Alice was a test participant, so the format is a bit different; also, I know her and her mother quite well, so the exploration is not as fresh and authentic as it would be if we were strangers. She is 22 years old and has returned home after an unsuccessful attempt at university and working in an urban centre, but also to be with her mother who has had a heart attack, and to digest the news of her uncle’s suicide. She sees herself as privileged and is full of angst and recrimination about her inability to choose a life path and work at it. She describes quite eloquently the anomie of student life, as she experienced it, followed by meaningless and demeaning work and unsatisfactory personal relationships, all of which she managed by alcohol and marijuana use. She describes in some detail her resistance to professional help. She also gives us a view of how social capital and meaningful work, or lack thereof, impact on mental health and physical well-being.
FM: [Begin by telling me a bit about your family, what they did for a living, and anything else of importance to you…]
Okay… I grew up with my mom and my dad until I was six. My father moved to Berlin at that point and I didn’t see much of him – saw him two or three times after that. Spent a lot of time with my grandparents, my mom’s parents, and kinda split my time between there and home. My mom owned her own business which she opened when I was four and we did pretty good for the first part of my life. That I know of.
FM: Can you say what kind of business your mom had?
She owned her own clinic; she’s an alternate health care practitioner. In a very small town, which brings some pretty interesting perceptions.
FM: I never thought of that.
I have no siblings. I’m an only child so I got spoiled to the nth degree by my grandparents. I dunno. Pretty fun upbringing, we got to go on a lot of trips and got to do some things that kids my age generally don’t do. It sorta sparked my addiction to travelling.
FM: Okay: would you say that ‘home’ is your small town?
Most definitely. It’s the only place I ever was as a child. The place I grew up.
FM: Okay, now let’s start the story of migration by when and why you decided to leave home, or decided not to leave home. To make the story easy to follow, I’ll ask that the ‘backbone’ of the story be each different physical place you lived, each one being a dot, if you like, that we can connect to draw a picture of your physical journey. And at each dot, we’ll try to identify the essential aspects of life in that place that influenced whether you stayed or moved on. The general check-list I’m going to be using, in my mind, is education, employment, health and justice, and, of course, relationships, both informal and formal. But I am open to other elements – the reason we do research is to learn what we don’t know so surprise me if you can.
Does that include travelling, because I spent a great deal of time abroad?
I worked at a summer camp in that small town and they asked me to stay on for an extra month which meant I wouldn’t be able to go to university, which was a perfect excuse. I had been planning a trip anyways and this just helped make the decision a bit more solid. I worked the month of September there as an outdoor ed centre leader and then I left for BC. I was there for only two weeks, visiting family that I hadn’t seen for a long time.
Then I came home for almost a month and then I left, went to London, England. From there I went to Belgium and then on to Berlin where I stayed with my father for two months. And then to Switzerland and Poland and when I ran out of money I came home.
FM: What was your thinking about this trip/s? What was the motivation, looking back?
I hadn’t seen very much of the world or any other sort of outside cultures. I was very - not sheltered - but grew up in a small town so decided I needed to go and see some …
FM: The big world?
Something new. Yes, (the big world), very much so.
FM: Ok. So that gets you back home about when in the year?
It was April. I’d been there from January until April and I came home partially because I was poor and desolate in the big world, and partially because my friend was getting married and I wanted to get home on time.
I spent two weeks at home and then took another trip with my Mom. I convinced her to come to Arizona and New Mexico with me. And then I was home to work.
FM: Can I ask, who was funding this travel? You from savings or help from family or a bit of both?
FM: Okay. What work when you’re back at home?
I worked for the township of my town. I was working as an environmental and property operations student for the summer. Because I was going to university it was a funded position. Or I was planning to [go], I should say. I did go.
FM: What kind of work did you do? What skills? What connections that might improve employability?
Oh… I did a little bit of everything. We took care of all the water hookups for any homes going in within the town limits. We maintained the water distribution system. We were in charge of seeing that the land fills were up to municipal specifications. I had a whole lot of freedom. I had my own County vehicle and because I was working for the township I got the opportunity to meet the high ups in the town. I painted a lot of fire hydrants. Hundreds of them. Got to do a little bit of everything. Work on construction sites. For the most part I was the only girl, which was kinda interesting.
FM: In what way interesting?
