I assume many of you have already seen this amazing video of a seal climbing onto a surfboard in England?
If not, spare 2:04 minutes of your life for a lovely, charming reminder of something we often forget — we’re just another species.
I’m writing this on our top-floor balcony, listening to the wind in the trees and the buzzing of passing bumblebees. Birds twitter. One recent evening, at 2:40 a.m. we bolted awake to the howling of a pack of coyotes.
But we live 25 miles north of New York City, able to see the city’s skyscrapers from our street, not some Montana ranch!
Our planters are bursting with flowers and our woods are filled with deer, raccoon, squirrels, chipmunks.
I fear for our planet when so many children and teens are suffering from nature deficit disorder, because you can’t fight for legislation and other protective behaviors if “nature” remains something you’ve only seen or heard mediated through a glass screen.
You have to feel it, taste it, touch it, know it. We all need intimate, consistent, ongoing connections to the natural world, not just simulacra or a packaged bit of it in plastic at the grocery store.
I’m grateful for having spent my childhood and teen summers in the wild of northern Ontario at summer camp and on multi-day canoe trips. I love a loon call, the peel of a birch tree, the striations of granite.
We are still, as homo sapiens, only one of millions of other species in our world, some furry, some feathered, some scaled, some noisy and some mostly (to our ears anyway) silent.
A few years ago, a red-tailed hawk landed on our 6th floor balcony railing, which is only 12 feet wide. He stared at me silently, and I felt like prey. Having written about raptors, I know they can see for many miles. I wondered what he saw when he gazed into my eyes.
We don’t have any pets, so any encounter with a (non-threatening!) animal or bird is a real joy for me — especially horses and dogs; I’m the person who always stops to say hello and pat other people’s dogs (with permission.)
My young friend Molly recently fell off an elephant into the Mekong River.
I don’t envy the fall, or her ruined camera and lens, but elephants are my favorite animals of all. I rode on one myself in Thailand, sitting on his neck, and dreamed of a second career as a mahout.
It’s sometimes easy to forget that attention is a gift. We’re all busy, tired, distracted.
So when readers come to Broadside — for one post, or several — I know it’s a choice.
It’s been amazing and inspiring for me to “meet” people from around the world here, even just from reading your gravatars when you sign up to follow. Several of you have become good friends, from London to L.A.
I appreciate your comments, and especially so when you finally decide to join the conversation — I know many of you lurk, silently. Please weigh in!
It’s been a new privilege to start teaching and coaching, and the response has been terrific, with students coming from Australia, New Zealand, California, Virginia and other spots. Working with Skype is great, as we can see one another and exchange ideas and laughter. The other day, I waved to three small children in Adelaide as their mum and I were about to start a session. So fun!
Selfishly, coming back to teaching and coaching has also offered me a needed and welcome break from the usual routine of pitch/sell/write/revise. As a full-time writer, I’m an intellectual production line of one — the old brain gets tired!
It’s been great to leave my apartment, meet new clients face to face and begin to expand my teaching to other places. It looks like I might be teaching at NYSID, my former school of interior design in Manhattan. I really love teaching, and I’ve missed it. It’s fun to share my skills and help you meet your goals.
Writing well isn’t easy!
For some odd reason, people now think it is or should be or want it to be.
Great writing is really the end product of clear, focused thinking: about topic, tone, voice, diction, rhythm, intent, mood. It has many moving parts, and until they spin together without friction, you’re more likely to hear the nasty grinding of gears than the smooth humming you’d prefer.
So, dear readers, and those of you placing in your trust in my skills to teach and coach you, you’re very much appreciated.
It’s been an interesting exchange here this week. Said one commenter:
The questions to ask aren’t why are you applying for a job with me when you didn’t go to/finish college, ( under the assumption ( as you put it ) that they never had any desire ) but why didn’t you, and why do
you you believe you can do this job without the degree?
It’s all perception based. Your perception ( likely based on experience ) is that one without a degree can’t process high volume data or intake complex scenarios and send them back out in some semblance of order. But it’s a flawed one, just as the pay grade issue is. But it is what you’ve come to expect. Just as people without degrees have come to expect to take low paying jobs.
It’s the system as it stands.
