What sound does a Scarlet Virago make? Snarky ones.

 

My daughter graduated high school in 2015, college earlier this year. Her peers that attend 4 year colleges are entering their junior year and are now, on average, $30,000 in debt. That number will continue to increase at the same rate or faster over the next two years. My daughter has zero debt and supports herself with her first entry level position.
Do I sound a little snarky? Yes, yes I do. I received a LOT of criticism for encouraging her to obtain a professional certificate over a bachelor’s degree. A LOT. And it takes nothing away from those kids getting their bachelor’s to point out that she is already living and working in the adult world, accumulating skills for her next goal and beholden to NO loan holders. She can start building her credit from 0, rather than -30,000.
Are there kids out there trying to accomplish their dreams? Absolutely, and I wish them the best fortune possible. Are they, along with their less ambitious but no less educated peers, going to be in fierce competition for a level of employment that can’t accommodate them all? Also yes. Are a ridiculous number of them going to be working two or three entry-level jobs (that require no degree) at the same time just so they can make payments on their student loans? Also yes.
I am so sick of this pervasive and pernicious idea that dreams are ALL that matter. That one’s personal happiness rests entirely on the idea that they ONLY do what they love. I love to eat, and sleep under a roof. And not spend my days stressing about my credit score and how I’m going to pay for an emergency medical expense. There is more than one way to accomplish one’s dreams, and the idea that mortgaging your soul to a bank, or risking a basic standard of living to achieve them is… well, it’s just foolish and naive and downright harmful in some instances.
Not to mention the fact that my life fell apart in such a way that I would not have been able to help my kid in any way if she’d needed it during or after her last two years at college. And given the number of college graduates living at home, she definitely would have needed it. At this point, she’s the one helping me, who doesn’t have a choice but to incur student debt to achieve the same basic level of education that she was able to get for free, because we utilized the resources available to us at the right time.
So yeah, I’m feeling a bit snarky. And ridiculously proud.
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I set myself a challenge.

I’ve been thinking about how my definition of difficult has changed.

I used to do difficult things because I felt I had no choice. In some instances I didn’t, and in others, I took one difficult choice because I was scared of the other. If there is a gift to be found in the last two years, it’s learning to recognize that.

Despite my effort and hard work, it’s looking more and more likely I won’t be accepted into the academic program I applied to.  I honestly believe it’s not me – I followed the application instructions scrupulously and my grades are exemplary. But it’s a highly competitive program and there are, on average, three times as many applicants every year as places. I set myself a very strict financial timeline – I don’t know why I did that. Part of it was just the old habit of setting impossibly high standards for myself, and believing if I couldn’t meet them then I was obviously not worthy of the reward. Which is so, so conceited of me. As though I’m in complete control of all the variables and I’m either perfect or worthless – nothing in between. Old voices, I guess. The other part was just being ignorant of how this process can play out. I’ve never been a divorcee in my 40s with little education and no innate talent before.

But a brief survey on Facebook of potential career paths that would fit into my timeline proved to me that my first choice is actually my dream, inasmuch as I can be said to have a realistic one. I mean, obviously my dream is to hitch a small camper to my car, grab my dogs and my camera and take off to parts unknown. Perhaps then, it would be better to say that my “realistic dream” is really my goal, and I just so happened to choose one that is difficult to obtain.

I’m unused to assessing what is difficult but achievable, and what is impractical to the point of impossible. (See above statement about conceit and inexperience.) But part of the process of reordering my life is to be honest with myself about my ranking. I’m not stellar or exemplary at anything, but I am good. Certainly I’m good enough for the path I’ve chosen. And if the first pass doesn’t yield results, doesn’t my devotion to myself, my future, deserve another try?

So maybe this is my new difficult. Trying again. All-or-nothing thinking has been a part of my life since infancy. Both nature and nurture conspired against me in that department. And sadly, my life up to this point always felt like it was balanced on a knife’s edge of precariousness, with no room for second chances. In all honesty, sometimes it really was. Single parenthood leaves little room for mistakes, and the one time I entered into a relationship with no back door was the one time I really needed it. But here I am now, with no one but myself to answer to and my life is less on a knife’s edge and more on a curb. A fall off a curb at my age could hurt me for a long time, but it won’t slice me and everything I love to ribbons.

Saying “a dream deferred” is so pretentious, but “a goal delayed” feels too mundane for the risk I’m taking. I’m old enough to recognize what a slog the year of delay will feel like – I know there’s no exciting plot twist waiting for me there. But that’s not the difficult part. The difficult part is keeping my chin up, remembering that I am good enough, and not to let a lifetime of combined conceit and worthlessness throw me off my path. It’s a different kind of difficult.