May 21, 2009

Twenty Somethings in the News: Too many choices?

I can do anything, so how do I choose?

Newsweek has a great article up, written by Jenny Norenberg, about all the options young people have these days over career, location, relationships. Norenberg both appreciates the options she's been given and sees how they can be overwhelming at times. She also talks about her mother, who had fewer options (getting married after college was the expectation, if not the rule) but greater stability. Here's an excerpt from this excellent piece:

Since graduation, we've struggled to make our own happiness. It seems that having so many choices has sometimes overwhelmed us. In the seven years since I left home for college, I've had 13 addresses and lived in six cities. How can I stay with one person, at one job, in one city, when I have the world at my fingertips?

[...]

The more choices you have, the more decisions you must make—and the more you have yourself to blame if you wind up unhappy. There is a kind of perverted contentedness in certainty born of a lack of alternatives. At my age, my mother, whether she liked it or not, had fewer tough decisions to make. I don't envy the pressure she endured to follow a traditional career path and marry early. But sometimes I envy the stability she had.

Once again I've been unable to resist the lure of a new city. So, as I start my legal career in Chicago, I'm again building friendships from scratch, learning my way around a strange new place. Yes, my friends and I could have avoided the loneliness and uncertainty inherent in our journeys, and gone back to our hometowns or stayed in the college town where we had each other. But I doubt any one of us would trade our adventures for that life. I have a sense of identity and self-assurance now that I didn't have, couldn't have had, when I graduated from college. And I know someday I'll look back on this time--before I had a spouse, a home and children to care for--and be thankful for the years that just belonged to me.

I feel much the same about my life. I've lived in a lot of places, done a lot of different things. And there are always more options waiting just around the bend! It can make it hard to see where to go next, what to do next. While it hasn't always been perfect, while I haven't always been happy, I love that I have been able to experience these things. I know it's something I will be able to appreciate later.

What do you think? Do you think we have too many choices at the risk of building stable homes, families and lives...or do you think our lives are richer for the experiences we get to have that our parents didn't? Do you ever wish you had fewer choices?

Thanks, Well-Heeled!

To grad school or not to grad school

grad school: not all it's cracked up to be

Globe Campus: Should you go to grad school?

I know a lot of you new graduates are considering grad school as an alternative to getting a job, largely because the economy stinks right now and getting a job seems almost impossible. I get it. Grad school sounds like a fantastic alternative. You'll gain more education, which is usually appealing to employers, and you'll get to live on student loans or a stipend from the school for a few years, which solves your immediately cash flow problem. And, let's face it, 2-3 more years in college sounds like 2-3 more years of something you're already comfortable doing. What's not to like about the idea of going to grad school?

Christina Varga at Globe Campus has a great write-up about the choice to go back to grad school or not. In a lot of ways, she really nails the practical advice against going to grad school. Unless you're going into a program specifically related to your career, and that clearly will boost your preparedness for your career, your grad school experience probably isn't going to be as appealing to a future employer as you think. More importantly, there are other, likely better ways of getting experience/education that don't involve a graduate education.

From the standpoint of marketing yourself to employers and creating a personal brand, this is fantastic advice and a fantastic column. However, I think there are other areas to be discussed, other than potential career impact, that should be a pretty serious factor in whether or not you choose to go to grad school. As a person who did a master's degree right out of undergrad, I know I had a lot of misconceptions going in about what grad school would be like, how I would fit in with graduate school culture, and how I would perform, and those misconceptions absolutely influenced me in my decision to go to grad school. Some of the things you should be thinking about are: what grad school will actually be like, what is the emotional/health impact of grad school, and what is the financial impact of grad school (both in the short- and long-term.)

The first thing you need to know about grad school is this: getting a graduate degree is nothing like getting an undergraduate degree. The work load is heavier, the expectations are higher, and the intensity of graduate level work often makes what you did as an undergraduate look like the stuff of preschoolers. Even staying within the same program at the same school, I had a hard time adjusting to the new work load and to the higher calibre of work and participation that was expected of me.

