How Soon is Now?

I’ve been going through another one of my famous career crisis lately. I have so many fantastic women in my life who are amazing at their jobs. And these aren’t just any jobs-I’ve got friends who manage communications for an entire state, run PR for major companies, run non profits, and have some pretty fantastic distinctions after their names. And the times that I fall into the comparison trap, I’m aware I come up way short.

I realize that there’s different types of success. I’ve got a good group of friends and family, a happy marriage, I’m in shape, and I’ve got a couple of furry dogs who love me. I may be missing that ideal career, but at my part time job at the YMCA, I get to influence people’s healthy choices. It’s great to be that boost of inspiration for someone to do one more rep, come to class when they’re not wanting to, or add some height to their box jumps. So on these times when I fall into the comparison trap, I try to remember these things and realize my success is measured differently than others-because it’s mine.

But it also makes me think about something else: why do we hold college immediately after high school as the standard education path? I can tell you that if I was an undergrad right now, I’d have taken a completely different path than I did. I’d have stuck to my guns, buckled down, and gotten that dietetics or food science degree. I would have had the life experience to know that quitting something because it’s “too hard” doesn’t get you what you want out of life. My little brother is putting off college until he’s sure of what he wants to do. In the meantime, he’s trying a few jobs, taking a few trips, and learning what he likes and doesn’t like. My husband is back in school, following his dream of astrophysics. Not what he was doing 10 years ago when he went to college fresh out of high school. Maybe the “gap year” thing common in Europe is a good idea.

I mean really, most of us look back at our 18 year old selves and wonder how we managed to tie our shoes. I think about that girl exactly half a lifetime ago (seriously-I’m 36) and she had so much to learn. She had no idea who she was, who she wanted to be. She got to college and just wanted to hide. I was terrified to speak up in class, wore big baggy clothes to blend in, and worked as many hours as possible to make the fact that I had no friends a non issue-I wouldn’t have  had time for them anyway! I abandoned the degree I’d thought I wanted for years because I didn’t really look into it at all beforehand. I had no idea how much chemistry went into dietetics. Ask me now, and I’d say “of course-and that sounds wicked interesting!” But then, the only college chemistry experience I had involved the biggest lecture hall I’d ever been in and a professor out to prove what we DIDN’T know instead of showing us what we could know. I caved. I ran. I didn’t realize that the classes would get smaller, that not all professors were like that.

I’m not saying we all need to wait until our 30’s to go to college-in the scheme of life, that’s unrealistic. By 30, we think we’re going to have it all together-married, kids, career well on its path…yeah. And then we get there and realize A) we have no idea what we’re doing and B) as much as we don’t know now, we REALLY didn’t know anything as bratty 18 year olds. I think a gap year would have really benefited me. Take a trip, see the world, hell-pay rent. Find your interests, your hobbies, the subjects you enjoy. Maybe the entire education model needs revisited, hell, I don’t know. But I think that pushing people to go to college straight out of high school is going to end up with a very disillusioned work force when those people spend 10 or so years in a career and realize it’s not at all what they want to be doing.

The other interesting thing about having a career in this day and age is that maybe, just maybe, one of your hobbies can become your income. Blog enough, say the right things to the right people at the right time, and it can become all that you do. Enjoy knitting, and open an Etsy shop full of cute hand crafted items. Like cooking? Start making craft beer and artisan cheese. There’s room for all of those things, and the market is growing. So never stop learning. Never stop exploring. Pursue your interests, go back to school, try new things. Teach an old dog new tricks-it could change the direction of your life.

6 thoughts on “How Soon is Now?

  1. So much to comment on! This is going to get long and ramble-y. You are warned.

    “Success”….oh, I hear you. For me, I feel like a loser because all my friends are either (a) off doing great things/amazing jobs or (b) happily married and possibly (c) cranking out dozens of babies. And then there’s me…who managed to have two kids out of wedlock, get married, and divorced, all before 28. And now I’m just a secretary, working at a law office. It’s all stupid, of course, if I think about it rationally. After all, I work for a lawyer: I know full well that a lot of my “happily” married friends are anything but and the other divorces will start rolling in in another 5-10 years. And I AM glad that I realized early on I was miserable and I got out right way, rather than trying to stay together “for the kids.” But still…there is a massive feeling of loser-dom when I tell people, “Actually, I’m divorced.”

    As for my job, that’s silly, too: I love my job. I’m good at it, I enjoy it (most days), and I’ve got an awesome boss (um, again, most days). But I’ve got friend who co-owns and runs a freaking magazine…and here I am, answering the phone and typing letters.

    College. Omg, yes. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had the same thoughts. I changed my major so many times because I had no clue what I wanted to do. I finally settled on English, simply because I was good at it, and, well, I needed to pick *something*. Then, after five years of school I got pregnant and I just gave up on school. Frankly, at the time, i was relieved. I wasn’t really loving what I was doing in school and I was ready to be done. It was nice to have an excuse (if not a degree). I kick myself now…partially because, damn, that’s a lot of time and money to waste and have nothing to show for it. Partially because it just adds to my feelings of loser-dom, having an unfinished degree.

    On the rational side of that, though, I can’t help but think: so what? Even if I had my B.A. in English, what would I be doing differently right now? Taking a couple more classes in Shakespeare and literary criticism would not render me better equipped to draft legal documents or prepare bankruptcies, which is the bulk of my job. My boss has encouraged me to look into finishing my degree, but I just can’t see the real benefit of it (beyond personal satisfaction, I suppose). I do occasionally entertain thoughts of becoming an actual lawyer. For that reason, I would, of course, finish my undergrad first. But then I remember it’s a terrible time to go to law school/begin a law career…and I remember that law is not a friendly profession for women. So for the foreseeable future, “just a secretary” I remain.

