August 3, 2011

Consider the alternative

It was very hot again yesterday, so I decided to head to the university library. It's air conditioned there, and they have more functional computers than the Chicago Public Library (I wanted to get some work done for the article writing job, but the CPL computers only allow basic internet use, no word processing. That's weird, right?). I took a shower and made my leftover meatloaf sandwich, and sat down at my desk to eat and check the bus tracker to see when the next bus would arrive.

I usually keep Gmail open in one of my browser's tabs, and while I was updating my Twitter about the deliciousness of the sandwich, I noticed a new email. It was from my boss at the university.
Subject: VERY sorry for mix up, please forgive me
It took a moment for the reality of it to sink in.
"... there was a misunderstanding ... I miscalculated ... we do not need any lecturers at all ..."
Did she really just say that? Then it clicked, and I suddenly felt like I had been punched in the stomach.

Adding insult to injury, I got two more email within the fifteen minutes that followed: more rejection letters. One was for a full-time academic advisor position at a different local university, the other was for a part-time cashiering job at Whole Foods.

I just sat there at my desk, staring at nothing in particular. My breathing was shallow and my heart was racing. I still needed another job on top of the two I have now in order to make my rent and pay my bills, and since this was my fifth grocery store rejection of the summer, it wasn't looking great. To need two jobs when one is hard enough to come by?

Needless to say, I didn't make it to the library.

I didn't binge, which I'm proud of. I felt too queasy and nauseous, to be honest. Food didn't even cross my mind. I was dizzy with confusion about what the heck I'm going to do to get by.

I looked over at my bookcase, and saw a little white plastic card, the size of a credit card, with the words "Stop & Shop" on it, along with a series of numbers. It's my employee time card from the grocery store I worked at in high school, college, and the summer before I relocated to college. The card had been taped up over desk all during grad school with a note that said Consider the alternative.

No matter how tough grad school got, no matter how stressed out I was by teaching or homework or paper writing, I had to remain positive and keep going, because it was what had to be done in order to avoid being trapped in a minimum wage customer service position for the rest of my life. I got very lucky last year with the full-time job at the university - I didn't make nearly as much money as someone with a master's degree should, but it didn't matter because I honestly felt like the happiest girl in all of Chicago. I made enough to get by, and I felt proud of the work I did and the effect I had on my students.

I read an opinion piece earlier this summer about the "boomerang generation," the kids who go off to college and get degrees, only to wind up living back at home. The author said something that really hit me:
Not everyone needs a degree. Having one isn't a right. Someone needs to stock shelves, drive trucks, and mop floors. A post-high school education is an investment. Investments don't always pay off.
The idea of making a bad investment has been rolling around in my mind for weeks. I pursued a degree in something I'm passionate about, and it seems to have ended up hurting me more than helping. I can't find a full-time position in my field, and because I have a graduate degree, most places won't even hire me for part-time work because I am overqualified. I feel very trapped.

I tried to call my dad, but his phone went to voicemail. I sent my sister Lisa a text message and asked her to call me when she got out of work, and she called back almost immediately and asked if I was alright.
No, I'm not.
And I started bawling, and I let it all out.
My boss emailed me and said she made a mistake and she can't rehire me and so now I don't have a job for the fall. I'm not going to be able to pay my bills. I'm going to be homeless. And I'm stressed out about everything that's going on with our family and the fact that I can't be there right now. And I broke up with Matt and even though he was a jerk and it was the right thing to do, it's just another thing that I've lost right now. And I feel so unbelievably alone. Nothing is going right for me right now, and I feel so incredibly scared.
Lisa and I butted heads for most of our lives - it's our very strong firstborn/secondborn complexes - but we've become closer over the past year or so, and she talked me down from my hysterical sobbing while offering advice and support.

I ate dinner. I took a shower. I took a nap. And I woke up feeling just as scared, but a little more rational. It's okay to be a little terrified of the unknown - but it isn't okay to let it consume you. So I took another shower to cool off, then decided to pull an activity from my binge canister - I wasn't feeling like a binge, per se, but I needed to be distracted. It said to dust under my bed, so I grabbed the dustpan and broom and got to work.

Dusting under the bed turned to bagging up the pile of clothes I've been meaning to donate. And that turned to reorganizing my closets, which turned into the megahuge project of moving everything from my home office into my bedroom so I can clean it up and get it ready for a roommate to move in. Suddenly, five and a half hours had passed. I'm not sure how many calories I burned, but if it's directly proportionate to how many books I own, I think I ended the day pretty well.