If you — as many Broadside readers are — are a current college student, graduate or undergraduate, or someone teaching them — what’s up with that? Why did you choose to attend college? Not this or that one.
Any one at all.
I attended the University of Toronto, Canada’s most competitive and highest-ranked. I needed good grades to get in and I had to produce at a high level to keep my grades high enough to stay. It was not a place to dick around, skip class, show up hungover or say stupid things in front of smart, ambitious peers.
I liked that. I wanted to be honed and sharpened. It never occurred to me (lack of imagination?) not to attend a competitive and demanding university.
Maybe because no one in my family had a college degree.
Not my mother, who worked as a national magazine journalist and television talk-show host and film-maker. Not my father, an award-winning film-maker, nor my stepmother who made a very good living writing for television. Several — long loud laugh! — have vastly out-earned me, with my fancy schmancy B.A in English.
Do I regret my four years on campus? No.
Did they prepare me for a career in journalism? Not really.
Clearly, there are many professions that will simply never credential anyone without a college degree, let alone specialized study: engineers, accountants, physicians, dentists, nurses, architects and lawyers among them.
But all those young ‘uns finding themselves — at an annual cost of $15,00 to $50,000 a year for an American college degree? Would their time be better spent elsewhere?
For how long?
For some, a vocation — carpentry, HVAC, hairdressing, animal care — is the better choice, for a variety of reasons.
I don’t care what someone does to prepare for employment as long as they can clearly and persusasively explain their choice.
If you have hiring authority, and an applicant has no college education at all — and no desire to acquire one — would you interview them?
Would their decision affect how you view them as a potential employee?
LAST CHANCE TO SIGN UP FOR ‘BETTER BLOGGING’, MY WEBINAR SUNDAY NOV. 10 AT 4:00 P.M. ET; REGISTRATION CLOSES 4:00 NOV. 8. SIGN UP HERE.
As some of you already know, I’m an award-winning journalist who’s published two non-fiction books of national reporting and writes frequently for The New York Times. My work has appeared in publications in Canada, (Chatelaine, Flare, Toronto Life, Maisonneuve , etc.), the U.S., France, Ireland and New Zealand, including The Wall Street Journal, VSD, Marie Claire and Ladies Home Journal.
I’ve also taught journalism at Concordia University in Montreal, New York University, Pace University and The New York Times Student Journalism Institute. I also recently taught the first webinar here at Kristen Lamb’s online conference, WANACON.
I’m offering six webinars:
Think Like a Reporter
Finding and Developing Story Ideas
Growing Your Blog
Writing for A-List Editors
You, Inc: The Business of Freelancing
Crafting The Personal Essay.
Each is 90 minutes in length, half of which is saved for your questions and comments.
They range in price from $100 to $200; details, prices, dates and sign-up are all here. After you’ve registered, I’ll email you each directly with the sign-in location for the webinar.
The first is Sunday November 3 at 4:00 pm. Eastern time.
Finding and Developing Story Ideaswill be helpful to anyone who’s freelancing, or hopes to. I’ll talk about which ideas are best suited to websites, newspapers, magazines or non-fiction books — sometimes all of these.
Three recent students say:
“By any metric, Caitlin soars as a teacher, especially her sincerity and kindness. Students don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. Caitlin embodies that – with the experiences she can share, the skills she can teach, and lives she can change.”
— Amer Taleb
Caitlin is an exemplary mentor and teacher. She doesn’t just provide excellent training for the exacting standards and requirements of journalism and authorship, but shares her experience and knowledge readily, offering real, pertinent information and how to use it.
She invests herself in those she teaches, helping them to develop the wide array of skills and instincts they will need to succeed in any area.”
— Cadence Woodland
“I enjoyed Caitlin’s presentation very much. As a journalist with only a few years experience, I appreciated her willingness to share her expertise and experiential wisdom. She made herself available for questions afterwards, which was particularly helpful. Her experience was insightful. If you have a chance to take a class with her, don’t hesitate. Great value.”
— Lisa Hall-Wilson
If you have any questions, please email me at email@example.com
I hope you’ll sign up — and please spread the word!
