Tag Archives: future

Life as a College Graduate…

…sucks.

No, really.

From the time I was five years old, my internal calendar has always revolved around the school year. Normal people consider January the start of the new year and December its end. For me, that beginning started in August, when school started, and ended in May to the tune of this awesome song:

The summer was always a time of celebration of the fact that I didn’t have to face the real world yet. It was a time to relax (when I wasn’t working) and rejoice in all the little things that kept me connected to my childhood.

And now? My internal calendar by which I’ve lived my entire life is thrown off, my leisurely summers are history, and I am expected to be a grown up.

Ever since my graduation day, I’ve gone through too many emotions to be considered a rational human being.

I’ve been a combination of this:

and this:

and I especially feel like this:

because let’s not forget this:

And for those who ask if I have a job yet?

I remind them that nowadays, the battle to get into the workforce is something close to this:

Needless to say, it hasn’t been two weeks since graduation and I’m already doing a whole lot of this:

Now, granted, I know I have it better than others. The day after graduation, I got a call from my dream company asking to set up a phone interview for that Friday for a temporary position. Whether or not I actually get the job (and it’s a long shot that I do), some people aren’t so lucky. I know people who have applied for fifty, sixty jobs and haven’t heard back from any of them. So far, I’ve only applied to four.

But this anxiety I’ve been feeling since the 13th has struck me with full force. The depression of being done with school for the foreseeable future has deepened significantly. And finally having to admit that I’m adult now sucks – no matter how many rude, chipper people there are who find it their duty to tell me (and other college grads) how we’re all still babies and are so lucky to have our whole lives ahead of us.

They conveniently forget that college grads these days have five figures of student debt, next to no chance of gaining jobs in their fields right away due to the recession, and that the cost of living is waaaaay higher than it was 30 years ago. And the minimum wage? Laughable.

Jenna speaks my language.

This post got bitter really quickly.

I guess all I’m trying to say is that if there are any other recent college grads out there who are going through any of the above, you’re not alone. Heck, you could have graduated ten years ago and still be going through this. It sucks. And I feel your pain on so many levels.

But as I wrote in my last blogpost, I learned in college that only the strong survive this world and that the ones who succeed are the ones that never give up.

We can’t give up.

As down and out as I feel right now, I certainly don’t plan to.

Life as a college graduate sucks, but I keep telling myself it won’t always be that way.

Because after all, as much as I don’t believe it right now,

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The Day I Realized I Can’t Save The Whole World

It’s official.

I don’t know what I want to be when I grow up.

That’s not true. I’ve wanted to be an author since I was four years old, and I knew I was cut out to be one since I was eight and started writing short novels. I love to write, live for it. But I want to be something else. I want to be multiple things when I grow up. I don’t even know how to sit down and pick a career that is molded to all I want to do.

Even before I started in the field of sustainability, I knew I wanted to be a humanitarian. I wanted to help people, to uplift them, to help them find solutions for problems that seemed unsolvable. But that is a very broad role. One does not make a living – or a life, as a matter of fact – from just existing as someone that wants to help people but doesn’t have an outlet to do so.

So for the past six months or so, I went back and forth between a number of potential career options. First I thought I could be in a public administrative role. Then I wondered if I could work at the U.S. Peace Institute. Recently I wanted – and I still do, as a matter of fact – to become a peace negotiator for the United Nations. I want to work with developing nations and help the U.S. avoid conflict.

And now I’m onto another potential career path – one that involves something else besides writing that I’ve loved for my entire life: education.

The day after my overwhelming day, the day that ultimately rattled my dreams and made me question what it was I was doing with my life, I visited the ranch I volunteer at and spent some time with the horses and with my good friend Jim who founded and runs the place. (Allow me to briefly go off on a tangent here and just say this: if you, reader, are ever feeling lost, or confused, or just need a quiet place to retreat to so you can untangle your thoughts, go there. There is nothing quite like being nuzzled by horses.) Jim can read me like a book, so upon being asked how I was, I held my hands up and told him how defeated I felt. And as is usual for me whenever I visit that horse sanctuary, I received a very big wake-up call.

