Looking for a Life

Andrea, 23, remembers college as one long, steady stream of study, class, study, study, study, exam, sleep, eat, class, study, study, study, get drunk, eat. Now that she has been away from the academic world for a year and a half, she describes the reality of her life as work, eat, sleep, work, date, work, eat, sleep, work, work, work. “While that may sound like a joke, it’s basically true,” Andrea says. “I like to consider the first description more productive. At least now I make money for having no life. At college I had to pay for it.” Andrea is a copy editor at a daily newspaper in northeastern Pennsylvania. Along with many other young people fresh out of college, she has found that, like her years in school, the real world isn’t all it is cracked up to be.

 As with most of us, long hours and low wages are a reality she can’t quite accept. For Andrea and a large number of other twenty-somethings in America today, “Reality Bites” is not just the title of a movie–it’s a fact of life. Disillusion has sent many a weaker person back to the sheltering arms of graduate school. But what about those who have decided to tough it out? Is there any hope for the future? Will we hate our jobs and our lives forever? Are there benefits to being shit on by shitty bosses at a shit job until we find out what it is we really want to do with our lives? As pathetic as it might sound, Andrea thinks so. “(At least) now there are brief glimpses of time when I DO have a life, free and clear,” she said. “Time all to myself, with no paper due, no exam to worry about, and best of all, I now have money and a car and independence to do what I choose. Penn State, to me, was a jail inhabited by dress-alike, drunk inmates. I don’t consider the ability to get pie-eyed on a weeknight true freedom.”

Marla, a 27-year-old registered nurse currently living in Baltimore, Md., isn’t so quick to agree about the merits of mediocrity after college. “I graduated with my B.S.N. in May of ’92 and got what was considered to be a ‘good’ job,” she says. “However, after a year or so, when the ‘newness’ of being a R.N. wore off,

I found myself bored and, for the most part, miserable.” In an attempt to sort out what she regarded as a pathetic existence, Marla began taking aptitude tests in the spring of 1993 to see what “THEY” suggested she do with her life. Ironically, “THEY” all said she should be a nurse. After reviewing what the scores said, “I decided that maybe I wasn’t REALLY burned out, that maybe I just needed a new perspective, a fresh new outlook, per se,” Marla said. “So I packed up everything, hugged and kissed my entire family good-bye and left my home of Louisiana for the grandeur of Colorado and the ‘big-city life’ of Denver.”

Andrea and Marla have both taken two common paths down the road of life after school: Andrea by waiting for something better to come along, and Marla by trying desperately to claw her way out of an unfulfilling position–and failing. Howard Sambol, author of “Career Crafting” and a San Francisco Bay-area career counselor, says such confusing patterns are typical of people in their 20s to 40s in America. According to Sambol, a shift happens in our late teens or early 20s where we literally wake up one morning and are deemed adults who are expected to make adult decisions. But, after years of being told what to do by parents, teachers and other well-meaning “grownups,” we don’t really know how to think–at least not for ourselves.

“This is what causes the disillusionment we see so much (in young people),” Sambol says. It is also what leads people to panic and end up making choices for the future based on expediency more than desire.

Like Andrea and Marla, we are all apt to take a job just because it is there. This opens the door for one of two things to occur, Sambol says. As might happen in Andrea’s case, people who have fallen into a bad job may end up staying there until they find they have climbed the corporate ladder too high to risk coming back down. Or, like Marla, they may hop around from job to job for years until the disappointment becomes too much to bear and they look around desperately at ways to change their lives. “After having lived and worked (in Denver) for 2 1/2 years, I discovered what I truly needed wasn’t a new place to live, but a new career. But what?!?! The choices are overwhelming!” Marla said. Today, Marla is a “traveling nurse,” which means that she goes around the country for 3- to 6-month contracts helping out hospitals where staffing is a problem. She says she took this route to “see the country” while she tries to figure out what she wants to do with her life. “I’m enjoying this current contract in Baltimore, but am miserable– most of the time–taking care of patients. And more important, I STILL haven’t decided what career to change to,” she says. Marla took the aggressive approach to her life–taking drastic steps to try to chase away discontent. Andrea’s was more passive, laying low until she gets it all sorted out. Which way is better? That’s up to the individual to decide. But both roads, apparently, lead back to the same place: unhappiness and growing disillusionment. Sambol says it doesn’t have to be that way. According to him, the solution is as easy as rehabilitating our ability to know ourselves and appreciate the dreams and desires that years of living to make others happy have forced to become buried deep inside. “We live this intense existence, then 40 years go by and we find we haven’t lived, we’ve existed,” he says. Still, there are ways to prevent this from happening while we are young. Sambol calls the approach “career crafting” and says happiness at work is as simple as cultivating knowledge about ourselves. Crucial to this process is clarifying our own values and then finding people of like mind to help us through the rough spots. Sambol calls it “coaching” and says it breaks down into four levels of support: emotional, structural, networking and strategic. Essentially, we must teach ourselves how to think, and the whole learning process will be a great deal easier if we don’t try to go it alone.