I went back to my Toronto high school, (the same one Margaret Atwood attended), yesterday to guest lecture about what it’s like to write for a living. But if it hadn’t been for the powerful encouragement of my English teachers there — Mr. Bullen and Mr. Bickell, one who has since died and one retired — would I even have become a writer?
Or felt as confident of my choice?
From my earliest years, I was winning awards for my writing, a clue that this might be a good choice for me vocationally. We look to teachers, for better or worse, for adult appraisals of our talents and skills. A cruel or indifferent teacher can crush us, (and often does), pushing us away from a life we might have enjoyed or thrived in had we simply ignored them.
Our teachers, from early childhood on, leave powerful and lasting impressions on who we are and what we might become.
Like you, I suspect, I can still name my grade school teachers and some of their quirks, like Miss Dalton, ferocious and Irish, who taught us to memorize the shape of countries by tracing their borders with carbon paper or Miss Brough, (rhymes with rough!), who had us use dictionaries in Grade Eight to read The Scarlet Letter. Every fresh paragraph meant flipping it open to find a new word — but she taught us never to fear the unfamiliar.
My ninth-grade English teacher, in my most turbulent and unhappy year at private school, left the most lasting impression of all. She was tall, strikingly beautiful, with long, thick black hair and single. Unlike most our ancient, widowed or never-married staff, she offered a vision of someone we might like to become.
I was a mess then: angry, lonely, in trouble all time. Yet she was kind to me and treated me with the same attention as the better–behaved students in her class, for which I was miserably grateful.
In high school, bullied, I was difficult again. This time it was Ana, (we could — daringly — first-name her!), our Yugoslav art teacher, who added joy, beauty and humor to our tedious suburban Toronto days.
I ran into her years later and she introduced me, affectionately, to a fellow teacher’s wife: “This is Caitlin. She was always pain in ass.” True.
But she loved me anyway and, like Ms. Z., had still welcomed me into her classroom, her compassion and calm a needed refuge for me.
In their classrooms, I was allowed to be all of me: smart, sassy, funny, difficult. There were consequences, but there was also badly-needed comfort, acceptance and encouragement of a messy, creative complicated girl.
Great teachers see the pilot lights that flicker within us, that of our possibility and potential, sometimes long before we even know it’s there. They help us ignite the flame of our passion — for biology or German or computers or watercolors — that may light and warm us, possibly for decades to come.
A great teacher can also help us grow (up) emotionally and intellectually, can show us a different, perhaps more useful or social or interesting way of being or thinking or behaving than what we see inside our own families or amongst our peers.
My husband, Jose, is a photo editor at The New York Times, and helped them win a Pulitzer prize for photos taken on 9/11. He’s photographed the Olympics, three Presidents, war, Superbowls.
He was once, though, a minister’s son in Santa Fe, modestly expecting, and expected to become a teacher, as had many of his relatives.
But in tenth grade a teacher saw some photos he had taken for the high school yearbook. Mrs. Frank told him he had talent and should consider pursuing it as a career; when some of his basketball photos ended up in the local paper, that was it.
I’ve done a fair bit of teaching — at the undergraduate college level, and to adults. I love it. It’s such a thrill when students “get it.”
Here’s a powerful and moving video about a teacher in Los Angeles — faced with suicide attempts by fifth-graders — determined to help her young students feel good about themselves.
Which teacher most affected you and your later life?
How and why?
As a teacher — which I know many of you are — how do you feel about your power to affect your students?
Many of Broadside’s readers are in their teens and 20s, in college or university, or probably headed there. Some are thrilled at the prospect of acquiring more formal education, possibly all the way to a Phd or professional degree.
Others, like me, are wary of school, chafing in classrooms, weary of authority. Wondering how else — is it possible? — to acquire the credentials and skills they’ll need to make a living.
