Observations During a Pandemic

Today is the 23rd day of practicing social distancing, of school being closed, of working from home. It’s about to be the third week of restaurants and stores being shut down, doctors’ offices practicing telehealth versus in-person visits. Today, another realization hits me, just like the day before, and the day before that day, just as all the future days another new reality will become uncovered during this pandemic. Drawn to the news like a dog to a squirrel during the first few weeks of its rise, I can only bring myself to watch sparingly now.

I felt compelled to write something, but not just regurgitate everything else I’m reading or seeing. What can I write that is meaningful during such a historically sad time? This was the question circulating over the past few weeks in my mind, and it landed on recording my personal observations and experiences – both good and bad. May be you’ll relate, may be you won’t, but either way, it’s something else to read other than the numbers we all obsess over each day or another story about a beloved person passing away, or the schizophrenic ever-changing messaging from our administration, or a small business going under, or another friend losing their job.

It’s important to note that as I write this, I’m sitting on my comfortable couch, healthy, and listening to Creep by Radiohead play in the background. The heat is on, my youngest son is singing along to the Zombies 2 musical in his room, my oldest is playing Minecraft while Skyping with a friend as she plays in tandem. My husband is exercising in the basement, while the dog is slobbering all over a bone, dashing around madly trying to bury it. The cat is drifting in and out of sleep on my son’s bed. There is food in our refrigerator, we’ve just scored some 1-ply toilet paper after 9 days of searching, and all the laundry is done. We’ve just returned from a 3 mile walk in the brisk Spring wind having picked up Robek’s smoothies and Dunkin’ Donuts on our way back. It’s important to mention this because it doesn’t sound like an awful day does it? And that’s the point of typing this tiny bit out. Today is Saturday, April 4th, 2020, and today is not a bad day in the small world of our family right now. This is one of many observations during this pandemic- there are good days and there are bad.

Personal Stories

More so than the news spitting out the numbers every hour, I’m drawn to the personal articles of those affected and what they’ve endured. As I mention right on the landing page of this blog’s website- it’s through stories that we all are connected. Never have I found this to be more true than a time like now. Of all the articles I’ve read over the last month, it’s only two that stand out to me the most. The story of the 39 year old healthy father who was dropped off by his wife and daughter in a second attempt to be admitted to the hospital after falling ill. After pulling up to the hospital drop off, he got out of the car and walked into the hospital. His wife and daughter went to park the car. The hospital went on lockdown and his wife and daughter could not enter. They never saw him again. I’ll never forget this story or the hard cry I had, the first time I really allowed myself to feel whole heartedly this crazy mix of emotions that a lot of us don’t really know what to do with.

The second article that daggered me right in the heart is about the mother of six, being treated for breast cancer who contracted COVID-19. Because her children could not be with her in the room while she passed, a nurse placed a walkie talkie next to her pillow and allowed each of them to say their goodbyes via a tiny black device. Another story I will never forget.

The Giving

During this dark phase of our lives, it’s easy to get sucked into the negativity, the despair, these gut wrenching stories of death that I mention above and let it seep into your psyche, your day, your tone to your spouse, children, and family. It’s crucial for me to say to you, try your absolute hardest not to allow this to happen. It’s happening to all of us, I sure as hell am guilty. But I’ve got some news that will offer you a hand to grab and yank you from the dark of this crazy emotional mosh pit. Search for the positive stories. There are so many. People who are on the ground doing some really serious giving in some incredibly ground breaking and creative ways.

I am extremely fortunate in that my day job allows me a front row seat to this seriously uplifting good stuff. We assist private foundations in activating their philanthropic missions. This means we’re helping process the grants these wonderful folks are pushing forward. It allows me to listen in on webinars about where money is needed most and how we’re going to get it there. Meetings topics are made up of how to help the most people in a community at a time, what other foundations are doing so that others can join along or be spurred on to create their own program, and how charities have learned from past pandemics (AIDS, H1N1, Ebola).

