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2021-05-14 20:17:45 (UTC)

Prompt 120: Thankless Work

120. Mother Theresa, a nun and a Nobel Peace Prize winner, died in 1997 after a life dedicated to service. Would you ever consider helping people as a full time profession without expecting much in return? Why or why not? How might you feel differently from people with regular jobs?

For the record, neither a "life dedicated to service" nor a Nobel Peace Prize do a wonderful person make. Christopher Hitchens has provided a scathing critique of Mother Theresa, for one. Furthermore, I personally don't think that President Barack Obama deserved the Nobel Peace Prize. His was a reactionary win after the second Bush president. Just puttin' that out there. With that outta the way...

So for the past 16 years of my life, I've been working in the non-profit, human services sector. I felt badly-burned by my stint in a semi-professional career at a software company, and as the studio announced its closing, I promised myself, "If I don't go into business for myself, I'll work for a non-profit organization." Mind you, my exposure to what I knew of non-profit organizations at the time was from my compulsive blood-donating to the American Red Cross about every two months.

My service started off in managing a group of Americorps volunteers, then a year as an Americorps volunteer myself. That was a challenge, personally and professionally. However, my time working for $800 a month exposed me to a lot of the town where I still work. While I did good things and helped a lot of folks when they were in a time of need, I bore witness to scads of negative, systemic issues: blight, crime, drug addiction, and inequality. They all work together and with a thousand little cuts they prevent entire neighbourhoods from spreading their wings and doing right for themselves and their neighbours. I won't say it stops the entire city from thriving. Rather, this town has a case of, "Good Block, Bad Block," and even then can sometimes become a different place when the sun goes down.

After that Americorps gig, I was exhausted and needed a bit of time to myself. However, I was quickly running out of money after just one summer (or maybe two months) off work... Living off $800 a month had a way of not providing me much safety cushion and my savings hadn't really improved during that time. So I happened into the day job that I still have to this day. There was a short time from 2012 to 2014 where I lived in Nashville on a geographic experiment (still working in non-profit human services), but I ended up returning here and my previous director was gracious enough to hire me back.

It's sometimes tough to understand that I work in a non-profit organization. For one thing, I am paid 50 grand a year to do my work, and I am poised to earn even more after raises go through this coming summer. When I was younger, I had always thought "non-profit organization" meant we'd be paid in things other than money, like taking a vow of poverty or something like that. However, one needs only to look at larger, corporate-structured non-profits to realize that this is simply untrue. There are people who make quite a bit of money by running non-profit organizations (and even in a small organization like ours - with 14 full-time staff - my 50 grand isn't the top of the scale).

In the grand scheme of things, in terms of grown-ass adults making money, I realize that although my salary sets me above average, I am far from an elite. I've personally never been someone who coveted material goods, and/or pampered myself with what some consider luxury goods. I've never owned land or a house. I currently live in what's best described as a studio apartment and is akin to a home-share situation with an elderly empty-nest couple. But I have a comfortable financial cushion and have been debt-free for over a decade.

I've seen larger salaries and promotions change people's perspective. I'm convinced, for example, that the moment a woman I was dating took a new job with a salary of $120K a year, she began to distance herself from me. There may have been other issues to contribute to our breakup (her orthodox Jewish parents not wanting to acknowledge or even meet her goy boyfriend, for one), but it seemed to me that her promotion was the tipping point. Not gonna paint all those who earn over $100K a year are cut from the same cloth. This lady let it affect her, and/or I couldn't compete with whatever it was she expected at that point.

"Charity work" is an interesting phenomenon. While I could feel ennobled by working for such world-spanning organizations such as Doctors Without Borders, there's still plenty of damage that needs to be repaired right here, where I am. Personally, I know just how hard I work at what I do, but I wonder sometimes if the work is taken seriously by society at large. Irrespective of salary, it is as rewarding and gratifying as the general public apparently assumes.

There are intangibles of helping others that even when the head of tech support for a software company, I couldn't match. I've helped clients earn jobs that make more money per year - or per hour - than I do now, but I wouldn't trade places with them. However unless someone has actually had need of the services, or personally known someone who needed them, I think that it's highly likely one would consider these types of jobs as "optional" or "not real jobs." So it goes.


I had my second vaccine shot earlier this week, and took the following day off work. That night I had dreams of carpenter bees flying round me with stingers the size and shape of cat's claws, and large scarab beetles scuttling over my feet. That was strange.