Upon hearing my impossible goals of establishing world peace and ending all poverty, Jim essentially told me to start small. “You can’t save the whole world,” he said, “but you can change small parts of it.”

That’s what I need to do. Start small. I need to stop thinking about problems of international and global scales and instead focus on what I can do here in my country, in my state, in my city, in my neighborhood. And I think I know just the way to do it.

The more I learn about sustainability, the more I see a very big trend in the lack of sustainable societies. This trend is that every society or community that is not operating on a sustainable level generally lacks access to adequate education. Impoverished nations are impoverished because they cannot access education, and they cannot access education because they are impoverished. It’s a cycle. Likewise, with the United States, people who live in poorer areas generally do not have access to good education, and they cannot access good education because they have a lower income.

Furthermore and perhaps more disturbingly, education is not what it used to be. My little sister goes to the elementary school I attended for seven years. I used to have an hour for lunch and recess. She and her classmates now have about twenty minutes. They added an extra hour to the school day, and more days to the school year. She comes home and doesn’t know how to do her homework. Her class size is enormous. It makes me so sad, and I have always wondered if there is anything that can be done to change the way things are done in schools these days.

What if it were possible to change all that?

And what if I could change school curriculum so that kids are learning more sustainable practices and ideas that they need if they are going to inherit our planet? What if I could help school districts come up with fun ways to teach kids these sustainable practices?

What if I could help increase salaries for teachers and help convince the government that education needs more funding and – ?

Ah, well, there I go again on trying to solve a problem that’s way over my head.

Maybe this is my calling. Maybe it’s not.

But whatever I’m supposed to do with my life, I’m confident that it will present itself to me when the time is right. In the meantime, I’ll keep waiting patiently and sit in the knowledge that whatever I do end up doing, it will make me happy and it will be perfect.

In the end, that’s all I want.

Happiness.

An Overwhelming Day

Today was one of those days that made me question everything. My life, my choices, my future… I am so mentally drained that I just want to curl up into a ball with South Park and my kitty and just focus on what I’m going to wear tomorrow or what color of eyeliner to buy next from Target or something stupid like that.

But I can’t.

I can only focus on the whirlwind of questions in my mind that today has created.

Simply put, what I am majoring in, sustainability, is mentally and emotionally draining. I won’t go into extreme detail for fear of confusing everybody, but there are basically three main categories of sustainability – social, economic, and environmental – and my concentration in this field focuses primarily on the social aspect of it. Society. People. Peoples’ wants and needs and goals and dreams and futures and safety and happiness.

The concepts behind social sustainability are not concrete or set in stone. They are very conceptual and theoretical. Therefore, while we learn concrete fact about peoples’ situations and certain rules and regulations behind different ways of implementing policies that change said situations, most of what we talk about is theory. Reading off my notes I took in one of my classes today, we talk about internal framework, hypothetical situations, social development. Hyden’s crescendo: evolving, diffusing, insulating. Layers of government. Data and arguments. Flow of information vs. misinformation. Roles and influences of technology and geography. Capacity building.

Is that confusing, or is that confusing?

Some days I chip in happily with the class conversations. I take my notes and nod as my professors explain models and ideas and realities that collectively make up one way of doing things, or explain why some people do something a certain way, or determine whether or not an immediate solution is needed in a situation. Some days I get it. I understand.

And then there are some days where my professors are firing off terms and abstract ideas and some of my older, wiser classmates are debating amongst themselves and are quoting articles, books, other universes for all I know, and I sit in complete shock and wonder how I ever managed to get accepted into the School of Sustainability; I ask myself why I didn’t major in something like art, or design, or communications, or something that wouldn’t drive me insane, something that wouldn’t keep my mind churning for hours on end, something that wouldn’t make me question my capabilities and my role on this planet and my very existence.

