On joining the rat-race

For those of us used to stories of people giving up the rat race to save their souls, Melissa Hirshon’s story reflects on the opposite. She talks about what she gained and lost in moving from the non-profit, charitable sector into the private, corporate sector.

It all started when she grew up in a progressive Episcopal Church….

Having been raised in 1970s Cambridge, and in a “progressive” Episcopal church to boot, I was determined to make a difference from day one.

No imperialist, soulless job for me. From the moment I graduated from college, I worked to save the world or, at least, people with vision impairments.

For 15 years, I transcribed braille books and magazines at a braille printing and publishing house in Boston.

But it couldn’t last. Something was happening that posed a painful choice:

After 15 years, I knew it had to end. It was a hard choice. Didn’t I want to save the world? But while the company was not a Dilbert-ian hell, any job has its aggravations, and I was starting to go batty over the company’s penny-pinching and their slow pace in dealing with growing pains….

…But the worst problem was that the raises were not keeping up with any sort of cost of living increases in the Boston area; when I threatened to leave without a decent raise and was told, “we’ll miss you,” I knew that I had to stop saving the world, but save myself instead.

Attitude at the workplace was one issue–how are employees cared for and how is work managed so that even good work does not become overwhelming?–are questions that are often not considered in the non-profit world because of the importance of the “cause.” So she made the change to the for-profit world and discovered some surprising things.

Having known no other work life other than the nonprofit one, I was absolutely dumbfounded at some of the basic perks of the rat race.

The improved salary was only the tip of the iceberg.

She found that in her company, allowances were made for–and the company actually has the money to afford–the things that employees need to work more efficiently and feel supported.

She concludes:

Whether you want to save the world or take care of yourself, it’s important to do both.

And it really doesn’t matter what order you do it in.

Read: The Boston Globe: Time to make a difference – join the rat race.

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