Category Archives: Coming of Age

Part Four: Summer 2011


PART ONE
PART TWO
PART THREE

This article was written by guest writer, Miss. Stefie.

I started at the library in the middle of March. For the rest of the month and for all of April, I am holding down five jobs (to recap: library, zoo, retail, modeling, work for dad), working at least 60 hours per week with no days off. I often work 12-14 hour days, bouncing between two or three jobs a day. I live with my boyfriend, but I never see him. Wake up, go to work, go to sleep, repeat. Then all of a sudden, the semester is winding down, the art classes have no more need for models. Around the same time, my dad actually hires someone to work with him, and I am free of that job as well. As April ends and I am filling out my day planner with May work schedules, I see it: a blank day. I triple-check my schedules, but it’s not a mistake, it’s really there. It’s a Thursday, and it is a day off for the first time in almost two months.

My day off is glorious. I wake up at 7, as I do every day, but I don’t get out of bed. I check my e-mail (unanswered for the past week), check facebook (untouched for the past month), wander through neglected messages and unvisited sites. It’s barely 10:00AM before I decide I need more days off. Even a few hours off. I still hardly ever see my boyfriend. I need to quit Bargaintopia.

My next Bargaintopia shift, I begin planting the seeds of my departure. I’m lamenting my return to work, raving about my day off. My co-workers know I have not had one in quite a while, and are excited for me. They’re all trying to find different jobs, and are mostly baffled as to why I continue to work there when I already have two jobs. I find the manager that likes me most and tell him I think it’s a bit too stressful holding down three jobs at once, and I realized that yesterday when I had a whole day to myself. He says, “Oh, that’s understandable. I wouldn’t want to work that much. But you’re not leaving us before inventory, right? We need you.” I agree to stay on for inventory, but could he please give me fewer hours? I’m sure other people would appreciate some extra shifts.

I am busy, but not unbearably busy, through June. I’m only working 40-50 hors per week, trading away many of my Bargaintopia shifts, waiting for my last day, July 7, inventory day. Finally, it arrives. The shift is from 6PM-2AM, I have to be at work at 8AM the next day. I manage to not fall asleep in the store or at the zoo or library the next day.

For the rest of the summer, I work 15 hours at the library and 15-30 hours at the zoo, depending on how busy the schedule is. I have Sundays off every week. Sometimes I have other days off as well. I adore the library. It has lived up to my expectations, and I can’t believe I didn’t realize earlier that this is what I want to do for the rest of forever. The only snag is, to be a full librarian, I need a Masters in library science. Until then, I can’t work more than 15 hour per week. Some sort of labor law. So now I know what needs to happen. It’s fun working at the zoo, but next fall, I’ll be a student again, working toward librarianship.

I think back to this time last year, having just moved, John dropping out of school. I’ll need a scholarship, or loans, or some kind of help. But I’m prepared to do whatever it takes. I’ve been scouting schools with distance programs lately. I am determined not to move again. I keep thinking that it’s about time for something to go terribly, terribly wrong. It’s strange, I feel the exact opposite of what I felt a year ago: happy, and hopeful, like I have a future waiting for me.

Asking Questions


I’ve always been the quiet one—the one who stands on the sidelines, the one who goes with the flow, and most importantly the one who doesn’t ask questions.  For a long time this stance on life has treated me well, and kept me out of trouble.

But ever since I spent two months travelling around the backwoods of Arizona with a group of people – unafraid to ask for anything and everything – I’ve considered altering my quiet persona.

From mid-March to mid-May of this past year I was on assignment working for Arizona State Parks. I was traveling in a fifteen-passenger van packed with everything from trail tools to camping supplies; plus enough clothing and personal gear to keep eleven people functioning and happy no matter what the trip threw at us. Our weather conditions varied from hundred degree work days to twenty degree frost-covered mornings as we travelled through ten different state parks in the Arizona park system. The work, the travel, and the stress were a rollercoaster worthy of even the most dedicated thrill seeker.

But the ten people riding along with me were of an indomitable spirit. They took what could have been a very rough experience for all of us and made the two month project an amazing and unforgettable journey, all through the cunning use of questions.

“Can I have that?”

“Can we have some?”