Emotional support, Sambol says, is as simple as finding a core of friends to listen to you and talk through your anxieties. Structural support involves having someone to hold you to your commitments and promises. According to Sambol, this step is essential to helping us become disciplined individuals ready for the real challenges our new lives will throw our way. Networking helps us build relationships, and strategic support helps us keep our eyes on the big picture–the ominous future so many of us have shied away from until this time.

Whether we take Sambol’s approach or formulate one of our own, true contentedness is not going to come without some effort. Happiness is not too much to ask, but it has to be earned, not given.



In the days when I was a sparklinggirleen who did everything herparents told her and not a singlething more, I took lessons -swimming, ballet, piano, riding, andtennis. Without my lessons, I waswarned, I would become a graceless,troglodytic social moron withnothing interesting to say. Withthem, I would become a Well-RoundedPerson with a decent backhand, andeventually, a subscription to thesymphony, a seasonally updatedwardrobe, and an endless array ofsporty and arty anecdotes with whichto amuse my friends at dinnerparties. Self-improvement andpersonal growth were a socialobligation.

Clearly, though, their fingers wereup their noses instead of on thepulse of the next big thing. As timehas shown, the future ofSelf-Improvement is now, and it hasnothing to do with feeling at homeon a clay court. Self-Improvementand Personal Growth and Fulfillmentare about healing, nurturing,supporting (non-financially),empowering, reclaiming one’s innerchild/psychic wounds/bliss, andcontacting the dead. At least in SanFrancisco they are.

A perusal of my neighborhood cafe’scommunity bulletin board revealedthis fact. Always a good barometerof an economy’s health, the paucityof used computer equipment for saleand the bumper crop of self-helpcourses means that multimedia hacksand new age gurus alike are stillsuccessfully transmuting hot airinto gold. Or at least higher creditlimits.

While there were no printers forsale, there was a five week courseon “Positive Thinking,” whichpromised to clarify thoughts andfeelings, remove unnecessarythoughts, exchange positive fornegative, increase memory, improverelationships, (teach me to)experience cheerfulness and joy,(provide pointers on) more efficientwork and fulfillment of life, and(help me) develop strength andwillpower. Now there’s stuff I coulduse! Negative thoughts are,apparently, as simple to remove asunsightly warts, and with the helpof this course, I could expect tospend more time experiencingcheerfulness and joy. Good thing, asthe only Cheer and Joy I come acrosson a regular basis are under mysink.

I also found a flyer for a course in”Hypnotherapy and Sandplay.” Throughwhat is doubtless a highlyinnovative approach involvingshovels and plastic starfish, thiscourse promises a change inself-destructive habits, guidance indiscovering past lives, releasingcreative blocks, healing hurt andanger from the past, enhancingenergy, self-confidence, and hope.

And to think I’d ever consideredwasting my time on guitar lessons,when the solutions to life’sgreatest mysteries could bepurchased for a mere thirty dollars!Who were these Buddhas of thecorkboard? On what Mount did theyobtain the knowledge that woulderadicate suffering from the humanexperience? Why had they notrevealed themselves to Woody Allenor Schopenhauer?