Unless you really love what you are doing in grad school, it will be a struggle. I almost quit my program after the first semester because the professor I was supposed to work with left, and there was no one in my department working on anything similar to what I was working on. That meant I spent a lot of time in classes I wasn't interested in, writing papers on topics I didn't care about. The work was rigorous and very demanding, and if you don't enjoy doing it, grad school will suck the life out of you. I say this quite literally. By the end of my first term of grad school, I had dropped 30 lbs. (and I wasn't a big girl), and by the end of my second term, I developed a case of mono that I didn't fully recover from until I graduated a year-and-a-half later. Grad school is tough, mentally and physically. Do not underestimate it.

Beyond that, grad school is expensive. If you are considering grad school, I highly recommend you look for programs that offer stipends for grad students who work as associate instructors, TA's or research assistants, although it's worth noting that often even those do not pay very well. If you do not get some sort of stipend from the school, you are at the mercy of financial aid. While federal student loans will give you up to $20K/yr.-ish (if you attend summers, too), and I'm sure you can rack up some private loans if you go to a more expensive institution, you are still typically left living at about poverty level for the duration of your graduate program. And don't forget! You'll spend many years after graduating paying the government back for the "convenience" of living on top ramen during your grad school years. We're talking hundreds of dollars out of a paycheck that, even post-grad school, might not be that much, every single month for years on end. Oh, yeah. And good luck getting health insurance.

Unless you feel your career will give you the means to take care of the student loans, I would suggest you seriously reconsider going into any program that doesn't offer a hefty stipend, of some form, for its grad students. And be prepared, regardless, to spend a couple of years being very, very poor.

Not all of graduate school was bad, obviously. I have a greater sense of accomplishment about writing my thesis than I do about pretty much anything else I've ever done in my life. Who cares if no one except my thesis advisor and second reader ever read it? It is still an immense source of personal pride. It will likely never get me a job, but there is always something to be said about doing something for yourself, rather than to achieve an end. I can also thank grad school for my current perspective on the world, for a stronger sense of self, for a greater degree of confidence in my abilities, and of course, greater maturity. Grad school was my trial by fire, and I think I came out on the other end a better person because of it. It didn't make me more employable. It didn't ensure I got a better salary when I did join the workforce. But...I did something I truly loved, and from that perspective, grad school had (and still has) immense value to me.

It's something every person has to work out for themselves, but my advice for anyone considering grad school is this: if you really love something, if you are genuinely interested in building your knowledge and changing how you think about things, and you are willing to sacrifice your finances, your health, and your sanity to pursue that path...absolutely, 100% do it. The future be damned. However, if you're doing this because it seems like a good way to avoid struggling for a few months with unemployment, if you think grad school is going to be the path to higher pay when you do decide to enter the workforce, if you are doing this for any other reason than you are completely ecstatic about the program you are going into, you should really reconsider. And by reconsider, I mean don't consider grad school at all.

In the middle of my graduate program, I came across this article entitled, "So you want to go to grad school." There was a section in it that struck me as particularly poignant at the time, and even now, pretty much sums up my memory of graduate school:

Be wary of people who claim that grad school is a 'wonderful' experience, a means of acquiring the polish of culture--a kind of 'grand tour'--before entering the 'real' world. Professionalism obligates people to speak positively about their alma mater in public. Grad school is not all fun and personal enrichment for many people. It can involve poverty-level wages, uncertain employment conditions, contradictory demands by supervisors, irrelevant research projects, and disrespectful treatment by both the tenured faculty members and the undergraduates (both of whom behave, all too often, as management and customers.) Grad school is a confidence-killing daily assault of petty degradations. All of this is compounded by the fear that it is all for nothing; that you are a useful fool.

In short, grad school is not for the faint of heart. Think seriously on whether it's something you really want for yourself before you make the decision to go.

May 20, 2009

I don't wanna work. I just wanna bang on the keyboard all day.

I'd rather be on the internet

When I first went off to college, I had some fairly serious procrastination issues. If I had a paper or presentation coming due soon, my routine became something like this:

  1. Open Microsoft Word or PowerPoint, my books and notes. Stare at the screen for a few seconds.
  2. Open Firefox.
  3. Check e-mail.
  4. Check my favorite blogs/websites.
  5. Click back to Word/PowerPoint and stare at the blank page for a few seconds. Get discouraged.
  6. Check e-mail.
  7. Check my favorite blogs/websites (again, even if I knew they wouldn't have been updated in the last 10 minutes.)
  8. Run a random google search on something I just thought of...completely unrelated to paper/presentation.
  9. Click back to Word/PowerPoint and stare blankly at the screen.
Lather, rinse, repeat.

