I did everything I was told; "Study hard, go to a good college. You'll get a good job and not have to work for minimum wage." I got a Master's degree for good measure to ensure my career profitability. Sadly, nearing my 40's I stare at a bleak job outlook. When I was younger, I told my Dad my plans for travel and saving the world and he warned me that I was too idealistic for my own good. My idealism translated into my college majors, English and History. I wanted to study people and cultures through their history and the literature they left behind. I learned to look critically and from differing perspectives. To problem-solve, make connections and to fully understand and appreciate how we as people look at the world, interpret it and make decisions. I learned to look for patterns and parallels, to be empathetic.
I spent an academic year living in another culture, learning-engaging, but still that has not been enough. I remember how at a freshman "Meet the Professor" mixer in college, I had a conversation with the Dean of Arts and Sciences who, in response to hearing I was an English major, said that I'd be "highly unemployable". I was discouraged by his comment and realize now that I was too idealistic to appreciate its value. After college, I got a job at my university advising international and study abroad students. This job suited me because I got to work with like-minded individuals who constantly pushed for deeper cultural understanding and global awareness. While working, I took advantage of the university's tuition reimbursement program and studied for a Master's degree in teaching. I'd have tons of job options with a Master's degree, or so I thought.
After receiving my Master's, I gave birth to my first and two years later to my second child. My university salary was not enough to cover the cost of daycare so my husband and I decided that I would quit my job to stay at home. I felt like I achieved a level of career satisfaction and educational advancement and would be living the dream of staying at home with our kids. I'd be giving my kids time that my parents couldn't spend with me because they were both working full-time jobs. Three children and eight years later, I would have never imagined how difficult it would be to return to the workforce. I find myself re-evaluating my decisions and questioning the value of two college degrees.
Some say, I need to "pound the pavement" more. Others say I need to spruce up my resume (check), or tailor my cover letters to suit each job I apply for (check). I often hear that I am overqualified or that I should take my Master's degree off my resume (check). I've applied to at least 50 jobs this year and have gone on three interviews. I am lucky though. My Master's degree in Education allows me to substitute teach and make my own schedule. I can take a day off if my kids are sick or I need to go to the dentist. I don't have to worry about paying for daycare during the summers. I try to look at the positives but sometimes that is hard to do.
While home with my kids, the loss of income didn't seem to affect us at least not right away. Sure times were tight and we cashed out my 401k to help float us between paychecks. A lot of times we needed to buy groceries and had to use a credit card. We needed a new roof, a more reliable car, our son needed Occupational Therapy and our daughter needed her tonsils removed. Each time we used credit cards to help fill the gaps. We don't live a lavish lifestyle; our home is the smallest home in our neighborhood. We hope our day will come. I'll get a job and we'll pay off our debt. Someday we'll get to put money into a savings account.
We don't have the worst situation by far. I have a garage sale each year and recycle pop cans for the deposit. I consign our stuff hoping that the extra bucks will get us through. As I struggle to find a full-time job, it gets harder to balance between paychecks. I'm still paying on the $28,000 student loan I acquired during my undergraduate degree. We've gone a few weeks here and there with no money to our name, no savings each time crossing our fingers that we don't have to put gas in our car or have an unexpected expense.
My husband makes a decent salary that should be enough for a family of five (with a mortgage, two car loans, credit card debt and student loans) but it is not. There are families struggling more, with more kids, while only making minimum wage. We are lucky. But I thought I did everything right. I thought I wouldn't have to work a minimum wage job again. I thought I'd at least be able to afford my student loan payments. Somewhere I've failed or have been failed. But, I'm lucky because I have substitute teaching to fall back on. My kids this year are all in school so I don't have to worry about the cost of daycare. But at 37, when most of my friends are well established in a career, can afford to take vacations and have a solid 401(k), I must say I am a bit envious. I know we sacrificed a lot so I could stay home with our children (something I would never change) but I did have brighter hopes for my future. I thought my degrees and past work experience would speak for themselves. I thought I'd seamlessly transition back into the workforce. But, I am highly educated in looking at perspectives, analyzing situations and problem-solving. I guess I'll do just that.
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