In this age of smart cell phones, Internet on the go and employers eager to wring out the last drop of productivity from every employee, it has become increasingly challenging, to say the least, to escape work and working. Even when you are off work, you are still tethered to work via email and cellphone. Unemployment is currently hovering near 9.6 percent in the United States, and economic indicators show the number of people looking for work will remain high for the foreseeable future.
Workers have less liberty to complain about being overworked in this economic environment. You have to suck it up and do your job; and be happy you even have a place to work and earn. The unspoken rule out there for workers is working harder, or someone willing to out perform you will take your job. However there is a huge divide between working hard and working until you drop: one is a virtue every time; the other is suicidal in the long run.
And without a job and a sizable saving account to support yourself (your family) in America, you will quickly be up a raging deep creek without a paddle, as they say.
For Nigerians and other immigrants in America we are blessed (or burdened) being the “lucky few” who are supposed to go make it and help lift the rest of our extended families back home out of the poverty. We are the ones who are supposed to support our parents until they pass away while raising our own children whom we do not expect to take care of us (the same way did our parents) in our golden years due the cultural reality in U.S.A. We are the sandwich generation. As we marinate in this isostatic position, we still need to save for our retirement, and save for our children’s education. We still need to pay countless bills in form of mortgage, taxes, car insurance, health insurance, homeowners/rental insurance, car loans, water rate, and so on.
According to Brian Szczerbinski “While more hours worked means more work completed, the negatives of overworking may out-weigh the positives. A Families and Work Institute study found that overworked employees dread their jobs and employer, make more mistakes, have higher stress levels, and are more likely to become depressed.” For many, depression and high blood pressure are the new headache and afo oruru (belly ache).
Working hard is a good for all parties but for several Nigerians abroad are literally working until they drop. Many work not only nights, they work very long hours to boot. The pay differential and the prospect of not paying for child care are some of the reasons some choose to work nights for years on end. Working nights for years will age you quicker and it may even be quite harmful to your family life, namely your marriage/relationship.
Like many of us in Diaspora, I am guilty of taking on more responsibilities in Nigeria than I can handle. I know the pressures and the need to do more, the relentless demand to solve everyone’s problems. Helping others is a worthy act, but you must not work yourself to death in the process, leaving your spouse and children in peril. Take better care of yourself, and live a happier, healthier, and longer life. In the long haul, that will enable you to help more people both in Nigeria and here in America.
Whatever the reasons are for you working so hard, you might consider the following:
Take Time To Smell The Roses.
Find a way to let off steam, and find ways to relax to save yourself from yourself. Try to take one or two vacations a year. Book your flight and hotel and car rental in advance to save money. Travel to a place you have never been before and relax with your family for a few days at a time. You don’t have to know someone where you are vacationing. Even if you know someone there, consider staying in a hotel to avoid inconveniencing anyone and to maintain your privacy. Stay in a nice hotel in a safer part of town and rent a spacious vehicle to enable your family to relax and travel in comfort. No area or car is 100 percent safe. But you need to do your part to protect your family and to have a safe vacation. Ultimately, it is God that protects us all.
While my family was on vacation in California this past June, a friend there asked me how I could afford to be on leave in this tough economy. I explained that the trip was planned three years ago, before the recession. We plan and save for our vacations many years in advance. But I was thinking to myself, why would I not take a vacation especially during this challenging time? Taking time to relax and refresh and bond with my family is not a luxury to engage in only during good economic times. It is a necessity to treasure in all times.
Catch Enough ZZZZZ
Get enough sleep every night. Some pride themselves in being able to function on five or less hours of sleep per day. Sleep studies show most of us will benefit from seven or more hours of sleep per day.
Part of a good night sleep is making sure you are sleeping on a good bed. Consider replacing your mattresses with plush and very good ones if your mattresses are more than 10 years old. Invest the money to buy a good and comfortable bed; this is not where you want to pinch pennies. Make sure everyone in your family sleeps on the best bed you can afford, but don’t spend so much that you will have to stay up all night worrying about how to pay for the bed either.
Put Your Financial House in Order
If you are one of those excessive workers who are driven by bills to pay, you might want take a closer look at your finances and find ways to reduce those bills in the first place. No one achieves and maintains financial success by spending more than they make. The basic rule is to spend less than you make and wisely invest the difference so that it too earns more income for you. You must have a long term perspective.
Shopping isn’t therapy. If you can’t afford the things you buy, shopping is a behavior with negative consequences. The next time you’re tempted to head to the store for something you don’t really need, try doing something relaxing like reading or soaking in a hot tub or enjoying a delicious cup of tea. Beating the budget blues is rewarding in the long run.
Know your income stream and expenses very well. Plan for the long haul and gradually work towards your financial goal. Whether it is paying down your mortgage and other debts, saving for a vacation or college tuition; take it one step at a time. A journey of a thousand miles starts with the first step.
Make small changes that add up! Drink filtered municipal water instead of bottled water. If you read the label on that plastic bottle, you will find it might be filtered water from a distant municipality, no better than tap water from your sink. In the last 27 years, I have watched in amazement how water has been packaged and sold using American marketing ingenuity, so much so that offering your guest bottled water has become a status symbol among Nigerians in the United States.
Simple tasks like changing your heating ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) system filter regularly will not only save you lots of heating/cooling dollars and costly repairs, it will also improve your indoor air quality. Replace all your incandescent bulbs with compact fluorescent bulbs to save energy. Unplug all vampire chargers when not in use. Buy Energy Star appliances.