There is just no other way to say this: the more I know about the field of sustainability, the less prepared I feel to be entering it.

Days like today are the ones that make me sit with my head in my hands and despair because I don’t feel worthy enough to be in this program. The mess we humans have gotten ourselves into is so complex, so complicated, that I can’t wrap my head around it and I hate myself for not understanding fully. Maybe that’s where the true problem lies. I’m an egomaniac that wants to be the smartest of them all, and I can’t stand the fact that while I want to be a top academic that people look to for guidance, I just don’t have all the answers.

Days like today are the ones that make me think… what in the living hell did I get myself into?

Careers, my poor mind starts sputtering like a broken record. Of course that’s the first thing I think about. I’m 21, going to graduate in a year, and need to find a career if I’m ever going to survive in this lion’s den that is the real world. What career will I end up in if I continue down this road? Will I be a successful humanitarian someday? Will people listen to me? Will I know what to do? Will my life ever be in jeopardy from trying to work with those who need help? Will I be happy?

And what about the determinedly ignorant people who refuse to see that sustainable solutions must surface if there is to be hope for humanity? How do I even function when they exist? How do I do my potential job? How do I convince them I have their best interests at heart? What about those who refuse to do anything because they are so convinced their God will just solve everything with a wave of a magic wand? How do I possibly get through to them? How do I tell them it is okay to believe in a higher being, but scientific fact backs up these sustainability-related problems and they require real, equally scientific solutions? How do I try and help those who refuse to see the giant mess they are sitting in? How – in reference to an awesome quote from the movie Avatar – do I fill a cup that is already full?

How do I help governments work together? How do I help developing nations rise out of poverty? How do I stop wars? How do I stop crime? How do I stop hunger? How do I improve education? How do I spread awareness to more fortunate groups of people? How do I redistribute power? How do I uplift those who have been beaten down? How do I promote equality? How does anyone in this field do any of that?? How do they do it without losing their minds? How do they (brace yourselves) sustain their abilities and follow their dreams of helping people at the same time?

How?

How?

Today I ask these questions. Today I am still in love with my field of study, but I am overwhelmed with emotion when I think of the fact that if nobody answers these questions, people will continue to die of starvation, disease, conflict, or thirst. People will continue to slowly destroy the only planet we have to live on.

Today I stand with my eyes to the sky, begging, beseeching whatever or whomever is up there, if there is anything up there, to guide me, to guide all of us.

I don’t have all the answers. Maybe no one does.

But today I simply try to have hope, because there are times like now where that is all I have.

But from this rises yet another question… is it enough?

Going For It

I have been thinking about the future a lot lately. When I say future, I’m not talking about it in general terms as a sustainability major should. Instead, I’m rather selfishly thinking of my own future and what it holds for me. More specifically, I’m thinking about grad school and the rest of my undergraduate semesters. I’m thinking about careers, jobs I would love, work that I would love to get up in the morning for. It’s quite a lot to focus on at 21 years old, isn’t it? (Though at my age, my mom had just married my dad and was pregnant with me – a bit more thought consuming than a career, but I digress.)

But a few weeks ago, something a little more immediate and relevant came up in one of my classes, and it reminded me of a dream I’ve had for a long time.

It started with brochures. Lots of brochures.

“The School of Sustainability study abroad department is looking for more students to join these programs,” my professor told us all at the beginning of our lecture. She was passing around the handouts as she spoke. “They have lots of funding available for financial assistance they literally need to get rid of, so I encourage all of you to apply.”

I looked at my brochure. There were four summer programs available: Sustainability, Tourism, and Culture in Dubai, Energy, Sustainability, and Development in Spain and Morocco, Diversity and Sustainability in Ecuador, and Comparing Sustainability across Cultures and Governments in Washington D.C. and London.

I actually felt my heart leap upwards. Such intense longing I’ve only felt once before: when I was sixteen and staring at a letter that invited me to attend a National Youth Leadership Conference in Washington D.C. for ten days during that summer. I was able to go to D.C. five years ago and I left a piece of my heart there. I did not want to leave. If I hadn’t had a plane ticket back home I’d probably still be there.