We’re watching the awe-inspiring action of one foundation that created jobs for furloughed restaurant workers by ordering the raw materials to assemble plastic protective face masks and package them, which will then be delivered to NY hospitals. It reaches more than one group in a positive way; it gives an income to those who need it, while providing important protective gear for the hospitals that are desperate- it’s a positive domino effect.

This is just one story of 100’s. There are so many touching initiatives everyday people, charitable organizations, businesses, and celebrities are taking. If you’re interested in reading about some of them, or simply want to feel a boost of much needed endorphins, check out this article. If you’d like to know which charities you can donate to – read this here.

The Silence

This is one observation I am stuck on- the silence is deafening. The needle on the record just will not grasp one of those rings on the black vinyl and blurt out the damn tune.

Let me give you 4 examples.

Text messages to nowhere. I sent text messages to nine friends all on the same day, over 2 weeks ago. The messages were similar in nature: “How are you and your family doing?”, “I hope you are OK, am thinking about you. Let me know.”, “I miss you, know that I am thinking of you, how is everything going?” Since then, only one of those people has replied. I don’t know what this means, but I’m exhausted from over-analyzing the reasons why. It just plain hurts, but I am sure it likely has to do with shock and adjustment. I’m trying not to take it personally, but it’s hard not to.

Crickets on work calls. Team calls have suddenly become eerily quiet. Questions from those leading the calls go unanswered and I squirm in my basement office desk chair trying to avoid being the only one to answer each question.

Evening walks. With less cars on the roads and no visible humans in our neighborhood after dark, the silence is quite beautiful in a way. This version of quiet is the only version I find comforting these days. It is peaceful; meditative.

Middle of the Night Alertness. Anxiety over all of this has come in the form of sleeplessness for many of us. I’ve become accustomed over the last few weeks to the middle of the night hum of quiet in my house. Will someone break in for toilet paper or soap? Will people start looting? Just a few bedtime conversations my husband and I have had before comfortably drifting off to sleep. Or not.

Electronic Connection

How much more are you having actual phone conversations now that this virus has invaded our lives? If you’re a Xennial like myself, I would venture to guess you’re having a lot, if not as many as you had back in college for the first time in 15 or so years. If you’re a Boomer, you’re also likely having more phone conversations than you’ve had in a while. If you’re a millennial or Gen Z, maybe it’s a very new thing for you and you’re adjusting.

Personally, I’ve noticed I’m enjoying the shift in hearing my friend’s voices who don’t live close by. Last week, I spoke to a friend from 5th grade who lives with his family in France, 2 long time friends in Chicago, and a friend in Cincinnati. 3 of my local friends have called to check in on the regular. This is not the norm for me at all. There is something to be said for that deep personal connection that radiates from knowing someone cares enough about you to pick up the phone and vice versa.

With WiFi and internet fluctuating in and out, conference lines and video chat calls dropping due to overloaded servers, we are in a state of flux. I am realizing just how lucky we are to have a little thing called the Internet. Imagine how much worse this isolation would be without it? All of us able to work from home would not have jobs, mass communication and connection via social media to know we’re “in this together” would not exist, and let’s not forget school as well as entertainment for the kids. We’d rely on the weekly paper for all of the stories and updates, and the TV news which is overloaded with only negative info it seems. For people like me who have streaming services instead of cable, we’d be screwed regarding any form of TV watching. Forget online banking and shopping- bye bye Amazon. We would buckle as a society. We are interwoven as one with this technology and are therefore dependent upon it. Thank you, internet. You are appreciated Vinton Cerf and Bob Kahn.

The Ripple Effects, The Future

A friend recently said to me, “Think about when we all go back to our jobs, school, and life. Will we all stay in our silos? Will people still remain distant from one another? Will they be hesitant to go back to the way it was now that we’ve instituted this “new normal” for however many months?” She also raised a really valid point about how so many people already have trouble with organic socializing due to social media, text as a main method of communication, less outdoor time. This isolation and social distancing may have only exacerbated this phenomenon.