Just that I was kinda well taken care of. I never really had to – I could always call someone to help me or people would volunteer to teach me things, which I didn’t mind much. They were a nice group.
FM: And did it pay half decently?
Minimum wage, but it was fun work so I didn’t mind.
FM: Okay. Next stop?
I went to [a big city] for university. I was enrolled in my first year with a major in criminology and a minor in psychology. And also a minor in religious studies as well.
FM: Religious studies…what was that about? Why of interest?
Um, I never grew up religiously so it was pretty much sheer fascination, just trying to understand the hold it has on society as a whole. For the first year it dealt with a lot of hot topic issues, so different religious views on abortion or gay marriage or anything that’s prevalent and newsworthy in today’s society.
FM: Okay… and what were your living arrangements there?
I lived in residence. I was 19 and the rest of the students were 17 or 18 and I had been on my own and abroad so I was a little more comfortable being away from home. I was sorta the floor mom. And I didn’t connect with a lot of the kids – shouldn’t say kids, people – I lived with. Aside from two boys who lived on my floor who have become a fairly big influence on my life. And not always for the best.
FM: Can you talk about that for a bit, the importance of peer influence on life choices that impacted into the future.
I didn’t drink a whole lot – I drank but not to an excess –didn’t smoke, didn’t consider drugs until I met them. It was like being exposed to a whole different way of living. They were all about instant gratification and fun all the time, 24-hour partying. It wasn’t the first time I smoked marijuana but it was definitely the first time I smoked on a daily basis. It was sorta what bonded us in a weird way.
FM: I don’t think that’s unusual, at all. I think it’s quite normative. Did you think you were radically different – or your party habits – were radically different than the other students?
They were quite different than the students that we lived with on our floor. They were generally quite studious and didn’t drink very often and some of them were quite young. So we were a little bit rebellious, smoking in our room, not really caring if got caught. We got caught a lot of times but nobody did anything, so…
FM: Did you enjoy the academic part of that life?
I did and I didn’t. I did really, really well in all my English classes, I got top grades in both of them. I got good grades for the most part but it just didn’t hold any interest for me aside from my Religion class, oddly enough. I wasn’t terribly invested in it.
FM: You said you did best in English but that wasn’t what you most enjoyed, and the two majors don’t even come up as on the screen. D’ya think you just chose the wrong classes?
I think I chose the wrong major but I also think that in order to justify being in university and spending the amount of money that it costs to go to university, one should be certain about where they would like their education to take them. And at 22 I still have no idea.
FM: So were you paying for your university or did you have scholarships or parental support – probably a bit of all, but who was mostly, in your opinion, bearing the financial cost of education.
Definitely my mother. I had an RESP fund and I also was on OSAP. But she was definitely the one that I called when I was hungry and couldn’t afford to buy food, which was quite often. And she never said no.
FM: Okay. Just to explore a bit more re health – was your health – aside from daily marijuana use and excess drinking, was it good?
No. Not at all. I was sick all the time. Lack of sleep definitely caught up to me. But it was sorta too much fun to pass up despite how I felt. I didn’t really consider the negative physical effects that I was causing on myself. Because I figured if the boys could do it, I could.
FM: Were they in good health, aside from -
Oh no. No, they were pretty much in the same boat as me, not sick as often but overtired and bickering all the time. It caught up on all of us.
FM: Lemme ask, where were the people at university who are supposed to help young people away from home for the first time, or whatever, to make better choices? Counsellors, or whatever you call them -
The dons? CAs – Community Advisors.
FM: Yeah, that’s what I was thinking of.
They lived on every second floor. We didn’t happen to have one on our floor. She lived above us. And the CA that lived below us happened to be one of my best friends from high school. So despite the position it put him in, we got away with a lot.
FM: Okay, one might think that having an old friend in a helping role would be a limit on ‘bad behaviour’ but it sounds like it went exactly the other direction.
Well, he didn’t reward my behaviour, and its not like he knew everything that went on. I did my best to keep him uninvolved because I didn’t want to get him in trouble. And what he did know he … he lectured me on it in a very loving way but he also said he’s not my parent so he can’t judge. He had his partying days and these are mine.
FM: Speaking of parents, did your mom know about your life style and what did she think?