But London, too? To be able to go to my favorite place in the world and visit a place I’ve always dreamed of going to all over the course of a few weeks? And study something that blended perfectly with my track area (Policy and Governance in Sustainable Systems) and my minor (Political Science) at the same time? It was almost too good to be true. It was as though the academic gods got together, looked at my ASU profile, and said, “Okay, guys, what kind of program can we put together that Alexis Roeckner would be the most qualified for and go absolutely freaking nuts over?”

Me in front of National Archives in 2008

Me in front of National Archives in 2008

I emailed one of the program managers and asked for more details about applying for the apparently available financial aid. She emailed me back and told me she checked my eligibility and that if I wanted to participate in the program, it was done. She also recommended I meet with the faculty director of the program, and so I happily scheduled a meeting with him for a few days later. We talked for half an hour, during which my longing to participate in the program skyrocketed. When I said, jokingly, that I was slightly disappointed that a trip to London would not include a day trip in Paris, he laughed and said, “It’s one of things where it’s like… you’re down there already, you might as well go. I have a feeling we’ll be headed down there for a bit while we’re in the U.K.”

Cue leaping, bounding heart that strained to get out of my body and leap and jump and dance and go absolutely, completely insane.

I have lots of dreams, but one of my biggest ones is to visit the Louvre in Paris. Even the idea of me finally being able to visit that museum makes tears come to my eyes. Washington D.C. plus London plus Paris too?

And so I spent the remainder of our meeting trying not to look like a completely desperate, emotional, and crazy undergrad student and instead asked questions about the details of the program and the planning that had gone into it. Then I made sure the information I had about applying for financial aid was correct, the faculty director wished me luck, and I went on my merry way.

I would be financing the entire trip myself, so task number one is to apply for the financial aid they’re giving away to qualified students. I know I’m already eligible for the program. What remains to be seen is if I’m eligible for the financial aid. If I am, I can afford to go, granted I save enough for my airfare and food for two weeks. The program takes place at the end of June, so I would have enough time to work and save money.

I think life is too short to not take this chance. When am I ever going to be able to do something like this again? Who knows where I’ll be after I graduate? Who knows what opportunities I might have, what I might be doing? I think it’s time to go for it. Time to cast aside all worry and doubt. Time to take chances and risks.

I want this. I want this more than anything.

And so, from now until summertime, I am going to do everything in my power to try to make this happen.

Applying for financial aid consists of writing two essays, one detailing why we are interested in our program of choice and how it will help us to achieve our academic and professional goals, and the other specifying personal information about our circumstances the committee should consider. Below is the end of my first essay:

I have been entertaining the idea of going to graduate school in Washington D.C. once I have received my diploma from the School of Sustainability. The nation’s capital is home to American University and its School of International Service, and I am interested in AU’s master’s program in Ethics, Peace, and Global Affairs. I believe that participating in this particular study abroad program will solidify my decision to do this. But who knows? Maybe this study abroad program will open up another idea or an opportunity of some sort. I take all the risks and chances in the world to find what it is I was meant to do, and I believe this program just might be one of those callings.

I sincerely hope this is true. I hope that this is my calling and that I get to heed it.

Drunk Drivers, Hurtful Words, and Humans in General

My big sister was in an accident with a drunk driver the other night. She had a green light and was passing under a freeway when an old Ford came out of nowhere and flew in front of her. She was able to slam on the brakes in time to hit the back end of their car, but her car was totaled in the process.

She’s okay. She has some back pain right now and is currently having a hell of a time with her insurance company, but she’s okay.

But there are so many people who aren’t that lucky.

The kicker in this story is that the driver that could have potentially killed my sister was uninsured, unlicensed, unregistered, out past curfew, and fifteen years old. Fifteen years old.

