Watts (chipotle) wrote,

The hamster wheel

I’m skimming through my LiveJournal entries over the last few years and there’s a recurring pattern there, which goes something like this:

  • I’ve lost my IT job. Crap.
  • Hmm, maybe it’s time to re-evaluate my life and figure out what I want to do, and—
  • Look, an IT job! This could lead somewhere good! Let’s take it.
  • I’ve lost my IT job. Crap.

It’d be nice if, instead of just telling me I’m heading the wrong way every few months, fate would consider giving me better directions.

You know, I didn’t wake up one day in high school or college and say, “Hey, wouldn’t it be great if I had trouble ever holding a job for more than a couple years? And wouldn’t it be especially wonderful if those positions were just contract work with no chance of permanence? It’d be just great if, twenty years after I graduate high school, I could be one of those statistics in newspaper articles about people with a negative net worth!” Twenty years ago I didn’t even expect to be working in the technology field, despite having been a computer nerd from a very early age. It’s not what I failed to get my degree for.

If I’m frustrated, it’s in part because I’m surrounded by people who came from very similar places to me and have done a lot better. The wall I run into is often less a lack of degree than a lack of portfolio. I have very little I can point to as examples of my past work; what I’ve done has usually been proprietary manuals or UIs I haven’t been able to keep samples of.

I feel like I’ve spent the last few years in particular stuck with most of the drawbacks of a tumbleweed existence, but few of the benefits. If I was able to roll around the country in a VW conversion van doing odd jobs—or if I wanted to be a 21st century bum, doing just enough freelance web work by remote to pay for wireless internet along with gas and food!—for a couple years, that’d be absolutely terrific, but that’s not what’s happened.

So what if I pick up on my idea of going back to school and pursuing something completely different? I don’t know. At this point I’m having trouble seeing how to get off the hamster wheel without, well, a lot of money I keep failing to secure. What I’d really like, I think, is a short-term contract that would pay me an ungodly hourly rate through the end of this year, so I’d be in a better position next year to go back to school, move anywhere, what have you.

Could I just move back home for college? Yeah, and I might, even though the idea of moving back in with mom at my age is a bit wince-inducing. Yet now I’m a California resident, rather than a Florida one, so I would pay in-state tuition rates here and out-of-state rates there. Pasco-Hernando Community College’s’s costs for me would be over $200 per credit hour, for instance; Foothill or De Anza’s cost would be about $20 per credit hour. Even so, if I’m not paying rent there and I am paying it here, the finances still marginally tip in favor of such a move.

But hold on, my spreadsheet says: working part-time retail won’t pay for tuition, expenses and debt reduction in either place. If I got 10-15 hours of work a week at consulting rates, it’d work out, but I haven’t had much luck pursuing that approach in the past.

And, of course, if I got an AA in English, say, what could I do with it? Go on to get a BA in English. (In Florida, you’re automatically accepted at a state university with an associate degree awarded from a state community college; in California it’s not automatic, but it is more likely.) Or not. Then what? Journalist? Staff writer… somewhere?

I could do that, of course. I might like it more, in the long run. Computers are in my blood at this point, but maybe taking on an open source project or two would be sufficient for that. (I have a perverse temptation to implement a generalized version of the document management system I’d started to design for the company I was just let go from, although on a practical level I should only do that if I can apply the lessons from it to other personal projects like Claw & Quill.)

I am, in any case, starting to wonder if my California adventure is coming to a close. I haven’t been a miserable failure out here; I’ve transitioned to technical writing successfully, I’ve worked for some interesting companies, and I’ve grown to really love the area. But I’ve barely been keeping my head above water. Every job has managed to leave me in a slightly worse financial position than when I started. And it looks like I may end up having to fight to get the last 6-7 days of pay for the most recent contract.

If I can get support to stay out here and go to school, I may very well do that. And, if one of those high-dollar contracts really does happen, terrific. This upcoming week I’m likely to talk to a college or two near here, and I’m going to be dusting off the resume and getting myself back in circulation. My experiences in March were fairly encouraging in terms of my “marketability” now.

If, however, I’m still writing emo journal entries this time next month, it may be time to cut my losses and hit the road again.

Tags: life, money, tech, work

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