We obviously hope not. Is it wishful thinking that we hope the reverse will happen and the people of that generation will gleefully sprint outdoors sharing in tree-climbing contests, double dog dares consisting of “how long can you go without looking at your phone?”, along with going back to the days of mall and Taco Bell parking lot hang outs? I suppose we’ll find out when these measures are lifted whether or not this perpetuates the issue, or in a reverse psychology maneuver – solves the issue.

What is the near future looking like for farmers?I’ve recently read articles about the farmers whose migrant workers are stuck in Guatemala, unable to come over and pick the crops that are soon to spoil. Will there be a shift where jobless Americans step in and pick these crops for much needed income, resolving the issue of crop waste? Will the farmers sell off only half their crops because closed restaurants are not buying? These are the ripple effects we have yet to see, but will experience very soon.

Then there’s the perpetually sick and poor. For the those who don’t have COVID-19, but who have cancer, AIDS, Lupus, MS, ALS, and auto-immune diseases, how and when will the blood shortage, and possible drug unavailability cause them to suffer and possibly pass away?

Or how about the overworked staff and overcrowded hospitals? What about their mental health? Also, I have heard so many stories of sick people being turned away from receiving care only to show up again and beg their way to being admitted. Will standing physically in front of them, demanding care be what it takes?Will this become the new norm for receiving medical care? If yes, how long will it last, and how many will be sent home due to overcrowding only to perish?

Another ripple effect occurring is shelters having to close due to the proximity of people putting everyone at risk. Many of them must be fed via a curbside pick up and can no longer eat inside. I was on a call recently, and they mentioned to put your arm out in front of you and then out to your side. Did you touch a person? How many? If you ask this of a homeless person in a shelter, their answer is often 5 or 6 people. So the question is, where are these displaced people going during this awful time? The Salvation Army is opening up for them to shower, but finding places for them to sleep is becoming a deeper, more concerning issue.

Now think on a broader scale about the poor in terms of third world countries. This virus will devastate them. How will they come back from this? What will the future look like for them?

These ripple effects are what’s keeping me up at night. The stuff six months down the road that none of us ever thought of.

Home schooling

I am thankful we chose to live in a town known for its good schools and family friendliness. Because of this, online learning was set up in a matter of a few short days for our children. If students did not have devices to learn on, they could simply go to the school and get one for free. If there were students who depended on school lunch, they could go to the school and continue to get their lunch, and now dinner as well. These are amazing offerings to our diverse community and to have them at the ready- is something to be really grateful for.

So….homeschooling. I have learned I’m not patient when it comes to my first grader arguing with me about whether or not to do his work. I’m not calm when he begins his writing assignment by using the whole page to write the first word of his story – just to push my buttons. And I’m certainly not even-tempered when my boys start to bicker for the umpteenth time of the day, while I’m on a client call quickly pressing the mute button to run upstairs and reprimand them. Homeschooling while working is a challenge. Homeschooling and trying to refrain from screaming while doing so is an even bigger one.

I’m thinking about the void that’s been left in place of my kids’ activities. No Variety Show, no school play, possibly no 5th grade graduation. This year is my sons’ last time being in the same school at the same time. My heart breaks even more for all the kids in general, especially Seniors in high school. These are memories that have evaporated before they could exist. Let’s hope they can be rescheduled somehow, some way at a later date. One can hope!

My 10 year old said to me the other day that it’s been nice spending all this time together. This was a ray of light in my day, obviously. This was one of the good moments I am definitely putting in my back pocket. It was at the end of a day where my patience had run razor thin multiple times and I had thought “There’s no way they’ll think back on this time and remember anything pleasant. Maybe they’ll only remember me yelling.” I guess all the walks, board games, and karaoke is outweighing the arguing. Again, trying to be hopeful here.

