Sunday, August 30, 2009

Born Rich

Jamie Johnson, of the Johnson & Johnson family, made a documentary in 2003 called Born Rich (which one can watch online, thanks to Google Video); it's a film in which Johnson interviews friends and family regarding the struggles and lifestyle that comes with having such extremely large amounts of money. I found it to be an interesting film, and watched it again with Chris some time later. A couple of years later, in 2006, he made another documentary called The One Percent, in which he explores the rationale and connection between the wealthiest one percent of Americans controlling half the wealth of the United States. It's not a film I've seen yet; I haven't been able to find it being shown on TV, but both DVDs are available for purchase so at some point I think I'll buy them.

A couple of things were especially interesting about Born Rich. Many of the young heirs had foregone needing to find a career to support themselves. I remember several of those interviewed professing anxiety, almost as though they were overwhelmed by choice. There had been elements of not knowing what their options were, not having enough sense of themselves to know what they wanted to do professionally, if anything. This is not an uncommon problem: Many college kids, and those who are older, also have the issue of not knowing themselves well enough, nor having enough sense of their talents or interests, to know what they want to do professionally. The difference is that the rest of us need to work in some capacity in order to fund ourselves. Either you're going to discover what you want to do career-wise, or you're not; either you're going to get a chance to do that work, or you're not; but in any case you're going to have to work. If you're not required to, you are likely less in a position of evaluating yourself.

In Googling ways that I might find, watch, and/or buy  Born Rich and The One Percent, I discovered that Jamie Johnson write regularly for Vanity Fair; he writes a weekly column called (not surprisingly)  "The One Percent." In his June 26th column, Johnson quoted Cody Franchetti (an Italian baron) as saying: “[M]ost people do not understand 'that splendor is not comfort.'" This immediately struck me as true; I think many who do not have wealth but want it very badly confuse wealth with comfort. While it's true there is a certain amount of comfort in knowing that one is not likely to ever be poor, that one can pay one's bills, and buy whatever is wanted, I remain unconvinced that this is always comfort, unless you're happy with what you have.  It's unfortunate that such a high proportion of the comments left for Johnson on Vanity Fair are negative and derogatory; many voice nasty opinions that deride the rich simply because they have a lot of money.

I have to be careful, though, too; I have to remind myself to make the distinction between those who have a lot of money and those who feel a sense of entitlement
because they have money. There might be a fine line, but I've learned to distinguish this while living on Long Island, which I tend to dislike because of the blatant entitlement that so many people here have. It's overpowering when you come in from the outside, as I have (someone who is neither native New Yorker nor even a native Long Islander). Not everyone has that attitude; I would even say that most people don't. Certainly my friends don't act that way (if they did, we wouldn't be friends), and several of my previous landlords have not had that attitude either, but it is culturally pervasive here. My friends' salaries do not impress me; they are immaterial. I want enough of a salary to be comfortable, but I find I don't really care if I never earn a six-figure salary. This is partly pragmatic; as a teacher I'm not likely to earn a six-figure salary. But I'm also very okay with that, and I'm very comfortable with whatever salary I'll earn because for me it's enough.

Monday, August 24, 2009

The Importance of Grammar

It's especially important and relevant when it comes to traffic safety.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Choosing A Religion

I remain one of the few people I know who was regularly taken to church as a child and who as an adult still attends Mass weekly. Most people I know are not religious; perhaps they weren't brought up to go weekly; they categorize themselves as "spiritual" but not "religious"; they categorize themselves as belonging to a specific religion but don't attend services - for whatever reason - except for the Really Important Ones (Christmas & Easter); and/or they've outright lost their faith. I suspect that in many religious cultures (and here I speak primarily of Christian cultures since it's the one I know best), there simply isn't the same stress placed on going to services each and every week as there is in Catholicism - although I know of only one or two other Catholics my age who go to Mass weekly.

I was watching this video tonight about the declining numbers of churchgoers in Sweden, described as traditionally Lutheran (in the same way that Ireland is traditionally Catholic). The presenter introduced one young couple who had three young children who had baptized, but the parents didn't attend regular services; and as such, the presenter asked why they didn't take attend services more regularly. The parents said that they were quite busy, often worked weekends, and that the services weren't all that interesting. The mother added that she believed it important that children learn to find their own religious path. I agree that it's important that children find their own path, but I have trouble with not introducing them to any religion such that they don't know the basic theological tenets. In my mind, not taking the kids to church (or to the synagogue, mosque, etc.) is much the same as saying, "I'd like my child to find a good career, but I'm not going to send her to school to expose her to the possibilities. She can choose to learn and study what she'd like later in life; she can figure that out for herself down the line." The lack of guidance concerns me.

Should I ever have children, I plan on bringing them to Mass and giving them all the sacraments. They may decide that Catholicism is not for them, but in having been exposed to one set of practices, I hope to teach them how to differentiate between what they believe is important, and have that as a basis for a religious point of departure. I also have to admit they won't wander far but I'd rather they have some belief system as opposed to none.