Bits and pieces. I know that she knew that I smoked but I also know that she views that as something of a lesser of all evils so she didn’t, y’know, she recognized that I was capable of making my own decisions. She didn’t reward it, she didn’t applaud my behaviour. She also didn’t give me any sympathy when I was sick because she recognized it was my own doing. Which was fair.
FM: Okay. Employment: did you work while you were at university?
No. I worked before and after but not during.
FM: Was that the usual?
For first year it was. A lot of students have a lot of trouble balancing their course load so that‘s what OSAP generally goes toward.
FM: Okay. Time to move on?
After my first year I came back home. Got my old job back. And I think my mom knew that I wasn’t going back to university before I did. She sat me down the day before my course fees were due and said You’re not going back, are you? Which was fair because I couldn’t justify spending that money on something I wasn’t sure about. Just wasn’t worth it to me.
FM: What did she think or feel about that decision, do you think?
I think I was more afraid of what she would think than what actually happened. She was really supportive, said whatever you want to do with your life, I will back you up. I was so terrified that she would be mad. Or disappointed, rather. But she was cool. Very level headed and I think she recognized that it was causing me a great amount of stress.
FM: So then what?
Then I bummed around at home for a little bit, worked a little bit here and there, and in November I moved to [the university city]. That’s where all my friends were.
FM: Can I ask – when you were home, did you continue the daily marijuana, excessive drinking, etc?
No. I mean I smoked occasionally but for the most part I was pretty stone cold sober for the summer.
FM: Was that lack of party life part of the motivation for moving back to the city]? Or getting more or better work? Or what?
I like to think I justified it with getting more or better work, but mostly I just didn’t have my people.
FM: Your friends?
FM: And what did you do there?
From November to May I moved in with a house full of boys that I kinda sorta knew. They were friends of friends who had offered me a room when I was visiting my friends a little while earlier. They were five boys and one girl, also a party girl, living in that house when I moved in.
FM: Just to clarify, were these friends the same boys that you were in residence with?
No. They were just kinda – I knew one of them through mutual friends – we were at a party at their house.
FM: Okay, so sharing a house; how did that go?
Anyone who has ever lived with one boy knows it’s enough to deal with, so living with five was a terrifying concept. They were pretty well organized for boys. The kitchen was always a mess. I had my own bathroom, thank god. But it was fun. There were ups and downs, pros and cons. For the most part, it was … an interesting year. I lived there for almost a year.
FM: Just to clarify, these were all just roomies, no romantic connections.
Oh no. It was hard enough to live with them, let alone like them.
FM: And who was bankrolling this part of your life – were you working?
Not yet. I didn’t get a job until May and I’d moved in in November. So mom was my bank.
FM: Talk a bit about looking for work. The impact of not having completed post-sec, being a university dropout – were those factors at all?
Not really. I was looking mostly for a serving job in a restaurant so it didn’t really matter.
FM: Why a serving job?
Tips. It’s all about the tips. I dropped resumes at 30 – 40 different places and my first call was from a 24-hour diner located right in the market. They asked if I could start the next night and since I was so strapped for cash I said yes. Thus began my own personal hell.
It was overnight shifts from 5 p.m to 5 a.m., dealing with all the drunk people stumbling out of the bars, and I was not a server. I had to be a hostess.
FM: What about tips?
I was allowed to keep the tips I got from take-out and I received 1% of the servers’ tips for the nights. 10% split between all the support staff. So it worked out to next to nothing. I was told when I was hired that the general progression of things that I had to be a hostess to start and if I earned my stripes, I’d be given a serving position. That didn’t happen.
FM: So minimum wage, bad hours, horrible job, no tips.
It was a good time (sarcasm). The staff were a motely crew at best. Everyone had their issues. Our manager was an alcoholic. So he would come in drunk every night. And I called every emergency service at least once.
FM: Did you think about finding other employment?
Yeah. I thought about it. I mean I did look at other places but little did I know that most places in [the city] don’t hold a high esteem for the establishment that I was working at, so it didn’t gain me much credibility.
FM: In fact, was a deficit, a holdback?
Definitely. I also didn’t have much time to look for jobs because I was working overnight shifts. So I had to get what precious few hours of sleep I could during the day. Living with boys that didn’t happen very much. And at this point I was smoking a great deal.
FM: To get through the day? And the night.
Yeah. Just to be able to sleep. And to not think about the job I had to go back to in the evening.
