I am not the person I was raised to think I am
My father was a brutal patriarch, verbally abusive toward my mother, physically so to me. But he was also a talented professional engineer who cared a lot about his work and was, as near as I can tell, well regarded in his field.
I never had much idea what I would grow up to be. By the time I was in high school, my father decided I needed a career path. He picked computer programming; engineering was too cyclical he said. Little did he know how cyclical programming would prove to be, at least in the period of the late 1970s to early 2000s. But I accepted it and assumed that I would follow, roughly in his footsteps, toward stable, well-paid employment.
It was the wrong choice. I burned out by 1985. And since that time, despite my education, I have been, for all practical purposes, working class. I have driven cab, done deliveries, driven for Uber and Lyft. I have answered phones and dispatched cabs.
But I also did not understand that I had burned out. And so I returned to high technology a couple times, first for a job as a computer operator at San Francisco General Hospital, second as a technical writer for Linuxcare. It was in the latter position that I got caught up in the dot-com crash of 2001, a recession from which I have not recovered.
It wasn't until I learned in 2001, a year after the fact, that my father had committed suicide that I began to question the notion of a "real" job, which my father had defined as not "basketweaving" and had very strongly implied meant a job within what we now call STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics). Even then, as a forty-something year old man, I was still trying to live up to my father's model. But when he killed himself, he left his second wife, who was terribly depressed and terribly dependent upon him, in the lurch. His suicide contradicted the notion I had been raised with of responsibility. His irresponsibility likely led directly to her death; she died of a opiate overdose a few months later.
My jobhunt was going nowhere. I was trying to think how I might survive and, in 2003, I remembered how much I enjoyed being in college—it was my first experience with non-compulsory education—and realized I could help support myself with student loans.
I was perceiving that the kind of jobs that my father labeled as "real" jobs could only last in the U.S. until corporate managers figured out how to export them to cheaper labor environments. This hasn't proven completely true, but it has been true enough that I was certainly being frozen out.1 In addition, I have no aptitude for mathematics; computer science degrees require it to the level of differential equations.
So I returned to school in 2003 pursuing a Bachelor's in Mass Communication. My thinking was that, if nothing else, I could become a journalist. I didn't realize that journalism was becoming an extremely poorly-paid field for the vast majority. But it also turned out to be a problem for me that my mother and stepfather had been reporters. When I returned to school, studying their field, it felt overwhelmingly—and I recognized the arrogance of this at the time—that I had been there, done that.
I hadn't really returned to school with the intention of finishing any degree. It was mostly to support myself with the student loans. But it had also occurred to me that if everything really fell through, I could still teach. I hadn't reckoned on the financial crisis of 2008-2009, which hit just as I finished my Master's degree in Speech Communication and was expecting to find work at least at the community college level. In the neoliberal paradigm that had overtaken governance, this meant colleges and universities suffered severe budget cuts. The academic job market still has not recovered from this, even as I have since finished a Ph.D. in Human Science.
So I still have no idea what I'm going to do when I grow up.
- 1. Josh Eidelson, "The Tech Worker Shortage Doesn't Really Exist," Business Week, November 24, 2014, http://www.businessweek.com/articles/2014-11-24/the-tech-worker-shortage-doesnt-really-exist; Karin Klein, "The truth about the great American science shortfall," Los Angeles Times, February 24, 2014, http://www.latimes.com/opinion/opinion-la/la-ol-stem-science-math-shortage-20140224,0,6706502.story; Kyung M. Song and Janet I. Tu, "Do visas for skilled foreigners shut out U.S. tech workers?" Seattle Times, May 5, 2013, http://seattletimes.com/html/localnews/2020924182_h1bworkersxml.html; Jordan Weissmann, "The Myth of America's Tech-Talent Shortage," Atlantic, April 29, 2013, http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2013/04/the-myth-of-americas-tech-talent-shortage/275319/; Julia Preston, "Large Companies Game H-1B Visa Program, Costing the U.S. Jobs," New York Times, November 10, 2015, http://www.nytimes.com/2015/11/11/us/large-companies-game-h-1b-visa-program-leaving-smaller-ones-in-the-cold.html; Jessica Mendoza, "Right to work? In Silicon Valley, visa fight as symbol of blocked American dream," Christian Science Monitor, April 27, 2018, https://www.csmonitor.com/USA/2018/0427/Right-to-work-In-Silicon-Valley-visa-fight-as-symbol-of-blocked-American-dream; Ethan Baron, "H-1B abuse: Bay Area tech workers from India paid a pittance, feds say," East Bay Times, May 1, 2018, https://www.eastbaytimes.com/2018/05/01/h-1b-abuse-bay-area-tech-workers-from-india-paid-a-pittance-feds-say/