right. But I said no. This means I have no money for Christmas presents. It means I will barely be able to pay the bills that month. And I know there is a very good chance I won't get other work. I said no for two reasons. The first was due to some excellent advice. A friend told me to figure out how much I would make an hour, with all of the work and driving taken into consideration. My answer: $20/hour. She asked me how much I would want to make if I was offered a job that I knew would cause so much daily distress. I answered: $50/hour. She asked me to consider the difference---$30/hour---and said it was too wide of a gap to accept. The second reason is more emotionally driven. I'm seeing people make more and more unhealthy decisions because they're too scared to do anything else. Maybe they're too worried to leave an abusive job or too nervous to follow their ambitions in a recession with such little cash changing hands. I decided that I couldn't turn 30 working for someone I knew would treat me so badly. I understand this economy is changing the demands required of us, but I've also decided to let those new demands change only some of the ways that I live. They will change the way I budget my money, the amount of meals I cook at home, and the food I can afford to buy. It will mean I have less work, and I have to choose to fill that free time with positive goals, which is why I'm training for my second marathon. But this recession won't change the way I value my skills, and it won't change my expectations for how people should treat each other. I decided not to make any decisions based on fear. Otherwise, when the recession is over, I'll enter into a better economy without being proud of who I am. For now, I'd much rather wait for better times with a few less dollars in my pocket and a little more hope rather than worry, which takes up some valuable real estate in my belly.