This recent blog post, by a student at Brown, one of the U.S.’s most prestigious and costly universities, asks some serious questions about what “success” looks like:
i have a goal. it’s farfetched, extremely open-ended, and it might be fleeting. my goal is to refocus. my goal is to revisit this idea of being human and reinterpret the meaning of success. success has looked only one way for as long as i’ve known the word: a big house, lots of
money, a nice car. success has been the american dream. as a child of babyboomers, i’ve seen the american dream take hold and manifest itself in a lifestyle that is hard to say no to. it’s a lifestyle of security and certainty. but what i’ve learned is that this lifestyle, as enabling as it may be, has forgotten a lot of things that i find extremely important. it has forgotten how to be simply human and has focused on how to be monetarily prosperous. i’m down with the good life, don’t get me wrong. i’m just thinking that i might have a different path in mind for myself. know i have something else that’s ticking inside of me, and it can’t just sit at in cubicle and work for 8 hours then to go home to frozen potstickers and minute-maid lemonade. it wants to run wild, rampant, and ridiculously free.
I appreciate her passion and her questioning of what constitutes the “good life.”
By the time a student has been admitted to Brown, or any other super-competitive school costing $30-50,000 a year, they’ve likely been groomed from infancy to focus solely or primarily on the achievement of visible, conventional goals.
Everyone they’ve known — in prep school, at summer camp, in their SAT prep classes, on their sports teams — is expected to head in the same direction.
The problem is, if your parents/friends/family have all bought into the same dream — moremoremoremoremore — it’s lonely and weird to step off the track, let alone figure out a way to do so and not live in a box beneath a bridge.
I attend a church with some very wealthy parishioners, so I’ve seen some of their assumptions of what their children will do. One woman, whose husband and daughter were safely ensconced as corporate attorneys, had a son, 28, who had not even — facepalm! — finished college.
He was not an addict, in prison or chronically ill but unfocused, and had traveled the country doing a variety of odd jobs.
But her dismay at his wandering was intense, and, to my mind, bizarre. I finally met A., assuming he was a gormless wreck. He was funny, smart, observant, charming, curious about the world. I immediately saw he’d make a terrific journalist.
When I mentioned my idea to a church friend, she gasped in horror, sniffing: “You can’t make a living as a writer!”
I was furious — and told her how much this reaction offended me.
This, while I was coughing up $1,200 a month for my apartment and an additional $500 every month for market-rate health insurance — a yearly sum of $20,400 before car insurance, gas, groceries, dentist’s, haircuts and the rest of life.
Yes, it’s far from the $150,000 to $300,000+ that a young banker or lawyer can earn. The sort of work that young ‘uns from wealthy precincts are de facto expected to choose.
But it is a living.
It is a life.
If you want to pursue creative, non-corporate work, you will pay the price. You will earn less, far less, than many people you know or meet. You may never own a home, of any shape or size. You may never own a vehicle, or a new one. You may find yourself shopping for most things in thrift or consignment shops or on sale.
To lower your living costs, you might share space with others, or live in a rural area or work several part-time jobs.
It’s fine. It’s a choice.
But it’s a way of life you will rarely, if ever, see fetishized on television or in popular media. It is not a life filled with designer luxury goods or vacations in places your wealthier friends have ever heard of. Your social circle might be much smaller, filled with people who truly share, understand and live the same values as you.
And you may also feel very out of step with your co-hort; many people my age now own multiple homes. They drive $90,000 vehicles and run major companies or organizations.
I recently contacted a young editor about freelancing — the daughter of one of my high school friends.
If I had stayed at that newspaper, my first staff reporting job, I might be her. I might well be her boss.
Yes, that felt extremely disorienting.
But I also relish my creative freedom, deeply grateful for a husband whose union-protected, full-time office job frees me from cubicle life. I’ve had well-paid staff jobs, in offices in Manhattan buildings, working for name-brand publications.
I didn’t especially enjoy them.
Working hard, with steady clients, I make a decent income, enough to save 10-20 percent every year and still enjoy some of the things I love: fresh flowers, pedicures, travel. It’s still far less than I made in 2000; my industry is a mess and pay rates are lower than they were then.
But one-third of Americans are me, now — working freelance, contract, temp. Millions of Americans, certainly my age, will never have a job with a paycheck again.Here’s a searing New York Times story today; make time to read some of the heartbreaking 125 comments and take them to heart.
We have no “benefits” from an employer, no paid sick or vacation days. We have no access to unemployment insurance if our work dries up.
The choices we make affect our lives, now and later. The decisions we make have consequences.
I’ve been told for decades that I’m creative, which I consider one of the highest compliments anyone can ever pay me. (Of course, compared to people like famous musicians/artists/choreographers/thinkers, I know I’m not.)