    Back to the timing of college, though, I think a gap year or two would be good for a lot of people. Looking back on the years between about 18-25…well, I could go into a lot of details, but suffice it to say that I can only conclude I was not in my right mind. And a lot of it was simply immaturity and lack of worldly experience. (Sudden horrifying thought: in another ten years, when I’m 41, am I going to look back on my 30s and think the same thing?)

    • Its refreshing to hear that other people are going through the same struggles that I am. I ended up with my degree much like you did your schooling-I floated through several options before I realized I’d better pick something that would use the credits I’d already earned and let me graduate in a timely fashion. As a result I ended up with a degree that was broad enough to make me think I’d be qualified for plenty of different careers, but really was too general to qualify me for anything I wanted to do.

      I was a late bloomer in most aspects of my life, and as a result 18-25 wasn’t nearly as cringe-worthy as 23-29 was. Stayed with a horrible boyfriend because I was aware of how messy the breakup would be, stayed in a job that paid well but was little more than a trained monkey could do, and generally made no decisions for myself. 29 scared the shit out of me and I started actively changing my life for what I wanted. 30’s have been pretty freaking fantastic as a result, but thinking of those wasted years makes my stomach turn.

      I think it’s really important for people to measure success in a vacuum. Are you happy with more things in your life than not? Then you’re doing it right. Everyone else is just everyone else.

  2. I’m tossed up on the school issue! I had no clue what to do in college and I remember my friend’s mom saying the same thing, “How are you supposed to know, at 19, what you want to do for the rest of your life?” So I picked psychology, joined the Army as a medic, and then decided to change to nursing. While I love the opportunities my job provides, I don’t love nursing. But I love the doors it opens. And I also think that getting an undergrad and getting into a field really does open your eyes for what you really want to do. And since we all know a lot of jobs now want masters, that’s what you can go to grad school for. So maybe it’s good to pick something, go with it, and then learn what you want? Do you really think a year of traveling at 18 would have really opened your eyes to want you want for the rest of your life? I doubt it. You’d still have been young and dumb, just with a few countries under your belt. I’d say it’s about 1/2 and 1/2 with my non nurse friends who are actually using their degree. A lot of them weren’t able to find jobs and now are doing something else. I like your vacuum theory. I definitely am happy with more things in my life than not and also know what everything in life has gotten me where I am today. So your 20s were NOT wasted. They formed your 30s, which as you said in the comment above, have been fantastic! You learned what you do and don’t want out of life and that’s so important!!!!

    • Maybe I’m just obsessed with traveling, and I kind of work that in to every idea I have. But I also know that travel is one of the things that gets pushed onto the back burner when a career, children, and life start happening. We all have a few places we dreamed of seeing as a kid and I know so few of us get those opportunities as adults.

      I don’t feel like my BA was a waste of time, so to speak (though I definitely did make some bad decisions back in my 20’s!), but I think that as a younger student, my commitment to studying something, even if it was difficult, was less than it would be to follow my dreams as an adult. You’re more aware of all the investments involved-time, money, stability-and accepting of the risk to reward ratio.

      Your path to where you are now is interesting! Vacuum theory is not always easy to put into practice, but when you can, it really helps keep perspective.

      • I make my travels happen! But I’m lucky because I can easily work OT to make a trip happen and save up money for it, and I had a lot of deployment money to put towards traveling. BUT, traveling to me is one of the most important things I do because I love it that much, so there’s no way I will ever stop!

        I agree that it’s definitely easier to commit to studying as an adult because you know what goes into it, but then other factors come into play. My husband finally went back to school to pursue his goals of becoming a doctor and was just offered a sales job making a very comfortable salary. When you’re 18, nobody wants you to sell their products, haha. And when you’re younger, usually the struggle of making money and paying bills isn’t quite so great. You’re focused just on school instead of being pulled in 100 different directions! I was so shocked when I was in nursing school that a girl I went with (who was 27) had THREE kids, a husband, and a full time job and was doing fine in school and I was spending all my free time on school! Made no sense!!!!

        I think different paths obviously work for different people, and even if it does’t really work, you can go back and switch it around at some point! I like to try to appreciate the path that gets us to where we are lately! I don’t think time off would have made any difference for me and I already took 10 years to get a bachelor’s degree, so I’m just glad it’s all done!

      • I’m with you on the traveling thing. Granted, traveling might be more possible for me had I not made the decision to have kids so stupidly young, but you’re right: once you have a full-time job, plus family and kids, the odds of actually traveling drop significantly. The people I know who do travel a lot in spite of their adulthood do so as a result of their job. And while that’s certainly fun in its own way, there’s a big difference between going to San Diego on a vacation and going to San Diego for a conference.

        (Warning: gross generalizations follow!) I would say that a good chunk of college students are far more interested in the social aspect of college than the academic aspect. I think, too, that when the student loan money starts rolling in, the average 18 year old isn’t think of 5-8 years down the road when they have to start paying back that $30k+ they just borrowed. Also, as a 30 year old (okay, 31), I am far more enamored with the pure joy of learning than I was at 20. Even if we take money out of the equation, I would get a lot more out of college today than I did at 20.

        Also, part of me wants to get into a deep discussion over this idea:
        “And I also think that getting an undergrad and getting into a field really does open your eyes for what you really want to do. And since we all know a lot of jobs now want masters, that’s what you can go to grad school for.”
        Unfortunately, I don’t think it’s a conversation that is easily had in the comments of a blog. While I agree that this is what a lot of people wind up doing, I don’t agree that this is the way it should be. I think it speaks to a deeper problem with our education system.

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