Wednesday, August 13, 2008
Book: Bait and Switch
Subtitle: The (Futile) Pursuit of the American Dream
by: Barbara Ehrenreich
If Nickel and Dimed lit a fire under me to do something with my talents and energy, this book chilled me to the bone. Instead of going under cover as a wage slave, Ehrenreich investigates the world of white collar job-seekers, and it seems like the entire time she's in that world, she's standing in the middle of something that is rotting from the inside out. I have never been part of the big corporate world she tries to penetrate. When I have taken my various breaks from attempts at self-employment, my jobs have been at non-profits, academic institutions, and in the cozy (read: incestuous) world of medical publishing, hardly in the same league as giant pharmaceutical and telecommunications companies. I have always thought that I could never squeeze myself into the mold that those kinds of employers would require me to inhabit, and to hear her tell it, I've always been right. I would wither and die if I had to get a job-job in the sort of setting that she describes. Heck, I almost did wither and die at the couple jobs (non-profit and academic) that most closely tried to emulate that big corporate world, and the only thing that kept me from doing so was excessive quantities of wine. But what really made me shiver about this book is how Barbara Ehrenreich, who I hold in pretty high esteem because, well, have you read any of her books? The woman is sharp. How could she possibly fail to get a job?
I thought often of my friend Steve (Hi, Steve!) when I was reading this book, wondering what he, as a different sort of career coach than the ones Ehrenreich visits, would make of it. I also thought of my friend Loreto who turned me on to the news that a sort of sequel to Nickel and Dimed had been written in the first place, wondering whether it made him feel better or worse about his government job. And I thought of my friends who can exist in that world (Brian, Jaffa, and Beth come to mind) and wondered how on earth they do it.
This book reinforced that self-employment is the only way to go for me. Even if you're not entrepreneurially inclined, I would recommend this book just on the basis of the wry humor that Ehrenreich brings to such a depressing topic as begging for crumbs at the big corporate table. Her writing is crisp and punchy, and the topic is quite compelling to anyone who is less than 100% satisfied with his or her work life. Sadly, there seem to be a lot of us.