Buy a home you can afford. Don’t buy to impress others. What good does it do you to go into debt for 30 years for a house you cannot possibly pay for and maintain? Struggling month after month to pay your mortgage is not good for you at all. The fact that you were approved for a $300,000 mortgage does not mean you can afford the house. Sheryl Crow said it best when she sang in Soak Up the Sun, “It’s not having what you want. It’s wanting what you’ve [already] got!”
Watch how you use credit cards. Try to pay off your monthly charges before they accrue hefty interest charges. If you are carrying debt, it may be prudent to cut up and close your credit cards until you have brought your spending under control. This sounds radical, but the stress of paying 12 to 30% interest rates may be the reason you are working yourself to death.
Don’t buy a vehicle on payments unless you have better use of your money. If you cannot afford to pay for a car when you buy it, you are over your head. Buy a well maintained and inspected pre-owned car instead. As you know, new vehicles depreciate the most the first six months after purchase. Let someone else take that depreciation hit by buying used. Not paying a car loan every month will go a long way to reduce your stress and the need to work long hours. Change your engine oil, filter and oil pan plug per the owner’s manual, not every 3,000 as the oil industry would want you. Also, air and rotate your tires regularly to prolong their life. Your tires are the only contact your vehicle has with the road, so make sure they are in great shape for safety and efficiency reasons.
Also, consider the total cost of ownership when you buy a vehicle. Don’t just dwell on price of the car or the miles per gallon it gets. Consider maintenance costs, safety rating, reliability, resale value before you buy. That Lexus you think is too expensive may be a better buy than say a Kia, with everything factored in. Personally, I am not going to drive or let any one in my family drive one of those popular tiny cars that gets over 50 miles per gallon to save fuel on Texas roads that are filled with trucks and bigger vehicles. I have to do my part to increase the odds in my families favor. However, regardless of the automobile’s safety rating and size, you still need to drive with healthy caution. It’s a matter of praying to God but still locking my doors.
Start saving early for your children’s education. There are many ways to save for college: 529 and other tuition prepaid programs, buying stocks, and savings accounts. Or have your children fend for themselves, taking on student loans which many of us did not have in our college days.
Pushing your children to play dangerous sports to earn scholarships (with the gamble of going to NFL or NBA) can backfire. Academic scholarships are better than sports scholarships. Your children will not get concussions, broken bones, tempted to use enhancement drugs, and become distracted from school work by focusing on academics and playing sports in moderation. Consider talking with 3 or more former professional NFL and NBA players about the reality of these games. Speak also with some of those you did not make it to the major leagues. Ask them why their own children are not taking this route. They will open your eyes! Each of these methods has advantages and disadvantages.
Use real estate to pay for college. I learned this method from a Realtor friend years ago. Buy a rental home way below the median price of homes in an area before or shortly after the birth of your child. Rent the home out. Make as small a down payment as possible, and target paying off the mortgage before your child is 17 years old and ready for university. Buy one for every child. When the time comes, you can sell the home and use the money to pay for college or, in the event of a real estate downturn like we are experiencing now, your child can take out loans while you wait for the market to rebound. Then sell the home and pay off the loan. It is very rare to lose money in real estate you hold for nearly 20 years. It takes a system of planning and patience. Let the tenants help pay for your children’s university education. Being a good landlord is a challenging but learnable and rewarding act.
You should never be too busy to engage in daily physical activities. As mentioned in my previous article “Have You Lost Your Job In America? How To Survive The Storm In A Tough Economy”, the benefits of working out on a regular basis cannot be over emphasized. If you have time to go to work, you should have time to work out. It is that important. I know someone who thinks physical activities are a waste of time. He rationalized his stance by talking about a person who exercised daily and ate a proper diet, yet ended up dying young due to cancer. While that may have occurred, there are thousands of people who benefit from regular exercise. It is good for your body, mind, soul, and for your libido as well. I guess I had to throw that in to give the male reader additional incentive to work out…(laugh). It will improve the quality as well as the quantity of your life.
Working hard is a good thing, but working until you drop is deadly.
Here is a story for you to ponder. There were two lumberjacks. One was huge and muscular like Goliath, while the other was slim, fit, and smart like David. They held a fierce competition to see who could fell their tree the fastest. The two huge trees were each side of a steep hill that prevented them from seeing each other, but they could hear each other as they worked.
As the whistle blew to start the race, the Goliath went to work with all his might. He went non-stop in his fervor to beat the smaller person.
David was measured in his approach. He took several breaks from cutting, and used the time to regroup and to sharpen his ax. When David’s ax was silent, Goliath’s supporters laughed, thinking David was wasting time and did not stand a chance of winning.
When Goliath was just midway in cutting down his tree, David’s tree started to sway. Covered with sweat, Goliath was shocked to hear the tree fall. As David took the podium to accept his prize, he was asked how he was able to beat a much bigger and stronger Goliath. “I took several breaks to rest and to sharpen my ax,” he said. “A sharp ax cuts deeper than a blunt ax.” With periodic breaks, he was stronger and more efficient than his rival.
So learn from this David and Goliath story and take a vacation once or twice a year with your family to refresh, reset, and relax. Life is a marathon, not a sprint. Working until you drop in America is NOT the best way to live.
Chuks “U.C.” Ukaoma, Austin, Texas, U.S.A.