From a young age the majority of us are told that you go to school, college, university and then upon graduating you get your dream job and get married, buy a house, have a couple of kids and voila, in the words of Frank Sinatra ‘That’s life’.
There is a hell of a lot to unpack here, there are so many things wrong with this image that we put into children’s heads and can lead to young adults feeling like failures when they don’t have their shit together by their 20s. Adults in their 20s now are the first generation to earn less than their parents and in a time where house prices amongst a whole bunch of other things are at an all time high this just doesn’t sit well with me.
In this blog post I want to dive into the realities of being a young adult in 2021 and use my own experiences to evaluate what it really means to be ‘successful’. Is our success only measured by our wealth, job title, wage/salary, whether we own or rent the property we live in or is it to be quantified by the amount of happiness we have, how much free time we have or how many minutes of our day are spent smiling and laughing with our friends, family and partners. I want to discuss the issue with minimum wage, the toxic attitude that has us romanticising burn out and also the stigma people in ‘regular’ jobs face on a daily basis. So make yourself a cuppa and feel free to stick around a while because this is a conversation that needs to be had and I’d love you to be a part of it.
I am going to be really honest in this article and start at the beginning. For the last 4 years I have pretty much always worked two jobs. I am so proud of my work ethic but I think there is a discussion that needs to be had surrounding the fact that a 23 year old with a degree needs to work 2 (sometimes 3) jobs in order to live. Not live comfortably, I might add, but just live. There was a time a few years ago when I worked a retail job in the day and a bartender job at night throughout the Christmas period. Many times I didn’t even have enough time between jobs to get the train home so would have to crash on my friends sofa in order to get enough sleep between shifts. My bartending job would finish at 4am and I’d be due in to the shop I worked in at 9am. I felt as though I couldn’t disclose that I had a second job because I was afraid that my employer would limit my hours because they have a duty of care towards me but I couldn’t afford to get my hours cut so I just took any shift I could get even if it meant it would rob me of sleeping in my own house, in my own bed.
At the time, my boyfriend and I had just moved in together, I had just come back from studying abroad so had been unemployed for 4 months and on returning to the UK I was unable to get a job for almost 2 months. I applied for hundreds of jobs (no really, I’m not exaggerating) but had no luck and so when I had two companies finally offer me employment I jumped at both of them and working two jobs became my reality. However, due to labour budgets and minimal hours available I was still on under £1000 a month even though I was losing sleep, spending more time sleeping on my mates sofa as apposed to my own bed and running myself into the ground. I was earning money to pay rent in a place I was barely in and that’s when it hit me. Why am I killing myself to pay for a life I don’t get to enjoy?
Now don’t get me wrong, working is a privilege, when I was unemployed I promised myself that I would never complain about having to work ever again, unemployment is not fun, it’s stressful, you feel guilty, I was in an awful place mentally and so whenever I work I am grateful. Grateful for the freedom and independence my pay check gives me, grateful that as a woman I have a right to work in the first place unlike many women around the world and I’m grateful that I have something that keeps me busy and productive in the day. It’s a privilege to work but it’s also important to live.
There is so much more to life than our jobs. It’s become so ingrained in our society to use our job title as our biggest definer, our greatest achievement. How many of us have had that conversation, you know the “Hi, what do you do for a living”, straight to the point, that person wants to know where to place you in their roster. Are you a useful connection, are you wealthy, will you add any substance to their life, do they deem you interesting enough to take up their precious time? The most informal events can be turned into networking opportunities and I find it so toxic. When I attended my brothers wedding a few years ago I think almost everyone who met me asked me what I did for a living and for some reason I felt embarrassed to say that I worked in a nightclub and in retail.
This leads me onto another issue that isn’t talked about enough and that’s the idea that people who work in retail and hospitality are stuck in a ‘dead end job’, they’re dumb, pathetic and not going anywhere in life. If anything in my experience it’s quite the opposite. I’ve worked with people in hospitality and retail who are getting their masters degrees in psychology, bio-med, some who are working in a bar to gain valuable experience because they want to own their own chain one day. You never know what is going on in someones life, what their dreams and aspirations are. I’ve had fully grown men who should know better, belittle me, shame me and just be outright rude to me because they think I’m nothing but a waitress who is incapable of doing anything but take people’s plates to their tables even though I go home every night and attend online business classes and work on my own business. Everyone has their own strengths and weaknesses, their own talents and skills and we need to stop treating people who earn less than us with any less respect just because of their situation.