FM: Partying, as in having fun: any of that?
On the very rare occasion but for the most part I was a slave to the diner. A lot of my friends had gone home for the summer. I had one good friend that I spent a lot of time with but we would just smoke and just mellow out, not party to speak of.
FM: Okay, so I’m hearing a meager social life as well as a hellish work life. Any positive parts?
Well, on one overnight shift I met a boy who kinda caught me at a bad moment and he was very sweet and so I kinda got sucked into that sweetness, ended up dating him for another month. Nine months. And he was nice at first. It was good, a nice little break from my life. He lived with his family so I got to go to
family dinners which forced me to clean up my act a little bit. His brother was also a cop, so needless to say I was on my best behaviour when I was around him (the cop).
He was – turns out him living at home was nice at first but became a pretty big issue. He was 25 and just had no drive to do anything aside from work at a grocery store for the rest of his life and I couldn’t deal with that. I pushed him a lot to find something else which I think drove him crazy. And it drove me crazy too, so…what can you do?
FM: Break up?
Eventually. It took a few months to get the balls to do it, but when I did it went okay… I definitely was better for it.
FM: Why ‘get the balls to do it’? Why so hard – sounds like he wasn’t your type, didn’t have a life view that suited you, so why hard to say sorry, doesn’t work, it’s been a slice, goodbye?
I have a hard time hurting people. I’m a people pleaser. I like to keep everybody happy and he was definitely more invested in the relationship that I was, for most of it. I think I keep people at arm’s length to start with, so it definitely translates to my dating life as well. I don’t let myself get fully attached.
FM: So I’m getting the picture of a fairly dreary existence, made bearable by drug use. Where’s it go from here?
After I broke up with him, it was kinda like a refresh for me and my friends. Because for the most part he met most of them, like, once, some of them he didn’t meet. He made a big deal about me being involved with all his friends but wouldn’t take the time to get to know mine. I still made an effort to see all of them when I was dating him but it was just that he wouldn’t come with me. So after we broke up, it was kinda like starting over with all of them and having a weight gone, I got to do whatever I wanted without worrying about him getting upset with me. Because for the most part my friends are all boys, so I think jealously played a little role in that and it was nice to be able to hang out with them without feeling guilty.
FM: Next move?
I threatened to quit my job unless they gave me day shifts. This was all while I was dating him, all the same time frame. And day shifts were more bearable. I didn’t have to deprive myself of sleep. And I had moved to outside the city to a cheaper but much farther out house. I was living with two people from high school that I didn’t really know but had offered me a room and from then on I spent a lot of time on the bus or on the boys’ couch. (These are the guys from residence.) We still – they were my best friends so we still spent a lot of time together. When I couldn’t catch my bus because I’d stayed downtown too late, I’d stay with them.
FM: When did this move happen?
September. I was at the old house for a year, so this would be September of 2011. It sort of isolated me, living out there, because no one would really bother to come all the way out to my house. Which I didn’t really mind because I didn’t really have full run of the house. I just kept to my room. No one left any room in the fridge so groceries were out of the question. When I did eat, it was usually at the boys’ house.
FM: So not a very healthy life style?
Very much so. I think I was verging on anorexia, not as a conscious choice because I thought I was fat but just because I didn’t bother to eat. Food wasn’t a high priority. I was more interested in being able to do things, and go out. Which naturally meant I was always tired, never in a very good mood.
FM: The ingredients for depression are also here, and some of what you describe could be symptoms of depression. Did you think that was a possibility?
Oh yeah, I knew it was a possibility. Kinda I leaned on the boys a lot at that point. I spent a lot of time with them. Even thought they’re not the most positive force in my life – they both have a lot of issues as well – we all kind of relied on each other to keep each other sane. Which sometimes had the opposite effect.
FM: was there any… I’m going to say ‘adult’ that you considered leaning on at this time? Either someone you knew or a professional?
I talked to my mom about 4 -5 times a day every day which is pretty normal for us, so she did her best to get my head straight when she could. And I talked a lot about going to see someone but I never did.
FM: Why not?
I like to think it was time and money and all that, but probably it just comes down to the fact that I just didn’t try. I was very unmotivated to do anything at that time. Whether or not it was to help myself. It was kinda a vicious circle.
