Saturday, April 24, 2010

When Atlas Shrugged

My last post described my most exciting job yet.  Yet, I've quit....

They wanted me 24 hours a day for eight days straight at a rate of $4.79/hour.  I accepted that initially because I wanted to do something meaningful and because I was certain that the company's resources were stretched sufficiently to warrant lousy/beginner pay.

Now, in all fairness, I really enjoyed the job.  I enjoyed the students and I really enjoyed the staff.  There was never a boring moment.  Last week I spent 24 hours on the run with three students who'd decided to leave the program.  That excursion included a helicopter ride.  An eight day shift simply few by!

During the course of the week I had a surprisingly candid conversation with the owner, who bragged about the huge percentage of the revenue he puts in his own pocket.  I was a bit disillusioned because, naively, I thought he was in it for the youth, as I was.  Instead he made it plain that he was in it for the money.  This is not to say he isn't good at what he does, he's great!  Still as the week wore on it became more and more clear that he makes all of the decisions and thinks he deserves all of the rewards.  Toward the end of the week I discovered that a field staff, who is an amazing asset to the company, who is skilled, responsible and talented, and who has served for 18 months was being paid the exact same amount as a rookie like me.  Additionally, I learned that a head staff, in charge of a camp, is paid, $0.33 more per hour than I was.  This is a clear statement of company priority and finished me off.

I went in at the end of my shift and resigned.  Here is a tremendous program that is making a difference in the lives of some great young people.  A program whose primary focus is developing integrity in the lives of it's students, but which manifests little integrity with it's employees at all.  When I pointed out my grievance I was told that they were not pleased to have their staff comparing compensation packages.  I wonder why?

I've decided to get clear out to the youth correction/rehabilitation business.  There's no money in it.  I can get a full time job at the Detention Center for which they'll pay me $11.00 an hour.  Or I can deliver packages for UPS for $27.00 an hour.  What would you do?  What is wrong with this picture?

Now all of this begs another question.  One I don't have the answer for?  "Where should the line be drawn between self and service?  I went in to that last job hoping for personal growth as well as monetary income.  While there I did very well with regard to my personal issues.  I even thought that my recovery was being strengthened and facilitated by my experiences.

I have always been taught and even proved that when I get caught up in my selfish, self defeating behaviors that the best thing I can do is to focus on being of service to others.  On the mountain I was doing just that.  Every waking moment and much of the night was spent in selflessly serving others.  I didn't have time to think of myself.  Even my choice to quit was primarily motivated by my regard for my younger colleagues who are being so grossly taken advantage of.  I expected to come home from that experience better and more fulfilled.  Instead, I found I had just put myself on the shelf for a couple of months and have returned to find myself unchanged having done little more than collect a bit of dust.

What was the problem factor?  Is it the money?  Does money destroy service?  If I had taught Seminary would the money have tainted the service?  I'm confused by what I'm feeling.

Last week I spent in Las Vegas painting my daughter's house.  It was a good thing.  I little tough because my own house is a wreck and could have used that effort.  I returned to a plan by the family to spend the next two weekends painting my mother-in-law's house.  I have always been gung ho about such projects knowing in my heart that what goes around comes around and that bread I cast upon the water would return in abundance.  But today I feel like John Galt.  I've carried too much for too long and can no longer bear it up.  The world wants all it can get from me while giving as little as possible in return.  I know God is not like that.  There may be my answer.  My recent employer has taken God out of the equation and put money in.  I remember a time when my daughter befriended a little old neighbor lady.  They spent a lot of joyous times together.  Then the lady decided to hire my daughter to attend to her needs.  What had been joyful service quickly turned into resentful drudgery.  The pleasant rewards of friendship and service were replaced by unsatisfying stinginess, expectations, demands, inequality, reluctance and eventually separation.  Must money always spoil things?

Like so many in Ayn Rand's amazing book, Atlas Shrugged, I'm no longer willing to bring my talent to the business world without being adequately compensated for it.  More and more the world wants all it can get from me.  That would be okay if it were not for the fact that more often than not, someone, behind the scenes, is benefiting financially, while claiming to be serving the critical needs of the less fortunate.  People are getting rich in the human services "industry".  Under the guise of meeting serious needs, and on the backs of sincere and willing laborers, they pad their pockets and meet far fewer needs than they might.  I got my start in the "industry" as a volunteer.  I got sucked in to doing it professionally because I thought it would be satisfying to make a difference full time.  It should be.  It isn't.  In fact, I see a measure of perpetuation built into both government and private human services programs.  A subtle effort to keep themselves in business rather than working themselves out of a job.  It is about the money.

So, for now, you can call me John Galt.  You'll find me about doing good.  You'll find me this weekend, happily helping paint Mom's house, for free.  You'll find me at the Detention Center on Sunday teaching the kids about Jesus Christ and about how He can help them change.  If one day, there are no kids to serve there, I'll be the happiest man around.  Besides, I always said my volunteer job at the Center pays better than my employed one - which is true.... and it'll keep on paying long after those prison walls have served their purpose.

As for money?  I'll have to earn that somewhere.  I just hope I can find a place to earn it where it won't pollute the things that matter more than money.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Mountain Magic

I haven't written for a good long time.  I've been pretty busy remodeling my lifestyle.  It's time I explained and got back to writing. 

My theme for this blog refers to the business of mortality.  The business of living and learning.  This latest episode has been pretty intense in that regard.

A little over a month ago, I hired on as Wilderness Staff for an outfit called Mountain Homes Youth Ranch / Ashley Valley Wilderness.  When I went to my doctor for a physical he said he thought I'd come to the wrong doctor, suggesting I needed to have me head examined.  Indeed, I probably should.  What business does an old geezer like me have camping eight days at a time in the snow, mud, rain, wind of the Book Cliffs, with a bunch of troubled kids.

I guess I didn't feel like reporting on the new adventure until I had some experience with it.  I needed to see if I would enjoy the experience and actually invest myself in the process.  I do and I have.  I have stumbled onto a rare and unexpected opportunity.  This company is amazing in it's preparation to make a difference in the lives of children with behavior problems.  Couple that with the miracle of the mountain and you have a formula for success.  This is a good time in my life to be envolved in making a difference. 

It turns out that I actually have something to offer.  Students and Staff alike express appreciation for the calming effect an older participant can bring to the program.  Clearly, I lack the vigor and energy of the younger staff, but I don't lack experience and a settled, comfortable relationship with the principles and processes of joyful living.  I think my greatest asset is patience.  It takes time to make the changes we hope to help these youth experience and I am content to let the process do it's magic.  Seeing those changes transpire is it's own reward.

I never dreamed my life would lead me to such an occupation.  I never imagined that I would be suited for such a thing.  The other night though, laying in my bag after a challenging day, I couldn't help but rejoice at the long, protracted set of experiences, trials, talents, blessings, set backs, afflictions and serendipitous circumstances that had brought me to that glorious moment of joy.  There I was in a tent in the middle of nowhere with a bedraggled bunch of strangers for whom my heart was absolutely bursting with love, and hopes, and dreams.  I had just serenaded them to sleep with my native american flute and was in no rush to sleep myself.  I just wanted to bask in the glow of a culminating moment that seemed to have been forseen by a loving God who had somehow brought me here.  I unexpectedly felt a sense of mission and purpose and realized that the mountain holds magic for me as well.

I work eight days on and six days off.  I expect you'll hear from me every other week.  Perhaps with more stories and observations.  The wilderness camp is a microcosm of life.  There on the mountain we are all on an excellerated course of living and learning.  Life is challenging there, but it is also simpler, with far fewer distractions. I like that.....
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