Basically, I could do this until, oh, about 8 hours before my paper was due (usually in the middle of the night), at which point I would stay up all night to crank out what often ended up being an A paper, thanks to the effortless genius that comes with sleep-deprived delirium...or TA's who had too many papers to grade to really pay attention to the fact that I couldn't put together complete sentences half the time. Whichever.

Needless to say, I had a bad case of procrastination, one that I didn't cure myself of until I started grad school and realized that 25-page papers wouldn't write themselves in a night. And that the professors actually paid attention to what I wrote in my papers now.

LiveScience says that 15-20% of people are chronic procrastinators, and 90% of college students procrastinate. That means there are a lot of us sitting around procrastinating at any given time, on any given day. And there are a lot of reasons why people procrastinate. Sometimes we procrastinate because we feel overwhelmed. Sometimes we procrastinate because we feel we don't know enough to complete a project, or we think failure is inevitable. Sometimes we even procrastinate because we feel guilty about procrastinating, and so we keep procrastinating in order to avoid dealing with our guilt. Sometimes we procrastinate because we just don't want to do the work: we aren't invested in it, we don't care about it, it really doesn't matter to us if it gets done or not. Then, of course, there are the people who have procrastinated so often, it's become a part of their every day work process—a habit.

Regardless of why we procrastinate, it's a behavior that drains us of energy, increases stress, and, in the end, usually just means we rush to get everything done and end up not doing any of it very well.

So what do you do to overcome procrastination?

In college, I became a huge fan of to do lists. I would write down everything that needed to get done, when I needed to be finished with it, and tackle the list as quickly as possible. For some reason, seeing all those items crossed off the list made me feel like I had accomplished something, which gave me a boost of confidence to go after checking off even more items on the list. Of course, sometimes I would use writing to do lists as a way of procrastinating, too, so this wasn't always a useful strategy. But on the whole, it helped keep me focused, helped me to make sure I met all deadlines, and definitely gave me something to feel happy about at the end of the day—a feeling procrastination can rob you of completely.

Another thing I did to crush procrastination was break down larger tasks into smaller ones. Because I would sometimes procrastinate because I became so overwhelmed by the amount of work I needed to do (especially in grad school!), it really helped to break up the work into smaller, more manageable pieces. All those 25-page papers were broken down into 5-page increments over a span of 5 days, and I'd give myself an extra day or two to proofread and make edits. A 25-page paper might make my brain fizzle out just thinking about it, but a 5-page paper was kid's stuff. This strategy was crucial when I was cranking out my 130-page master's thesis.

One of the biggest reasons why I procrastinated in college, though, was that I am a complete perfectionist. I like things to be perfect, and I like my product to be, well, better than everyone else's. A couple of days ago, I talked about how failure, or even the prospect of failure, can really get me down. So as you can imagine, if I thought I was going to fail to meet my expectations, or anyone else's, I would get discouraged and not even try. I think that's why waiting until the night before to do my work tended to be my strategy as an undergrad: I was too tired to care whether or not the work was perfect.

In grad school, I had to learn to let go of my desire to be perfect, to be the best. Sometimes, I had to settle for doing work that was just okay. There were not enough hours in the day to be the best at everything, and sometimes, if it was a project I wasn't as interested in or didn't see inherent value in, it just wasn't worth beating myself up over. I think this is what really helped me overcome my procrastination problem in college. Giving myself more realistic expectations meant that expectations were easier to meet, and I was more likely to try to meet them.

Now that I'm in the workforce, I still sometimes have problems with procrastination, particularly if it's a project or task I don't want to work on at all. It's almost like a subconscious passive-aggressive behavior: I don't like this project, so I'll do (or won't do) whatever I can to make sure it doesn't go well. However, even with this kind of mental block going on, there are still ways I can trick myself into doing the work. I give myself short-term rewards. If I do this, I can browse the internet for 15 minutes. If I finish this, I can get a soda from the vending machines. For some of the truly mind-numbing tasks I have at work (and let's face it, we all have them), I think giving myself short-term rewards is the only way I manage to get any of them done without losing my sanity.

