Thursday, August 9, 2012

Career Un-Change

Being an adult is a lot of responsibility and not as much fun as everyone under the age of 18 thinks it is.  I have to make difficult decisions like what to eat, when to sleep, what to do with my free time and (by far the worst) what career path to follow.  Being in the military made things so much easier.  It was like being an adult but with training wheels on.  There was always someone there to tell you "Re-enlist", "Eat at this dining hall", " Go live here", "Don't step on that grass", and "Between the hours of 1300 and 1600 we will have fun today and you will like it".  Being a civilian means you make all your own decisions but it also means you take the blame for everything that results from those decisions.  Initially this was a liberating experience for me and I did what came naturally for someone like myself who had been recently liberated: I ran as far away from military stuff as I could.  This was fun for a while and then I started school again and made plans to change my career.

I have to say that I'd envisioned a career change as being a bit easier.  Call me naive (because I totally was and am) but I thought that making that decision would make it so (like an order from Captain Picard).  Little did I know that finding even an entry level position in a new career would be like trying to find an honest man at a political convention.  School was no problem as I easily got accepted back into college and have made an A in every class so far.  Trying to find part-time work in the Biology field with no previous experience, however is proving to be an impossible task.  The employers either want someone with some experience in the field already or someone who has no experience that they can train from scratch.  Someone with an existing degree and work experience in a different career need not apply.  I'm sure this recession creature has something to do with it too but I'd rather not blame my problems on a concept.

I'm a firm believer in the mantra that "Everything happens for a reason" because not believing that would just mean that I was getting shit on by whatever deity is responsible for doling out jobs.  So I decided to look back into the possibility of going overseas as a civilian contractor.  Why make my re-entry into the field overseas and not state-side?  There are two main reasons for this choice:  it's easier to get an overseas position and I'm not prepared to move again yet.  Once I know for sure if this is going to go down or not then I'll make long-term plans but at this point I'm just testing the waters.  I wouldn't be the first person in this field to come crawling back after getting frustrated with the "real-world" but I honestly didn't think I'd be one of them.  But, let's be honest, the civilian world is full of people that just don't seem to understand what it's like to have a career.  Simply having a job doesn't cut it for me.  I need a sense of purpose that working as an office assistant just doesn't give me.  Yes, it's about my pride and about the money but it's also about security and feeling like I'm contributing to society in some way.  If most Americans can do the job that I do then I don't want that job.  Perhaps this stint in the civilian world has made me truly appreciate my career.  It's been kind of like Rumspringa....I've allowed myself to lower my standards for a bit but now I realize the need to hold myself to a higher standard.  Here's to hoping I haven't already been shunned.  

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Appreciate the Opportunities You Get

From Flickr by Aveoree

After attending a month's worth of college classes I find myself surprised at how many of my fellow students don't seem to care about their classes, aren't giving their best effort, complain about how boring/hard/stupid the class is, and how many can't even be bothered to show up to class.  I know I'm being a little critical here. I was their age at one time and I know I didn't put forth as much effort in college then as I do now.  Even so, it surprises and saddens me that so many students take college for granted.

  Young college students obviously don't have the life experiences to put college into perspective for them.  They don't realize that they'll look back on the college years with fondness and wish they could go back to that time and place in their lives. Most importantly, they don't realize that college is a privilege that many people never get the opportunity to experience.  I think a big part of this problem is the reason many young people have for going to college. It's obvious from their attitudes and behavior that many of them are only going to college because it's what is expected of them, they don't know what else to do at this point in their lives or they are being encouraged/pressured to go by their family. All this adds up to people who are apathetic towards their coursework and are interested only in putting forth minimal effort.

