A few weeks ago, I read this article from the NY Times.
Although it was aimed at twentysomethings and I am going to be 34 in about a week and a half, the article struck a chord for me. I squandered a lot of my youth by making bad choices and big mistakes, and then finally made some changes in my mid-twenties. At that time, I decided to go back to school. I got my Associate of Arts in Teaching from Raritan Valley Community College, and then transferred to Rutgers University. In January of this year, I completed my undergraduate studies at Rutgers and received a Bachelor of Arts in English. I was pretty damn pleased with myself….for a while.
My original plan to start teaching high school through an alternate route program proved faulty as one by one, each program I applied to rejected me. I started working as a substitute teacher, but even if I worked a full day for every school day in the district where I worked (which is virtually impossible - this district generally had an average of 2-3 full days per week available for subs), then I would have earned $13,000.00 per year. In New Jersey, where I live, that is simply not enough to live on. I wound up getting into a car accident in which no one except my car was injured, so whether or not the pay was enough to live on, I can no longer work as a sub due to the lack of transportation. I have applied to publishing companies, law offices, banks, insurance offices, administrative jobs, retail jobs, and just about anything else you can think of (as long as it can be reached by my feet, my bicycle, or the extremely – limited public transportation options in the area). Nothing has panned out. Every interview I have attended, even for jobs paying just slightly above minimum wage, was jam – packed with people who had Bachelor’s Degrees and even Master’s Degrees.
Today, I applied for a part – time job as a server in a pizzeria, and I am desperately hoping that I get this job. It is the kind of job I would have had no problem landing when I was sixteen years old, yet I would be grateful to have it now. These are just the times we are living in, and we have to do what we have to do to get by.
So yes, despite my age I absolutely feel like I am a part of the “Limbo Generation” discussed in the New York Times article. The label seems to describe anyone who just came out of college more than it does people of a certain age group. In some ways, the situation is even worse for the “nontraditional students” (a nice way of saying older students) who have found ourselves in this generation of limbo, of waiting. Some of us (like me) have already made mistakes (like messing up my credit at a young age) which we hoped to make right by going back to school, getting a decent job, and earning enough money to pay off old debts and solve problems. Thus, we find ourselves in a position of having spent years working toward a degree, of having accrued thousands of dollars’ worth of student loan debts, AND of having those past mistakes still hanging around. Sometimes it feels like I am actually worse off than I was before “doing the right thing” and going back to school.
However, I feel it’s important to keep my spirits up. I have worked some volunteer jobs and some freelance jobs, and I have worked on a few “labor of love” projects (such as a book which will be available online in about two weeks, for which I served as the Associate Editor and wrote the afterword….I will certainly be announcing it all over the internet when it comes out). I try to work toward my goals at all times, even when it seems the progress can’t be measured. I do yoga and I meditate, I travel when I can, I always lend an ear and a shoulder to others who are going through a rough time, and I generally live as if I am not, in fact, a pauper. My mother has been good enough to let me stay with her during this difficult time and many of my friends and family members have helped me with this or that as needed. There are days when I get frustrated, but I try to keep myself in the right headspace and keep putting one foot in front of the other with the knowledge that it will all work out for the best.
So what’s the point? Well, the point is this: life is really damn hard for a lot of us right now. Obviously, life always has challenges. However, we are presently in an exceptionally difficult time. Some people are trying to make changes while others are trying to enforce the status quo, and somewhere in the middle, we have all landed in this place of turmoil where no one is really completely satisfied. This dissatisfaction is manifesting all around us. Recent hurricanes and floods have left many in the Northeastern United States homeless. Unemployment rates show no signs of improving, and the middle class seems to be disappearing altogether. The “Occupy Wall Street” protestors have decided to take a stand against current financial practices in Corporate America and on Wall Street. Thousands of people have been living outside for over two weeks, dealing with police brutality and all manner of horrors, in order to…. Um….. well, see, there’s the problem. They know they’re dissatisfied and that nearly everyone is, but they don’t have any clear solutions or demands in place. They are certainly raising awareness for the dissatisfaction of the American people, but without a clear goal I’m not sure they can do much. In fact, I think the same can be said for all of us.
I’m going to end this semi – confessional, semi – venting blog with a challenge to both myself and to any readers which have made it through to the end of this. We are in, as discussed, a time of frustration due to a need to make changes and our society’s seeming inability to do so with ease. Perhaps we can alleviate this frustration if each of us takes the necessary steps to make positive changes in our own personal experiences. Sit and write a list of goals. Write your personal goals, professional goals, and financial goals…..anything you can think of. Write your goals as if there were absolutely no obstacles to stop you from achieving them. After you have made your lists, prioritize the goals. Decide which you would like in the short term, and which you would like in the long term. Then, when that task is complete, pick one short – term goal and write out three steps you can take immediately to bring yourself closer to achieving that goal. It doesn’t matter if these steps bring you a very short way toward the achievement of that goal; all that matters is that you are moving toward it. I recently read a quote which said, “Even if you fall on your face, you’re still moving forward.” That is the absolute truth. So write out those steps and write an explanation of how they will bring you closer to your goal. Then – and here is the most important part – TAKE THOSE STEPS.
It is important to write out the steps and the rationale behind them in order to make those ideas clear in your head, but the most important thing is to take the necessary action once you have a clear goal established in your head.
Once you have begun this process with that first goal, go through it again with a second, and a third, until you have completed this process for every goal on your list. This may take days, weeks, months, or years. However, this is how we make change. We identify our goals and start taking steps toward them, even if we can’t see the entire path from those first few steps. This is how we make changes in our personal experiences, and this is how we will make changes in the world. Identify your goals and work toward them somehow, in some way, no matter how small it is. Once we take those first few steps, we may all start on a path that will take us away from the so – called state of limbo that so many of us find ourselves in.
We don’t need to see how low we can go any longer. We need to see how far we can go instead.