And when all else fails, I remind myself of something Kellen's mom (a psychologist) told him back when we were both in college: "The best way to get motivated is to get started." Truer words were never spoken. If I can't find some way to trick myself into doing the work, I just tell myself I will get started on it, and the motivation usually comes shortly thereafter.

Whatever the reasons you procrastinate, one of the best things you can do to overcome procrastination is to do what I've been doing here: identify why you procrastinate. If you know why you procrastinate, you can take steps to overcome those barriers to being more productive. Whether it's lack of confidence, lack of passion, or lack of motivation, there are many steps you can take to leave your desire to put off until tomorrow in the dust.

And you should really get started on this, you know, today. ;)

May 19, 2009

Five things you might not know about me:

Because I don't really write much about my past or background, I thought it would be good just to give a basic (very basic) history of myself in the form of a handy, dandy list.

  1. At heart, I'm a small town Texas girl. I grew up in a small town in Northeast Texas with a population of about 1,000 people. My graduating class had 29 people in it.
  2. I went to the University of Texas. I completed my B.S. in radio-television-film in 2005 and my M.A. in the same department in 2007.
  3. I love Bollywood. In fact, I love it so much, I did my graduate work in Hindi cinema, in tandem with cultural identity, immigration, and youth culture.
  4. I have a younger brother. His name is Ben. He's in the air force and is currently stationed in Monterey, CA.
  5. I used to be a flight attendant. I worked for Northwest Airlines, very briefly. I loved the job and get wistful every time I see a plane flying overhead. But then I very quickly get appreciative of my current job when I can buy groceries!

May 18, 2009

Great Expectations (and what to do when you fail to meet them)

When it comes to setting the bar, I've always set my personal bar a little higher than anyone else ever has for me. I expect more of myself, I push myself further, and generally speaking, I punish myself much more when I fail. Like anyone, I've failed quite a bit in my life. Sometimes I've turned this into something positive. For instance, making a C on a paper in college meant redoubling studying efforts and pulling out an A for the semester. At work, I'm reinventing my professional persona so I come off as more people-friendly, after being critiqued as being "too shy" for a promotion.

Often, though, personal disappointment turns into apathy, and apathy turns into stagnation. Even though I know I could have easily achieved some of my goals if I worked a little harder—and some I know were completely beyond my control—I begin to build up this complex in my head when I fail. I think, "I won't ever accomplish this, I can't accomplish this, and so why should I ever even try to accomplish this?"

It's a horrible, horrible approach to take toward anything, one that is self-defeating, negative and ultimately crushes all ambition, motivation, desire, and self-confidence. It's one of those things about myself that I despise, and it becomes added to the list of ways I've disappointed myself. And as with many of my other failings, every time I begin to tackle it, I get discouraged at failure and give up all over again.

It's a frustrating cycle, one I'm not proud of and am certainly not condoning. What I'm interested in now is trying to find a way to break out of this downward spiral into burn-out-ville.

I think one of my biggest problems is that I lack direction. I have many goals, but they are all over the place and for the most part, only vague ideals. Whether we are talking about professional goals or personal goals, a lot of times I just feel lost. While I have a lot of good ideas set out, I feel like I have overwhelmed myself with too many expectations and haven't given myself a realistic way of achieving any of them. I consider this my own personal quarter-life crisis: there are so many things I want to do, only so much time/resources with which to achieve any of them, and in my haste to be everything at once, I've sort of failed to do any of them at all. I've been trying to eat the whole chicken, when I should have been focusing on finishing just the thighs or just the legs first.

So, one of the first things I want to do is to pare down my goals to two or three reasonable things that I can achieve easily. This includes looking at my long-term goals, deciding which are most important, and figuring out incremental ways to get started on those long-term goals. Really, the two things I want to do most in the next few years are starting my own business and writing a book. These are goals I've had for a long time now, and are goals which I think will add the most happiness to my life. More importantly, they are goals I can break down into smaller parts and start whittling away at them a little at a time.

For now:

Starting my own business: Develop graphic design skills. Take photoshop/illustrator classes/tutorials. I will never become a top-notch designer if my design skills aren't stronger.

Writing a book: I have an outline. Start fleshing it out!

