Stressed. Lost. Scared.

I’m stressed out. That is the simplest way to sum it up. I wake up and before my feet hit the floor, I’m stressed. Maybe some of it is legitimate, and maybe some of it is me over thinking. I’m an engineer and perfectionist, with anxiety, and a touch of depression. It’s the perfect recipe for overthinking.

I’m stressed about my job. I graduated college in 2010 but I was stuck in retail for three years afterwards. For another three years after that, I’ve been struggling to get into a solid engineering role – taking entry-level positions as they open up because I just can’t advance; either the economy causes budget cuts, or office politics. I feel like I’m struggling to keep up and that I should be making up for lost time. I know – for a fact – that I’m actually doing alright and that things could be a lot worse. But I’m a perfectionist, an overachiever, and a big dreamer. I want to get in to an engineering department and just wow them with something: a design or cost savings or a business plan. I went to school for a reason. I was hired for a reason. Let me do that job. Bring me on board, turn me loose, and let me get shit done.

I’m stressed about my finances. My head is above water. I’m paying my bills. I have a little bar money leftover. All my debt combined is less than $30k. Once again, it could be a lot worse. But all things considered, I have a negative net worth which means that an emergency or accident could completely wipe me out financially.

I’m stressed about my family. I won’t go into the details – the important things to know, though, are that A) I have a small family and B) the dynamics of my relationship with them are changing and not all of it for the better. Hindsight is 20/20 and I’m realizing some details about my childhood that have influenced me as an adult – some of which has not been positive. In addition to that, recent events that have upset the tightly knit bond we had.

The most recent addition though… Whilst discussing plans for my 30th birthday (stressor #4) later this month with girlfriend #2 (yes, I’m polyamorous and dating 2 people – the only aspect of my life that doesn’t stress me out), she mentioned that I should focus on what I want for a celebration of MY birthday, rather than trying to crowdsource ideas. The thing is… I don’t know what I want. I passively mention it at as stressor #5 but to rank them, it should be #1. And not just a “I don’t know what I want to do for my birthday” type issue but a general “I don’t know what to do to have fun.” It’s as if the part of my brain that recognizes feelings of fun and being social and doing fun activities just doesn’t work anymore. Things I used to enjoy now feel like a burden or don’t interest me at all. I see groups on MeetUp or events on Nearify that sound fun but I don’t commit. I can’t commit. I’m frightened of the idea of interacting with others even though I want to. I want to go out and be social and make friends but I’m frightened; scared of being judged or ostracized.

All I want is a group of guys like the fraternity in college. Get together on Sundays to watch football, eat junk food, and roast each other about fantasy teams. Find a usual watering hole for after work on Friday night and get a little rowdy. We’ll rotate hosting summer grill days; bring your own meat and beer. Everyone chip in on traveling for a 3 day weekend golf trip. I see it. I hear about it. And I want to live it. But I don’t know how to get there.

Part of having friends is doing stuff, but I don’t have stuff that I do. Even my old hobbies just don’t seem to interest me anymore. I feel like I have no sense of self. Nothing that defines me. On the rare opportunity that a coworker or stranger asks what it is I do, I don’t know what to tell them. “Just a piece of shit millennial paying bills.” I can’t put my finger on what changed or when it changed. It was so easy in college. I suppose because most people bond over whose party you went to or your major. I look forward to every weekend but I end up doing nothing, except playing homemaker because cleaning is my only means of constructive stress relief. I have passing interests but nothing that (I interpret) to be hobbies or activities worthy of developing meaningful friendships over. Combined with the anxiety, I feel completely hopeless; a loser with nothing to offer or talk about. It’s taking its toll on me and I feel utterly lost because of it.

I don’t know what to do…

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Just Following Orders

Friday, November 4th, I was traveling to West Virginia to visit a college friend. Shortly after crossing the state border, I crested over a hill and noticed a police cruiser sitting in the median. Being an admitted speed demon, I naturally tapped my brakes but I still can’t remember exactly how fast I was going. I kept traveling and after about a mile or so, I notice blue lights in my rear view. I pull to the emergency lane on the left – as does the truck in front of me. I turn down my stereo and place both hands on the wheel, fingers up and visible. The office knocks on my passenger window, and I roll it down. He asks if I know the people in front of me. I admit that I don’t and he tells me to stay put. He walks up to their passenger side and tells them it’s OK to leave.