As a side note, I find I'm genuinely confused about the difference between "spiritual" and "religious." I wish someone would explain how they differentiate between the two; to me, they're the same.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Social Media & Academic Careers

I read an interesting blog entry this evening on Inside Higher Ed, in which the blogger - a community college dean - responded to a reader-sent question of the potential impact of social networking & social media on one's career, specifically for the over-40 crowd. I'm a couple of years off from being 40, and I came to college late anyway so in being ensconced in teacher training the classmates with whom I've been studying have generally been under 25 (except in grad school, where the average age ranged much more). The anonymous blogger notes that he hasn't actually seen social media be as much of an issue, and not for anyone in mid-career (which I can rather see the point of).

Yet I got to thinking.

About five years ago, when I was in the middle of my undergraduate degree but beginning my teacher education courses, my Methods I professor had "The Talk" with us: We needed to be careful how we presented ourselves online because it was feasible that employers would Google us. This was not news to me - I was in my late 20s and had worked full-time prior to going back to college - but it was a surprise to many of my classmates, who were not yet used to thinking of themselves professionally. This was not altogether surprising, since many of my classmates were a number of years younger than I. We had several discussions on what was suitable, right down to e-mail addresses and the impression we might make by having one that is inappropriate.

But it's not just for the under 22 crowd that runs into this problem: One of my aspiring writer friends - a woman with whom I've been friends for more than 10 years - was surprised, at least momentarily, when I pointed out to her that since she was publishing some of her creative writing on a blog, she might want to clean up her grammatics lest a potential publisher come to the conclusion that she is unable to edit effectively. It simply hadn't occurred to her that there would be any of this type of reaction, which struck me as odd because I thought one of the reasons she published her stories on a blog was to gain exposure.

I feel like applied to millions of jobs, but I'm very aware of how I present myself online. I have a Web site (which has sample lesson plans and two versions of my CV); a number of blogs; profiles on FaceBook, MySpace, and LinkedIn; and accounts on multiple other sites (FriendFeed, Flickr, Vimeo, YouTube, etc.). Even though potential employers may not Google me, I take care to at least write well enough to be thought of as someone who can spell (I'm pretty sure I'm not being judged for occasional typos, although one can only hope); I voice opinions and express frustrations on the subject of topics I care about, but I do not lampoon anyone. In other words, I keep it clean. I don't want to be thought of as an idiot.

It matters less personally than professionally, perhaps; I don't really care if someone disagrees with an opinion I voice, but I don't want a principal or chair of an English department thinking that I might not be a good person to interview because I can't express myself well. (Someone please tell me if I'm not expressing myself well!)

From the viewpoint of an employee, it may be easy for many to overlook the Internet as being global if one isn't thinking in those terms, but if hiring committees aren't considering the electronic trail many of us keep, it may be easy for the employee to overlook that perception.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Financial Rewards

Via the miracle that is Twitter, I was pointed to an article that advises students to choose a major that would lead to a career that pays well, however one might define that. The following equation jumped out at me: College Major = Interest + Financial Rewards.

My first thought after (well...while) reading this article was that if I wanted a job that would pay "well," I certainly wouldn't have gone into secondary education. We English teachers are a dime a dozen, and being that I live in the NYC metro area and there being a hiring freeze in NYC public schools, it would seem I chose a poor time to be in search of a job in that field.

I do admit that while the size of the (future) paycheck didn't affect my desire to teach, but aside from my genuine love of teaching, I did choose to go into teaching partly because I knew there to be some job security after retirement. I'll never become rich teaching, but I will have other benefits that I view as just as important after I retire, benefits that may actually allow me to retire. Plus, there are kids all over the damn place that need teaching, so it's hardly likely that the need for teachers will dissipate.

That being said, not everyone can or is likely to choose a career or college major based on the ever important (and highlighted) financial rewards. Choosing a major does not guarantee having the chance to use that degree anyway, so one may as well major in something that one loves or is likely to be interested in. While thinking of the recent graduate who is suing her alma mater because she hasn't been able to find a job after she graduated, I'm also thinking of my cousin Bronwyn, who just entered a conservatory this summer as a violinist. I can imagine the author of this article advising her not to follow her passion for music because of its uncertainty - but aren't all careers ultimately uncertain anyway? I just spent six years obtaining two degrees I may never use, in an allegedly stable field. Financial rewards are consistently tenuous.

I suppose the issue at hand - what the author had really wanted to assert, at least partly - is that many students don't actually spend time considering how they'll use the degree they're in the midst of obtaining. Many students might not even know flavor of career they want anyway, and just pick a major and hope for the best. (Inexplicably, English and psychology seem to be two of the more popular choices, which sucks for those of us who know how we want to use our degrees. Hello, overcrowded survey classes!) But one of the things one would hope would happen is that while a student is in college, she would be exposed to a raft of other skills she would like to develop, or other interests she might wish to follow. (I took an extremely interesting class in old English. I was surprised just how much I enjoyed it, and I would consider taking more classes and adding that field of study to my professional repertoire.)

I recently downloaded a podcast called Programs & Advice for Music Students, published by the USC Thornton School of Music. What was especially interesting about it was that I heard several of the teachers say that they encouraged their students to learn several different skills - conducting, for example, or composition, and a few different instruments - in addition to their primary instrument because not only would might they discover new skills, but the students would become prepared to support themselves financially. (One teacher said he usually had several things going on at the same time - composing, directing, performing, speaking engagements, etc.)

Financial rewards are tenuous; what I wish we taught more of is the creativity of using those degrees in different ways, on the basis and understanding that, professionally, not everyone gets to do what they want.