Before I go on to my many other points in this blog post, can we all just sit back and ask what the actual living hell is wrong with some people? What is wrong with this kid so that he thinks it is perfectly acceptable to get into a car that does not belong to him and drive even though it is illegal for him to be driving? Not to mention doing all of the above while DRUNK.

What is wrong with this kid’s parents so that they raised him to believe that that kind of behavior is okay? Parenting is everything. Parenting doesn’t begin when a kid is fifteen and making bad decisions. Parenting begins the moment a child is born. Those parents had a responsibility to make sure their child grew up knowing the consequences of his actions and a responsibility to make sure their child knew the dangers of mixing alcohol and driving. They had a responsibility to make sure their kid didn’t find it necessary to drink and act cool. They failed. They failed miserably.

Furthermore, what is wrong with our society so that kids find it necessary to drink at all? There is such a taboo on drinking alcohol in the U.S. In other countries, teens start drinking wine at a young age and are allowed to sip alcohol at their parents’ parties and whatnot. Over here, you must be 21 to drink, no exceptions, period-end-of-story. There is such a restriction on drinking alcohol that it naturally becomes the Super Cool Awesome Thing To Do. It’s disturbing, really.

When stuff like fifteen-year-old kids getting drunk and getting into car wrecks happens, I sometimes forget to keep having hope for the human race. Whenever I hear about stupid people (because yes, kids are not the only ones who make bad decisions) on the news, or see them on the road, or hear about them through friends of friends, I just want to curl up and pull the covers over my head and not ever leave my house again. It makes me sick. It makes me so, so sad.

Another prime example that makes me want to quit humanity? The other night, me, my boyfriend, and a group of our friends went out to dinner in downtown Phoenix. None of us get out very much due to our workloads and lack of finances, so we were all excited to be able to go somewhere semi-nice and spend some time together. We were standing in front of the café, waiting on one last friend to show up, when a homeless man came over and asked if we could spare a dollar or two for him. We all shook our heads no and said, “Sorry,” because a) we are all broke college students and b) none of us had cash on us at the time.

This man’s response?

“Oh, I get it, it’s because I’m black. If I were white I’m sure you’d help a brother out. You know what, man? Fuck you.”

And he turned and walked away.

I was absolutely floored. We all stood there for a moment or two, completely speechless, unable to comprehend what had just happened. Then my I found my tongue and my temper.

“Um, actually, that is NOT true,” I yelled after him, “I just don’t carry cash on me.”

The man turned and responded with a few more explicits and my friends and boyfriend chimed in with their own rage until the man kept on walking. (He ended up pacing outside the café we were all in later, glaring at us while we ate, and even came in to use the bathroom and shoot us death glares… I was actually afraid he’d come over and start attacking us at one point.)

But I mean…seriously?

To pull that card because we’re broke and can’t give people money all the time? Racism goes both ways.

If that man had nodded, thanked us, and went on his way, I would have felt bad for him. Well, I still feel bad for him. I’m sorry for him because he is so angry and in a position in his life where he has to resort to asking college students for money. I’m sorry for him because he has probably hurt plenty of other people who have pushed him away as a result.

But that comment hit me hard. It hit me like a knife.

Humans are so fascinating to me. We love to hurt each other with our words. We’ve categorized our planet into countries and we have allowed some societies to advance to the point of the availability of near futuristic technology, and yet we allow some countries to bury thousands of their citizens every day because of hunger and thirst. We love to kill each other over interpretations of ancient books written by men and over what to call a potential deity. We do stupid things.

We do hurtful things to one another.

Some of us decide that it’s totally okay to treat others differently based on the color of their skin or their sexual orientation. Some of us decide it’s perfectly acceptable to belittle and verbally abuse other humans based on their financial status. And some of us think it’s fine to get into a car while under the influence and drive straight into an innocent woman’s vehicle and almost kill her.

I have said this several times before on this blog, and I will say it again because it’s my blog and I’ll write whatever I damn well please: I am a huge advocate for personal choice. If you (and “you” is spoken in general terms) are endangering yourself, that’s your deal. If you are hurting yourself, I’m sad for you, but I cannot stop you from making your life choices.