Unabashedly, my co-workers used these phrases and other like them to get us an overwhelming collection of free stuff. From t-shirts to food, to walking sticks, to hats; if our travelling van hadn’t seemed laden down when we started, it certainly was bulging at the seams when we returned. Every new location provided new opportunities to my ambitious team. And it didn’t stop at the stuff.

The questions branched into “Are we allowed to…?” and “Can you show us?” which opened the door to tours and plane rides and undisclosed hiking trails, all of which we happily explored to our hearts content. Once they got people talking, the folks we encountered were always happy to point us in the direction of fun and exploration. It seemed like we were trading our service time for insider secrets on the best places to see and visit in the small towns surrounding the parks we worked in.

The last set of questions I heard with regularity surprised me every time. “What’s your story?” and “Will you teach us?” No matter how many new characters we met during our travels, my team never seemed to lose interest in the stories. We’d sit and listen or explain what we were doing in the parks, ever content so long as the exchange of information continued, the questions flowing. They laughed, they learned, and they weren’t afraid to reap the rewards gained through their never ending litany of questions.

At the time my appreciation for their questions was limited, my predominant reaction being annoyance. The stream was really never-ending. But with the proper distance and reflection, I’ve come around. Present-day-job-searching-me is now reconsidering the potential of this seemingly inconsequential communication device.

The question, in all its shapes and forms, is a very important and somewhat underrated networking tool. Its many uses can include promoting conversation, opening doors, projecting interest and curiosity, making connections. I have been trying to employ it more and more in my daily life.

Even if a store doesn’t have a ‘now hiring’ sign up it can’t hurt to ask, right? Maybe they haven’t had the chance to put an ad out. Maybe they know someone else who is hiring.

From what I’ve gathered about networking (though I’ve never really gotten the hang of it), the idea is to put out feelers. To ask questions that can help me identify connections I was previously unaware of and use those
connections to find the hiring manager in charge of my dream job.  Asking questions helps me to put my foot in the door and let people know that I have arrived. Or at least that I’d like to arrive sometime in the near future.

Now if only there was a guidebook to help me find the right questions…

I Dreamed a Dream


By Katherine Shaye

It is hard for me to distinguish at what point in my life I went from the dreams of childhood to the career pursuits of an adult. If I’d stuck to my guns when I was eight, I’d now be a retired Olympic gymnast reliving my glory days on a talk show. Instead, I am now (among other things) an aspiring novelist, a dream that I’ve picked up only recently. So what’s the difference between my dream now and my dream then? Aside from an increased ability and drive to pursue an actual career, I would say not much.

It makes me ask myself – what really makes my dream worth chasing, and at what point do I put it on the back burner in favor of something more practical?

The reason for this sudden introspective rant is this:

Are Books Dead, and Can Authors Survive?

An article pointed out to me in a writing forum by an editing friend who thought the topic deserved some discussion. After reading it, I have to wonder, do I have skin thick enough to enter into a rapidly changing, somewhat shrinking industry, where only the truly great and quickly adapting survive? What will it really mean to be an author over the next 10 years as I try to build a career and get published? Am I gritty enough to stick it out?

I look back at where I started. Back in my early college days when writing was just a way to blow off steam and get silly daydreams out of my head. I wrote a lot, but rarely finished anything— ideas flitting too quickly through my head for me to sit with just one.  Writing was just a hobby; I was allowed to be flighty. I’d gotten a few comments from friends along the lines of “It’s pretty good,” and “I really liked it. Is there more?” Nothing I really took seriously. There was even one English paper that came back with the comment, “Very well written. Wish it were more on topic.” All praises, but nothing that said “This is it, you’ve got it. Go be a writer.”

My lackadaisical writing career continued like this until senior year when real life started looming and I decided to get adventurous. What if I really did become a writer? It was time to do some learning.

I joined a writing forum (or Accentuate Writers). Nothing fancy, just a place where I could upload my work and have it critiqued by other people in the same position as me—new and unpublished talents, testing the waters to see if we were
up to snuff. Reviews poured in and I shared my thoughts with others. I was getting positive feedback and gaining much needed confidence. Things were rolling along nicely.