I hope that by breaking down my long-term goals a little and giving myself reasonable expectations (rather than expecting to conquer the world in a matter of months!) I will have fewer moments of overwhelming disappointment...and hopefully will get a lot more accomplished.

May 17, 2009

The light at the end of the long-distance relationship tunnel

long-distance relationshipI've been in a long-distance relationship for a little over a year-and-a-half now. My boyfriend has been in school at Oregon State since we started dating. I have lived in Minnesota, Washington, and Portland, respectively, since we started dating. We lived together for six months while Kellen was doing an internship in Portland, but apart from that, it's been a lot of phone calls and long drives and lonely, lonely nights.

The funny thing is, when Kellen and I first started dating (around 3 years ago when we both were living in Texas), Kellen was dead set against the whole long-distance thing. In fact, it's 99% of the reason why we broke up back then. I can't say I really blamed him at the time. Long-distance relationships (LDRs) require a lot of the people in them. In addition to the fact that you don't see each other every day (or even every week or every month, as the case sometimes is) and your relationship is forced to subsist on phone calls, texts and e-mails alone, it is almost impossible to have a successful long-distance relationship without substantive long-term goals, absolute trust, strong communication, and a lot of patience.

In LDRs, you must make your relationship a priority. Every conversation, every visit, almost any interaction requires scheduling, maneuvering, and making choices. If you've promised to call at 9 o'clock, you can't bail out just because your friends asked you to go out with them at 8:50, even if you've passed up the last five outings to stay home and talk on the phone. If your SO is coming up for the weekend, you might have to cram to get all of your work done before they arrive, so you don't spend time they've set aside to be with you doing other things. And then there's juggling work schedules, class schedules, and times in your phone plan when you can call for free while living two time zones apart and trying to get a full night's sleep at least some of the time and/or having a conversation where one of you isn't half-asleep already.

Beyond that, LDRs can be expensive. I was lucky in that when Kellen and I first started doing the LDR thing, I was a flight attendant. So while I lived 2,000 miles away in Minnesota, it was free for me to fly from Minnesota to Oregon, and I could fly pretty regularly (about once a month, schedule permitting) to see him. Still, Kellen had to pay for gas to drive up to Portland, and sometimes if I only had a day to spend with him, one of us had to pay for hotel. And even now, every weekend we pay the gas bill to drive a cumulative 200 miles back and forth between each other's houses. We're not even talking about the times when we went way over our cell phone minutes and ended up paying a couple hundred extra bucks to the phone company at the end of the month.

To be completely honest, long-distance isn't something I'd recommend for any couple. If there's a way to avoid it, by all means, do that instead. The thing that really kept Kellen and I together through the whole thing, I think at least, is the focus on the reward at the end. We have both known, for some time now, that we want to spend the rest of our lives together. Knowing that a couple of years of hassle would be worth decades of happiness together made it easier to say no to friends who asked us to go out when we couldn't, to pay for yet another plane ticket or another tank of gas, to spend a lot of time alone when other people our age were out with girlfriends and boyfriends and really living it up.

In some ways, being in an LDR means putting at least part of your life on hold. You spend a lot of time waiting. Unless you have something truly wonderful to look forward to at the end of that waiting period, or unless you are unbelievably patient, your LDR is probably not going to work out.

Fortunately for me, the end of the waiting period is getting very close. This weekend I'm going out of town to see my parents. The next weekend Kellen will be studying for finals. And then the weekend after that, he will finally be back in Portland with me for the first time in 9 months. I am so excited to have the opportunity to wake up beside him every morning, eat dinner with him every night, and be a normal couple for a while. I know it will be well worth the wait. I'm just so tired of waiting. Even three weeks seems like way too long to be apart!

If I had any advice to those who are in a long-distance relationship, or who are considering going into one (I know a lot of people are graduating right now, and graduations tend to spawn a lot of LDRs), it is to set goals for your relationship, make your relationship your first priority, and be clear with your partner about both of these things. Communication will be critical throughout the relationship. Patience and trust will be critical throughout. But honestly, if you don't have your priorities straight, if you don't have something concrete to work toward, you really should reconsider whether your relationship is worth holding on to, because an LDR will break your relationship faster than you can say, "But I love talking on the phone." (Trust me, you won't for long!) If it is worth holding onto, though, keep your eye on the prize, and best of luck!