The officer walks back to my vehicle and requests my license, registration, and proof of insurance; standard operating procedure. Being a libertarian, I have an aversion to interacting with police but I’m always cooperative and respectful. But I’m also aware of recent events in the country – of standard traffic stops such as this ending poorly so I’m a little on edge. He asks where I’m traveling to and if I know why he pulled me over. As I’m stammering through the answers, he asks if I’m OK and why I’m nervous. I can’t admit to any fear and continue my best to be cooperative. Then he asks if I have any weapons, drugs, paraphernalia, or anything dangerous in the car. I usually keep a pocket knife on me but I’ve never had an officer ask me to hand it over. I hear his radio chatter and he asks for a clarification. I can’t hear what dispatch is saying but he leans back down and states that I have a prior assault conviction on my record and for me to clarify again if there is anything dangerous in the car. If I wasn’t scared before, I am now. Also thoroughly confused – I have no assault priors. Aside from the occasional speeding ticket, my record is clean. I have had no previous encounters with law enforcement.

He tells me to keep my hands on the wheel and steps back to his cruiser. I look in my rear view and a second cruiser has pulled up. Two more officers have stepped out and they’re talking. Officer #1 returns to the passenger window and asks, “If I was to have a canine unit sniff around the car, is it going to find anything?” I tell him no and that I do not consent to such a search. A second officer knocks on my driver window and I lower it. She asks again if I have anything dangerous in the car. My heart is racing at this point and I’m fearing for the worst. I admit to the pocket knife and she tells me to put it on the roof of my car. I do so, and she confiscates it then tells me to step out of the vehicle. I slowly get out and I’m ordered to walk to the rear of the vehicle. Then I’m given a confusing set of orders to put my hands behind me, clasped like I’m praying but to put my palms towards the officer. After some struggling to comprehend how to perform such an act, I feel the cold steel of handcuffs on my wrists. Then I’m told to sit on the guard rail.

I’ve never been in handcuffs before. They’re heavy. My wrists hurt. It’s cold outside and I’m just in a t-shirt and jeans. I can see “Kenova Police” written on the side of the cruisers. The three officers surround me and start asking me questions; Officer #2 taking the lead. She’s wearing a camera so I do my best to answer into the camera – for the record, and hopefully, for my safety.

“Where are you headed?”

“Huntington, ma’am.”

“Where are you coming from?”

“Lexington, Kentucky, ma’am.”

“Do you live in Lexington?”

“No, ma’am. I live in Georgetown.”

“Do you work in Lexington?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“Where do you work?”

“[company name redacted], ma’am.”

“I’ve never heard of it. What do you do?”

“We make [product redacted]. I’m an engineer.”

“Engineer!? That’s a big deal. Don’t they background check for that?”

“Yes, ma’am. They do.”

“So tell me about this assault charge. What was it? Bar fight?”

“I’ve never been arrested for assault.”

“That’s not what I hear.”

Officer #3: “I figured engineers were straight laced. Assault and two counts of delivery of a controlled substance?”

Officer #2: “So he was dealing?”

Officer #3: “That means it was bagged up and ready to go.”

Officer #2: “So what’s the deal, man? Building [product redacted] isn’t enough?”

“I’ve never assaulted anyone and I’ve never sold drugs.”

“So you’re saying we’re lying?”

I just stared at her for a moment then looked back at the ground.

“We got a canine on the way. We can avoid a lot of mess. Just tell us what’s in the car.”

“I have my backpack full of clothes. I’m staying the night. Typical car stuff. I have no weapons aside from the pocket knife I surrendered. And I have no drugs or paraphernalia.”

Officer #3: “What’s your social identity number? Let me double check we have the right person.”

This must have been the good cop routine like from the TV shows. They tried to buddy up with me in hopes of a confession. That’s how I interpreted it because an SUV with lights and sires comes flying down the road and pulls up behind the two cruisers. I knew this would be the bad cop routine. West Virginia State K9 was printed on the side. I had gone from locals to state troopers. If Kentucky state troopers are any indication, I knew it was about to get that much worse.

