Even now, in a decent job that I’ve held steadily for several years, I “travel light” — these days, there is no guarantee that you’ll get time to pack your things before you’re pitched out the door.

It’s no different in a public university than it was working for private corporations, which surprises people, but I’ve known of university employees who were told not to show up in the morning, or were escorted out of their building with almost no warning. It can happen here.

Not that I’ve done anything to warrant such treatment, at least, not that I’m aware of. But again, experience has shown that what you actually do or do not do has no bearing on what your supervisors believe that you did.

That feeling of constantly being under threat doesn’t go away just because you level up. After so many years of crappy, unstable jobs with volatile bosses who have god complexes, that kind of “what can I carry out of the building when I walk?” mentality is still with me and probably always will be.

It’s no reflection on my job or my current boss. It’s not a reflection on me, either, as I’ve very rarely been the one shown the door. The occasions when it happened were traumatic, though, and watching friends go through similar trials has burned that fear deep into my soul.

It’s the price of the capitalist economy we live in, where people are considered objects, merely impersonal cogs to be run through and replaced as often as convenient for management. It’s dehumanizing and humiliating to be treated that way, to know that is how you are perceived, but it’s also ubiquitous. I can’t say I’ve ever had a job where the threat of annihilation — being fired, being laid off — wasn’t constant. It puts you on the defense, it never lets you get settled or become invested.

It’s why younger workers are so valued, because not only do they come cheap but they often think loyalty counts for something, that their boss(es) would never lay them off short of the company itself folding, and so they work hard and devotedly in order to please.

Those of us who are older know better. We know that doing the job we are paid to do is no guarantee of security or stability.

The most shocking layoff I had was back in 1999, when I worked for a software company that just received a huge influx of venture capital monies. We knew the money was coming in, we were all excited about the possibilities of growth for our product — what we did not know was the money came with the requirement of laying off 2/3 of the staff.

It was the last time I left a job carrying out more than two banker’s boxes worth of junk.

Colleagues give me crap for not decorating my office very much but yes, everything I want to take with me can fit in my backpack and one reusable shopping bag.

Well. Not the life sized cut out of Captain America, but you know, I would have no shame carrying him out to ride the bus home with me!


Also published on Medium.

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