Independant Thinker from Interdependent Roots

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This article from Vox has raised some interesting thoughts this morning.


I graduated with a bachelor’s degree this last spring, three weeks before I turned 21. That’s a pretty big deal. Neither of my parents have a bachelor’s degree. My mom worked through for an associate degree in business and got it about a year before I graduated high school. My dad was a banker for 13 years, until I was in first or second grade, but when he lost his job he started working at a grocery store, the same one that my Mom and he met at while working as teens. The same one that he works at to this day while my mother works at the same store in another city. My Gramma never got her degree, though she as a secretary and a kindergarten teacher for a short time.

Both of my grandfathers have bachelors and one of them has a masters Both of them have a degree in history and my Dad’s father has an extra degree in math, yet both worked in hard labour jobs, electric, steel, whatever put food on the table. I grew up in a non-denominational church. And even though I went to a liberal college I found myself having more conservative view than my peers and my parents. A point that seems to cause some uneasiness between my father and I.

Growing up my parents made $300 too much to qualify for food stamps, though we really needed the help. If they cut back hours to not make that extra $300, they would have received $300 worth of help in food stamps.

There were 6 of us in a four bedroom house with one bathroom. You couldn’t lock the door to the bathroom when you were taking a shower, only if you were using the toilet. If you did lock the door Mom or Dad wouldn’t be able to finish getting ready for work and would end up being late, or your other three siblings wouldn’t be able to get ready for school and then you would all be running late.

There would be entire weeks where I didn’t see one of my parents because their work schedule clashed with my school schedule. Dad would give up coming to band concerts or plays so that he could work overtime and make sure the house payment was made. In so many ways I still resent that. I’m crying, or trying not to cry as I type this.

My father is a borderline hoarder, and if it wasn’t for my mother he could probably be a whole season of Hoarders by himself.

Our house was always messy. There would be a giant laundry pile in the hall that you had to climb over because none of us wanted to do it. It would only get done when Mom got pissed off enough to do it herself, staying up late or spending her entire day off doing the laundry for 6 people. The dishes would pile up because no one wanted to do them.

The dog, who died when I was in 7th grade, was so allergic to fleas she didn’t have any hair behind her rib cage. I remember watching in utter disgust as masses of fleas moved across her skin. No matter how many baths she had, no matter what kind of medicine we gave her, we just couldn’t get rid of them. She slept in my bedroom because I was the only kid who would pet her and tell her I loved her still and my schedule was probably the most predictable at the time, so she knew she could count on me. I feel so bad for what we put that dog through because we couldn’t afford to really take care of her.

My parents would have trouble just trying to keep us in clothes that weren’t always running away from our ankles. It’s the reason why now that I buy my own clothes I don’t like to wear anything that shows my ankles. Because anything that short reminds me of when I had no choice but to wear clothes where my ankles showed.

We were always clean and presentable at school, Dad would sew bright patches of fabric onto our clothes to hide holes and he did it so well that teachers complimented us on it, thinking that our parent’s had bought the clothes that way. When we got new clothes, we all got them, but they were never in style. I remember feeling very out-of-place.

When I was in high school I suggested once that I might take a year off before going to college and I was given looks of shock and horror and my grandfather shook his head at me as if I’d just told him I wanted to dye my hair orange and pierce my eyebrows.

They knew that putting off college wold make it harder to ever go back. As it turned out, going to college was the best choice I could have ever made. I may have lived like we were from a poor family, but according to our income we were “lower-middle class” – still middle class, and that was enough for people to assume I had it easy.

The article that inspired this, I find the views of different classes towards college interesting. When I came to college it was not with the mindset they establish for poorer students. I came with a desire to get away. But if anything, the distance from my family allowed me to get closer to my God, and to become more appreciative of them, even if I still have my issues with some of them.

For me, college was the way I was going to finally figure out who I was outside of my three siblings and my parents. Outside of that tiny house. (In reality, it wasn’t tiny, but with 6 people, it wasn’t huge.) College was a place I could embrace my introverted nature without fear. And where I could explore the occasional extroverted activity without fear of being suddenly relabeled and expected to be extroverted all the time.

