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It’s Me, myself, and I; not work, job, and side hustle

(EDITORIAL) Who else is tired of the Hustle? Why is it there anyway? How can I stay out of it? These question are important when thinking of your next opportunity.

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Coffee cup with side hustle written on it representing overemployment.

Live your life in a constant state of fear and exhaustion because you’ll either be doing so in an apartment, or under a bridge.

Sounds…bleak, no? Well, it’s still the best business advice I’ve ever gotten.

Okay, fine, I didn’t hear this pearl of wisdom in those exact words.

What my father actually said was ‘Make sure you have a side hustle or two, because it’ll broaden your experiences, and because you never know.’

The reality of seeing that through just so happens to mean what I got into in the opening.

Texas is an at-will state. Just as you don’t need a reason, or notice to quit, neither do employers need to give you reason or notice to fire you. Want a personal example? Here’s mine:

Just as I’d settled into starting day 4 of a house cleaning gig, corporate, so to speak, called me in to fire me. I wondered if I’d accidentally offended someone, missed a light fixture, or blacked out, unhinged my jaw and swallowed a client’s cat, so I asked what it was I could have done so badly in only three shifts.

As it happened, they just “didn’t think I was a good fit”, and “could tell how it was going to turn out”, which could have meant anything from ‘You vacuumed too loudly and someone complained’ to ‘The chicken entrails we cast told us you were going to start a fire somewhere and we wanted to nip it in the bud’.

What would have happened to me if I didn’t have contract work on my side to keep my lights on while I got back to the search for 40 hours? It starts with an E, and ends with a viction.

Or, to be realistic, it’d start with asking my folks to move back in, selling all my stuff, and desperately searching for someone to take over my lease so I wouldn’t take a huge credit score hit.

But not everyone has that kind of fallback. And even though I fully expect my mother to outlive me, everyone reading this, and also the sun, I won’t always have it either.

My point is: you never really get to rest. You have to constantly chase clients as a freelancer in case someone changes their minds, gets acquired by another company, dies, etc. You have to keep your resume updated and your job searches fresh in a 9-5 in case they lowball you on a raise, let your manager grope you without consequence, or decide that new employment laws threaten their yacht-panthers’ manicure schedule and show your entire division the door.

I don’t subscribe to the ‘Hustle Culture’ that paints this as a good thing either. It’s not. It’s maddening to keep up with, and that’s very much by design. Scared, tired people need more convenience, need to buy more stuff, need to work harder to afford that stuff, and it’s a hard cycle to break out of and STAY out of. Remember, nobody writes books about the businesses that fail.

But with this fear comes a certain kind of clarity. If nothing is promised to ME, I don’t have to promise anything either!

I don’t HAVE to work late into the night to prove my loyalty. I don’t need to see other, better offers as a threat to a meaningful relationship. I don’t have to put my education on hold until I reach ‘a good time’ to ask for a different schedule around acquiring a valuable new skill.

If, for all you know, your boss is having you train your replacement any time someone’s “brought on board”; then, for all they know, your in-person-interview elsewhere really IS a dental checkup!

At first I felt super slimy about thinking this way. Whatever happened to perseverance? Integrity? Honesty? Teamwork?

And then I realized the people at the top sleep like rich toddlers after making decisions for the betterment of the company that might happen to screw over an individual, and I embraced my inner hagfish.

If your net worth is a rousing round of canned laughter like mine, you have very little choice but to weave and maintain your own safety nets. That’s what Dad wanted me to understand—not to put all my eggs in one basket. He didn’t want me to be afraid, per se, just aware. I added the fear myself because…well pick any news story.

It’s tiring, it’s difficult, it’s morally light gray sometimes, and I shudder to think how I would handle this if I had kids.

But considering how many times an extra check, or a good gig reference has saved my bacon, job monogamy is out…even if playing the field does mean I need extra naps.

You can't spell "Together" without TGOT: That Goth Over There. Staff Writer, April Bingham, is that goth; and she's all about building bridges— both metaphorically between artistry and entrepreneurship, and literally with tools she probably shouldn't be allowed to learn how to use.

