Overwhelming… that is a good word to describe this phase of my life. Anxiety, financial crises, missing a child who has recently flown the coop to college, messy house, full-time job, loss of a family pet, ELECTION 2016 happening (UGH!). I have a pretty good job with great co-workers, with an organization doing great work in preserving the environment. But I can’t find my happy place. I can’t even motivate to pamper myself. Hot bath? What’s that? Why? I feel pulled in too many ways. I’m like so many people, muddling along into middle-age. Humph!

I had the thought recently that I’ve spent most of my adulthood chasing money. I’m a slow runner, so I don’t seem to catch much of it. In the generation of my grandparents, you just got a “good job” and stayed with it. It didn’t matter what your passion was in life. Save your passion for nights and weekends. But this was when people had 2 weeks of vacation, pensions, unions making sure they had decent wages. And frankly, there was a time, hard to imagine now, when employers did not or could not wring out their employees for as much as they could, paying bottom dollar. Not so anymore. No job security, 1 person doing the work of many with not enough resources, little or no benefits – this is the modern American workplace. We’re doing worse than our grandparents.

Owning a home, once an expectation for young couple, now is a luxury for people of all ages. Dual income families cannot provide the same things their grandparents had with one bread-winner. We have gadgets, which amuse us and keep us connected, perhaps inform us as well, replacing newspapers and the 6 o’clock news, encyclopedias, calendars, wall-phones, calculators, board games, cameras, radios, notebooks and so much more, for relatively little cost, but we feel like we’re misusing our money to pay for them because somehow they are frivolous – because we like using them. We all have cars where I live, no more 1-car families for the most part. We don’t have mass transit, and we have WAY too much going on to be stranded at home without a vehicle. Who will get the kids, stop at the store, go to the pharmacy, work odd hours, pick up clothes at the cleaners, etc.? I would no longer say it’s a luxury for people outside of urban centers to have cars, not if they have jobs.

Look at fast food – oh, we are berated constantly for eating out, especially fast food. The thing is, if there was a fresh fruit and veggie drive-through, most everyone I know would rather drive through for food there. But that isn’t what is available. I personally know when I drive up to some restaurant, it’s a meal behind the wheel, a necessity for a time crunch and a low budget. I don;t even want what they have but I have to eat something. You can only eat so many protein bars, drink so many Slim-Fast shakes, eat so many Lean Cuisine microwave meals and PB&J sandwiches in a lifetime and I hit my quota about 3 years ago. I gave up! I want variety and I want recently-made food that doesn’t cost a fortune. You know where I end up.

My kids used to watch Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern and it occurred to me, everywhere he went, they had street food. He would talk about people taking their lunch break coming out to grab street food. I see, so you mean in Thailand they are not brown bagging their lunch? Eating leftovers from the previous day’s dinner? Forcing down a wilted, pre-made gas station salad? No, they are buying hot food from a guy cooking on the sidewalk. Oh but we’re gluttons for doing it here. I wish we had chicken skewers on the street instead of McD’s, but be real. Busy people everywhere have to eat. Only puritanical Americans insist on eating crap that makes you want to give up living.

Gone are the days when a delicious home-cooked meal and a tidy home awaited the tired laborer after an honest day’s work. Nobody is home to clean the house or prepare the meal. Whereas mom of the 50s had all day to plan and prepare a meal, today’s mom (mostly moms, not 100% of course) has to not only work all day, pick up the kids from daycare, serve dinner, try to clean up the house, get the kids’ homework done, get everyone into bed, wash dishes, do some laundry – and then she also has to think of the next day’s dinner and prepare it partly so it can be tossed into the crock pot on the way out the door in the morning while she rounds up kids, tries to make some lunches, lets the dog out and in, takes out the trash, and gets to work hopefully on time. Where is dad in all this? Unfortunately in too many homes today there isn’t one. Including in mine.

I’ll save the single parent rap for another day, but one thing I have to insist is that it was so much more efficient having someone home. You save money, believe it or not. Having the luxury of time, means better planning, better quality food, better home life, less stress, more organization. And before you think that I’m a throwback GOP white mom, please know I’m really a left-wing women’s libber. The beauty of women’s liberation was not that we all can run out into the workforce and become CEOs. The beauty of it is supposed to be that if you should desire to go become a CEO, that it is possible to do so, without sexism standing in the way. And on that front we’re not nearly there. The other side of that coin is that if you do NOT want to rush out into the workforce and reject the stereotypical “mom” role of the past that I described before, you should also be able to do that without being derided by men or women.

I was a stay-home mom for about 2 1/2 years when a sudden divorce forced me back into the workforce. I was, honestly, traumatized by it. My children were BABIES! It broke my heart every single day that I had to leave them. I was even more traumatized by savage, brutal work environments and rotten people. I don’t mean physically. I wasn’t taming lions or anything. It was just like being on Survivor or something. All these secret alliances, back-stabbing, drama… I came to work to do a good job. I was oblivious to “office politics.” Boy, was that a mistake. I was bitten more than once for that. And had abusive supervisors multiple times, who even ran afoul of labor law. Each time I internalized what was happening and tried harder to be perfect.  And never really made any money, not enough to pay bills easily. Constantly in debt, fearing financial catastrophe. And when we live hand to mouth, the littlest disruption is catastrophic. To drive that dagger in deeper, three times I was laid off. Little severance pay and unemployment… sprinkle on some nervous breakdown, despair, anxiety. Yummy.

I know this – I love college. I love learning, and I love helping other people learn. I love creating. I have 2 art degrees now. Am I working in the arts? No, I am not. So going back to the idea that once upon a time you got A job and that was it, today this is not plausible. Job change is constant, new skills are needed always. You can’t rest on your previous experience. You have to constantly be retraining, cross-training, adapting, looking for a new employment trend, and networking like your life depends on it. Because it does to a degree. That’s how you chase money. What about the most successful people? I mean the REALLY successful people. They don’t chase money. They follow ideas to fruition. What does that mean? They hear or think of a good idea and they explore it. They take it to its end. If it’s successful, they are successful. If not, they work on something else. Doesn’t mean they are in a vacuum and don’t pay attention to what is going on around them, they are aware of trends. But they don’t read a newspaper article about the top 20 highest-paying jobs and sign up to learn to do one of them.

Today we expect to have aptitude. Some people can be nurses. I – cannot. Ew! Some people love crunching numbers. Maybe accounting is their bag. Sure, if one of those top-grossing jobs is right up your alley of interest, go for it! But it’s a danger to say, I’m going to become an accountant if you hated math in school and think doing math all day would bore you to death. We don’t need more people droning on like zombies in life. You spend half of your waking hours 5 days a week (or more) working for a living usually. If you enjoy your work, it will energize you. If not, it will suck your life out and when you get home, you’ll have nothing left for those things you enjoy. I love this quote:

“Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”

– Howard Thurman

It’s just so true. I have an idea what it would take for me to come alive, but I’m not sure, and I don’t know how to get from point A to point B. In the mean time I’m muddling along and it’s just so uncomfortable. I’m absolutely restless. I’m pretty sure this is why some people drink or do drugs, seriously. Instead I’m blogging. If you’re reading this and you can relate at all, let me know. Until next time, be well. ~E