(That is not all my books. I might be a hoarder.)

I set up my computer and cleared off the couch since my bed was still covered in things to sort through (that's this morning's project), and signed into my Gmail account. There was another email from my boss at the university, with this one's subject reading "NEVER MIND, all is fine" The secretary had misspoken, and my offer for one class is still valid. I felt a little relief, but in the back of my mind, I can't let go of the idea that this is all so fragile. That I can't count on anything right now. That things can still change.

Today, I'm holding on for dear life to the things I can control. I have one more full-time paycheck coming to me, and I'm actively looking for jobs still. I'm going to get a roommate and that will help with some of my expenses. I'm paid up at the gym through October, so that's something I don't have to worry about. And I am intently focused on nourishing my body and not feeding it garbage because I am sad and it is cheap. My job situation is not ideal, but the worries are not going to last forever. I am a hardworking girl who is passionate and dedicated, and something is going to come along for me. It has to.

What about you? How do you deal with feeling out of control - with jobs, relationships, weight loss, anything - without turning to food?


Joy said...

Oh dear! You've got a lot going on! Personally I pray! Then do exactly what you did...I get busy~run errands, clean, read, do crossword puzzles, call someone, visit a friend, make something, exercise and sometimes I veg out with a computer game.

I hope things start looking up for you!!

Keep focused on your plan!

Jess said...

Gosh, your day sounds like a shocker. I wish I could deal with things like that as rationally as you've managed to.
I hate my job,, which I only have for another month anyway (if I don't get fired), and then after that I'm back to university where I'm poor and in massive amounts of debt.
LAst yea rI debt with it by eating rubbish, this year I'm determined not to, and to change that all around, but I'm scared that once I'm back there and I'm tired and scared I'll forget all about this.
Thank goodness I've found your blog!
The binge canister sounds like a great idea.
Jess x

timothy said...

trust the universe sweetie. every obstacle is an opportunity. it'll be fine! (i KNOW easier said than done!) xoxoxoxoxoxoxoxoxo

Jessica said...


Caron said...

This is a time like no other in my lifetime. My oldest daughter was working three part time jobs to get her husband through school. She got a pretty good job two months ago and the second best thing (a payday is best) is that she loves it.

I lost my job last November due to the economy. Right now I'm applying for work at home jobs but so far I'm getting nowhere fast. I'm glad you got some good news at the end of the day. I know that "punched in the stomach" feeling and it is horrible. I kind of hate to admit it but my escape from the bad things in life is sleep. Of course, I can't sleep all the time.

Hoping and praying that things work out well for you and you get to stay in Chicago. :) Bravo for staying busy and not turning to food.

Charlotte said...

I can only imagine how rough it must have been to go through this rollercoster with the university.

This past year, I have been trying to just go through the feelings, to not numb them, with food or alcohol. Acknowledge that I feel like crap, that everything just seems so overwhelming. I write all my feelings. It does not always work, and sometimes the bag of chips wins...But I keep on trying...

Take care. Things will get better...

Jules said...

Yep..been all of those things. Still learning how to cope with the stress, anxiety and disappointments without the food.

The job situations can be so stressful especially when you are "overqualified"

But as timothy the process as that is what it is a process.

Fat in Suburbia said...

I pray and put it in God's hands. I have a boomerang kid-my 22 year old is back living with me while finishing his degree (he's apparently on the 6 year plan). Something good is on your horizon-keep the faith!

Unknown said...

Wow you have so much going on and yet you are still being so strong and passionate. So Freaking Awesome.

Have you thought about the change that much be occurring to not have food be the very first thing you think of in the moment of a crisis. What an awesome mind pattern change!

Have you ever considered putting yourself out there for private tutoring? Might be a little side money option if you're not already doing that.

I'm keeping positive thoughts for you!

Joan said...

I'm still learning how not to take the easy way out-- so I am afraid I have no advice for you. But you have given me a BIG lesson in resilience. Bravo, I'm so impressed with what you did/are doing. And thank you a million times for writing about it here. Perseverence is everything.

Jennie Palluzzi said...

Love you lady. Sending you love waves. You are doing so great. I am so proud of you. You're a champ. :) You inspire me. Daily.

Amy said...