The first night I was there my roommate told me I could “turn out the lights if you want to.” Those words, if I wanted to, sent me into a fit of laughter that had me on the ground for about an hour. She thought she’d broken me, and in a ways he had. For once, it was my choice. it wasn’t governed by someone else. It was my choice to do something. I didn’t have to turn them out because my mom or dad told me to, because my siblings across the hall were trying to sleep and my light was keeping them up, I could turn them off because I wanted to.

I’ve always been strong-willed, as a result I didn’t have the same problems other people with backgrounds like mine had. I went straight int a humanities field, even though I didn’t think it would make me a lot of money or get me the best job. My college career was about what I wanted, for the first time ever, I was able to think independently without someone else telling me I should be thinking interdependently.

Yes, some of my motives were that I want to give a better life to any children I might have, that I would love to be able to take care of my parents when they get old, and make a better life for myself than what I started out with, but those weren’t at the forefront of my mind. What I wanted was to explore what makes me happy.

That’s where my real challenge comes in. I’ve been criticized for the fact that I’m looking for the job that will make me happy. ‘When I was your age, we took whatever job we could get and were grateful for food on the table and a roof over our heads.’ (An amalgamation of things that have been said to me.) It’s hard to overcome something like interdependent thinking when it’s how families think, and ou come from a background where your family is conditioned to think that way.

Not that interdependent thinking is bad, just that it wasn’t the way for me. If I thought interdependently, as it is assumed I should, I wouldn’t be who I am today. I would not be the writer that I am, or can be when I’m not rambling.

The real trick, that I’m finding anyway, is not to think independently as opposed to thinking interdependently, but to intertwine my independent thinking with my interdependent thinking. It’s all well and good to think for yourself, but sometimes you need to think about the people around you as well.

My parent’s house still has issues, but it looks better. It probably won’t be what it should be until my brothers move out and Mom and Dad don’t have to take care of them anymore. Don’t get me wrong, I love my family, but I can attest that your background makes your college experience different. My mindset was of someone with a different background than my own. I was lucky. But at the same time I was given that background, I still met resistance because people want to keep you where you’re at. My biggest struggle in life has always been in getting people to let go of me where I’m at, and getting them to let me in where I want to be.

I still live at home, now with my grandparents. I work a working class job that makes less than $20k a year. But I’m writing and I’m happyish. I don’t know how some people manage to be truly happy in a job like mine, but they do it everyday. It’s why it’s sometimes hard for people to accept that you want to move on to “better things.”

The whole point I’m trying to make is that it’s not just colleges that discriminate against class. It’s the classes themselves. When you try to move up in life, even though people are encouraging you to do it, there will always be that resistance as they try to keep you with them for a little longer, afraid you’ll leave them behind and never come back. And it’s not an invalid fear.

Sometimes, the challenges you face are societal. Sometimes, they aren’t. It’s important to examine your challenges and figure out where they’re really coming from. It’s also important too look at your background and realize that in one way or another it will present a challenge. But that’s just the way life goes.

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College Debt and Why I Hate Being a Millennial

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In a recent NPR article: Why Summer Jobs Don’t Pay, Anya Kamenetz briefly examines the mathematics behind working your way through college with a summer job, then and now. As a recent college graduate with more debt than I am comfortable with, this article hits pretty close to home right now.

I’ve been working at the local Lowe’s home improvement store all summer and I worked there last summer as well. My first summer in college I didn’t work. I was stubborn and afraid to get a job, so I paid for it by not having a lot of money for the summer. I also worked through college. One way or another, I was only without a job in college for maybe 5 months all together (counting that first summer) during the three years I took to graduate.

Despite an awesome rent situation with my grandparents, no car payments thanks to a borrowed car from my grandmother, saving half of my paychecks, and not touching that savings unless I have some kind of emergency or one of my goals has moved up in necessity, my bank account only has a little over $1000 in it.

That’s more than I think it’s ever seen at one time in its four-year existence.

