Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Life is Not Like Chess

Indecision and I are become quite intimate.  We just received news that once again, a really good job for Mike has eluded us.  Back at Square One, which oddly looks like a trendy café name or union station.  Alas, it’s the Capital of Indecision, a country with a certain penchant for elusiveness.

Mike’s options are clear at this point: remaining in school and continuing applying for jobs.  Avoid going stir crazy at home every day.

My path is not so clear.

We are going on 10 months in Cedar Rapids.  It’s clear that while my salary can “support” us, in the sense that bills are paid and we have food, we are nonetheless in a precarious position.  Our single-income state generates the following problems:
·         Prone to using credit cards as supplement income for basics
·         Inability to have a savings account
·         Eliminates even thinking about retirement planning
·         Complicates reducing our debt
·         Doesn’t provide room for little luxuries, like simple day trips or visiting family

If it weren’t for Mike’s GI Bill payments, we’d continue to have some serious financial problems.  While the money is being used wisely, it’s also not enough to address any of the above (except for credit cards).  It’s just keeping us floating a little more comfortably while we tread water.

As of late, I’ve been questioning how fiscally responsible it is to continue in my job.  I have the potential to earn more than I do now.  But is it worth the risk?  My mind has been sifting through scenarios as of late and none of them have really solidified what the next step is.  So here are some of my thoughts piecemealed together to form some semblance of coherence:

·        I should get my application in again to the Upper Iowa center in town.  It looks like the Waterloo commuting opportunity has dried up.  If I get my application in again, perhaps go in person, I might be able to land a few adjunct classes.  This would allow me to stay in my current job and earn a little on the side again.  This is the lowest risk option, but if played right, could lead to a full-time job.  What would happen if instead of an adjunct spot, they offered me a salaried position?  What if they only wanted me to adjunct for composition classes?
·        The whole teaching thing leads me to think of the bigger picture: whether I want to keep myself available for higher education and keep my teaching experience active.  For example, I passed by applying to a full-time teaching post at the local community college because the load was high (5-5), 80% would be composition classes, and no salary was listed. How badly do I want to work in higher education?
·        There are other jobs in the area I could apply to related to my degree.  ACT and Pearson both have positions available with $35-40k salaries.  But is it worth selling out my educational values (not contributing to standardized tests) to provide for my family better yet possibly get into a job which I may not like at all?
·        Leaving my job as of current could actually be detrimental for my future prospects.  Nationally, most editing jobs are looking for 3 years of field experience.  I have 10 months. Is a higher salary at another job worth having only one year as an editor on my resume?    
·        In lieu of my one year with the company, a raise would be appropriate since I have the same workload as my colleagues yet a lower title (read lower salary; I don’t give a hoot about status).  However, even if I did get a small raise, which is unlikely, that still doesn’t provide us with much more wiggle room. It would also be the top of the ladder since there aren’t any other positions to be promoted to. This means that ultimately, the job can’t keep me for the long haul. Doesn’t that mean I should just stick it out until Mike finishes school and we can be free of Iowa then, calling these the Lost Financial Years?

All of these lead me to one big question: what do I want to do with myself?

I have specialized degrees and qualifications.  I also have standards about how I want to live my life.  Neither of these are contributing to a 401K. 

So what’s a gal to do?  Sell out to live more comfortably and secure a better financial future, or stick with it and try to make it work?  Hope that Mike gets a great job after graduation and that I find a higher salary?  Who’s to say in this economy that this simple expectation will ever be a reality?  What if this is as good as it gets?

I just had a dear friend land her first job in her chosen field (gerontology, the elderly).  While she had to take a little pay cut, she will never be out of a job.  From this moment on, she will only become more marketable in her profession.  This is super exciting.

I, on the other hand, have my feet in two fields that are going through massive upheaving: publishing and education.  A future in either is quite a hazy prospect.  Given the way higher education is going, I’m deadly realistic about my chances of landing a full-time spot.  Having been in publishing for year, I’m not sure about how well I’d like my future days doing exclusively this.  I’m not sure if I have the gumption to stay innovative as the field digitally redefines itself, though writing for a food magazine would be heavenly.

My path used to be tidy and neat.  Go to grad school, go to PhD school, get a job, get tenure.  There were hundreds of predetermined checkpoints to meet, a clear ladder to get from Point A to Point B.  You knew what was expected and what could be a misstep.

Now I think my greatest problem is that I feel everything could be a misstep.  I’m not comfortable with this.  I loved playing chess.  It was a great game because you only had so many moves you could make, only so many moves your opponent could make.

Life is not like chess.  There are no more black and white squares to preplan for.  I know this is what life is about: the grand adventure into the unknown, your future is what you make of it, yada yada.  But financially, your future is defined by your ability to plan.  How’s that for being at odds?      

I had intended to make this blog post short.  In fact, it’s the same length as one of my unwritten features, which are due on Friday.  Either way, it was good to put these thoughts in writing.  It’s trite to say there aren’t any easy answers and I know and accept this.  It’s more difficult to admit that you want to do your best but don’t know how.


  1. Everything certainly could be a misstep. Any decision you make could be wrong, as well. Any decision might be right.
    There are no blacks or white, rights or wrongs, no absolute rules that will ensure your future. When we're young there are fences, rules, obligations, expectations and all of those are imposed externally. Then we grow up and, other than the laws imposed by society for civil probity, we must figure out how to impose our own restrictions, make our own fences and figure out how the heck we will go about doing that.
    At 55, I still worry these things like a dog with a chew toy. Likely I always will. That said? Do your best but also understand that doing your best doesn't guarantee success. It might very well guarantee you can look at yourself in the mirror in the morning with a clear conscience.

  2. Wise words of wisdom that should be passed along to all young people. It's the truth that no one wants to say outloud: doing your best doesn't guarantee anything.

    The boy and I had a long discussion last night about all of this. I've decided to sit tight in the job. Leaving would only be for more money, which doesn't sit well with me.

    We're just going to keep plugging away in the next two years to eliminate that credit card debt. Once that's gone and we both have better jobs, we'll worry about retirement planning. We'll barely be in our 30s by then, not terribly late entering the game. I can accept that.

  3. and, you decided together. That is a success that many never manage, no matter what their ages.

  4. Maybe you should check out a 4 way chess board. It's a little more like life where things are coming at you from all sides.