He was tall, with a high and tight hair cut. Had to be ex-military. He started grilling me with the same questions and I gave the same answers. I feel my heart beat racing, adrenaline coursing through my veins, and I’m sputtering answers to the best of ability while crying. This can’t be real. It’s one of my worst nightmares. I knew I was going to jail, or someone is going to be jittery and shoot me. All for what? An empty car? Drugs that don’t exist? A weapon that doesn’t exist?

“Why you crying, son?”

“I’m scared, sir.”

“Why you scared?”

“I thought this was a traffic stop.”

“It is. And you’ve got priors for assault and selling narcotics so look at this from our position.”

“I haven’t done anything. I have no priors.”

“If you’ve got nothing to hide, then why you scared? Huh? Been watching too much news? You a cop hater?”

I don’t hate cops. I just don’t fully trust them. I have a couple friends in law enforcement and even they have told me that they can tell that the system is broken. And as it currently stands, from what I can tell, this is a result of the War On Drugs. My nervousness due to recent events set off “red flags,” as they put it, that I might be under the influence of something or have something to hide. I have nothing to hide. But that doesn’t void my right to privacy.

“Look son, there are some bad cops out there. I’ve seen them. But that’s maybe 2% of them. Nothing bad is going to happen to you. Just tell us what you’re hiding.”

2% you say? I’m supposed to just believe that? I’m supposed to understand why they have me in cuffs, sitting on a guard rail, freezing my ass off but they can’t understand why I might be scared? The lack of logic and self awareness on their part is mind numbing. The empty threats and false information do nothing to calm me. While he’s laying into me, I can see in my peripheral the other three officers laughing amongst themselves.

“I’m not hiding anything. I have no priors. I just… I just want everyone to go home.”

“That’s what we’re trying to do. But I need to know why you’re so scared.”

“BECAUSE I DON’T WANT TO GET SHOT!”

I don’t know why I said it. Frustration I suppose. Perhaps part of me had accepted my fate and just wanted to get it over with. If you’re gonna shoot me, then shoot me. If you’re gonna arrest me, then arrest me. But toying with me over a false history is embarrassing at best – a violation of civil liberties and a blatant abuse of power is more appropriate though.

“No one gets shot around here. Now if you run, we sic the dog on you. Have you threatened me tonight?”

“No sir.”

“Have you threatened these other officers tonight?”

“No sir.”

“Then you have nothing to worry about.”

Eric Garner died at the hands of police and he wasn’t shot. I’m not trying to dig myself a hole at this point. I just want to get out alive.

“Look, I don’t wanna have to get my dog out… risk him getting hit by a car and search your vehicle over… only to find you’ve been lying to me.”

“I have nothing to hide.”

He sighs then walks over to the SUV, retrieving the dog. The locals walk me further away from my car, and noticeably out of view of the dash camera. Officers #1 and #2 set my backpack on the hood of their cruiser and start going through it. The state trooper walks the dog around my car, having him sniff around every door, nook, and cranny. Officer #3 keeps giving me weird looks then has me spit my gum out. Obviously, I’m chewing up evidence or something. Then he takes a flash light and looks in my mouth. Never mind I’ve been talking the entire time. The state trooper walks the dog back to his vehicle then tells me to walk down to him.

“Look… let’s talk. Just me and you. You can be honest with me. I don’t have a camera on.” The lack of camera doesn’t help my nerves but they’ve demonstrated that they don’t care. “You’ve got a history. See this from our perspective.”

“I have no priors. I’ve done nothing.”

“So you mean to tell me that someone with your license number, your social, your finger prints, and your address was booked for assault and distribution of a controlled substance? That sounds like elaborate identity theft.”

“Maybe it is, sir. Or maybe someone at dispatch got the wrong information.”

“This is your last chance. What are you hiding?”

“I’ve got nothing. I claim nothing.”