  Why does this bother me so much? Why do I care that they're not getting the most out of their college years? It bothers me because I know that there are many other young people in the world that would love a college education and would put it to good use. It bothers me because I know that educated citizens make informed decisions. It bothers me because scholarship money is being wasted on those who just want to "get by". It bothers me because this attitude becomes contagious and causes other students to slack off when they realize they can get away with it. I just want to grab them and tell them "You are so fortunate to be here! Don't waste this opportunity and regret it later! Do something important and beneficial to society with your life!"  But, I know that my efforts would be wasted. Some things you just have to figure out for yourself.  Luckily I got a second chance.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Spring Semester 2012 Begins

The first week of Spring Semester 2012 is almost complete.What have I gotten myself into? Okay, it isn't that bad but it is a little more difficult than I anticipated. Things I failed to take into account:
  • We received homework assignments in the first week of class (and I don't just mean, "read chapter 1")
  • Juggling my time between school, homework, gym, meal preparation, cleaning, sleeping, spouse time, and pet time makes for a busy schedule
  • It's been 16 years since I was exposed to these types of science courses
  • I feel out of place in classes full of freshman students
Oh, and let's not forget:
  • I want to change my major already
For reals. Less than a week into the degree and I'm already having second thoughts.  There are a few reasons for this:
  • I enjoy my Geosciences class a lot more than I do my Biology classes
  • It will take me four semesters of sequential prerequisite lower level course work before I can branch out into the upper level courses that will count toward my major <---My primary concern
  • I get a bad vibe from the Biology building and the classes
But, I'm smart enough to refrain from rushing off to the Geosciences department to change my major right away.  Even though the topic of Geography/Geology is more interesting I still need to do some research on the types of jobs available in that field and the projected graduation time if I decided to change my major.  After all, I've got some time before I have to worry about registering for summer and fall semester.  Who knows? I may grow to like Biology once we get past the boring topics of atoms and molecules and covalent bonds and such.  But I am a little disappointed that I'm not more enthusiastic about it.

I suppose what this all boils down to is trying to find that happy medium between a career field that's practical and one that I enjoy.  If it's too scientifically or mathematically related it doesn't hold a lot of interest for me but if it's too liberal artsy then it is obviously not as practical.  After all, the whole purpose behind going back to school is to get a degree that will lead to a career.  Now to spend time working towards it instead of thinking about it.   

Sunday, January 1, 2012

A Country Mouse Goes to New York City

When I first found out I was going to New York for Christmas I expected to come back with stories of how alien NYC is and how horrible the city is compared to the country.  To my surprise, I came home with an appreciation for NYC and a new perspective on big cities in general.  A lot of my misconceptions were probably a result of watching too much television.  From watching Law & Order I’ve come to believe that people get murdered on the streets of NYC on a regular basis and no one stops to look, much less help.  Television has also led me to believe that NYC is just one big jumble of people, pollution, crime, and opportunists out to swindle you. Much to my surprise I wasn’t murdered nor witnessed a murder while in New York.

One of the things that surprised me about New York is that it isn’t all crowded city slums and upscale businesses.  There are actually some pretty nice areas of New York and Central Park isn’t lined with trash, hypodermic needles, and bums as I had previously believed (not that these things aren’t present there but they aren’t as prolific as I expected).  I was also surprised to find that there are suburbs in New York that don’t look much different from your standard suburb elsewhere.  This may sound like a given for most of you but you have to understand that I was seriously disillusioned and couldn’t conceive of quiet suburban streets in conjunction with the word New York.  

Yes, NYC itself was crowded and there were lots of people.  However I was there during the more-crowded-than-usual holiday season and I traveled to some of the more popular tourist attractions within the city.  The public transportation in NYC is a big plus for me.  Yes, it was also crowded at times but not as bad as I had expected.  The surprising part is that it was so convenient and trains ran regularly to and from all parts of the city.  Wherever we were in NYC we didn’t have to walk too far before finding a subway station.  Atlanta has been the big city I’ve lived closest to for most of my life so public transportation had some pretty negative connotations for me. Atlanta’s public transportation is crap relative to the size of the city and it only runs within the downtown area for the most part.  In order to use the public transportation system you have to drive into the perimeter of the city first which sort of defeats the purpose of public transportation.  Atlanta is notorious for its sprawl however, so it isn’t the best example of a big city.