Then I got my first negative review. I’d like to say that the critic didn’t know what he was talking about, that he was jealous of the profundity of my piece. But that would be a lie. This critic, while very curt and clearly not a fan of my work, gave me nothing but good advice—not that I could acknowledge that right away. It was the kind of feedback that cuts a little too close to honesty, usually echoing insecurities you already had about
a piece. They were comments I definitely needed but didn’t necessarily want.

Cue the week of mourning.

I didn’t even look at my computer screen for the next seven days, most of my time spent ignoring the fact that I’d ever picked up a pen at all.

Finally, I went back. I reread the punishing critique, picked out the relevant bits and reworked my story.  A week later, I entered it into a short story contest and a month after that I found out that the piece had won first place. It was getting published. My greatest sense of failure and success all wrapped up in that one little piece.

Fast forward to now.

Is this the story of a burgeoning artist’s epic struggle towards success? Not really, but it is the beginnings of a journey, my journey, and I suppose the point is that none of the rest of it matters. Writing is something I love to do and it’s worth a shot. Even in a potentially failing industry, even if I’m not any good. It’s still worth it to try.

CHECK OUT SOME OF THESE SITES FOR ADVICE!

Because I Said So
Vicki Winslow’s Blog
Tammyholloway
Stress Management for Writers

Part One: Summer 2010


This article was written by guest writer, Miss. Stefie.

From the day I declared my major, every conversation about it has gone something like this:

“So, what’s your field of study?”
“Communications.”
“Oh, like TV and radio?”
“No, that’s Media Communication.
I’m in Interpersonal/Organizational Communication.”
“Ohhhh.” (Accompanied by a politely confused countenance.) “What do you do with a degree in that?”
“…” (At this point, I look around nervously, as though I could spot another topic. Any other topic.) “It’s very broad.”

It was only three months after I graduated from Brockport with a B.S. in Communications, and two months into my very first retail job that I came to grips with reality: I have no idea what one can do with a degree in communications. To this day, I could not tell you what one might be able to do with a degree so ambiguous as Interpersonal/Organizational Communications.

During the fifteen months following my graduating, I have made my way through twenty-three audio books, eight part-time jobs, two apartments in two different cities, and one potentially life-changing career test. But let’s start at the beginning.

I didn’t attend my graduation. While the rest of my graduating class was waiting to hear their names called, I was already unpacking boxes at my parents’ house. I wasn’t worried about finding a job or what I should do next as a college graduate. Something would happen—some opportunity would present itself, just like always. I had loose plans for fall. John, my boyfriend of one year, was to begin his graduate work at a school in Glens Falls. I would move from Utica to be with him. It wasn’t a difficult decision for me; we had already been living together for five months in my college apartment.

I toyed with the idea of attending a graduate program. I was accepted at two schools, and would certainly have attended if a scholarship were in the cards for either. But I could not justify spending more money and accumulating debt to continue down a path that I was not sure I wanted to be on in the first place. To have no career goal in mind during undergrad is one thing; to attend grad school with no desires—or even vague notions—of a potential profession is quite another. So I scrapped the grad school plan, much to my family’s dismay. I would be moving to Glens Falls with a clean slate, a world of possibilities, a promise of new and exciting opportunities ahead.

But first I had to make it through the summer. After four weeks of bumming around the house, myparents insisted I get a job. So it was off to work at a bargain basement store. “Bargaintopia” was my very first retail job. It was fun for a couple of weeks, but the novelty quickly wore out. Soon, I was counting the hours until moving day. We packed up the U-Haul with all John’s furniture, my kitchen necessities and our combined collection of books. It was a Monday when we moved, one week before John was to start classes. The following five months were stressful, to put it gently.

CHECK BACK THIS WEDNESDAY FOR PART TWO!

Decisions, Decisions


By Nicole Hosette

Many post-grads make plans to move somewhere new after college. They move back in with their parents, take a job in a new place, or simply decide to take up residence somewhere fresh. In my case, the decision to move from Iowa to the Boston area took months to make, and I didn’t make it alone.

I mentioned in a previous post that I recently moved to Massachusetts with my boyfriend, Peter. We both graduated in May. He knew he wanted to get his PhD in physics, while I knew I didn’t want to go to grad school (at least right away). And after being together for four years, we knew we wanted to be somewhere new together. So it made sense that I would follow him wherever he went to school.

