The Ride Never Ends

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“Just a little bit farther”  “Just over the next hill”

Statements like that seem to characterize so much of my experience in life.

When I was child, my parents divorced and my mother who up until then had been a housewife was suddenly forced to provide for all her children.  It was not an easy life and times always seemed hard.  Heck, I remember not celebrating my birthday for several years simply because we were insanely poor and always stressed out about getting through “this” time.  I don’t blame my mother, she made unbelievable sacrifices, not once but day after day just to keep us safe, sheltered and fed.  It was simply that life was hard.  While there was always hope for a better future, the mantra was always “just a little bit farther, just make it past this” as we struggled with one catastrophe after another.  At one point my mother cashed out her retirement just to keep us going.  That was the mind set, we just had to make it a little farther.

Now that the kids are grown up and able to support themselves, thanks in no small parts to my mother’s sacrifices, I find myself looking with a weary eye towards the day when the children will have to work together to take care of my mother when she’s no longer able to work.

I know we will be there and do all that needs to be done, yet I also find myself still stuck in the same cycle of just trying to make it a little bit farther.

It’s tough enough when its you facing real life challenges that just have to be met with the frail hope that things will someday be better.  It’s worse when these situations are put on you by someone else who just wants to get more out of you and thinly veils it in a promise that it’s only temporary (which it never is).

I can no longer count on one hand how many times I have a boss tell me that he just needed us to put in some more hours and make some extra effort to just through a rough spot only to have that new level of time and effort become the new standard.  Do this enough times and you find yourself living at work.

I don’t mind seeing the job get done and following it through to the end.  I’ve put in my share of work weeks over sixty hours and even a few approaching eighty hours.  But I’ve never had an employer, at least not a consulting company, tell me it was time to dial back and regain some of your sanity.

For industrial hygiene consulting companies, there is always a crisis.  Things are never going smoothly or calmly.  There will always be some emergency that requires the extra effort, the sacrificed weekend, and while it’s only to get through that emergency, there is always another even worse emergency around the corner that requires the same or more effort.  Even if there is no obvious crisis, the ever present crisis of somehow falling behind is always available.

I cannot remember the last time I had a forty hour work week unless you count some time when there’s a major holiday.

The ride never ends when you work in consulting, and they don’t want it to.  The very nature of the business is that they make money when you’re busier than ever before.

Sure people will, and they may hire new one’s with promises of good working conditions and a decent work life balance.  But then comes the inevitable call to “temporarily put in some extra time to get past this rough patch”.  It’s never temporary.  The light at the end of the tunnel is always moving just a little farther ahead.

The obvious question is why not just leave consulting?  Well, that’s easier said than done when you’ve already established a career in this side of the industry.  I regularly get phone calls from consulting companies wanting me to come on board with them, always promising something better, but by now I would say that pretty much all medium to large size consulting companies are the same when it comes to questions of work life balance.  If you’re salaried, they’re going to run you until you die or quit.

As for positions with more traditional companies, they are incredibly hard to get unless you’re already working for one.  I look at the people whom I graduated with that also became EHS type folks.  Those who found there way into working for one company as an EHS type role end up just moving from one large company to another large company with an ease that is astounding to me.

One of the saddest moments I remember is when I was taking a prep class for the CIH exam and the teacher asked the students why they were going for the CIH.  Students with normal stable jobs simply expressed a desire to further develop themselves as professions.  Students working in consulting seemed to hope the CIH would some how be their magic ticket to getting out of consulting.  It’s almost as bad as asbestos consultants who all have secret plans for how their going to get out of the asbestos racket, yet you see the same damn faces doing the same damn thing a year later.  Some roles and occupations are just impossible to escape.  It’s a shame, because a lot of the people I know in consulting and even in asbestos work are smart hard working people with a lot of great knowledge and background who just can’t seem to get their lucky break.

I started writing largely to just give me a sense of hope for the future.  I genuinely enjoy it and like creating stories, which I try to keep as the primary reason for me doing it since I know the possibility of ever getting published are small let alone having a career as a writer.  But I know I keep at it despite occasional frustrations because I need something else in my life that might theoretically someday provide me another means of livelihood.

Oh well.  The ride never ends, not for me, not today.  Just a little bit farther, I just need to make it over this next hill.

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