 Despite being pleased with the convenience of NYC I was still a little bit hesitant about singing its praises.  After all, NYC is full of people and therefore pollution right?  As it turns out it really isn’t that bad.  When I got back home I happened to read an article in the December 2011 edition of National Geographic, The City Solution by Robert Kunzig, which presents an argument in favor of cities as being a better solution to the problem of population increase.  Cities can often produce less pollution because they rely more heavily on foot traffic and public transportation than their smaller town and country counterparts which rely on cars to get from place to place.  NYC produces much less greenhouse gas emissions per person than the U.S. national average.  So, public transportation is not only a more convenient and efficient means of transporting people but it also reduces pollution to a large degree…sounds like a win-win to me.  Unfortunately, too many Americans see car use and ownership as the key to their independence and would refuse to give that up but, that’s another topic for discussion altogether.

I can’t say that I’d ever truly want to live in NYC or the surrounding areas.  It would still mean dealing with large amounts of people and a higher crime rate.  I can see the allure of the city now though.  I dislike driving, particularly in traffic, so the public transportation would make commuting more convenient.  So much is available to you within such a small area that you’d never have to worry about finding the products and services you want or need.  NYC is alive 24 hours a day so you’d never have to worry about finding a place to eat or somewhere to shop anytime of the day or night.  There’s always something to see and do in NYC.  You may not be able to carve out as much personal space for yourself in NYC but what’s wrong with sharing every now and then?

Monday, December 19, 2011

Away From Home For the Holidays

Not a good, old-fashioned Georgia Christmas for me this year, but a (probably) stressful New York Christmas instead.  It is with some trepidation that I agreed to go to New York, my husband’s home territory, for Christmas to visit his parents.  It may sound odd that someone like myself who has been to several foreign countries and within the U.S. has traveled as far away as California, should be nervous about going to New York.  I feel like Dr. McCoy who still refers to himself as a “simple country doctor” even though he’s light years away from Earth on a spaceship exchanging witty banter with an alien.  It isn’t just New York that gives me cause for worry.  It’s where we’ll be staying while we’re there…with the in-laws…whom I’ve never met.  Yep, two and a half years into my marriage and I’ve never met my husband’s parents or siblings.  I feel like I’m some sort of embarrassing family secret.  

In reality it isn’t that my husband’s embarrassed because of me.  He just has no sense of proper social convention and customs and has neatly compartmentalized his married life as separate from his “other” family life.  In his mind, these bubbles don’t overlap.  If it weren't for me he'd probably wait to introduce me to his parents at our child's high school graduation (and we don't currently have children). It hasn’t helped that I was in the Army for the entirety of our engagement and the first year of our marriage and not always available to travel whenever he went to visit his parents.  Still, it makes for an awkward time of things now. Not only am I meeting them but I’m staying in their house for several days.  I wouldn’t even want to spend Christmas sleeping over at my own parent’s house, much less someone else’s.  I’m weird like that.  

There’s a reason the in-law situation has a bad rap in most families….it’s true.  In-laws see their child’s spouse as not being good enough and are often more critical of them than they are their own children.  In return, the spouse resents interference from the in-laws because “They’re not my parents” and any advice is considered (either correctly or incorrectly) meddling.  This makes for a tense situation.  This is precisely the type of situation I hope to avoid.  So, all I have to do is make a good first impression, smooth over any hard feeling his parents have about never having met me before, get in good with his siblings, carry on conversations with everyone over the course of several days, chip in around the house by helping to cook the Christmas meal, take care of my two pets that are coming with us, keep myself busy and occupied during the inevitably long periods of time my husband will be sleeping, and enjoy my Christmas.  Sounds easy….I got this.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Fearless Abandon

Expert rider but no expert on child safety

I never charged into battle or exhibited amazing acts of bravery or even earned a medal that would be considered distinguished for someone of my rank.  Sure, I  deployed overseas twice (to an actual war zone and not someplace like Kuwait) but I spent most of my time inside the wire, on base.  I suppose what I'm trying to say is that, despite being in the Army for six years, I didn't exactly participate in the most intense aspects of war and military service.  In the face of all that I still managed to complete my years of service a braver person than when I first enlisted. 