My 7 year old says he hates being homeschooled. He hates a lot of things right now. We happen to not use the word “hate” in our house, but I’m trying to be a supportive mom and allow him to feel all the feels he wants and if he wants to hate everything right now, it’s fine by me. Let that anger out my little dude. We’re all feeling a wide array of emotions, who am I to stifle his? At the same time, he’s hugging me about 100 times a day and I’ll take gladly take it. Like I mentioned, all of our emotions are all over the place. It’s a pretty consistent theme.

The Absence of Medical Care

My husband is a chiropractor, he’s seeing much fewer patients of course, but of the ones he’s seeing, they are very open in their gratitude. They’ve mentioned they don’t have anywhere to go to get treated. Some have gone to the ER only to be turned away. Other doctor’s offices have closed that they see regularly for pain management. This reminded me of what the Red Cross attendant said as she prepped my paperwork prior to my blood being drawn. She said: there is no pause button for pain, suffering, and disease during a pandemic.

For this I’m thankful my husband can provide a service to others that offers pain relief during a time when they have little to no options in terms of where to go for care.

Travel and Celebrations

I traveled to my cousin’s wedding in Alabama on February 29th and flew back the next day on March 1st. He and his wife must feel as though they’ve dodged a bullet, because just days later is when this took off into an unknown of epic proportions. It’s surreal to think of all the weddings, proms, births, birthday parties, and celebrations in general this pandemic has impacted and just how fast everything changed.

On March 13th, my sister and her boyfriend got engaged. I was over the moon for them. I was also scheduled to meet her man for the first time the following weekend. My flight was booked and I was stoked. That meeting, of course did not happen. With everything going on, we don’t know when we’ll get to meet. But it’s one of the many things I am looking forward to when isolation rules are lifted!

It also made me realize it will be a year in May since I’ve seen my sister and 10 months since I’ve seen my mother. This means my kids have not seen their Aunt and Grandmother in way too long and is a stark reminder why we shouldn’t have too much time pass before we see loved ones who live far.

The Idea of A Loved One Dying Alone

If someone I love does get COVID-19 and becomes gravely ill, I’ve thought a lot about what I will do. I would fly or drive out to be with them during their last days. It would be traumatizing and haunt me for life if I did not do this. If it boils down to a walkie talkie so be it. They won’t be alone if I can help it.

For me personally, I firmly believe that is the worst part of this pandemic. The unbearable reality of being alone while taking your last breaths. Words left unsaid, hands left unclutched, leaving this world in lonely silence. It is why it is so important to call, text, and reach out now, while we are still able, while the people we care for are still here.

The Bright Spot

I convinced my husband (after three years of begging) to build the kids a treehouse! This is SO exciting. I was able to do so by telling him that I would just go ahead and build it. Who knew the idea of my trying to use a circular saw would have that effect? My kids are so happy, and we all have something to look forward to in the short term.

These are my many observations 3 weeks into the madness of this pandemic here in the U.S. I hope you all stay healthy, find small things throughout isolation to help you stay sane, and you feel a sense of togetherness while we are separated. Keep living, continue connecting with others in ways that are safe, and remember, this too shall pass.

When Your Child Discovers The Big Lie

Standing in the toy aisle in Kohl’s and concentrating on which item to buy for a friend’s son’s birthday, I hesitated before asking my son to repeat what he had just said.

“Can you repeat what you just said, but can you whisper it to me?” If it was what I thought it was, I didn’t want his 5 year old brother to overhear.

“I know that Santa’s not real, Mom.”

The color likely drained from my face as it was probably the last thing I was expecting him to say at that moment, but it was, in fact, what I thought he had just said.

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“Ok, if you want to have this discussion, it has to be in private, with both me and your father. It needs to be away from your brother.”

“Oh! So you’re saying he isn’t then? I knew it!” His voice getting more shrill with each word.

“I said let’s talk about this later. Now is not the time.”

Thankfully, he forgot about it.

Two weeks later, after walking in the door from school, he reminded me that he wanted to have that talk. He said he knew about Santa and the Tooth Fairy because he had set up his iPad to video us sneaking around.

“That’s bologna.” I said. He smiled and admitted to fibbing.