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Opinion Editorials

AT&T hit with age discrimination lawsuit over using the word “tenured”

(EDITORIAL) 78% of workers are victims of age discrimination. As awareness arises, lawsuits show what may constitute discrimination, including verbiage.

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Older man at cafe representing age discrimination

According to the AARP, 78% of older workers have seen or experienced age discrimination in the workplace. As awareness of ageism increases, lawsuits that allege age bias can help employers understand what constitutes discrimination. A recent case from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, Smith v. AT&T Mobility Services, L.L.C., No. 21-20366 (5th Cir. May 17, 2022), should give employers pause about using other words that could potentially be a euphemism for “older worker.”

What the lawsuit was about

Smith, a customer service representative at AT&T, alleged that he was denied a promotion because of his age. His manager told him that she was not going to hire any tenured employees. The manager wanted innovative employees in the management positions. Smith took this to mean that he was being denied the promotion because of his age. He sued under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act and Texas law.

The district court found that Smith failed to exhaust his administrative remedies as to one claim and failed to establish a prima facie case of discrimination as to the other two claims. Smith appealed. The Appellate court affirmed the district court’s decision, but they did say it was “close.” AT&T did not discriminate against Smith by using the word tenured, because there were other employees of the same age as Smith who were promoted to customer service management positions.

Be aware of the verbiage used to speak to employees

This case is another example of how careful employers need to be about age discrimination, not only in job postings. It’s imperative to train managers about the vagaries of ageism in the workplace to avoid a costly lawsuit. Even though AT&T prevailed, the company still had a pretty hefty legal tab. Don’t try to get around the ADEA by using terminology that could screen out older workers, such as “digital native,” or “recent college grad.” Remind employees and managers about ageism. Document everything. Pay attention to other cases about age discrimination, such as the iTutor case or this case about retirement-driven talk. You may not be able to prevent an employee from feeling discriminated against, but you can certainly protect your business by doing what you can to avoid ageism.

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Opinion Editorials

Writing with pen and paper may mean your smarter than your digital peers

(EDITORIAL) Can writing old fashioned make you smarter? Once considered and art form, handwriting is becoming a thing of the past, but should it be?

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Writing on paper job titles.

When I was in college, in 2002, laptops weren’t really commonplace yet. Most students took notes by writing with pen and paper. Today, most students take notes with laptops, tablets, cell phones, or other electronic devices. The days of pen and paper seem to be fading. Some students even wait until the end of class and use their cell phones to take a picture of the whiteboard, so in effect, they are not absorbing any of the information because they “can just take a picture of it and look at it later.”

Is it easier to take notes on an electronic device? I think that largely depends on preference. I type faster than I write, but I still prefer to take notes on paper.

According to researchers at Princeton University and the University of California, Los Angeles, students who take handwritten notes generally outperform students who typed them.

Writing notes help students learn better, retain information longer, and more readily grasp new ideas, according to experiments by other researchers who also compared note-taking techniques.

While most students can type faster than they write, this advantage is short-term. As the WSJ points out, “after just 24 hours, the computer note takers typically forgot material they’ve transcribed, several studies said. Nor were their copious notes much help in refreshing their memory because they were so superficial.” So while it may take a bit longer to capture the notes by hand, more likely than not, you will retain the information longer if you put pen to paper.

As I teach English Composition at the University of Oklahoma, I would also like to say that while I find this to be true for myself, every student has a different learning style. Typed notes are much better than no notes at all. Some students detest writing by hand and I understand that. Everything in our world has gone digital from phones to cable television so it makes sense, even if I don’t like it, that students gravitate more towards electronic note taking than pen and paper.

While I would like to see more students take notes by hand, I certainly won’t require it. Some students are navigating learning disabilities, anxieties, and other impediments that make taking notes digitally more advantageous.

I imagine the same is true for other areas as well: instead of typing meeting notes, what would happen if you wrote them by hand? Would you retain the information longer? Perhaps, and perhaps not; again, I think this depends on your individual learning style.