FM: Yes, that is very common with depression – no energy to do what you think you should do so you beat yourself up a bit more…
FM: So where did this story go?
I quit my job right after I broke up with the boy and just started using what little money I had to do stuff for myself. Art galleries, just trying to get back to having fun and not being too concerned.
Just before I quit my job, I found out that my uncle had died, well, had taken his own life. It was kinda a rude awakening. I lived on the boys’ couch for a week and when I got back to work, it just kinda all sank in that it wasn’t worth it, that the mental anguish it caused me was just not worth my concern any more.
Where to go from here?
FM: Well, let’s go back to the backbone of the story which is where you actually lived, the roof over your head. Did you leave [the city] after you quit work?
I stayed in [the city] a while after I quit. I tried to find another job. Dropped off a lot of resumes. But what calls I did get were not for the optimal job. I was bound and determined to get a serving job this time. I was not going to be a hostess again. However, I didn’t find anything. And at the same time, I found out that the lease was coming up for the house I was living in and if I wanted to stay there I would have to renew it myself because my roommates were leaving. And I had no money to do that.
So I came home for a little break and then decided to move back here permanently.
FM: Okay, this is a big decision. Talk a whole lot about what went into / is going into that decision.
There was just a matter of financial means. I could not support myself. And I knew that I was always allowed to go home. And it just made sense to be able to come home and save some money and not live below the poverty line.
FM: Just to go back a wee bit. Was your mom still helping you out financially while you were working, or did that stop when you got a job?
No, for the most part I was totally self-sufficient. I was making peanuts, but what I did make went toward my housing mostly. She would funnel me the odd ‘fun fund’ but for the most part I was pretty much on my own. Which was good. I liked being on my own. I liked knowing that I could support myself.
FM: Even though it was a poverty level?
Yeah. It was a pride thing. I was content with the fact that I was just keeping myself above water and that was good enough for me at that point.
FM: But not for long?
No one can keep up that way of living – well, not me at least. I got fed up with not being able to do what I wanted, not being able to afford to do what I wanted. And where I am now, I’ve saved more than I possibly could have.
FM: Talk a bit more about ‘where I am now’. Work, friends, health, etc.
I’m for the most part stone cold sober. Still drink but not often. Smoke once in a blue moon. Think that mostly has to do with accessibility to it; living in a small town doesn’t necessarily provide the best connections. But that’s a good thing. Balancing three jobs. All in restaurants. My tips are better here than they were in [the city], ten-fold. I’m not paying rent which goes a long way to saving money. And as scared as I was to be living with my mother again, it’s not bad. We pretty much just go about our business.
FM: Like she’s a good room-mate??
I wouldn’t go that far. She’s still my mother. She still mothers me, which at 22 is a little hard to swallow. But now I get to mother her back.
FM: Talk a bit more about that. The pay-back?
The biggest decision maker for me, actually, moving home, was the fact that my mother had a heart attack when I was home visiting her. Mild, but it was still a heart attack. So I used it as justification for moving home to keep her in line and make sure that she’s behaving herself and taking her meds. Not that she’s not capable of doing so herself, but I just like the peace of mind. I’m a bit of a control freak.
FM: So you think you’re here to stay?
For the meantime. I’m saving some money for a trip.
FM: What things would have to happen for you to stay here for the rest of your life, I’m going to say?
I think the biggest factor against living here is I have zero social life. Which is sort of a good thing for working as much as I do. I don’t worry as much about having to - not having to - but making time for my friends. It’s easier when you don’t have to worry about hurting people’s feelings. I don’t know if I’ll end up staying here permanently now, but I’ll probably end up moving back eventually.
FM: What would be the right time, or the right circumstances, for you to make your ‘adult’ home here?
First I need to figure out what I want to do with my life and whatever that is, I’d need to know whether or not there would be a place for it here. And I would need the financial means, obviously, because living here isn’t cheap either.
FM: Yeah, if you were paying rent, even with 3 jobs, you might still be a bit constrained. Or after the summer is over and jobs dry up, it might get quite tight financially.
Definitely. Most servers who are good licensed establishments only make $8.90/hr because we’re expected to make a great deal on tips. But if you don’t have customers you don’t have tips. So a lot of that goes with the tourist season.
At one of my jobs, I make minimum wage plus tips because they’re not licensed.