“Well, I know they’re not real because you say you will tell Santa if we are misbehaving. That made me realize you’re lying. How could you tell Santa? It’s not like you have his phone number. What you think you can fool me by saying you’ll just dial him up? Or email him! It’s lies!”

“We’ll talk about it at bedtime.” I silenced him for the moment.

At bedtime, his father and I sat down and told him in so many words that he was right. Santa, the Tooth Fairy, and the Easter Bunny were pretend magical stories to make the holidays and losing teeth more fun and special for children. It was a lie coming from a good place (uh, confusing), and he would understand one day and do the same for his children.

Anger was the emotion that seemed to settle right in when we confirmed the bad news. He got emotional and went on to say he was hurt and surprised we had lied to him for 8 years. Then my husband corrected him and said, “Well, actually 9. We lied for 9.” Thank you, husband.

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He pushed us away when we tried to hug him. We didn’t “deserve” hugs. We were horrible parents. He was sulking like an irritated teenager. Then he asked about Elf on the Shelf which we only started doing these last two Christmases. He seemed more upset about the Elf for some reason. We gave him the ol’ “you can help keep the magic going and be part of it for your brother now…” spiel and it simply ignited more upsetment.

“How can you ask me to LIE to my own BROTHER? What kind of parents ARE you?” The drama was over the top. I wanted to laugh, but then I couldn’t, because he was so genuinely upset, the humorous vibe evaporated. We explained that he better not tell his brother or his friends.

The saga continued as he ran into our bedroom and grabbed his framed baby picture off of my nightstand and stared at it. I felt like we were in REM’s “Everybody Hurts” music video except it was, “J’s found out there’s no Santa.” This was like a made for TV moment.

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For the first time, we didn’t get a warm goodnight (he’s a lovey dovey kid), and we were sad about this phase being over. We shuffled back to the living room feeling a sort of grief only parents that have just gone through this experience can understand. It was the end of an era, which is sad for parents too. As your children go through different phases, some good and some bad, when the phases come to an end, there is a small sense of mourning. Not really for the bad phases though… adios to those!

We thought about any possible way to lift his spirits. Since our son had stayed home sick that day, we didn’t know if he had made drama club.The school had a lottery system in which they select children who are interested at random and there are a limited number of spots. My husband posted on the school’s parent group on Facebook to see if there was a way to find out and wa-la (thank you Facebook and the parent who got right back to us) we found out he had made it!

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We agreed to tell our son right away in hopes to cheer him up, but he was pretty stoic after we shared the good news. He wanted to crash in our bed for the night which he hasn’t done for years. He kept saying he didn’t know how he would fall asleep because this was the worst day of his life.

The next morning he was still thinking about it and said to his dad, ” So what’s up with the Santa tracker then?” It was obviously still on his mind. So much for hoping it would pass!

I guess with parenting, one never knows how much something will impact their child until it actually happens. My son clearly believed HARD in the magical things we told him about. For that I’m glad because those years were SO MUCH FUN. This was definitely a learning experience. The anger carried on the entire next day, but slowly it dissipated and we got him to agree not to tell his friends or his brother. I do believe we just witnessed his first major disappointment in life. Sure he’s had other let downs, but nothing to this degree. Of course there will be many more to come. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, it’s so interesting what we learn from parenting. It’s a front row seat to the growing changing of the human being you’ve created-physically, mentally, and emotionally. You can’t help but be riveted, worried, and grateful simultaneously during the whole experience. Hopefully, we can still get a few more years of Santa, the bunny, and the Tooth Fairy with our youngest!

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Second Chances- 2017 A Year in Review

Driving back from Bradley Airport in Connecticut was usually uneventful. This time I had dropped my sister off to catch her flight back to Chicago after her Christmas visit. My youngest son, then 3, was sitting in his car seat in the back. It was a cold, snowy, day and the roads were wet. I clenched the steering wheel, white knuckled, since my tires were ridiculously bald. Buying new tires has always been a pet peeve of mine-it is such an unfun, expensive thing to spend money on. I had been warned by my mechanic, my husband, and members of my husband’s family, that my tires were in desperate need of being replaced.