I’m ordered to take my shoes off. They start digging through them, looking under the insert and all. They drop them to the ground and tell me to put them back on. I wiggle my feet in the best I can. The state trooper, officer #1, and officer #2 start searching through my car while officer #3 watches over me. All I can do is wait. Cold. Shivering. My hands are going tingly from the weight of the handcuffs. Waiting for the inevitable planted drugs. I think about how to let anyone know where I am. My friend who is expecting me. My girlfriend. My friends. My family. I can’t even cry anymore. My body is going numb all over from the mental exhaustion. I keep looking to check their progress. At what point does anyone start to listen?

They vacate my vehicle and all meet in front of the first cruiser, talking. Officer #3 walks over to me to confirm my social. I tell him the numbers again and inform him that my card is in my wallet. They go back to talking and at one point, all four are talking on their cell phones. The state trooper walks back to me again, looking very puzzled.

“And you swear your record is clean?”

“Yes sir. In fact, I would like to know when these supposed charges were laid against me.”

“2009 and 2011.”

“I was in school in 2009. I was spending my days in the CAD lab, learning the software. 2011, I was working a shitty retail job.”

He goes back to his phone call. I can’t hear anything at all that’s being said.

“Have you lived anywhere aside from Kentucky?”

“Ohio. I can give you the addresses.”

“Not Illinois?”

“I visited Chicago for a week several years ago. Never lived there.”

He walks back to the group. They continue talking then the state trooper walks back to his SUV and drives off. I catch bits and pieces of the conversation. They keep looking at me.

“You OK? You got this?”

“Yeah, I’ll handle him.”

Officers #2 and #3 get in their cruiser and drive off. Officer #1 calls in front of the cruiser. Here it comes. I’ve heard Miranda rights in movies and TV shows but… I’ve never heard them in person before. I sulk to the front of the cruiser and wait. I feel his hands then I hear the cuffs release. I turn to face him and he says I’m not under arrest. I drop to my knees sobbing, raking my hands through the dirt. I can’t remember much of what he said. I vaguely remember the same spill about seeing things from their perspective and a scare story about a toddler calling 911 on their parents who have overdosed.

You fucking dick head. You absolute jackass. You put me in handcuffs and searched my car because of a hunch? Or was it blatantly false information so you could get federal dollars to hunt drugs? All this started with a speeding ticket – which I was still given. For a mere 10 miles over the limit. Of course I can’t say this to him. I’m almost home free but goddamn if I’m not roiling with anger. He asks if I’m good to drive and I just nod. He gives me my backpack and wallet. I get in my car, call my friend, then drive off – staying 5 under the limit the entire time.

Sure, things could have been worse.

Sure, I’m alive.

Sure, I could pursue this with a lawyer.

But what’s the point? What difference would it make? There are families of people shot by police who have received nothing. And what am I fighting? I lose an hour of my evening because of “well, we’re following orders.” It’s the the principle of the matter. This is the power of the state over you, the citizen. I was pulled from my vehicle and restrained for being scared.

“I don’t apologize to anyone but I’m gonna apologize to you for wasting your time tonight.”

Apologies don’t make up for the abuse of rights and liberties you exhibited. But I know better than to expect anything. Because that’s the operating motto of the state: “Fuck you, that’s why.”

Strange Crossroads

As I venture through coping with anxiety and how to overcome it, I do what any other person does and I turn to Google. There are tons of great sites at my disposal (I personally find SucceedSocially.com to be particularly enlightening and it covers a wide range of topics, and even includes examples) and all of them offer a wealth of knowledge. A common theme, particularly when out and about, is striking up a conversation with a random stranger. Most sites emphasize that (usually) people are open and receptive to someone striking up a conversation with them. A simple, “Hi, my name is… It’s nice to meet you.” will suffice. From succeedsocially.com,

That will break the ice, and they may start talking to you after that. If not, you just traded names, and you essentially have to use another conversation starter to get it going for real. With new people you don’t always have to introduce yourself to start talking to them. You could start the conversation in another way, and after a while it will only feel natural to introduce yourselves to each other – “I’m Kara, by the way”

It’s a low pressure approach and versatile for many situations: at the bar, networking events, at a new job, etc. Reading body language and nonverbal cues is critical, but overall, the average person is receptive. From there, it can merge into small talk (an underrated concept), a comment on the place or situation, current events, etc.