I will be the first to admit that "brave" is not a word one would use to describe me,  nor are "sociable" "friendly" or "fearless leader".  You have to look at where I've come from first of all.  For those of you who know me now you may find it hard to believe that I was once more reticent than I am now.  I had the annoying habit of letting people run all over me and of avoiding any difficulties that presented themselves instead of dealing with the issue.  Unless I was in completely familiar surroundings I was in a constant state of fear; fear that something would happen and I wouldn't know how to handle it or what to say.  Well, the Army cured me of all that.

I can't tell you when I changed but it most likely happened gradually.  All I know is that I somehow became a person that, instead of being told what to do by everyone, avoided listening to anyone simply because they decided to tell me what to do (and in this regard became a lot more noticeable as a member of my own family).  Aside  from this stubbornness I also developed a sort of fearless abandon.  Okay, maybe that's too strong a word but I do feel as if I'm a little bit braver and eager to prove myself.  I'm considering jobs now that I would never have considered before because I would have felt that it was too difficult for me.

I guess the biggest source of this new found bravery is the increased knowledge of my capabilities and my faults.  I have a much better picture now of who I am and what my skills and abilities are.  I also realize that my personality and personal preferences aren't likely to change much over time and that I need to follow a path that compliments my personality instead of one that struggles against it.  No matter how much I might want to be a people person, I never will be.  While it's true that working on my social skills will improve that skill, it will never increase it to the point that it comes natural to me.

Now the older, wiser version of myself is able to charge ahead with a much better idea of who I am and who I want to become.  I hope to approach things with a balance of ambition and realism from now on as the younger me probably wouldn't even know how to distinguish between the two.  Many adults still don't.  Then again, I still have a lot to learn.  I'm eager to see what lessons I'll learn as I get older.  I just have to remember to keep my mind open to the knowledge.     

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Returning to College at 32

Here I am, registered at UWG as a full-time college student for the first time in ten years.  I’m back in familiar surroundings…sort of.  This University has changed so much since I was last here.  The library has been remodeled and now includes a lot more computers, electronic book check-out, and best of all –they allow food and drink in here now.  Several offices have moved to different buildings and several new buildings have been built around campus.  At least most of the buildings are where I remember them so I'm not awkwardly wandering around campus (well, at least being lost isn't my reason for being awkward).  

I feel a weird sense of both accomplishment and failure in being back at school.  In a way I feel that I have failed in my first career and that’s why I’m starting over.  Someone my age should be well ensconced in their career and not still trying to find out what they want to be when they grow up.  At the same time however, I realize that there are many people my age and much older who choose to change careers and this economy has forced many people to reinvent themselves.  I also recognize that I’m not truly starting from scratch.  I have ten years of experience I didn’t have the last time I was here and I do have most of my core classes taken care of as a result of getting my first degree.

One thing that I am surprised at is how many “useless” classes I’ll have to take.  I’m majoring in Biology now but I didn’t take a single Biology or Chemistry class my first go round.  That creates an obvious problem – or at least it should have been obvious to me if I had really thought about it.  I have to take the introductory classes first before I can truly branch out into the major.  This means that I can only take one or two meaningful classes at a time (meaningful being that they count toward my major) with the rest of my classes being filler classes or classes that would work toward a minor.  I have already fulfilled my core requirements and have plenty of upper level electives due to my first undergraduate degree.  Then why don’t I just go part-time?  Because I’m using the GI Bill which gives a housing stipend each month if I attend college full-time.  If I only go part-time I only get half of the stipend.  Why wouldn’t I take a couple more classes for fun if it means extra money each month?

I suppose I am really over-analyzing this.  I should be thrilled at the opportunity to go back to school and to have, not only my tuition paid, but a stipend as well.  After all, I’ve been wanting to go back to school since I got out of the Army nearly two years ago.  I know I will enjoy school and I picked a major based on logic, ability, and job viability in the current economy.  I suppose this first semester of useless classes will be a good way for me to determine if this major is really for me and if I can handle a full course load after so much time away from college.  Oh, to be young and idealistic again and to labor under the impression that every class I take is a benefit somehow and that a degree = a job.  Time to put on my rose-tinted glasses.