I would like to suggest that if you are one of the more “electronically-minded” writers, use a flashcard app, or other studying tool to help you review your classroom notes or meeting notes to make them “stick” a bit better. While I find this type of research intriguing, if you enjoy taking your notes electronically, I wouldn’t change my method based on this.

If it’s working for you, keep doing it. Don’t mind me, I’ll be over here, writing everything down with pen and paper.

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Opinion Editorials

5 reasons using a VPN is more important now than ever

(EDITORIAL) Virtual private networks (VPN), have always been valuable, but now, more than ever, entrepreneurs and businesses really should have them.

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VPN

Virtual private networks (VPN), have always been valuable, but some recent developments in technology, laws, and politics are making them even more important for entrepreneurs and businesses.

A VPN serves as an intermediary layer of anonymity and security between your computer and your internet connection. Your Wi-Fi signal is a radio wave that can ordinarily be intercepted, so any data you transmit back and forth could be taken and abused by interested parties. VPNs act as a kind of middleman, encrypting the data you transmit and protecting you from those prying eyes.

Top10BestVPN.com offers a selection of some of the best-reviewed VPN services on the market; there you can see the different approaches to security and anonymity that different brands take, and get a feel for the price points that are available. But why is it that VPNs are becoming even more important for business owners and entrepreneurs?

These are just five of the emerging influencers in the increasing importance of VPNs:

1. The rise of IoT. The Internet of Things (IoT) is already taking off, with a predicted 8.4 billion devices will be connected to the internet by the end of the year. All those extra connections mean extra points of vulnerability; hackers are skilled at finding tiny entry points, so every new channel you open up on your Wi-Fi connection is another opportunity they could potentially exploit. Using a VPN won’t make your network completely hack-proof—user errors, like giving your password away in a phishing scam, are still a potential threat—but VPNs will make your network more secure than it was before.

2. The popularity of ransomware. Ransomware is growing in popularity, seizing control of devices, sometimes for weeks or months before activating, then holding the device “hostage,” and demanding payment in exchange for releasing the files that are stored on it. These attacks are fast and efficient, making them ideal for hackers to use against small businesses. Again, using a VPN won’t make you immune from these types of attacks, but they will make you harder to target—and hackers tend to opt for the path of least resistance.

3. The escalation of attacks on small businesses. Speaking of small businesses, they happen to be some of the most frequent targets of cybercriminals. About 43 percent of all cyberattacks target small businesses, in part because they have fewer technological defenses but still have valuable assets. Protecting yourself from cyberattacks is a must if you want your business to survive.

4. Political attacks on net neutrality. Politicians have recently attempted to attack and eliminate net neutrality, which is the long-standing guarantee that internet providers can’t violate user privacy by collecting and/or reporting on certain types of data, and can’t create “slow lanes” that throttle certain types of traffic. If net neutrality is abolished, you could face slower internet traffic and decreased privacy on the web. A VPN could, in theory, protect you from these effects. First, your web traffic would be anonymized, so internet providers couldn’t gather as much data on you as other customers. Second, you’ll be routed through a private VPN server, which could help you get around some of the speed throttling you might otherwise see. It’s uncertain whether net neutrality will ultimately fall, but if it does, you’ll want a VPN in place to protect you.

5. The affordability and diversity of VPNs available. Finally, it’s worth considering that VPNs are more affordable and more available than ever before. There are specific VPNs for all manner of businesses and individuals, and they’re all reasonably affordable. Inexpensive options can be yours for as little as a few dollars per month, and more robust, secure options are still affordable, even for frugal businesses. If you try a VPN provider you don’t like, you can always cancel and switch to another provider. This availability makes it easier to find exactly what you need.

If you’ve never used a VPN before and you’re confused, try not to be intimidated. VPNs sound complex, but connecting to one is a simple login process you can use on practically any device. The hardest part is choosing a reliable provider that suits your business’s need. With the influx of coming changes, it’s a good idea to get your VPN in place sooner rather than later.

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