There’s something to be said for the ability to run one’s life in autopilot. When we first moved to Delaware, we did so on essentially a handshake and a promise from my husband’s bosses at the time. They were closing their Pennsylvania office and it was either move or be let go. I had a relatively stable job at the time, though it wouldn’t have paid the mortgage on its own. So, we sat down with these guys, listened to their pitch and decided to take the plunge.
We’d been married less than a year, the housing market was surging, and we made a killing on the sale of our first home. However, in order to buy into the market down here, we again took a gamble on a property, paying more than I was comfortable with, not having a job and all. Then things got a little strained. I bounced from one job to another, all across different fields, desperate to find something that was steady, not completely exhausting and somewhat fulfilling.
Nothing really fit any of those criteria, so in the end, I took the job with the most security and money, hoping that the stability it would offer would offset any dissatisfaction that less steady work would promise. We’d also begun to read the writing on the walls with my husband’s job. Three corporate buyouts later, and about 7 months into my current job, he was laid off. And so began the operating budget we currently use, where we hope for two incomes but can swing it on mine alone if need be.
Then things got cushy, and we decided to have a family. The worst case scenario budget doesn’t really exist any longer. We must have two incomes to make ends meet, like most people. Now, we’re both looking at some major changes in our respective fields. For me, there’s a new set of regulations, changing the way research is done, so my position like thousands of others, may be outsourced and deemed unnecessary under the new laws. My husband’s job may suffer a similar fate, although he’s in a much better position to move into another line of work than I am.
The truth of the matter is that I’ve been doing the same work for ten years. My position has been one without any sort of promotion, outside education, or equivalent lateral move within the organization. If I’m let go, I’ll essentially have to start from scratch. The middle class conundrum I find myself in is that in keeping in autopilot mode, I’ve painted myself into a corner of complacency.
In my 20’s, I had all the energy in the world, it seemed. Working long nights, weekends, and doing heavy lifting was not a problem. Now, I’ve got a set schedule with child care and my body just isn’t as fit as it used to be. The idea of working a late night or a weekend is the opposite of where I want to be, because that’s the precious time I get with my family and these years are too few to waste.
Yes, I realize this is a huge first world, white privilege kind of problem to have. That millions of people all over the world take on these changes because they have no choice. But for me, I’m having trouble with it. I’m afraid. I stand before a path of thousands of possibilities, not fearing the work, but just having trouble picking the next one. There’s too much at stake to risk picking something that won’t pay well or have employment opportunities. And given my limitations that simply weren’t an issue before, I’m hesitating to pick something at all.
The employment market is a very different animal than it was 10 years ago, and I’m not sure what to expect, especially given the flood of young people out there willing to take less and work more. It’s a scary thought, starting over. And it’s times like these when I wish I had the guidance from anyone who could tell me which way I should go next. The silence is deafening.