In a month or two I’m going to start making payments on my student loans. In my bank account I have less than 4% of what I owe in student loans and I’m depending on my taxes to pay off my credit card in full for the things I had to buy like clothes for work and clothes for job interviews, and gas in between jobs and transitions from school to home.

Apparently when you work in a garden center you should wear work boots, jeans, and flannel or something comparable. And unless you’re applying for a lumberjack position, that doesn’t really fly as clothing for job interviews. And the yoga pants you wore in college and now wear at home and to bed are unacceptable to both. (All I can say is that I’m glad my dog doesn’t require a dress code, that could get expensive.)

But that’s all beside the point, that’s just my situation. There are countless stories out there. For every person in my situation there are a dozen more people in worse or similar situations. And there are some in better. I have a friend who paid off her entire student loan account a few weeks before graduation because throughout college she worked 2-3 jobs or worked as a resident assistant, which they give you free room and board to do.

I wasn’t so fortunate, but I did have some things working for me. I was a 21st Century Scholar, an Indiana program that meant all of my tuition was covered. I didn’t pay a dime in tuition money, everything was room and board. I had a few scholarships that meant I didn’t have to take out as many loans as I might have had to, only a few thousand each year.

I never lived off campus, but campus jobs paid barely above minimum wage, my one off-campus job didn’t pay terribly, but I had to drive a little over an hour to get there and stay at a friend’s house for the weekends to work 24-30 hours in a 3 day period. Because of things like phone bills, food, and other life necessities, not working during the school year was not an option. But for me, working more than one job wouldn’t have worked with my homework load. I have time management issues when it comes to my personal life and it was a real struggle to keep myself together. But I also know that because of my personality I would have gone mad without a job.

And this is why I hate being a millennial. Because I talk about my student loans now and I have been asked why I didn’t work harder to pay my way through college and I’ve heard the standard “I worked a part-time job in the summer and I managed not to take out any loans,” story countless times.

I’ve got news ,people: tuition and housing prices for college students have all gone up. Month by month, I was technically paying what was one the total per year cost of attending college. The only way my parents were able to really help with that part of my life was in the form of taking out a gap loan that I have to pay back. There was no escape for me, coming from a lower middle class family especially.

My friend recently wrote about her experience coming from a lower-income family to college where she was looking for the right career and what would make her money to help herself and her family later. You can read that here.

I was lucky, I didn’t care about making money. Once I decided to major in English, I stuck with it. I didn’t fluctuate, and I have a habit of being at least mediocre at everything I try to do/learn.

But as a millennial, I heard a thousand times over again that I was “such a millennial” and was stupid for picking a degree in the humanities fields. Not from my family, they call me a millennial because I look at my phone a lot, I heard this from people I hardly knew, and even from a few friends.

I hate being a millennial because I talk about the student debt crisis, I talk about all my dreams and how I can’t accomplish them like this and all I get told is that life isn’t fair and I should quit whining, be glad for the advantages I have. And I am so glad for my advantages, because I wouldn’t have made it this far without them.

I hate being a millennial because I have to live with this debt for at least the next decade unless I win the lottery suddenly and all that people older than me can seem to say is that I need a better job, to try harder, or that they’re sorry they can’t help. I’m trying to get a better job, I can’t try any harder than telling the truth and letting them know I’m interested in the job, and I don’t really want help – just a listening ear.

(Unless you have enough money and feel like generously paying off my student debt. 😉 )

I have to watch them smirk as they ask if I regret my English degree and wish I’d gotten a real career in science or engineering, even though I’m a woman and those same people would tell me that those are men’s fields.

I hate being a millennial because I look back and read this opinion piece and think, this is such a millennial thing to write. Even though, I know it’s the truth.

Millennial has become so much more of an insult for me. To me, a millennial is a whiney, self-absorbed brat who pretends to care about the greater good to garner sympathy. To me, a millennial is someone dependant on technology who can’t do anything for themselves or even think for themselves. But, I don’t actually know anyone like that. All the “millennials” I know are really decent people with big hearts stuck in a not so great financial situation.