Sounds like a doozie of a day - that quote about education is so true, and so scary.

I'm so happy you'll be able to continue to teach... and I'm sure everything will work out!!

Weight Wars said...

My biggest problem is that I don't cope without food :( I am really proud that you did this the right way.

I've also been known to leave my grad degree off of my CV and fill in with some other stuff so I don't look over qualified. It sucks but it's necessary at times.

Myndie said...

So sorry about the stress. Our Church has a great Employment center and I found two in Chicago. Go here, and then click on employment and you can find a center near you. I was looking at teaching jobs and there a few on there. I don't know if you are religious, but I will keep you in my prayers.

Mrs. O said...

Like you, when I'm ready to give in and binge, I call my sister. She's my main support and is a great listener without any judging.

I'm glad things have sort of worked out with the university. You must be so proud of yourself for not going on a binge, for finding another outlet. Hopefully, things will only get better. :)

Anonymous said...

My husband is also looking for work and it is completely stressfull and he too is overqualified for so many things. The stress of the situation is, at times, almost too much. So I choose to redirect my mind with anything else. A book, surfing the internet, running, spending time with loved ones. Keep calm and carry on. This is my mantra.

AS for your books, is that A Million Little Pieces I spy in the stack. I loved that book!

Hungry Girl Fan said...

I hope things work out for you. I know uncertainty can definitely be scary. A little bit of advice - next time you apply for a lower wage job, try dumbing down your resume a bit. Maybe just put that you have a bachelor's and conveniently leave out that you have a master's degree. I did that before I was secure in a job. I applied mostly for office assistant-type positions, and conveniently left out the bulk of my education so they wouldn't say I was over-qualified. I was hired pretty quickly (but this was way before the job market got so bad). Good luck!

Geosomin said...

Wow...that sounds like one heck of day. I know this might sound very wierd coming form someone you don't know at all, but I think it's amazing and I'm proud of you for not turning to food to deal with stress. I am pretty sure I would.
I've been doing my MSc while working full time and I have to say it's been testing my stress dealing ability to the limits. Working in research is always tenuous...the whole grant funding situation is always up in the air and you can never be completely confident in your job stability - I'm hoping my MSc will help with that.
For me...I try and start each day off new. Sometimes I win, sometimes I lose...but everyday is a doover. A fresh start.

Hope tomorrow is better for you :)

Amanda said...

So sorry about your stressful situation, but good job on not turning to food and unhealthy habits. It takes A LOT of self control to do that.

Anonymous said...

What a day! Sorry you're going through all that stress, but you handled it so well. I think your investment will be beneficial after this economy turns around. Hopefully sooner.

Katie Foster said...

What a stressful day! I'm glad it turned out well with the job (for now) and I really hope that you find something permanent soon that will relieve you of some stress.

That's FANTASTIC that you didn't turn to food in a situation like that--I know that I would have! You made some great choices.

marisol said...

I think you did awesome in handling the stress. I am so proud of you for not binging.

You know that saying "Things happen for a reason"? I am sick of hearing that from people. In the matter of 4 months, I was laid off, I was so close to getting a great job only to be turned down after multiple interviews, had to make the difficult decision to move back to my mom's so I lost the independence I love & my awesome apartment, I also no longer have a car and have student loans that are piling up. Whew!

But I am healthier and more active than I've ever been and that is what I am focusing on. It's the only positive thing I have going on and I am hanging on to it for dear life. This is also giving me an opportunity to evaluate what I want to do in life. I am 32 years old and have been in the banking industry since I was 17. That's a loong time and I wasn't happy with what I was doing. Right now I am taking the time to think of what I really want to do and focus on that.

And yes things do happen for a reason & those reasons will show themselves soon enough but in the meantime, it's sucky. But you can only do & try to be your best.

Tim said...

Oh man, i've had too many of those days when everything seems to make my life extra stressful but somehow I always find these situations lead to better things.

Three times i've found myself out of work, through no fault of my own, only to find work out the blue when I was least expecting it. I guess I just kept being as positive as I could and trusted my ability to work hard and try and succeed. My work contract ends in April next year so I guess i've got all this to look forward to again!

Keep working hard and make sure you're ready to grab any opportunity that comes your way.

Have you ever thought about working abroad i.e. France? In the UK there are work placements in other countries which sometimes provide accomdation i.e. teaching a foreign language etc.