So, for the hell of it, (and as research for a story for the BBC’s website), I recently paid $173 to take the Torrance Test of Creative Thinking, which measures creativity — using a variety of criteria, from emotional expressiveness to openness to ambiguity to humor.
The assessment takes about 45 minutes, with a variety of visual and verbal tests, like a page containing a large black tilted oval with instructions to turn it into something — anything you want! — within a few minutes, then write a caption to describe your choice.
Other elements gave me a drawing to describe and interpret, a product to improve and a number of unfinished lines to turn into drawings or designs of my choosing, all with my own added explanatory captions.
I mailed my booklets back to a distant midwestern address and waited, with bated breath.
What if I wasn’t creative after all?
Luckily — whew! — I turned out to be in the 98th percentile, which felt good.
Now my much larger life challenge is to actually use this skill much more often, for work and for play.
There are days — and while I’m grateful to be this busy! — I feel like a one-woman industrial production line, moving as fast as I possibly can, gulping down lunch, to get the work out the door.
As a writer, this seems very much at odds with the notion that what I do is creative.
But I simply have no time to stare into space, waiting for some Muse to show up and tap me on the shoulder.
When other writers, (usually of fiction), complain about writer’s block, I laugh. I have no such luxury if the mortgage is going to be paid on time and there will be gas in the car and food in the fridge.
Here’s a post I wrote — chosen for Freshly Pressed — about the ongoing choice for those of us who make a living doing artistic work, between being creative (noodling, thinking, musing revising) and being productive (shipping.)
I’m not persuaded one can be both all the time.
We all need time to think, reflect, ponder, meander, take some detours, some of which — being immediately unproductive — lead into dead ends, some of which lead us off into totally new and hugely profitable (financially or creatively) directions.
Shutting down the production line for a while — silence! solitude! no immediate income! I’m wasting time! — can feel terrifying.
It’s absolutely necessary.
But we don’t talk about the downtime, the quiet moments of connection and insight that can, when allowed to blossom quietly unforced by another’s schedule, birth wonders.
Whenever I’ve taught or lectured on journalism, I crush a few young dreams when I make clear that traditional news journalism more resembles an industrial assembly line than an artist’s studio.
Editors aren’t terribly interested in whether you’re feeling creative — they want accurate
copy/content/visuals and they want it now!
The studio is huge — maybe 30 feet by 30 feet. One wall is mirror, one is glass, facing the parking lot. Two large fans create a cross-breeze. There is no clock.
The others are young, slim, lithe, their bodies able to do the most unlikely things with ease. There are three other women — a girl of maybe 15, one perhaps the same and one who might be in her 30s. There are two men, loose and easy in their skins, with the distinctive elegance of the dancer, both students at the University of Arizona.
Then there’s me.
I stand at the back, feeling lumpy and old in my black leggings and T-shirt, a bandana around my forehead to keep the sweat from dripping into my eyes. I’m wearing my black cotton jazz shoes, and have dropped into an advanced jazz class.
Actually, it turns out just fine. The instructor is Taylor, a tall blond whose manner is comfortable and helpful, and we start out by warming up with stretches, the opposite of what we do in my Monday morning jazz class at home. Then on to push-ups and ab work. I keep waiting for us to start the center barre — the ballet routine we normally do (battements, ronds de jambes, tendues, plies, degages, etc.) — but we never do.
Instead, to my nervous delight, we are given a routine to memorize and perform, to an aching and melancholy song by Florence and the Machine. It doesn’t feel like jazz and it doesn’t feel like ballet. It feels more like modern dance, which I’ve never studied. But in I plunge, twisting and rolling and shaking my shoulders. Taylor uses the floor a lot, demanding rolls and twists and a sudden arching of our backs with our heads as pivot point.
It is a new feeling, to simply enjoy my body for all the things it still can do, quickly, with precision, carving forms in the air on the beat. In the old days, for decades, I would hate it for all that it cannot do, for the too-big bum or not-high-enough arches or muscular forearms that resemble those of a 18th-century laundress.
Now, after years of agony and limping and crutches, I am just so thrilled to have a functioning body that can glide and leap and twist and pivot and stretch at will.