However, and this is speaking strictly from personal experience, there is one area where this is not only a “doomed for failure” approach, it is even blatantly frowned upon and met with open criticism: dating apps. Tinder, Bumble, OKCupid, take your pick. As a polyamorous person, I decided to try the world of modern dating apps. Although they’re open to a wide range of demographics, they cater to millennials so I figured it would be worth a shot. And worst case scenario, even if nothing romantic or physical happens, I could potentially make a new friend and expand my social circle.

To my dismay, though, countless profiles I’ve come across contain a disclaimer along the lines of “Don’t just message me ‘hey, how’s it going?’ Actually have something to say.” I understand the mentality – I really do. It’s way too easy, when someone asks how it’s going, to just answer with “fine” or “I’m good.” It makes sense. Personally, I would be ecstatic if someone messaged me with a “Hi” out of the blue. Everyone has different experiences and I don’t fall into the group of people that knows of luxury of being approached regularly.

But for some people, myself included, sometimes a simple “hello” is the best they can muster up. Maybe it’s anxiety, nervousness, or being shy. At least your honesty spares me the trouble and 99.9% of the time, I move on and swipe left without incident. However, there is a lingering fear in the back of mind: this constant nagging of, “If all these people are this selective on dating apps, does that selectivity translate to the world of face to face interactions? Having no knowledge, background, or prior interaction with these people, if I were to see one out at a bar or somewhere public and desired initiating just friendly, casual conversation, would they rebuke my less-than-desirable greeting of ‘hey, how’s it going?'”

Just something I’ve noticed…

What is a person to do?

I don’t remember exactly when I started this – just that it was a long time ago. And like damn near everything I attempt, it was started with good intentions… and now falls into neglect. I never once believed I could change the world. Maybe just reach someone – anyone. But then what? I’m not one to proselytize because I don’t like it when people try it on me. I think I was tired of fighting cliches; empty statements regurgitated from HuffPo or memes shared blindly. It’s all virtue signalling and I had the ego to take it personally.

Without even realizing it, I’ve developed my own bubble. It’s easy to write off libertarians as nihilists and I’ve even embraced the joke. I mean, say what you want about the tenets of National Socialism, Dude, at least it’s an ethos. But was forming a bubble necessary to be a libertarian, or is it just something that correlates? And is this bubble an actual bubble, or is it something more? Has my anxiety and depression flared up again under the guise of cutting myself off? Or was I just looking for a name for it?

I’ve never been one to conform or fit in, despite the details – if you’re paying attention – that should indicate otherwise. Dude, you do the typical American thing: you went to college, joined a frat, studied engineering, drink copious amounts of beer, and play Fantasy Football. Yeah, I get it. I’m aware. I’m seemingly normal on the outside. But something else separates me… A bubble? Anxiety? Depression? Being a society hating nihilist? I feel as though I’m bearing the weight of shackles that manifest as some sort of scarlet letter. A warning to those around me. I’m not some prince of the dregs of society. If anything, I feel that I lack some sort of calling – despite directly contributing to the production of goods.

Hi! What’s your name?
What do you do?
What are you into?
What brings you joy?

What do you do to disconnect from the 9 to 5?

An exchange that rarely happens – but when it does – proposes the biggest road block. I look at my life and I feel empty. Blank. Floating around, avoiding some unseen fear. Fears of judgment, ridicule, and mockery. So I hide like a hermit, in my bubble, looking to the world around me… hoping… wishing for an extended hand. A hand I would happily extend myself.

Is 30 too young for a midlife crisis? Or is this the chosen path for millennials? I’m 29, going on 21. What I want is different than what is expected. Deviation is applauded, so long as you deviate in a way that is acceptable. Everyone wants to be a hedonist until it comes time to do hedonist shit. So let me be a hedonist. I just want to know I’m not alone in this pursuit. To know maybe there’s something out there. People to revel with who have the same expectations (or perhaps the lack-of).

In the meantime, I don’t know what else to call it.

Thank You, Gubment, For Protecting Me From My Allergies

I suffer from allergies; namely dust, mold, and pet dander. I’ve been on immunotherapy (allergy shots) for over 5 years with great success. However, I have found additional relief in OTC drugs, one of which is Claritin-D. A small part (5 mg) of the pill is Loratadine which acts as an antihistamine. But the majority is pseusophedrine sulfate (120 mg) which is a decongestant (the D in Claritin-D). If you’ve watched even one episode of Breaking Bad, you know that pseudophedrine is a key ingredient in the manufacturing of methamphetamine. Because of this, there are federal and state laws in place to regulate how much a person may buy in an attempt to control illicit production.