In December of last year, he started applying for grad school. It was a crazy, stressful time for him, as it meant filling out forms, writing essays, and securing letters of recommendation on top of his heavy course load. He applied to nearly ten schools, both Ivy League and state universities.

He got into his safety schools, and to his relief, most of his top picks as well.

In the end, the decision came down to two schools, University of Chicago, or Harvard. So we made a massive pro/con list and took everything we could think of into account – locations, cost of living, family factors, crime, job opportunities for me, and each school’s respective physics program.

For a month, he changed his mind at least every other day. I was pulling for Chicago from the beginning – I had spent a lot of time there, both visiting and inhabiting, so I knew the city’s offerings and limitations. I knew that my job prospects would be decent, and that I already loved living there. I knew it would be cheaper to live there and that I would be able to easily make the three hour drive back to Iowa to see my family and friends. But I also knew that Chicago would be my ideal place to “settle,” and I didn’t want to settle yet.

Eventually Peter made his decision, and he wanted to go to Harvard. The physics program would give him more opportunities. And, as he admits, he is a kind of nomad at heart, so he was getting restless in the Midwest. He already knew what Chicago had to offer and wanted a place with completely new opportunities.

In time, he convinced me that Massachusetts was right for us. We made budgets to make sure we could live off of his grad-student stipend in case my job search went badly. We took note of all of the cultural offerings of Boston (which excited the historian in me). I knew I wouldn’t be unhappy there, and I knew he would regret it if we didn’t go. So we went.

Our relocation wasn’t easy, but so far I don’t regret it. I hate that most of our friends are still together in Iowa City while I’m here basically alone. But I know that time will fix that. I miss having my car, but I like that I can walk practically anywhere I need to go. I absolutely love all of the things to do in my new place, and all of the new things I can try.

Be warned: even if you’re ready for it, making a move this huge will probably be hard. And, if you’re anywhere near as indecisive as I am, the decision will be just as difficult. But you’re a post-grad now – in theory, you have tons of opportunities ahead of you, even if the job market seems to disagree.

Maybe that’s me being the optimist, but for now, I’m going to take advantage of the fact that I haven’t had that beaten out of me yet.

Stuck on Repeat


By Katherine Shaye

I’ve been here before, this section of my life. I’ve been this girl, I’ve played this part, and I know these lines. So for something that know so well, why does it still freak me out so badly?

More than two years ago, I graduated from college with the same sense of panic. That knot of worry so deep that every casual question from friends and family became a probing stab into the very purpose of my life.

“What are you doing?”
“What’s your next step?”
“Where do you see yourself headed?”

Finding a way to pay the rent felt way too serious.

In the months when I found myself counting down to my graduation, these questions looped through my own mind, getting louder each day. While my friends prepared for internships, graduate school, and the various entry-level jobs they’d acquired, I still sat in front of my laptop wondering where to start. I had treated my undergrad years as a means to an end. College wasn’t career prep; it was a check mark on my resume. It wasn’t until I had graduation staring me in the face that it even occurred to me that I’d wasted much of my very important “figure myself out” time.

Enter AmeriCorps.

Scanning through the internet, looking for a job, a sign, or even a clue, I found one site in particular that caught my eye: AmeriCorps.gov. It took me all of twelve seconds to fall in love with the idea of AmeriCorps NCCC; a mobile, team-based national service program that would allow me to travel the country, do volunteer work, and meet amazing people. I was so in. After an application longer than most of my college apps, and three nail-biting months of waiting to hear back that is.

Then I was off. Off to build trails in national parks and houses in New Orleans. Off to figure out how to feed ten people on $45 a day.  And most importantly, off to meet a uniquely unforgettable cast of people who would slowly but continually change my life. I will detail several of my adventures in later posts.

But here I am again. After completing yet another graduation ceremony, I am back in panic mode answering the same round of firing squad questions that came at me two years ago. It seems like things haven’t changed at all.

But somehow they have.