Dance is a language, a vocabulary of movement. What a delicious relief to shrug off the burden of verbal expression! Here I speak with a flick of my hands or a roll of my head or an extension of my leg, foot pointed or flexed flat.
It is such a rare joy to move with grace and speed and power, not merely using my body-as-tool in quotidian tasks, to climb stairs or drive a car or load a dishwasher.
The other students are lovely to watch, especially the younger girl who is quick, precise and has astonishing technique.
Then we’re given four pieces of music with which to improvise. I’ve never had that chance, and here among others of tremendous training and exquisite line. Their arabesques are gorgeous, mine not nearly so much.
I could freeze with fear, knowing how beautiful and skilled they all are. I’m the interloper, the one with the new(ish) replacement hip I’m still a little protective of.
But dance we do, each in our separate bubble, and it’s lovely to make it up in the instant of hearing a note or a phrase. My hands and feet and arms and legs — having studied ballet from the age of 12 — know what to do without thought. I don’t plan or think or fuss or wonder.
Like grass or corn in a breeze, I simply move.
Untethered by expectation, for once, I simply fly free.
We’re asked to use the room: walls, floor, ceiling, mirror. There’s not a lot to choose from! I crouch into the corner, bounce off a wall (that seems familiar!) and watch the others roll and slide. Then, finally, partnering, which I shy away from, truly feeling odd woman out.
The men are simply amazing to watch, never not touching, bending and twisting and crouching and lifting. Even the teacher is moved by their seamlessness.
Interesting piece inThe New York Times about young men, especially, skipping college to head to the oil and gas boom in Montana:
Here in oil country, some teenagers are choosing the oil fields over universities, forgoing higher education for jobs with salaries that can start at $50,000 a year.
It is a lucrative but risky decision for any 18-year-old to make, one that could foreclose on his future if the frenzied pace of oil and gas drilling from here to North Dakota to Texas falters and work dries up. But with unemployment at more than 12 percent nationwide for young adults and college tuition soaring, students here on the snow-glazed plains of eastern Montana said they were ready to take their chances.
“I just figured, the oil field is here and I’d make the money while I could,” said Tegan Sivertson, 19, who monitors pipelines for a gas company, sometimes working 15-hour days. “I didn’t want to waste the money and go to school when I could make just as much.”
One of the greatest beliefs in the United States is that everyone must go to college. This, despite the fact many students drop out, are graduating saddled with enormous debt and many can’t find paid work.
So, why not take $40,000 and sock away as much of it as possible? It could fund college later (or not), or travel, or a home you choose to own (or rent out for income.)
I have a lot of difficulty with this persistent insistence that college is the only viable place for people who have graduated high school to grow up, learn about the world, acquire skills, mix with people their age of very different backgrounds and work to high standards independently.
For some, it’s joining the military. Or going overseas on a student visa, to work as a nanny or au pair or volunteer. Or staying home and working a variety of less-prestigious jobs until you actually know what truly interests you, and what you are good at and who is hiring and what they pay, entry-level or beyond. Then, if you choose higher education, you know exactly what you’re getting into!
For all its benefits and pleasures, college very rarely teaches the skills you really need in the “real world”, whether running your own business, freelancing or working most effectively within a team or office. (Invoicing 101? Sucking Up 302? Backstabbing 205?)
A student at any college will often sense a conflict between prestige and truth, the prestige of the teacher, the school, or the culture. He will soon learn that everything contains some truth worth knowing about, and that the best way to deal with error is to see the truth in which it is embedded.
Or, again to change the metaphor, college life is a minefield, studded with all different kinds of devices, waiting to be crossed. Wise young people will read independently in reliable books, to locate and identify hidden explosives rather than step on them. But the venturesome student will in fact want to know what such mines really are, and how they came to be constructed and buried. They will follow the example of Aquinas, who insisted that the accurate understanding of error is quite a necessary and legitimate side of our learning and living. Thus, we want to know how they function, how the mines are hidden. Yes, we want to know how to avoid stepping on them and indeed how to eliminate them, the first step of which effort is to know what they are and why they were made.
I graduated from the University of Toronto, Canada’s top school, then as now. People I studied with now run think tanks and museums and private schools and have accomplished some great things. I liked having tough professors and smart people around me.