But if you are endangering people around you, if you are harming others with your words or weapons or potential weapons or whatever, that is not okay.

That is not okay.

I continue to have hope for the human race because I’m a sustainability major and by God, if I didn’t have hope I would go absolutely freaking insane.

But some days I just want to hang my head and silently apologize to whatever’s up there for the way humans can be sometimes. Oh, how I hope we learn from our mistakes someday…

Rising Before the Sun and Acting Like A Grown Up

I have lots of memories of the days I used to wake up before the sun had risen. Lately I have been so spoiled I’ve been able to sleep in until at least the sun was somewhat out and about, but I haven’t always been that lucky.

Today I had to wake up at 6 in order to leave my house by 7 so I could be on campus at 8 in time to get a parking spot. It was far from the first time I had to drag myself out of bed in what felt like the middle of the night. In high school, even middle school, I typically woke up before the sun in order to make it to school on time. Whenever we went on trips when I was little, we were usually on the road while it was still dark. During the awful moves from Arizona to California and from California to Florida, we left our home early enough to watch the sun rise from the highway.

All of these memories came to me this morning as I was driving along my merry way to class. I left early enough to miss most of the traffic, but whenever I did have to hit the brakes and cruise along at a snail’s pace on the road, I looked around at the beautiful Arizona landscape – the mountains, the dawn’s fog clinging to the horizon, the way the saguaros stood against the lightening sky. Increasingly, though, I found myself fascinated by my fellow drivers. As I looked around at the people driving beside me, you know what I saw all throughout my drive?

Men in collared shirts and ties talking on their cell phones.

Women in nice blouses and pearls sipping their coffee.

Some of these people drove nice cars, some didn’t. Some seemed ready to take on the day, some were putting on lipstick or straightening shirt collars as they drove. They all had one thing in common: they were all staring blankly ahead in exhaustion.

Maybe I’m over-analyzing the way those drivers sat and tapped their fingers on their steering wheels. They were all probably just tired and unaware that a 21-year-old college student was creepily curiously watching them from her Corolla.

But something about being stuck in traffic with a bunch of full-time participants of society struck me. It reminded me of my worst memory of waking up early: the previous winter when I got roped into running one of the faraway offices for the medical clinic I worked at while their usual secretary was on vacation. For two weeks I was leaving my house by 6:55 in the morning and arriving at work at 7:30. I would walk into work just as the sun was peeking out above the horizon. I did not see it again until my lunch break at 12:30 and would sadly watch it set as I began my trek home at 4:30.

Those days sucked. They sucked big time.

Looking around at the tired, impatient people hurrying to get to their 8 to 5 jobs reminded me that I was one of them today on this cold January morning. If I hadn’t quit that medical clinic job, I’d still be one of them. And if I don’t follow the path I so desperately want to go down when I graduate, I will end up like them.

And then with this resolution come lots of other thoughts such as the fact that I’m in my early twenties and going to graduate soon and I’m already paying bills and drinking coffee too much. And one of these days I might just have to accept the fact that I’m turning into the boring grown up I swore I’d never be when I was little. But for now, I have a defiant little voice in my head that sees me through these episodes, the same little part of me that glanced at her fellow drivers in sympathy this morning:

You’re not a grown up yet! that defiant part of my mind always chimes in whenever I think these thoughts, You’re still in school! You still love chocolate milk! You don’t have kids! How on earth can you be a big scary grown up?

Why, the other part of me thinks reasonably, there’s no way, little voice. Not yet. Not me.

There’s a Faith Hill song called “American Heart” that I haven’t stopped humming all day, and the first line goes: “She’s up before the sun, on the run… another dollar, ‘nother day, another cup of coffee…”

That’s how I felt today. And while I sure the hell don’t feel like an official grown up just yet, for now, as I drive to class while the sun rises, I can totally act the part.