This morning I woke up and the first feeling I could identify was stress. A general rising panic about not being fully employed, not having my own place to live, and the unease that comes from a complete lack of knowledge about what my life will look like next week or next month. General life math tells me that stress=bad, so I made a decision to do the least stressful thing this morning. After a few minutes contemplating this, I realized that all of my choices present a different kind of stress, there wasn’t much getting out of it. So I got up and made maple banana french toast. I chose ‘delicious stress’.
After a particularly hard day this week, a dear friend suggested that that I allow myself to really be in the thick of this uncomfortable messiness, this demoralizing/hopeful/stressful/strange/exhausting roller coaster that is a 20-something’s job search today. To think about it, to not avoid it, to learn from it. To force something positive out of this reality, damn it.
There has been so much talk about ‘Gen Y’ lately, about how we ‘feel too special/entitled’ or if we are victims of a crazy broken system that has made breaking into the workforce especially difficult. I can’t speak for an entire generation or our culture or say much about economics – I can only really describe my reality and add it to the pile.
We can probably all agree that each generation has had unique stressors and advantages. While I’m having a tough time in 2013, I’m ‘allowed’ to work, I face little risk of being burned alive in a factory, no one I know is going to be sent against their will to war, and I’m pretty sure I won’t die of a rattlesnake bite, yellow fever, cholera, or dysentery, and for all of these things I am eternally grateful. I know and acknowledge that I have it pretty good, speaking in generalities. The specifics are a little more grey, however.
I’m very privileged. I don’t come from a wealthy family, but we didn’t struggle either. I have absolutely amazing, inspiring, generous friends who can and will help me, house me, hug me, and feed me. As much as I sometimes feel like I’m at risk of falling through the cracks, I know that those who love me won’t let it happen. This is huge. I don’t take it lightly and I know that not everyone has a network like mine.
I’m starting to feel like a bottomless pit, however. I was taught to be generous, to give, to be helpful and courteous and show my appreciation and gratitude, to be fair and not use people. It feels like there’s a limit to the length of time and the degree of help sought while not being a burden, or a charity case, or ‘needy’. I was also taught (by family and society) that I need to be independent and strong. That, while it’s ok to ask for help once in a while, I should be able to take care of myself the majority of the time. Perhaps I’ve internalized this too wholly, but I find it very difficult to feel good about myself when I’m living off of others.
At 28 years old, holding Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees, I have yet to have a job that pays over $15,000/yr (which, by the way, is technically above poverty). I’ve made choices in my education that apparently exclude me from living a decent life. Even if society doesn’t mean to be cold, What I am and what I know how to do aren’t worth supporting. I don’t deserve to have a life. I should have become an accountant or an investment broker, apparently. Protecting other people’s money is much more valued than protecting other people’s children or teaching and encouraging people to be better or more loving. You can (and should) argue against that statement, but in this culture, we show worth in dollar signs. It’s brutal.
In some sense, we lie to children. We love on them, we tell them they are special and that they can ‘be anything they want to be’ in America. The sky is the limit. We struggle to teach them to be kind, generous, loving people and good citizens. We try to inspire them to want to make ‘the world a better place’ when they grow up. But when those adults succeed, and the child pursues a path that could actually change the world for the better, people (probably parents that instilled the same values in their own children) turn their backs enmasse. I’m not talking in a face-to-face situation, I mean culturally. If our focus is on ‘what can I buy next?’ then money will always be the bottom line. If money is the bottom line, good people wanting to do good things will always get shafted.
I won’t get started (today) on realities when you start behind. This is probably enough ‘grim’ for today.