As an English major, my courses were very narrowly restricted, even as an undergrad, to 75 percent English literature. The only other things I studied were political science and philosophy (freshman year), French (three years) and Spanish (four years). I knew I wanted to become a foreign correspondent, so I needed to be able to work in other languages, write well and quickly and have the intellectual confidence to make my arguments persuasively.
Those are the skills I’ve used ever since. My ability to read Chaucer in Middle English or parse Volpone or Victorian poetry? Nope. Never.
If you’re in college, or heading there, why? What do you expect to get out of it?
If you’ve long since graduated, do you regret your choice of school or major?
That photo was taken on January 19, 1977, when I was in my third year of university, working already as a freelance photographer and journalist, selling to national publications. I was living alone, on very little money.
At 20, I knew to expect to do a lot of stuff for myself.
What we expect is a fundamental question.
It drives how we see the world and react to it, whether we hunch instinctively in a defensive posture or spring forward with a hopeful smile and the confidence it will all work out, somehow.
Jose was born to a Mom who never expected his arrival when she was 49, but deeply valued her surprise baby.
So what we each grew up expecting from the world — from work, lovers, friends, family — was in some ways very different. I’ve shown him he can ask for much more than he thinks he deserves, and he’s taught me how to be happy with much less than I think I need to be happy
I know you didn’t go to college to wait tables, serve coffee, or assist customers in a clothing store (I didn’t either). The hardest part of being a Broke Girl is learning to be humble. You need to continue making money somehow to support yourself- or at least to maintain your savings. Unfortunately, that might mean taking a job you never thought you would need after college.
I know that it might feel like a step down, especially at first. However, these are hard times, and your finances can’t afford for you to hold out for too long.
I am not saying that you need to give up and “settle,” if that’s what taking this kind of job would mean to you. I am encouraging you to remember that 1) doing nothing while continuing to search for dream jobs will look aheck of a lot worse than making productive use of your time and 2) you need to be saving money. Can you tell I’m a big fan of saving money? Maybe it’s because of the whole my-father-is-a-finance-guy thing. But seriously, long gaps of emptiness on a resume look way worse than making an effort to contribute to society, even if it’s not the task you want to be doing.
We have got to stop taking ourselves too seriously, ladies. Tons of hard-working, intelligent men and women are out of work right now as well. Who are you (and frankly, who am I?) to think that you are above anything?
This recent New York Times story really showed how much our expectations, for good or ill, can shape our lives. It follows the lives of three Hispanic girls who all went off to college with high hopes, yet none has yet graduated and some carry shocking debt.
They struggled, but were unwilling or unable to ask for help:
Each showed the ability to do college work, even excel at it. But the need to earn money brought one set of strains, campus alienation brought others, and ties to boyfriends not in school added complications. With little guidance from family or school officials, college became a leap that they braved without a safety net.
The story of their lost footing is also the story of something larger — the growing role that education plays in preserving class divisions. Poor students have long trailed affluent peers in school performance, but from grade-school tests to college completion, the gaps are growing. With school success and earning prospects ever more entwined, the consequences carry far: education, a force meant to erode class barriers, appears to be fortifying them.
“Everyone wants to think of education as an equalizer — the place where upward mobility gets started,” said Greg J. Duncan, an economist at the University of California, Irvine. “But on virtually every measure we have, the gaps between high- and low-income kids are widening. It’s very disheartening.”
The American narrative can really be confusing as hell — Do it yourself! Don’t ask for help! All it takes is hard work! Only losers fail! — but those who do best in this country are often those who don’t hesitate to ask for help or more money or more time to finish a paper or negotiate a higher starting salary. So you’ve got to figure out for yourself how to navigate the corridors of power and influence, even if you’ve never seen them before.
Jose and I mentor a few young Hispanic women, students of journalism, several of whom have turned to me for guidance and advice about how to negotiate the balance of love and career, as they face significant pressure from their parents to marry and have children, career — even college — be damned. I’m honored they trust me enough to ask my advice, and I encourage them to kick professional ass as hard as possible, knowing full well this sometimes places them in direct conflict with their culture’s expectations of obedient or admirable Latinas devoted more to family than anything else.