Poor Schopenhauer – a lifetime oftedious schooling and the best hecould do was to argue that the humanwill is not free, that it has noultimate purpose, that it isall-consuming, pointless, andnegative, and that there is also noescape from it? It only takes acursory glance at “The LearningAnnex (The People Who Make LearningEasier)” or “Open Exchange (BayArea’s Magazine of Classes andServices)” to realize that the humanwill is, in fact, all-powerful, easyto use, and comes with simpleoperating instructions. For anominal fee, all traces of nihilism,despair, and somber meditations onthe human condition can beeradicated or transformed into “thenatural optimism and emotionalfreedom that affirms the purpose andworth of life.”

Indeed, I’m happy to report thathappiness and total fulfillment areavailable to all those with $60worth of credit on theirVISA, Amex, or MC (sorry, noDiscover cards).

Reading through “The Learning Annex,”it becomes apparent that we’ve beenlooking at problems backwards allalong, tending to simplify andunderplay their source and origin,while complicating and obfuscatingtheir solution.

Take illness, for example. Aseveryone knows, doctors have a”simple” explanation for everything.But when it comes to solutions,things suddenly aren’t so simpleanymore. You’re feeling a littleunder the weather, you go see yourdoctor, and before you know it,extensive (and expensive) tests arebeing run, surgery is beingdiscussed, pills are beingprescribed. Who needs theaggravation, when “all of us havethe ability to heal (through a)wellspring of inner energy and lovethat can be channeled using thetechniques of Holoenergetic Healingdeveloped by Dr. Leonard Laskow”?For only $24, you can learn to”release the energetic power ofillness at its source; reform apositive energy pattern usingenergy, intention, imagery, insight,forgiveness, and love.” And noadverse side-effects! It’s just thateasy.

Or say you’re healthy, but poor. Whygo through the trouble and expenseof obtaining an MBA or a lawdegree, when you can simply marryrich? For $39 you can enroll in “Howto Marry Rich (The Rich are Going toMarry, Why Not You?)” Taught by GiniSayles (“She is married to the heirof a rich oil and ranching family” -as if you needed proof), “you’llfind out where the money is, how toattract it, how to recognize it, howto look and dress rich and more!”And if you’re not ready for thatkind of long-term commitment, maybeyou can procure a sugar daddy/mamaby signing up for Gini’s othercourse “Learning to Flirt.” Wary?Let her credentials dispel yourdoubts: “Gini Sayles has a dynamicflirtatious attitude. She hasdemonstrated her flirting skills onJoan Rivers and Vicki, where shewas co-featured with Zsa Zsa Gabor.”Gini and Zsa Zsa are collaboratingon a new text: “Learning To FlirtWith Cops.”

Now, I’m not going to add to my”emotional debt” or increase my”toxicnostalgia” by harping on myparents’ misguided efforts atturning me into a well-adjustedindividual, but why for the love ofPete was I spending entire summersperfecting my serve, when I hadn’tyet been taught to properly breathe?Thankfully, I can now rectify thatsituation by enrolling in “Learningto Breathe Right!” Not only willincrease the oxygen flow to mybrain, but I will “eliminateconfusion, tension, and stress;overcome deep-seated fears; andtransform negative energy intopositive.” And it’s so basic. Whoknows, if I finally learned tobreathe, blink, pee, and transmitneurons… “right!”, I might doanything. I might “Bend a Spoon WithMy Mind (with the proper training,anyone can do it!)” I might “Learnto Write a Book on ANYTHING In 2Weeks or Less!” I might “Learn toDevelop Charisma.” I might annexPoland.

Well, if picking a workshop becomestoo overwhelming, I can always signup for “Contacting Your GuardianAngels and Having an AngelicEncounter” first. “Your spiritualguides can,” after all, “help you inyour personal, business, and socialrelationships.” Angels areinternationally known for theirbusiness acumen and sexual prowess.Either that, or I can enroll in theShamanic Intervention Workshop, and”invite the plant world to share itswisdom with (me).

I hear that broccoli, by the way,talks a big line, but therhododendron’s got the skinny on thereally good stuff.

courtesy of
Happie Funball