FM: If you could afford to live here at maybe just a bit better – no, say your financial situation here was not better than it was in [the city], if you were hugging the poverty line in either place, which place would you choose to be and how would you think about those choices?
Ooh. Um. I guess it would be the lesser of two evils. Living in [the city] the job market is definitely bigger but there are also a lot more people. So. It ends up being equally as difficult.
FM: And here, people know who you are, so I imagine that when you apply for a job, your resume is irrelevant – they know you.
Yeah. One of the jobs I’m working right now was offered to me and that kind of opportunity just doesn’t present itself very often in [the city].
FM: Social capital; that’s what it’s called. Here you have it, there you don’t. But there you have friends and here you don’t.
Rock and a hard place. But here it’s easier for me to save money and go and see my friends, which in turn makes it a little more exciting thing to see them, since it doesn’t happen very often. They come up to see me occasionally, try and balance it out.
FM: Because it sounded like in [the city], while you had friends, they couldn’t really provide enough or the right kind of support to help you through a really difficult situation. The boys sound like they came closest, but mostly practical assistance, a couch, food, companionship, but not -
Stability. They had their own things to deal with and I can appreciate that. And living together, they definitely lost a lot of their friendship so I was kinda the go-between, the glue if you will.
FM: Okay, so I’m hearing that you were supporting or helping them out at least as much as they helping you.
I like to think so.
FM: You’ve said a couple times they had issues. Like what kind of issues and how did that impact on you?
One of ‘em, let’s say Jim, was very unpredictable. He dropped out of school around the same time I did, and despite the fact that he was working, he maintained his partying ways and just was in the same position that I was, didn’t really know what he wanted to do with himself and it became a vicious circle trying to figure out what he wanted to do and trying to afford it. And the other one struggles a lot with what I think is alcoholism and a lot of really really deep anger issues, none of which were ever taken out on me. I seem to be the person that he can talk to about it, but everyone else seems to incur his wrath quite often so he’s pushed most of his friends away.
FM: Um, this could sound more like a caseload than a group of friends. And I’m hearing a lot of commitment on your part to being helpful, caring for other people. How – if that’s right – where might that take you in terms of figuring out what you want to do / be???
Well, I don’t know if I am as helpful as I like to think I am for them, or if I’m just kinda someone who’s there for them. But I do what I can, and unfortunately I’m a fixer. It’s always disappointing. You can never help someone as much as you want to, especially if they don’t want it.
FM: I know that one, from a lifetime of social work. But training in that field is designed to help you take satisfaction from the job you did, rather than what other people do with what you offer. So - well, this is sounding like an effort to help you figure out what you want to be when you grow up, which isn’t my job. But it is some people’s job, and I wonder, since it seems to me that the where-am-I-going question is central to your decision-making to date, that you might think about going in that direction. Have you? Would you? What - talk to me about that.
Mom’s tried to get me to a career counselor quite a few times. But I think it’s a pride thing. And I think that so many people are so able to just know what they want to do, and I feel like if I just live my life a little I may be inspired to figure that out. I think I’m just intent on just living a little before I settle into something. People my age are so focused on being in school and getting a steady job. I’m just a little more on living a little, seeing things that I haven’t seen yet. Which is I guess is a type of education. My mother calls it school of life and I kinda love it.
FM: Well, in the day, in my day, that was definitely an option. Lots of people bummed around until they felt the need to settle in, and then there were jobs to be had. Which now maybe there aren’t so much.
Also the problem with my generation is that we have so many options that it’s overwhelming. You can literally do anything and that’s a big thing to take on. And plus the university age now is so young, people are leaving home at 17, they’re starting the rest of their life without having done anything. I just think there’s so much to be missed out on. People are in a rush to enlist, to just kinda be in their little place in the order of things.
FM: but what about the idea, the belief at one time, that getting an education was the beginning of having a life, exploring the bigger world. Did you hope or think that education would be that for you, or is taking an education, going to school, a barrier to having a life?
I think it’s a little bit of both because one of the things that my age group has to consider is the sheer expense of getting an education. People think it’s so so easy to just go and learn but in reality we’re going to end up being in debt for the rest of our life which automatically puts us back a step. How are you supposed to live your life when you’re still paying for an education that some people don’t know what to do with?
FM: Well said.