In a classic example of unintended consequences, though, I join a group of people whose health concerns have taken a backseat to the warring crusade against drugs. As the social conservatives clutch their pearls, I am told that a runny nose is a small price to pay to ensure that little Timmy is never offered a crack pipe on the playground after school. The state will never see me sneeze, or attempt to plug my leaking dam of a nose with kleenex; much less, recognize the epicenter I live near. No, what they saw was a dimwitted Jesse Pinkman wander into his local Kroger in an attempt further destroy the moral core of this country.

I don’t use meth – never have, never will. And I’ve never cooked it – never have, never will. And despite my convictions that it’s a dumb thing to do, it’s not in my right to tell you what to do, or to use coercive means to obtain a desired result. While I don’t have hard numbers – if X is the number of meth cooks stopped by this legislation, and Y is the number of allergy patients who benefit from the sinus clearing capability of pseudophedrine – then I bet you dollars to doughnuts, Y > X any day of the week.

So praise to be to the Controlled Substances Act and the Combat Methamphetamine Epidemic Act! And in addition, all related Kentucky state level legislation. In their absence, a less oxygen deprived man would be typing to you today.

pseudo

No, Wage Negotiation Does Not “Hurt” The Employer

I normally hate giving in to pigeonholes, but it’s a facet of American culture that the vast majority of the country engages in… so I’ll temporarily do the same for the sake of ease of understanding.

  • I’m a millennial
  • I’m an asshole
  • My sense of humor knows no boundaries
  • I enjoy #RealTalk a little more than any person should
  • I’m really efficient at my job so that sometimes leads to some bouts of boredom

All of these converge – especially the last one – at a website called Post Grad Problems. Short, entertaining articles that encompass some of the employment woes experienced by the younger generation. I personally enjoy it, but it’s not for everyone and that’s a-ok.

So anyways…

They recently published a fantastic article about why you shouldn’t take work home with you. And like any other person, I shared it on the Book of Faces because I felt it contained good advice for anyone of any age. Typically, if a comment thread even forms, it’s filled with laughter and casual banter. But every now and then, someone gets their jimmies rustled and finds an issue with (what I believe to be) common sense advice. In the aforementioned article, there is a segment about not sharing your salary numbers with your coworkers for the sake of maintaining the peace. Again, I feel this is common sense. However, just a couple days ago, an article from The Atlantic made its rounds on my feed, arguing that salary silence is illegal and might hide malicious intent from the employer and you might be getting stiffed and you deserve a “fair wage”… blah blah blah. And every “unbiased, enlightened, and informed” John Green progressive suddenly had another weapon against those damn capitalism loving Republicans.

A friend from high school – whom I barely talk to – felt ballsy enough to step up to the plate:

By employees being open about their compensation it gives them far greater power in the negotiation process and doesn’t hurt anyone but the employer [sic]

The following is my response that I felt was worthy of sharing…

Almost verbatim from that Atlantic article. Hmm…

The underlying assumption is that everyone brings the same thing to the table and they don’t. Everyone has different strengths and weaknesses. My office is a prime example of that. For the longest time, technicians were people who had been promoted up from production, maintenance, etc. It’s only been recently that management moved away from that approach and started hiring college grads. Why? I don’t know and I don’t care. It was their decision. But it ended up with a very eclectic group that is highly versatile.

One of my coworkers has been with [company name redacted] for over 20 years. He earned his way up from maintenance. He’s skilled in a lot of areas but the one that sticks out to me is PLC programming. I know some basics of ladder logic but he is an absolute mastermind. It’s amazing watching him work. The paint line went down for a few minutes one day for a small repair. During that window, I watched him tweak the code real quick. When the line went active again, the robot movements were exponentially smoother. No one told him to do it. He had so much knowledge of the process that he was able to recognize a problem before it happened. Cool shit, right? And you wanna know what blew his mind? My CAD skills, and that I picked up CATIA – a software I’ve never touched before – in a mere 2 weeks. My department needs PLC guys and CAD guys. And is there a pay discrepancy? Oh sure. Because the weight of each skill is different depending on the project and what is necessary to get the job completed.