I pulled off to grab a quick bite with my little guy and returned a call to one of my co-workers before getting back on the highway. About 5 miles or so from my exit, I completely lost control of the car. My tires hydroplaned on what I assume was black ice, and my car fishtailed for a split second.  From there, we went into a complete spin. I saw faces of oncoming drivers, squeezed my eyes shut, and braced for an impact I was sure would end both of our lives. I believe we spun one and a half times because of the way the car ended up positioned. We were heading sideways into the guardrail. When I realized that miraculously no one had hit us, I frantically pressed the brake and the accelerator. Unfortunately,  my car would only coast. It was in some kind of neutral function and nothing seemed to work with the exception of the steering wheel. The car was coming to a very dangerous slow speed with cars flying around us -honking and flashing their lights. A man in a pick up truck next to me rolled down his window with a look of total exasperation and shouted, “Oh my God! Oh my God! Are you OK? Oh my God! Pull Over! Pull Over! Oh my God!”

I felt paralyzed. I started screaming and talking to myself and everything looked and felt blurry. Not sure if things can feel blurry, but that is the best description that comes to mind. We had just escaped certain death by 20 cars hitting us from every direction. It seemed improbable good luck would strike twice, and I was convinced we would now die going 25 mph on the packed highway in the snow with bald tires while I was going into shock-incapable of maneuvering a car.

Somehow, the car began to pick up speed little by little again and came out of the self inflicted neutral mode. An exit was coming up and I had to cross 3 lanes of traffic to get there. It felt like running the gauntlet in slow motion to get across those lanes. I made it across and parked the car at the bottom of the ramp. I cried for what felt like a really long time. I got out of the car and went in the backseat and hugged my son and cried harder. He stared at me, confused by my tears and unfazed by the whole experience (he had been asleep).

I called my husband to come get us.  Needless to say, new tires were bought the next day. Unfun and expensive new tires, that I will never miss a beat on buying ever again.

Ringing in the New Year felt surreal last year following this experience. No matter how I dissected that incident, it just didn’t seem possible my son and I should have lived given the circumstances.

For about a week after it happened I just kept wondering if we were spared for a reason. Was there something else we needed to do here on earth before leaving it? My thoughts were heavy with what if’s, why’s, and how’s. But there was something else that wouldn’t leave me-the thought that I was going to have to make some significant changes in 2017.

Given this second chance, it seemed whole-heartedly stupid to allow or partake in anything that brought me down or sapped my happiness. If life is already too short, and you got a second chance at it, you sure as hell aren’t going to muddle through the sludge anymore.

I said to myself that no matter what:  I would find a way to leave my miserable job,practice being more present with my family, dance more, write more, call friends more instead of texting them,continue my efforts in training my brain via meditation (still much work to do on this one), stop putting so much energy into fickle people who put in one tenth of the effort, hike more with my kids, give myself a break and realize some things can simply wait until tomorrow.

Now that 2017 is almost behind me, I can look back and say it was a year of much personal growth. Quitting the job did actually happen (thank you dear husband), little to no toxic people are in any of my circles (yay because that means my picker hasn’t been off). The people around me-they are there because they want to be, not because I chase them down and put in all the effort.

2017 was a year of reflection. If we don’t learn from our mistakes, from our inspirations, and from our past, then we are doomed. We are the opposite of self aware. We are eternally stuck. Reflection is ongoing and fluid and each year should always be a year of reflection in my opinion.

It wasn’t a perfect year by any stretch of the imagination, but it was a year of change, reflection, and growth. It was a year that in its final months gave the priceless gift of more time with my children. It was the first year I started actively slowing down and asking myself what kind of self care I engaged in that week. It was the first year of noticing the difference between what’s truly important versus what insignificant BS floods the mind. It was the year my husband showed up like a superhero in a cape and helped me not when it counted, but too many times to count (I’ll always wonder if he has any sense of the magnitude of my gratitude…that weirdly rhymed). And last but certainly not least,  it was the year I really started to pay attention.

