Monthly Archives: January 2015

What’s in an Age?

I am 25 today, and I’m not sure what that means.

When you turn 14, you’re officially allowed to get a job. (At least, you live in Wisconsin.) At 16, you get a license and maybe a car. At 18, you become an adult—whatever that means. You can vote and get a tattoo and (in Michigan) you can get into the casinos. When you’re 20, you are no longer a teen.  At 21, you can legally drink alcohol. But what is 25? Is it just a number?

When it comes to anniversaries, 25 is big. More than big—it’s silver. I don’t feel silver—not shiny, not expensive. I believe I am valuable in my own way, but that’s just an opinion.

Maybe I’m looking at this wrong. Maybe I should be looking at my best friend.  She too is 25 today. She is not my twin, we are not related. We have been best friends since we were 7 years and 10 months old. Today, she has no college degree, some debt, a fiancée, and a child. I have a B.A., a small mountain of debt, no significant other. I don’t even have a full time job. But what does any of that mean, anyway?

And maybe that’s too narrow of a focus. There are lots of people who are 25. Taylor Swift, Jordin Sparks, Daniel Radcliffe, Chris Brown, Hayden Panettiere, Liam Hemsworth, and Mathew Lewis are all 25. Jennifer Lawrence, Emma Watson, and Chris Colfer will all be 25 before the year is over. But that’s still too narrow of a focus because all those people are ridiculously famous.

Today I am 25. I have 364 days to answer that question. Wish me luck.

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Leaving the Nest (Again)

I am a Boomerang Kid. In other words, I graduated from high school, flew off to college, got my bachelor’s degree, and because I had nowhere else to go, returned to live with my parents. What with the Great Recession and all, this has become a pretty common thing. (“Boomerang child” even has a definition on merriam-webster.com) Twenty-somethings, many with college degrees, are flocking back home to Mom and Dad. Professionals are concerned about the added stress for aging parents.  What many articles on the subject don’t seem to cover, however, is how psychologically damaging this situation is for the twenty-somethings.

I have always been successful. I got my first job at the age of 14. I did well in high school and received several college scholarships. In just four years, I earned a Bachelor of the Arts even though I double majored—biology and English.  The problem was that I did not know where to go from there.

Graduating seems like the easy part now.

Graduating seems like the easy part now.

Well…I sort of knew. As a college student, I became very involved with Habitat For Humanity and through HFH I learned about the AmeriCorps. As graduation loomed ever nearer, I decided to spend at least one year as an AmeriCorps member, but I wasn’t sure how to go about doing this. I moved back home and spent the summer waitressing. In early August, I applied to and was accepted for an AmeriCorps position in a nearby community where my father worked.

[My time as an AmeriCorps member completely shattered my view of the world. I see everything so much differently now than I did immediately after graduation. I’ll probably blog plenty about that in the future, but for now, let’s return to the subject of Boomerang Kids.]

In theory, I was doing pretty well for someone just out of college. I had a full-time job (though technically it was a volunteer position. This meant that instead of getting “paid,” I received a small bi-weekly living stipend and, if I finished my term, an education award.) Since I was living with my parents and car-pooling with my father, I was able to devote almost my entire living stipend to paying off my student loans, which gave me excellent credit. I was even able to make some extra money by waitressing on the weekends. On the surface, I was doing well.

Meanwhile, my friends were getting married, finding jobs, or both. They were starting new lives in new places with new and exciting challenges. They got to make their own decisions and take their own risks.

Even after years of college, it was so easy to slip back into life at home. I found myself arguing with my youngest sister—the only one still in high school. I ate whatever my mother made for dinner, since I was away from home from roughly 6:30am-6:30pm every day and didn’t have time for things like preparing meals. My father was my ride, which meant I was completely dependent on him to get to and from work. In short, my life was not my own.

I decided to apply for a job at a nature center in Minnesota for the next year. I managed to merit a face-to-face interview, but I was declined in the end. I was so sure that I would get that job. I got the news via email during a big community expo that I was participating in for the AmeriCorps. That’s the only time I can recall ever crying in public.

I decided to spend another year as an AmeriCorps member. My second year was even better than the first. I learned so much and was able to touch so many lives in a positive way!

I had a lot of fun as an AmeriCorps member. I especially enjoyed sharing simple but fun science experiments with my after-school group.

I had a lot of fun as an AmeriCorps member. I especially enjoyed sharing simple but fun science experiments with my after-school group.

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Elsewhere, life went on. All across Facebook, classmates seemed to be announcing amazing new jobs. One of my college roommates got into grad school. My best friend had a baby. And there I was: still arguing with my little sister, still eating whatever was put in front of me, still getting dropped off and picked up from work.