May 14, 2009

Getting noticed at work

So recently I interviewed at my own company for a promotion. While I think I did well in the interview overall, one of the areas where my supervisors hinted that I would need more work before I could be seriously considered for a leadership position is my visibility on the team. A couple of days before the interview, my direct supervisor brought up the same issue. He said that I seemed too quiet for the role and wondered how I would be able to handle managing a team.
I won't lie. I was a little surprised by the critique. While I know I'm an introvert, and on a personal level I can be shy sometimes, in all my previous positions I have had to be a strong communicator, personable and up-front. After all, my last job was being a flight attendant. But I've also worked as an RA in the dorms, as an Orientation Advisor for the University of Texas' super-massive new student orientation program (which my year saw nearly 10,000 new students in the course of a summer), and a whole host of other customer service positions. And at my last web developing job as a student developer at UT, within a year I had quickly been picked out as a leader among my coworkers and was quietly being positioned by management to take on a full-time role and possibly take over the entire team of student developers that I was a part of. This is the first time I've ever received the criticism that I fail to stand out among my colleagues, and more specifically that I fail to stand out as a leader and a strong voice, in a professional setting.
Since the interview, I've felt pretty disappointed in myself and have been trying to figure out some new ways to improve my visibility at work. The first thing I did was to try to understand why I had failed in this area where previously I have always been successful. One of the ways my current job differs completely from all the previous jobs I've had is that, whereas at my old positions team work, communication and visibility were almost unavoidable, at my current job I really have to go out of my way to get to know my co-workers. If I'm not careful, I can easily go a whole week without speaking (or even seeing) any of my co-workers, outside of the handful I work with directly and my cube mate. So while my introversion in previous positions was easily overcome because it had to be to get the job done, here there is nothing to keep my introversion in check. I need to be more conscious of the amount of time I spend in my cube and the amount of time I avoid (consciously or unconsciously) my co-workers.
Beyond that, though, I think I always assumed that high-quality work and strong performance would be enough to get me noticed. While this might be true with a smaller company or group, at my current company, I can do the best work in the world...but if no one knows my name, no one will know about the work I do at all. I know there are other people on my team whose names I don't know and whose work I am not familiar with. If I can be so in the dark about the work they do, I know they must be equally unaware of the work I do.
Now that I know my problem, what do I do next?
  1. Speak up. Contribute more in meetings. If there's a project I'm interested in, let the supervisors (all of them) know I am interested. Talk more with my other team members. Don't be shy about letting people know what I'm working on and what I would like to work on. Most importantly, when I do speak up, be sure that I am articulate, knowledgeable and professional.
  2. Get involved. Join special teams and projects. Lead a brown bag lunch session. Keep an eye out for growth opportunities, and let the managers and other team mates know about any ideas I have. 
  3. Be an expert. Increase my knowledge about the company and my skillset so when the supervisors need an expert on a given topic to give advice, to advocate for the team, etc., I can be a person they go to. Make my skills known so that when others need information or help, they know they can use me as a resource.
  4. Do more than just my job. Always remember to take the work to the next level whenever possible. Anticipate needs and problems. While good work alone won't get me noticed, I will need to continue to do this if I want the notice taken of me to be good.
  5. Network outside of work. Going to conferences, attending meet-ups and keeping up with the outside world will not only increase my knowledge about my field and my knowledge about the future of the work I do, I can also help recruit new team members as well as improve my team's reputation outside of work. Also, if I'm known outside of my company, it's entirely likely word will get back to people on my own team about the kind of work I do.
  6. Have fun. If there's anything I've learned in all my years of customer service, it's that people like to be around someone who is happy and seems to be having fun...yes, even at work. I will do more to become noticed just by being friendly and positive than I probably would by doing all the work in the world. Plus...if I'm going to have to push myself out of my comfort zone, I might as well try to enjoy myself while I'm at it, right?
This is my personal road map for how to become more visible at work (and how to convince my supervisors and coworkers that I'm really not some shrinking violet!) so that hopefully in the future, I won't be passed over for new opportunities. Although, really, I think this can help anyone who struggles to get noticed at work. The hardest part will definitely be getting out of my cube more often. Hopefully, though, once I take the first step, the rest of it will get much easier with time.