“Pay Attention To What You are Paying Attention To.” – Howard Rheingold

AFTERTHOUGHT

Hopefully all of you reading this drive safely this New Year’s Eve and New Year. Play a game quickly after reading this and ask yourselves if you were to cease to exist tomorrow, what have you been paying the most attention to? How would you be remembered? Do your friends and family know you love them? Are you doing right by yourself and taking care of yourself in the way you should? Are you putting your happiness on hold in hopes that good fortune will knock on your door one day and rain down upon you? Are you living or existing? Is the effort reciprocated in most, if not all of your friendships? After answering these questions, will you change your perspective going into 2018? Food for thought.

Happy New Year everyone!

 

Embarking On The Unknown; A Career Path

At the age of 16 or 17 most kids have to start thinking about and actually decide what field they want to be in for work. This, of course, is the whole college selection journey that begins with picking a school, a minor, and a major. In the end the hope is obviously that a job will come along in said field. Some teenagers have a solid conviction of what they’ve always wanted to be, but it’s typical to be pretty clueless. It’s only a decision that impacts the rest of your life, but you’ve been on the planet 16 years…so….you’ve got this.  You have to start to hone in on what you think you might like to do all day, while also getting paid a decent wage. Those things don’t necessarily go together, but nonetheless, at the wise age of 16 we dive into our best guess.

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My bedroom was painted royal blue. I had a thing for the color blue back then. The ceiling was smothered with Rolling Stone magazine covers end to end. I absolutely loved Mark Saliger’s photos. I poured over the Rolling Stone interviews imagining that someday I would be the author to many music legend interviews. I wondered what I wanted to do with my life and often stared up at my ceiling hoping I would some day end up at Rolling Stone. I decided that since writing was something I loved and I got good grades in that subject, I’d be best at a journalism. I also remember thinking that whatever I majored in, I’d have to make sure there was as little math involved as possible. Legitimately, that was a concern for me since math never was my strong suit.

I started out at community college due to finances. My dream had been to go to the University of Southern California, but I quickly realized that picking a college simply because I wanted to go there was a luxury that was not in the cards.  When I signed up for our local community college, I felt disenchanted. My dreams of moving away to Cali had been pushed aside. In my mind, I had big plans for myself. One year later, I ended up attending a university in Illinois about 4 hours from home.

One afternoon, I visited the placement office at community college to nail down a major. The office was filled with shelves of books about every possible occupation under the sun. I went and thumbed through a couple, finally settling in on Public Relations Specialist. 

I read the description over and over and looked at the average salary of $70,000 a year.

“Wow, that is SO much money.” The wheels were in serious motion in my head, “I’ll be rich!” I was sure I was going to be poppin’ bottles with P. Diddy and J. Lo. The words in job description bounced up and down on the page with excitement right at me. Media, Radio, Television, Writing, Celebrity, Top Executives, Relationships, Communication. Whatever this job description was selling, I was buying with all of the tip money in my pocket.  It all sounded so glamourous! $70K to my 18 year old self also sounded like a million dollars, ah, how things change…but I digress.

It listed the majors and minors  for this type of role. And guess what? There was hardly any math involved.  I signed up to major in journalism with a minor in marketing. I felt my planning was thorough since I had a plan A and a plan B. Plan A would be to try to become a writer for Rolling Stone, while plan B would be the PR Specialist gig that had dazzled me dizzy. I knew I would minor in marketing because it had been my father’s major and he had turned out successful, so why not? That was the amount of thought I put into my minor.  I chose it blindly with a whole lot of gusto.

Basically that describes my entire decision making process- from start to finish.

I loved my classes, there was just one smidgeon of a problem. While in my journalism class we were writing about Princess Diana’s death that had been all over the news. The professor went on at length about the long hours journalists put in, the sometimes life or death situations,  and the right and wrong decisions they’d have to make in certain circumstances (case in point with Diana). I was riveted and wondered if my job at Rolling Stone would be that way. I committed in my mind to do whatever it took. But it was something else he said that changed my course right then and there-literally.