We need to start defining ourselves in other ways and not believe that our life begins and ends with our career. When the pandemic hit I was furloughed from my bartender job and picked up work as a delivery driver. I would place my MacBook on my passenger seat, connect to my hotspot and attend online businesses courses whilst delivering peoples food. I didn’t want to sit at home and do nothing (nor could I afford to) so I chose to start my own business, yet on the outside all people saw was a delivery driver. I knew I was more than that but unfortunately society only sees us as our job title. When the pubs reopened I continued to do the delivery job for extra money because again, the labour budget wasn’t enough to give me the hours I needed to pay my rent and bills. A year had passed since working those two jobs at Christmas time yet I was in the same position, stressing over money because somewhere in an office someone was told they needed to ‘crunch numbers’ and decrease the labour budget by whatever percentage. They don’t think about the real life people who may not be able to pay their bills due to that cut, what’s important to them is that they hit their targets so they can get their bonus. I don’t have children or dependants but others do and I can only imagine how hard it is for them when their hours get cut and they don’t have family to support them. With a zero hour contact I can go from earning £1,200 a month - £700. That is a big change and my wage fluctuates monthly which can seriously impact my life. My rent and bills don’t fluctuate and it can be so hard to budget when you have no idea what your next pay slip will look like.
I’m not writing this for sympathy, pity or praise but to be a voice in the conversation that needs to be had around the danger of zero hour contracts and the reality of minimum wage as well as the negative stigmas attached to certain jobs roles. I am a well educated woman with a great CV. Yet I am unable to get a job in the career I would like and am stuck in a job that doesn’t respect me as a human but instead sees me as a statistic. In my opinion, you should be able to buy a house when working full time on minimum wage. You shouldn’t have to live pay check to pay check and worry about money when you are making an honest living and putting the hours in.
I’ll finish this by explaining one of the main reasons that I wanted to start a business. It was so that I could provide for myself and not have to worry about my hours being cut. I wanted to put the hard work in during my 20s so I can reap the rewards in my 30s (Maybe 40s). But also, if I am ever fortunate enough to have my own store and my own employees I refuse to pay them minimum wage, they will earn money that will provide them with a good quality of life and I will never ever agree to any employee of mine signing a zero hour contract. I want to be the change that I wish to see and that’s what makes me work hard every day.
When the pubs open up in April I will be working 3 jobs and as much as I’m proud to have that drive in me it shouldn’t be glorified because I shouldn’t need to work that hard just to afford a basic life. Having a great work ethic and being a hard working individual is a great trait to have but we shouldn’t get so caught up making a living that we forget to make a life. We should be able to enjoy the time we have on this planet and when there is such a divide between the classes in this country a very large percentage of us, unfortunately don’t have the privilege to make the most out of it. We should not glorify working 2-3 jobs. We shouldn’t need to do that, we should be paid enough from one job to be able to live a good quality of life.
Having this business and seeing so many other small businesses doing so successfully gives me hope for my future and the future generations who will hopefully work for people who respect them enough to treat them as more than just a statistic.
I am all for 4 day woking weeks, especially after the year we have all been through. Spend more time with your friends and family, enjoy you free time. Don’t kill yourself for a company that would replace you within two weeks if you dropped dead.
There’s more to life than work and I see a shift starting to happen. It’s up to us to keep the conversation alive, to keep it moving forward and to bring this discussion into the rooms of the people who can make a big difference.
‘How can I help?’ I hear you ask. Well we need to encourage more businesses to recognise the importance of employees being allowed to take mental health days. We need to discuss the pros of allowing employees to have 4 day working weeks. We need to make counselling less of a taboo in the workplace and these are only just a few things that we can start by tackling.
Moreover, one of the best things you can do is support smaller, more local businesses who already hold these morals and values because the bigger they grow, the louder they become and they will become the flagship for other companies who can then follow in their footsteps.