May 13, 2009

Congrats, grad?

generation gap
By Daryl Cagle

With all my talk about the different generations on here, I thought this was pretty funny. ;)

May 11, 2009

Twenty Somethings in the News: Recessions can change everything

unemployed jedi
On Sunday, the New York Times published an article about the Diamond family. The elder Diamonds had carefully prepared for retirement and for life as empty-nesters, once their sons completed college and moved on to greener pastures. However, the recession forced the entire to change their plans. Steve Diamond has come out of retirement to go back to work. Andrea Diamond is working for the first time in a long time, after being a stay-at-home mom for many years. And the two recently-graduated Diamond sons? Forced to move back home and live with mom and dad until the job market becomes more stable. The oldest, Matt (24-years-old), had accepted a job offer, but it was retracted when the economy fell apart in the fall and the company put on a hiring freeze.
What the article really drives home is how much the recession has affected even the best-laid plans. For those preparing for retirement, it has meant delaying those plans and remaining in or returning to the work force. For the young, it often means delaying independence and going into jobs that are lower-paying or outside of one's desired field.
This piece also highlights how attitudes toward careers have changed. Matt had always hoped to have a career in music, even having interned with a music house and performed well in the position. Though his father had suggested he go into something more practical and more profitable, Matt had argued for years that he would hold out for a career in music. His mother even encouraged him, arguing that if you want something badly enough, certainly you can make it happen. Now, though, Matt has started taking computer science classes and considering a more traditional track. "When I had the job at the music house, I was living my dream, but now it doesn’t seem live or die with music. I can always do music in my spare time."
I know I've felt this shift in my own field. I know many who are sticking with unsatisfactory work because they are afraid to take a cut in pay, are afraid to venture into a start-up or smaller company while the economy is still shaky, or because jobs are simply unavailable in certain sectors. I think there has certainly been a shifting away from looking for dream jobs to look for steady, safe work...at least in the short-term.
Do you feel that the recession has affected your field or your own career choices? Would you be doing things differently right now if there were no recession?

May 8, 2009

Drinking enough water

waterI think many 20-somethings have a tendency to ignore their health. Whether it's because you're in college, because you think you're too busy, or maybe you're too broke, sometimes taking care of yourself can seem like a hassle or even an impossibility. And considering most 20-somethings often tend to think, "I'm young! I'm healthy! What could happen to me?" it kind of makes it easy to excuse your lack of attention to your health. I know I've certainly been that way for the past several years.

Now, though, I've started to notice the negative effects of not taking care of myself. Strange illnesses and health issues, small but obnoxious chronic problems. Most of these could probably be remedied by taking better care of myself: eating healthy foods, getting more sleep, and exercising more often.

One of the big things I've decided I want to start trying to rectify immediately, though, is how little water I drink. I'm not a big drinker of liquids in general. I can go most days with drinking less than half a glass of any given beverage. I'm just not that thirsty usually. Considering that often what I do drink is soda or tea, which are often diuretics, I'm thinking my fluid consumption might actually be somewhere in the negative range. A couple of weeks ago, I got a UTI, and it finally drove home the fact that I need to drink more water, all the time, not just when I'm sick as I usually do.

You need water to remove waste and toxins from the body, to keep all your moist parts (ear, nose, throat, joints) moist, and also to carry nutrients. Not drinking enough water can lead to all kinds of problems: heartburn, constipation, chronic joint pain, headaches, chronic fatigue, and a whole lot of other really rotten things that you probably don't want to deal with...like a UTI.

While I've read a lot of different recommendations about how much water you should drink each day (the consensus seems to lie somewhere around 8 glasses a day), the amount you should drink can vary depending on your weight, how much you exercise, your environment, and any health conditions you might have. I found a very cool calculator that tabulates how much water you should drink daily depending on your specific situation. What I've found out is that I'm coming in almost 50 oz. short of how much water I should be drinking every day. That's a pretty big deficit!

To remedy my personal aversion to drinking water, my next goal is to buy a good water bottle that holds 50 oz. of water, fill it up every morning before I go to work, and drink it all before I go to bed every night. It's pretty daunting for someone who almost never drinks anything, but I think my body will thank me for it later.

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