On the advice of a teacher at the school where I “volunteered,” I applied to a program teaching English in Japan—I didn’t get in. I applied to a company that “loves grads from [my college]”—I didn’t even get an interview. I threw myself into job searching. I revamped my resume. I contacted college professors. I found a copy of “What Color is Your Parachute?” I started asking friends/acquaintances if they knew of any job openings. I updated my LinkedIn profile and joined several groups. [NOTE: If you are an AmeriCorps Alum, definitely join their LinkedIn group—they have lots of resources are very fond of networking with fellow Alumni.] After six months, I was still jobless and my final term with the AmeriCorps was coming to an end.

I made an appointment with a career counselor from my college. Even though I had graduated two years earlier, he was very willing to meet with me and help me figure out my next step. I spent a week revamping my resume (again), searching for entry level positions, and driving around much of the Midwest to make contacts. The career counselor explained that while something may come immediately, most of this was long-term stuff. I returned to my parents’ house. My time with the AmeriCorps ended. I started waitressing full time.

It felt like my friends were all going off into the Tunnel of Life while I was just biding my time at home. It was like my own life hadn't even really started.

It felt like my friends were all going off into the Tunnel of Life while I was just biding my time at home. It was like my own life hadn’t even really started.

Meanwhile, my best friend (the one with the baby) had been trying to convince me to move to Green Bay. I kept saying no. I was waiting for something to happen. Just waiting.  And then I woke up. Why was I waiting? What was I waiting for? What on earth was the use in waiting? I called my friend. She checked with her fiancée and said it was okay. Two months later, I was moving into her baby’s room.

I am now in a new city with new challenges and new opportunities. I feel like I am alive again. I’m still not exactly on my own, but it’s a start. All I need now is one opportunity—I just don’t know what it is. I do not know if I’ll stay in this city. I hope to find a job here, but really who knows? Who knows what tomorrow will bring?

N1 + N2 = YOU

“There is not Nature versus Nurture. Nature versus Nurture is stupid. Really it’s Nature AND Nurture working together,” so said my college genetics professor.  In truth, I hated genetics class—the subject material was so microscopic and complicated that I just couldn’t get my head around it. My professor explained that in high school, we learn just enough about genetics to make us “stupid” regarding the subject.  (She REALLY liked that word.) I passed, in the end, but I swore never again would I take another “microscope class”. The whole Nature + Nurture thing actually made sense to me though. Even after graduation, I’ve thought about it a lot.

Who you are isn't just about DNA.

Who you are isn’t just about DNA.

The way I see it, Nature is a combination of your physical self and your personality. It is the part of you that cannot be controlled. For example, I am 5’2” high. I LITERALLY have a different perspective from someone who is, say 6’2”. When I say “personality,” I mean how you inherently react—like fight or flight. I would describe myself as a “by-the-book rebel,” in other words, I follow the rules, but I strive to do so in my own way. Ella from Ella Enchanted is my hero.  My classmates all thought of me as a goody-two-shoes, but my teachers didn’t see me that way. On my sixth grade report card, my teacher described me as “belligerent” and when on to say I had my “own mind—good and bad thing”. I did have my own mind.  My classmates thought I was a “good girl” because I did my homework and didn’t party. I saw myself as a quiet rebel because I did the exact opposite of everyone else. Even though I’m now in my twenties, that drive to be my own unique self hasn’t gone away.

My definition of Nurture is your environment—the place you live, the people you interact with, the things you read or watch or listen to, the way you spend each day. I grew up in a small tourist town in the Northwoods of Wisconsin. Our population would double from June to August when the summer people would relocate to their cabins Up North. For a long time, I was a waitress at a year-round resort. It was through this job that I learned to cut a pineapple, clean a bathroom, properly make a bed, and interact with customers.  I went to college in the small Iowa town where my father grew up. This meant that even though I was technically on my own for the first time, I was actually surrounded by more family than I had left behind. After college, I returned Up North and became an AmeriCorps member for a school on a nearby Ojibwe reservation. I had thought, before my AmeriCorps experience, that I knew about Ojibwe culture. After one day at the school, I realized that I was completely mistaken. This epiphany opened my eyes and allowed me to become an eager learner.

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The place I grew up has a big impact on who I am and who I will become.

Who I am today is not who I was in the sixth grade, or when I graduated high school, or even after I had finally earned my bachelor’s degree. Every single experience I’ve ever had has been filtered through my eyes and my ears, my heart and my soul. Someone with the exact same life experiences as me would not coalesce into the same person I am. I know this because I am the oldest of four children and even though we grew up in the same environment, we are each our own person. Sure we share similarities, but we are not identical. And so, even though I only ever half-understood anything my genetics professor said, I do agree with her that Nature and Nurture are both factors in the “making” of an individual. Moreover, because each day is different and brings with it new experiences, I believe that who we are is constantly changing. I am not exactly who I was yesterday. I am not yet quite who I will be tomorrow. All I can do is experience each day and discover who I will become.

Bring on a new day.

Bring on a new day.