As far as college education goes (because it’s a PGP article), the education level is different despite accreditation. My degree was certified by ATMAE, Association of Technology, Management, and Applied Engineering. They have a list of minimum requirements that a school must meet in order to receive their seal of approval. I emphasize that it’s the MINIMUM requirements; not ideal requirements. Where does EKU stand in the metaphorical distance from the minimum? I have no clue. It very well could be the bare minimum. On the other end of the spectrum, the university’s standards could be so high that if they wanted to, they could go for ABET certification – Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology, Inc. – the same board that certifies the BIG [regional] engineering schools like Louisville and Purdue. The same degree from different schools could have different levels of merit. There are so many factors that go into it, it’s impossible to name them all.

However, if you’ve been at your job a while and you’re kicking ass and you feel deserve a raise, 9 times out of 10, all you have to do is ask. When you’re initially hired, the company is making an investment. If you quit or you get fired, that costs the company money. It’s lost time that can’t have a price put on it; overtime pay to other employees to pick up the slack; extra paperwork for HR; recruiting costs for a replacement; etc. It’s not a cheap endeavor. If a raise is what it takes to keep talent on the team, they’re more than likely willing to make that investment. They get a better return.

“Doesn’t hurt anyone but the employer” is a cringe-worthy statement. If you’re in the salary negotiation stage of an interview, then you (more or less) got the job. For starters, there are websites like salary.com and glassdoor.com that you can investigate before going into the conversation. People anonymously submit their compensation along with a company review. They’re fantastic tools that give you an edge in the negotiation process. But ultimately – why do you want to “hurt” your potential employer? Especially during a recession with a saturated job market. Consider yourself lucky you’re even in that position. Salary negotiations don’t “hurt” anyone. We act as consumers. We want a quality product at the lowest price. It’s human nature. In a company’s interview process, they are the consumer. They are looking for quality labor and skills and are willing to spend up to X amount of dollars. Naturally, lower is better but it is understood that for quality – exceeding expectations – comes at a price. This is why you hear about “competitive wages” as a selling point for job openings. They’re willing to pay more to get the better talent. It’s not a conspiracy – it’s nature. They know going into that conversation that there will be haggling on the price. You want more, they want less. Where can you meet in the middle so that a mutually beneficial exchange takes place? That mutually beneficial exchange – whether in an interview or in the produce aisle at Kroger – is the basis for our economy.

Hope that clears it up.

What Does “Buy Local” Really Mean?

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I’ve seen this picture passed around a few times on social media; especially around November and December with people doing Christmas and other holiday shopping. The message is riddled with as many good intentions as it is with fallacies. On the surface, it proposes a common sense plan to revitalize the economy and help the citizens prosper. However, it is steeped in protectionism and misleading concepts. It can best be broken up into 3 areas: 

“If each of us spent $100 a year… it would put an extra $3 million year into our economy”

Obviously, due to space constraints on a chalkboard sign, no sources are cited for the dollar amounts, where they came from, or why they were chosen. So right off the bat, it is important to regard the sign as more of a good idea than a golden truth. However, we can do some simple math to get a starting point:

$3,000,000 invested / $100 per person = 30,000 persons to achieve this goal.

30,000 people works out to a small town, and “our economy” (more than likely) specifically refers to the town’s economy. Is this what defines “local” when describing a local business? The township or village? What about the county? Some major cities sit on multiple counties – i.e. New York City occupies five different counties. Is that still local? Here in the Bluegrass, we have a Kentucky For Kentucky campaign that helps promote businesses and attractions in the state. Is that still local? What about Toby Keith insisting his purchases say “Made In America”?

The word “local” has a different connotation depending on who you ask. Most importantly, though, where the border of “local” lies will greatly affect how that $3 million is spread out. A handful of businesses on Main Street in Small Town, USA? That would be a nice boom to the locals. The same amount comes out to pennies for Kentucky’s 4.4 million residents though. So without defined metrics, the statement is empty.

