So, I’ve been out of work for [pause to check iCal] a week shy of three months, and naturally, this terribly worries … my mother.
Okay, sure, it worries me, too. I have about $5K in the bank, and my outflow — without any big purchases — is about $2K a month. I’m sure it’s been closer to $3K a month when I’ve been employed, which is bad, but it doesn’t collapse down much lower than what it is now. Even so, just another two-month contract from GL would be more than enough to keep me coasting.
But it worries my mother more than it worries me. She’s terribly upset I’m without health insurance. She’s convinced I must go back to college; she didn’t say that on today’s phone call, although she did on last week’s. Today it was couched in terms of “you have to plan now that you have so much downtime” and even the dreaded “you’re 37 now,” with the implied-but-not-stated “and it’s about time you know what you’re going to do with your life.”
It wouldn’t be accurate to say that mom’s always known what she was going to do with her life. I was born in Texas simply because my parents were driving from New York to Arizona with the idea that she was going to get a job as a sociologist on an Indian reservation; they never got there, and ended up moving back to New York, only to be divorced a few short years later. But by the time she was 37, she’d been working for the Florida public health system for six or seven years. That’s longer than I’ve ever worked at one place; she’s still working for the Florida Department of Health, through three counties and various titles, and will retire soon with over 30 years of service.
The thing is, it’s not as if she’s liked the places she’s worked at, or the system she’s worked for. She hasn’t been a tremendous fan of Hernando County, where she’s been living for over two decades now, either; while part of her likes the rural nature of the area she’s in, it is, to be indelicate, redneck country.
And this last year has been particularly bad. Her property hasn’t gone up much in value, and now much of it’s flooded. The office has become increasingly intolerable as programs she’s in charge of get underfunded and political shell games go on. She isn’t particularly happy with the relationship she’s in. She has ongoing health problems. She wants to retire but has no idea where she’s going to move to and little idea what she’s going to do.
So basically, she feels lost, somewhat alone and very adrift. She doesn’t know what to do about that — but in the best advice-giving tradition, let alone parenting tradition, she knows what to do for me.
I’ve thought about going back to college, but I don’t know what I’d go back to college for. Even assuming I could manage to get in, what degree would I want? Where would I want to be five years from now? Staying in the technology field, trying to make a living as a freelance writer, or trying to run a coffee shop all take me in very different directions. My mother’s convinced that just having a degree in anything makes a difference, but I’m not so sure of that, myself. If I stay in technology, I may be more inclined to pursue an AA in technical writing if I can find one. If I want to be a freelance writer, possibly a degree in journalism or communications would make a difference, but just getting off my ass and finding fields I’m interested in and markets I could sell to would be at least as valuable. (Hiring managers may look at your education, but editors, by and large, are just going to look at your work.) And if I wanted to run that coffee shop, what do I get? A BA in restaurant management? A certification from the Specialty Coffee Association of America? Or a course in grant-writing so I can get money from the Small Business Association?
As much as my internal image of myself seems frozen at 22, she’s right: I am 37. I have a fairly extensive résumé and I’m clearly not without talent in my fields. It’s hard to know how much not having a degree has impeded my career, but my path at Intermedia would have been no different with a degree; I’d still have been laid off from NetWolves with a degree; Global Locate’s ability to get my work would not change based on my degree. It’s possible my life might have been completely different if I’d had a degree. But that’d also be true if, twelve years ago, I’d vigorously pursued a $13/hour job with Kinko’s corporate HQ that would have required me moving to Ventura, or if six years ago I hadn’t been afraid to leave Intermedia and plunge into Silicon Valley during the boom.
There’s more that I need to be doing to try to get an income stream going — I’ve been good about job hunting most of this downtime, but have let myself fall off the wagon the last week or so. (To be fair to myself, some of that time I’ve spent working on the framework for a new online portfolio page, with the expectation that once Claw & Quill gets up and running, I’ll finish it and have C&Q be one of the portfolio pieces.)
I suppose I’m just exasperated because the projection going on here is painfully obvious. I’m sympathetic, but I’m bristling. I have enough of the loner spirit in me — maybe it’s entreprenurial, maybe it’s solitary, and maybe it’s simply adult — that I don’t want mom to “fix” things for me. I love the moral support and I won’t pretend I’m above accepting financial help, which I’m getting real close to needing. But if I’m treading water right now, it’s in no small part because I want to get to shore on my own.