Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Go west, young woman

Over a lunch of PB & J, a young friend and I were discussing her career frustration. She needed not advice but affirmation that her instincts were right. One escapable rule of life is opportunity cost. Doing anything means you can't do something else with that same time. It makes choices so important. Like me, this lady followed the rules. She went to college and made good grades. She's determinedly worked to build a career in the few years since her graduation and been met with little but frustration. The wall she's ran into over and over is our geography. Small town, rural area = limited opportunities. Her degree has overqualified her for most of the jobs available in this area, and finances have not allowed her to just pack up and leave. She's been told over and over that companies expected her to leave as soon as anything better came along because of her qualifications. The problem is that those better opportunities rarely ever come along. They usually go to people who get transferred into the region.

To have anything resembling a professional job, she's ended up working in a field in which she finds no joy. What I told her, she knew. Leave, get out of here. Sock away everything you can for a few months and hit the road. Otherwise, you'll find yourself in my shoes twenty years from now.

I'm really enjoying my new job, and I'm not dissatisfied with my career, but it hasn't been easy trying to find ways to make an end run around these roadblocks. The vast majority of jobs in our area are manufacturing production jobs, and they are far fewer in number than they used to be thanks to the decimation of NAFTA. The closest hospital is the largest employer in a several county region, and it is filled with degreed women doing data entry, wondering if this is why they're still paying off student loans. This region's schools are loaded with teachers who hate their field but know it's a viable career that pays better than most jobs in this region. (Note that I did not say all teachers are like this. I know and highly value many local educators for whom their profession is their calling.) When teachers are seen as well paid, you know an area is poor.

When I was an employment recruiter, I had to disillusion new graduates about their expectations if they couldn't or wouldn't relocate. I'd ask for their anticipated salary and then have to inform them that they wanted around $10,000 more a year for an entry level job than the median household income for their home county. Inevitably their response was anger and then a few months later, sad resignation.

So why do we stay? Roots. (When I first typed that it came out rots. That's just as true.) Our families are here. Our friends are here. The cost of living is comparatively low, just not as low as the incomes. Goodness knows, we have beautiful land and that southern hospitality. I've made my choices and live with them. In living here, I provided my daughter with the mixed blessing of extended family and stayed true to one of my core values of honoring parents and family. Every morning when I watch the sun rise over the tree line, I'm reminded that illumination and growth can happen anywhere. If I had lived somewhere with better employment opportunities would I have had to look so thoroughly to find what truly fulfilled me?

Knowing these things, I still advised my friend to get out while the getting is good. This region is her home and heritage, and it has helped form her admirable character. I want her to have a smooth path in using her potential. I want her to have greater financial rewards than most people enjoy here. I want her to be happy and know her well enough to know that she won't find what she wants here. She thanked me for saying what she knew but wanted to hear from outside of her own head. She still has to make her choices, and I know that wherever she plants herself, she'll continue growing as an incredible woman.

I'm a pretty incredible woman myself, but tonight, I can't help wondering what might have been and what will be.


Blogger Tammy said...

Your friend should move on because she can always come home. You just happen to find happiness at home.

"There's no place like home"

January 10, 2006 4:35 PM  
Blogger tara dawn said...

Don't we all find ourselves wondering about the possibilities from time to time? And yet the lives we live are the lives we have chosen, and created. I think there will always be the part of ourselves that feels a sense of peace and contentment with where we are, and simultaneously another piece of us that longs for the choices we did not make.
May your friend live her choices in the most fulfilling of ways!

January 10, 2006 5:31 PM  
Blogger Lisa :-] said...

The older I get, the more I realize that job/career cannot define your life. Any more than motherhood, spousehood, or any other one thing can or should. Why do we put so much importance on career? I used to do the same thing..until I lost my "career" and realized I was still alive; so I have to be more than just what I did for a living

That said it is hard to be happy in a place you love without also loving what you do. You just have to decide which is more important to you, and I think you have...

January 10, 2006 6:34 PM  
Blogger Gannet Girl said...

Always the challenge for those of us from smalltown locales. I never considered returning to mine for a second -- and now I may go back there to teach in a college, which would involve a 4 hour commute! Nothing is ever permanent. . . .

January 10, 2006 8:28 PM  
Blogger Virginia said...

I agree with Lisa, the career doesn't define the soul. I did much of what was expected of me. Now I wish I had thrown all that to the wind and just done whatever I had a passion for. In the moments of expressed compassion, or great love or great humor, these precious moments are when we are right were we are supposed to be.

January 10, 2006 9:15 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes, you are definitely an incredible woman, Cynthia! Hear hear! Meanwhile, I really feel for your young friend. Speaking as someone who picked up and moved 6,000 miles from her family, I can tell you that it is tough, particularly when you have children. But I made my choice - for many reasons and not just financial - and find that regret, while an interesting avenue to pursue from an intellectual and emotional standpoint, is not particularly helpful in feeling good about where I am now. Regret is in a way a waste of time. Once your friend has made up her mind, she should go for it with both barrels blazing. Then she will make a new home, and new friends. This is my home now. I ike going back to Britain to visit, but SoCal is my home, now and forever more. And I don't regret it.

A beautifully written entry, Cynthia - well-constructed and very well expressed. Thanks again for the food for thought.

Vicky xx

January 10, 2006 11:13 PM  
Blogger Jod{i} said...

I think you wouldve missed the morning sunrise over the treeline...
We are our own worse enemies. We make the choices and we are not honest with ourselves about many, until well, until now. Doesnt mean we CANT have it. We become comfy, we like where we are. IF we moved would we have been Happier? I doubt it. I think what we seek we have all along. I think if I went after those things at a younger age? I wouldve sought out what I have now. It just wouldve been different.
Yet what held me back was that fear. Not having the support, due to their fear for me...
Glad you gave her that strong perspective. I wouldve said the same things.
I do wonder where I'd be, then a note of sadness trickles in...I wouldnt have what I do now if I went for what I desired then...

January 11, 2006 8:56 AM  
Blogger Mrs. L said...

Choices. Why do we make them? We have the freedom to choose, but, ultimately, how free are our choices? So many unknowns affect our decisions. Even the factors which seem to direct us to take one fork in the road over another may just be mirages, obscurring the real reasons behind them.

January 12, 2006 5:54 PM  
Blogger Nelle said...

I think some people are able to move and others would never be happy making those moves if it meant leaving behind family. My sister has moved far away and she places her value on her career. That was never important enough for me to go and leave behind our families. With my son being an only child I felt his cousins were even more important for him to be near. In the end we must as individuals define what is most important and make all other choices with that in mind. I think that you did what was right for you.

January 12, 2006 9:36 PM  

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