As someone just out of college, there were only a few things on my mind as I ended my undergraduate career: 1) How am I going to pay off these student loans? 2) Do I really have the skills needed to succeed in the workforce? These questions nearly paralyzed me, forcing me to reckon with the time I’d wasted in college. I recall an intense feeling of disappointment when I graduated, as I walked the isle to my certificate I felt anxiety, not excitement. I didn’t know what was waiting for me in the wider world, I’d fallen victim to the same lack of direction that seems to plague many of those my age. I wanted – and still want – to do work that I enjoy, but the world had told me (directly and indirectly) that following your dreams was unrealistic, that I needed a good stable job of some kind. However, the membrane surrounding the job market is not as permeable as it once was. Gone are the days of gumption and grit being enough to land you a solid entry-level job. Those of my generation can count themselves lucky if they land an unpaid internship out of college, luckier still if it pays minimum wage.
Some fair better than others, I have many intelligent driven friends and companions that knew from very young what they wanted, that cared about high school, who pursued a consistent goal and are now reaping the rewards of their intentionality. I was not so focused, letting distractions instead of solutions be the answer to my existential teenage angst. I often find myself ruminating on the past, how should I have handled things? Maybe I should have stayed on with my psychology major instead of switching to political science, maybe I should have gone into business and found a good job as an accountant, maybe a lot of things. However, no amount of rumination can change what’s happened; regret doesn’t fix anything, it just makes you feel bad.
That’s why I’m grateful to have found the AmeriCorps VISTA program. I’m not sure I did what was needed to succeed in the working world in earning my undergraduate degree, so even if I had found a regular job right out of college I don’t know if I would have been mature enough to handle the responsibilities. During the first 6 months of my VISTA placement I learned a lot about myself. I learned a lot about growing up, about the workplace, I learned about local government, coalitions, and teamwork. My placement in Marin County’s Opioid Safety Coalition, RxSafe Marin, has been an invaluable experience. The people who work in this organization have been nothing short of instrumental in my pursuit of answers to the big questions, “who am I, and what do I want?” I’ve been able to use my time at RxSafe Marin to incubate in a sense, to learn what working a full-time job is really like, and where I want to put those 40 hours a week when my contract ends.
Pride has always been something of a loaded issue for me. I had confidence issues as an adolescent, high school was a particularly tough time for me. I still find myself struggling to shake the negative labels I had attached to myself, “Loser, Worthless, Talentless, etc…” I hated (and still sort of hate) those who brag incessantly about their success, real or imagined. I set myself up to be diametrically opposed to such attitudes, and as a result discovered that I could rarely take pride in my work without feeling guilty. But during this program I’ve found that what I need is pride, I must value myself and the work I do in order to be successful doing it. I still feel anxiety about how my career will turn out, but I have confidence that I will find something rewarding now that I have started the first steps toward the development of a stable adult life. My VISTA journey has been tumultuous to say the least, but now, after all this time, I have a good idea of where I want to go and who I want to be.