“…on local businesses instead of chain stores…”

This can be boiled down to 2 of the 5 W’s: Why should I buy local? And I want more than “because your neighbor. ” Specifically, what is the difference maker between small/local business and a chain, and why should that be important to the consumer? The beauty of this question is that there is no objectively, measurably true answer. It all depends on the subjective value on the customer; what they want for their dollar. Personally, I prefer small, “hole in the wall” restaurants over chain restaurants. That’s not to say that I hate chain restaurants. I just prefer one over the other. Sure, I can get a Big Mac for less than $5. But I would prefer a Big Tolly with pepper jack, bacon, jalapenos, and salsa with a side of cheese fries and an Ale-8-One to drink for a few dollars more. For the person on a budget, though, the Big Mac is probably the better option. The most important part is that’s not up for me to decide. It is solely for the consumer.

To expand on the first point made earlier in regards to “local” and borders, what makes a chain store inferior to a local business? Do the Wal-Mart and McDonald’s employees not live in the same town as those from Jim’s Soda Shop? From the cashiers, to sales associates, to shift managers, and even the store manager. Sure, the dollars keep flowing upward to the corporate office, but the aforementioned people still earn a paycheck just like everyone else. And in turn, they spend their dollars in town and also contribute to helping their neighbors. Much like the Wal-Mart corporate office, small business owners re-invest their profits back into their stores. They add more variety of products; hire another worker or raises current worker’s wages; they save up and open another location across town. All of this on top of what they take home, pay-wise, and how that money is invested: paying off the mortgage; contributing to their kid’s college fund; building a deck on the back of the house… things that contribute to their happiness and well being. It doesn’t matter who does the hiring – local employees means local dollars.

If local is defined as a small business with no corporate office and whose owners live in the community, then some products absolutely, positively cannot be bought from a local business. Bananas are grown in Southeast Asia, Africa, and parts of Central America. You won’t find them at a famer’s market in Montana. Ford’s heavy duty trucks and Toyota’s Camry and Avalon are made in Kentucky. If you live in one of the other 49 states and drive one of these vehicles, you didn’t support a local business. How many parts of your computer or smartphone were made in Silicon Valley? The argument boils down as such: for what consumer products is it ok to purchase locally, and what products is it ok to purchase from outside the region?

“…it would create thousands more jobs every year.”

I wish I could say “citation needed” and leave it that. And my fellow Austrian readers are probably nodding their heads in approval. Yes, as mentioned in part 2, business owners reinvest in their stores. This means expansions and hiring. I’m not disputing that. Refer back to part 1 though: without defined metrics, we have an empty statement. Obviously, $3 million reinvested in New York City or across the state of Kentucky won’t do squat. It’s a drop in the bucket. But even if the $3 million was concentrated on Main Street, it is a stretch to say that thousands of jobs would be created. Depending on the business, capital investment may be the best move; more efficient machines for more efficient service. Perhaps a service oriented business, like a barber shop, would do well with a labor investment. Whatever the business owner chooses, know that it is for the best interest of the customer.

Final Thoughts

Despite popular opinion, there isn’t some kind of wall between chain stores and local stores. Wal-Mart has recently started teaming up with local manufacturers (relative to store location). On the flip side, small business owners may use Office Depot for supplies or a large bank for their business loan. The best thing for the customer is for them to pursue what they view as the superior product or service for the best price. Through price signaling and demand, the businesses that please the largest portions of the public will remain open. Those concerned about small businesses should look at regulations, wage laws, price floors and ceilings, and other arbitrary demands coming out of the local, state, and federal levels. Large corporations who have amassed the money necessary for certifications, and who are politically connected, will find it easier to meet Uncle Sam’s demands. The small business owner is lucky to stay afloat.

Further Reading:

Subjective Value

Eugen von Böhm-Bawerk on Subjective Value
Robert Murphy on Subjective Value

Regulations

Strive To Help Entrepreneurs Thrive
How Excessive Regulations Stifle Small Businesses
John Stossel: “I tried to open a lemonade stand.”  (Don’t let the Fox News tag discourage you; Stossel is very libertarian.)

#Regulation @ Reason Magazine
#Regulation @ The Mises Institute