For one thing, I’m two years older. That doesn’t seem like much at first glance, but with careful review I’ve realized that at the very least I learned a few things in those years:

  1. Every experience is worth the experience – Even the things that sucked when I was going through them were worth it for the knowledge I gained about myself.
  2. I must accept that I can’t please everyone, or die trying – I’ve been a people pleaser my whole life and it has never come to bite me in the ass more than these past two years. Living and working with the same ten people while keeping them all happy is absolutely, hands down, 100 percent not possible. I accept that now.
  3. I’ll never stop trying to find my purpose–There will always be a part of me that yearns for definition, that interprets questions like “what’s your next step?” as “what is your life’s passion?” Hopefully, as time goes on I can tone down the anxiety associated with that question and learn to see it as encouragement to explore my options.

Now as you may notice, these are not the end all be all of life lessons, but for me parsing out what the last two years has meant to me and what I have learned from it will be an important part of figuring out that crucial next step. Perhaps it will even help me figure out how to improve my resume.

Future posts from me will most likely feature flashbacks from my time in AmeriCorps, my time in college, and
maybe even a little bit of that good old high school drama, all for the purpose of figuring out who I am now and what I want (and am qualified) to do.

Introducing Mr. Lawver


By Bryan Lawver

I may have learned a lot of things in my undergraduate career, but there is only one thing that I learned after graduation: the world does not revolve around me.

I was always considered smart by my teachers, always earning what I wanted with a minimum amount of struggle, so I assumed that my good luck would continue into “the real world” after graduation.  Oh, what a fool I was.

I graduated with a B.A. in photojournalism in May of 2010, and though I knew that I was going into a notoriously difficult field, I expected an entry-level job by the end of the year, and then I would consider graduate school after a couple of years. The plan, as any post-grad can imagine, went awry quickly.

As soon as I graduated, I went to Iceland with a friend from school. We needed something to signify our accomplishment, and we could really, really use a vacation. In the weeks leading up to our trip, the Eyjafjallajökull volcano began to stir. The tremendous eruption stranded hundreds of travelers, us included. I being a writer and my friend a photographer, we considered this a turn of good luck – our first post-graduation assignment. I’ll save the details or another day, but things did not go as planned, and we were unable to sell anything that we shot or wrote on the trip. This, while being a relatively minor setback considering that the opportunity just fell into our laps, was my first sign that maybe things would not go as smoothly as I had hoped.

After returning home disappointed, I assumed that without school to worry about I could devote all of my time to finding a job. I was almost right; I devoted all of my time to trying to find a job. Over a hundred resumes later, I was still working in a coffee shop, scouring the Internet for jobs daily. I got a few offers. I did some freelance work, sometimes finishing the work and not getting paid. I was also offered a real, full-time job. I would transcribe news broadcasts for closed captioning television. The job was 40+ hours per week, the commute was an hour each way, and the pay was less than what I made at the coffee shop.

So I took a step back. I must be doing something wrong, I thought. I made lists of all the jobs I was offered. I crossed off jobs with no pay, or that required more experience than I possessed. Maybe one out of every ten jobs was left. And what were they offering? The chance to write product descriptions on eBay; to send out spam e-mails; to churn out content for scammy-looking blogs offering get-rich-quick schemes and vitamin pills for dogs.

This was not what I went to school for. I didn’t work for four years just to write about things that I neither cared about nor believed in. I didn’t spend all that time, only to get a job with a salary that I couldn’t live on, for work that I couldn’t live with.

So, then, what did I go to school for?

I wanted to expand our understanding of the world; I wanted to write something that would make a difference in someone’s life, to stand up for things I believed in and to – as the old saying goes – give a voice to the voiceless.

The standard says that you have to earn the right to do what you want to do for a living. You have to fight your way up the ladder to get to the moment where you are the one calling the shots. But that standard is badly in need of revision. Why keep trying to climb the ladder when even the undesirable bottom rung is out of reach?

If I wanted to succeed, instead of clawing my way to the top, I would have to find a side door.

I decided to skip ahead a few years on my plan to attend grad school. Cue the long and grueling application process, several sleep-killing months of waiting for admissions decisions, and finally getting into the school of my choice.

It is now about 16 months since I finished my undergraduate studies, and my first graduate classes start in 3 weeks. Check back often and I will do what I can to enlighten you in the process of going back to school, getting into the school of your choice, and surviving once you get there.

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