I’m not anti-education. I just think it’s such a big financial and time commitment, y’know, it takes people four or five years to get a degree that may not get them anywhere. For a lot of jobs now, it’s less about having a bachelor’s degree, it’s about having a master’s and if you don’t have a master’s you should have a PhD.
FM: In England until a couple of years ago, post sec was totally free, and in Quebec right now, students are protesting against raising what is the lowest tuition in the country. If post-sec were free, entirely, and there wasn’t the specter of a big debt, what difference would that make to you in how you would think about your choices for next fall, say?
If it were free it brings on a whole different set of conditions. It means you’re only paying rent. Y’know, the matter of free makes it more appetizing, more interesting. Because that way you can explore, you’re not committed to a course for four years that you’re not sure of. You can transfer, you can switch, you can move schools without paying through the nose for not knowing what you want to do. It opens up a little bit of freedom to explore education instead of get sucked into it.
FM: Very interesting. Are we sorta at the end of the story to this point?
For the most part, yeah. Still don’t know what I want to do or where I’m going to end up but I like where I’m at right now. It’s good for this time of my life.
FM: Thank you for sharing that story. To help us understand it better and correctly, can you tell me what you think is the most important event in the overall story? What is the one thing that most influenced this story? It could be something that happened, or something that didn’t happen.
I don’t know if it’s something that happened so much as … not a moral dilemma but a personal dilemma. Most of my life revolves around kinda the up-in-the-air, sort of, I don’t have the security of knowing what I want to do. Which sort of puts me not at a disadvantage but in a strange place, especially in today’s society.
FM: I know the question I wanted to ask and couldn’t recall: why do you think that most people easily came to knowing what they wanted to do?
Well, I’m skeptical about whether or not it’s really really what they want to do. I think a lot of people commit to certain professions because of societal influence – I think they put aside that hoop dream in favour of the safe bet. It’s all about security, about what’s going to get them the comfortable life style they want. Less about loving what you do. But I’m a cynic, so I can’t speak for them.
FM: And the other question was about pride getting in the way of seeing a career counselor. What is on the line – what is ‘pride’ in that situation?
I think I’m just of the belief that I will know what I’m meant to do when it hits me. I have a hard time believing that someone outside of myself can accurately judge what would make me happy, especially if it’s someone I never met. I think I have very high standards about what I want to do. I want something that makes me happy, not just something that pays the bills, something that interests me. And I just don’t see how someone who doesn’t know me is a better judge of what I should be doing with my life, than I am.
FM: This story is about your life to date, but it’s also a story that for those who will read it, ends here. And I think they will wonder how it will turn out – people do that, they ‘seek closure’. What would you say to them? Do you think that your story will turn out well, or not so well? (However you define ‘well’, whatever you understand by that.) Are you feeling optimistic about your future, or not so much?
Oh yeah, I think my story is never boring. There’s always some kind of drama or excitement or something wildly unpredictable about it, which I like. I just think I would rather have a little bit of excitement rather than be boring. So I’m optimistic. I’m certain there’ll be some sort of weird excitement or whatnot that will come into my life.
FM: I believe strongly that people are the best experts about their lives, so I’d like to ask two more questions:
The first is what advice would you give to your younger self which, if your younger self took that advice, would make this, in your opinion, a better story, or a story with a better outlook? So…what advice would you give yourself?
Oh… um… yikes. Well I think my high school years were more about trying to fit in, trying to be invisible, and I think if I would have told myself to just buck up and have the balls to do or say what I wanted, not do or say what people wanted to hear. It’s taken me a while to get to that point in my life when I’m confident with my opinions. I think everyone has something to say, and I need to dim down the judgmental views that I have, maybe not be as cynical.
FM: And the second is what advice you would give us, the research team, about what we should do with what you and others tell us. What advice would you give to us to either put into action or pass on to others that would be helpful to others like you?
Well I mean I think I have a really hard time with the societal view that people my age should be in school, that it’s just a natural thing, when not all things are taken into consideration. If they want to pay for us to go to school that would be lovely, but the reality of it is it’s just not an option for some people and for some people it’s a matter of deciding whether or not they want to take on the responsibility of paying a life-long debt. I dunno, I guess I just wish that that perception would change, that it’s okay to not be in school, to be working your butt off, working to exist actually holds some sort of value.