I've done reasonably well at being calm and collected since Thursday, but there's a bit of panic creeping in around the edges now. Up through 1995, I fit into one of two groups: the "working poor" or the "chronically underemployed." I spent a couple years at Kinko's, a bit over a year as a word processor for an accounting textbook company, and did temp jobs around the gaps. All of 1995 was a gap: I spent the whole year working for a temp agency.
One of those temp jobs was a few weeks at TSI, then a division of GTE that did billing reconciliation for cell phone companies (they're the people who figure out who gets billed for what when you "roam" with your cell phone, essentially). That temp job turned into four months, as they kept me on to fill the role of a contract QA analyst and technical writer, at a then-whopping $12 an hour. (This may sound penny-pinching of them, but remember, I was working for a temp agency, not a contract firm--they were probably paying closer to $25 an hour for me.)
Almost immediately after that ended, I got another temp job at a little local telephone company called Intermedia, that was supposed to last two months. It ended up lasting six months, as they created a position for me to move into. After a year or so I moved to another position at Intermedia's WAN engineering group and was there until I joined NetWolves (I'll use the company's real name for once--what are they going to do now if they don't like what I say, fire me?) last year, after (correctly) perceiving that Intermedia would start shrinking again after their purchase by WorldCom. There was no break there--my last day at Intermedia was a Friday, the first day at NetWolves was the following Monday.
The point of this little ramble is that, well, I've been continuously employed for the last seven years. I missed a couple possible opportunities to move to California over those years, and they've always been "what ifs" in my mind--but on the flip side, I can't think of a single person I know in California who's had stable employment all that time, much less at only two companies. (Both of which are, at least for the nonce, still in business.)
So what do I have to show for that time? A big apartment I live in alone. A lot of nice furniture (a fair amount of which I inherited from my grandmother, and much of which I could stand to get rid of--and almost certainly will when I move). More computer toys and a nice stereo system. The only car I've bought new--an expensive one, on a five-year payment plan, with over four years left and over 25,000 miles on it already. (A lot of this can be blamed on my love of driving, I admit. But my commute to work, and taking most lunches out of the office, ended up putting 250-300 miles on it a week. A single trip to visit a friend in Orlando or St. Pete can add another 150 easily--and weekends without at least one such trip are rare.)
Beyond that, an uncomfortably small cushion of savings, high monthly expenses that won't be easy to substantially trim, and too much credit card debt in spite of everything. In one of life's seemingly typical ironies, I'd spent a lot of this month reshuffling finances so I'd be able to get rid of a lot of that debt and build my savings up by another few thousand for spring.
...so now what?
In a way I'm simultaneously worse off and better off than I was a decade ago. Back then, I had a roommate and lived in a cheap dump of an apartment. In other words--virtually no overhead. Of course, I also still held onto the notion that I'd be a published author by the time I hit 30 (which was in 1997, for anyone keeping track). Careers weren't on my mind--I was hoping I'd hit an amazing pay rate of, say, $10 an hour.
Now I have high overhead--as long as I stay here. But there's always the option of not staying here, of taking up offers I've had from friends to impose on their hospitality for a while. Radical moves that wouldn't have made sense last weekend suddenly aren't so radical this weekend.
I don't have to make any move immediately, I know. I'm already pursuing one lead passed to me by a friend (the friend in Silicon Valley, and the lead in Portland, Oregon, peculiarly). If that pans out, great. I don't know how much hope to hold out for it, but it sounds like a potentially interesting position with a stable company in an area that, save for not being near anyone I know, I think I'd really like.
If it doesn't work out, though... hm. Technically I'm supposed to give my apartment complex 60 days notice. I'm tempted to do that when I pay rent come the first of August, on the assumption that I am going to be moving somewhere--maybe somewhere much sooner than 60 days. If I did head to California to pursue job-hunting as a local, I'd probably have to head out in September: any later and I couldn't afford it. I'm not taking into account my still-theoretical unemployment benefits (and I don't know if they'd follow me to California--I've never actually taken unemployment before), but, well, they're still theoretical. I'm only going with the numbers I have in front of me.
And if I went out there, exactly what would I do? No degree, experience in a set of technologies which never seems to match enough of what people want--technical writing talent but no FrameMaker, web development experience but no Java, data mining experience with no Crystal Reports?
Grown up or not, what do I want to be?