“Who in this class loves writing?” He had a deep voice that carried out of the class and into the hallway.

“OK, now who in this class wants to make money in this profession?” His wry smile curled.

This next part I am paraphrasing; I cannot remember his exact words.

“Those who kept your hands up for the second question need to change your majors right now. You will be poor as a journalist. This is a fact unless you strike gold somehow. I will spell it out for you folks- you will barely make enough money to live and you will work like a dog. You have to live, breathe, and die by writing, accepting that you will likely not make much money.”

I changed my major that following week. I had watched my mom work her butt off and struggle as a hairdresser ever since her and my Dad divorced. In addition to that, my Dad had dropped a scary amount of weight when the real estate market took a nose dive in the mid eighties. For many months,  when we’d stay at his condo,  we’d have fish sticks with ketchup for dinner during that ailing time in his career. I didn’t want to live on fish sticks if I had anything to do about it. Money struggles legitimately scared me, and I would need to pick something that was more reliable. So I said goodbye to my dream of writing. I chose to major in Communications and Human Relations, which I was still pretty happy with.

In the end, I feel fortunate. I ended up picking a major that was right for me and has served me well since it lends itself to many career paths (and there was no math).

If I could change one thing, it would likely have been my minor in marketing. I think I should have minored in English Lit or something else specific to writing. Then again, maybe without that emphasis in marketing I wouldn’t have had the pleasure of working for one of the best marketing firms around. It was an incredibly fun learning experience  and was chock full of good people and amazing volunteer opportunities. I do wonder if I didn’t have that minor of marketing on my resume, would I have gotten that job? I remember the head hunter setting me up for the interview (as a temporary receptionist) and mentioning it was good that I had that on my resume. I did end up getting asked to interview for an Executive Assistant role there while temping, which then lead me to an Account Executive role and later a Sr. Account Executive position.  I guess you never know where your path will lead you!

Along the course of different positions I’ve had over the years at various companies, I can say that I’ve pinned down what I dislike: spreadsheets and data entry. Does anyone like this? If you do, bless your heart. I’ve also come to know what I’m not so good at; being analytical. A double whammy of things I loathe was putting analytical data into spreadsheets. It makes my skin crawl just thinking about it. It felt like I was dying a slow death. Now imagine putting data into a system that was 14 years old that crashed all the time. OK,  I’ll stop now. I can already tell you feel my pain.

What have I learned that I am sharing with you? Ask your teenagers what they like to do, what they could do for years to come without tiring of it, what their weaknesses are, and what they know they despise doing.  It’s impossible for them to narrow it down perfectly since they haven’t had enough life experience or job experience yet, but I do believe it will still help.

If you’ve been out of school now for quite sometime and are looking to overhaul your professional life like I just did-ask yourself those same questions. Realistically, if you’re like me and have a family to support, there will be different variables to weigh in your decision making process.

I’m going to be forty in a year and a half. In my opinion, it took me way too long to figure out the things I should have run the opposite direction from job wise. Lean into your strengths even if it means you won’t get a handsome financial reward. Sure I’ve had to compromise and downsize a bit, but there’s no price tag on happy.

When I think back to what my professor said that day, I wonder if I hadn’t listened to it how things would be different. It’s not a feeling of regret at all, it’s just curiosity. It’s apparent that the writing landscape has definitely changed.  After the 19 years of job and life experience I’ve had since that day, I’ve learned that there are many different options.

It  helps to look into your options, think about them, ask people about their professions, etc. You can still do the things you enjoy without being paid for them.  I am able to be a writer today just for fun.  The fact that writing, people, and creativity are actively part of my life makes me feel richer than ever, even if in the dollar sense that’s not the case.

“The greatest wealth is to live content with little, for there is never want where the mind is satisfied.”- Lucretius