I've had a lot of firsts this week. First snow in Dayton. First time driving on snow. First sledding adventure in Dayton. First time shoveling a sidewalk. First time getting my car stuck in snow. Whoo hoo. Some hooligans in a truck drove by my house when I pulled in the driveway from work and saw me picking my way carefully across my unshoveled sidewalk in heels. "Hey can we shovel your walk for you? Won't have to do that no more!" they shouted. I waved them off, wanting to shout "I'm a strong independent woman and I can shovel my own darn sidewalk, thank you very much." And I did.
Here's some pictures from the winter wonderland, before it turned into a dirty sludgerland.
As I drove back from North Carolina on Christmas day, I realized it was my six month anniversary of starting work in Dayton. Six months seemed like a lifetime away when I first started. It was a date that stuck in my brain because after six months at my job, you’re considered a seasoned employee, which communicated to me, “No more silly mistakes allowed—you are now held to a higher standard.” I was so preoccupied with getting through the next week that I never imagined six months would come so fast.
Now I’m almost shocked to find that I feel relatively competent at this job after six months. But what still surprises me is seeing a paycheck pop up in my bank account every two weeks. I get this mindset like, “Oh, there’s my last paycheck, I’ll have to stretch that one out for a while. Good thing I already paid this month’s rent.” Even with as low as my salary is, it’s still more money than I’ve ever seen, and I’m mesmerized. I’m watching my bank account grow steadily, instead of watching great chunks disappear along with every semester’s tuition.
When I started this job I was terrified I wouldn’t be able to do it. I just knew that there had been a mistake somewhere along the line, and that after six months they’d see me for the impostor I really was. The boss would come to me with a disappointed look and ask to see me in his office.
As it turns out, I’m actually very good at my job. But my coworker still has to coach me into taking pride in my work, and rejoicing over crushing the competition, etc. For one reason or another though, around the beginning of December it started to get extra difficult for me to get out of bed on work days. I know it’s not depression, because I’ll fly out of bed on a weekend ready to bite life in the ear, even if it’s 8:45 a.m. and I agreed to help a friend move furniture.
Maybe it’s partly due to the fact that the holidays are a challenging time for a business reporter to find any stories, but I think it may be more that I’m starting to hit that wall of the first six months of being in the real world.
There’s some kind of disconnect in my brain when it comes to understanding the relationship between the paycheck and the work I do. Maybe it’s because in my opinion, whether I do a great job one week, or I really slack off on another, the paycheck still shows up. Being on salary is an amazing blessing, but it’s hard to get my head around. Maybe it’s because there’s also no immediately apparent correlation between how hard I work and the success of my company. Down the line I know it’s going to make a difference, but who knows if I’ll even still live in Dayton when it does. This whole corporate America thing has got me puzzled.
I think I’ve become a more selfish person since I was forced to become a responsible adult. In college I almost never said no – to a fault. I took on commitments like it was my job to save the world. But in Dayton, I’m afraid of commitment. I’ve been encouraged by many people to get involved with Big Brothers Big Sisters, and I even rappelled down a 27-story tower to raise awareness for them, but all I’ve done about it for about three months is think. I don’t know why I can’t bring myself to commit. I tell myself things like “I don’t have the time.” But I have more time on my hands now than ever before in my life. I freaking have TV shows that I keep up with. Granted, I have to watch them all on Hulu days after they come out. I play Frisbee, go to boxing, go to trivia, go out on the weekends, even do laundry somewhat regularly! Talk about too much time on my hands.
For me in the past, life wasn’t being lived to the fullest if I wasn’t forced to hyper-multi-task, i.e. read for pleasure while doing my laundry and sending some important emails, while texting with a friend to set up a time to hang out in between two other commitments the next day. But now that I’m away from that, I feel both a wonderful sense of freedom and a nagging sense of my ability to do so much more.
I’m naturally a thrifty person, but I’m trying to learn how to be generous, with my time and my money. It’s hard to combine those two personality traits. Maybe I can take some notes from Abbie’s coworker Ray.
Rabbit trail for the sake of a pretty funny story that’s slightly related to this topic.
My roommate Abbie’s coworker Ray, who is 54, has some quirks. She’s told me many stories about him. Or she’s told me the same story many times. I’m not sure, because I still laugh every time. Ray and his wife Eileen only buy things if they have a coupon or can get it really on sale, and they account for every penny daily.
On Monday nights, Ray buys a $5 Hot and Ready pizza from Little Caesars. He takes it home, and he and Eileen each have two pieces for dinner, and save two for Tuesday’s lunch. If Ray needs to contribute some cash to a coworker’s birthday present, or something, he calls home to Eileen to let her know that he will have to break the $20 in his pocket earlier than anticipated. Abbie and her friends ask, “Ray, don’t you ever get hungry and stop in at Taco Bell on your way home and not tell her?” He says, “Nope. Every penny is accounted for. She would know.” One time, Ray went to JCPenny to buy a shirt, but he came back empty handed. “You didn’t find anything good?” someone asked. “I did, but if I wait two more days it will go down from $8 to $6,” Ray said.
Abbie told me Ray was throwing a disco party for his coworkers and friends. I was intrigued by Ray and the fact that my perception of him from the stories didn’t look like a disco-party-throwing kind of guy. So I asked Abbie if I could come to the party. She asked Ray, and he happily extended the invitation to me. “Everything will be provided, Abbie, so you don’t need to bring anything,” Ray had said. Abbie and I wondered where they got coupons for beer, and where we could get some of those.
We showed up to the party practically doing the potty dance we were so curious to see what Ray’s house would look like. Would there be a box of two hundred air fresheners, bought for 99 cents stowed away in some corner of the basement, or 10-foot tall stacks of canned tomato soup because they were 90 percent off? As one of six kids, I understand the practicality of buying things when they’re on sale, especially if it’s Honey Nut Cheerios, which my family has been known to buy in quantities too big to fit into two carts if the sale was good enough.
A sign on the front door said “Come on in, the party’s in the basement!” We let ourselves in and were immediately surprised by the throbbing of the subwoofer pumping in the basement. Peering into the basement, I saw dark paint and a few tin posters. At the bottom of the stairs my jaw dropped. The whole basement was decked out in old fashioned posters celebrating beer, basements, beautiful women and saxophones. To the left was a bar with a sink and four or five bar stools, fully stocked with quality beers. But the biggest surprise was the hardwood dance floor the size of my room complete with disco ball, strobe lights, colored spotlights, and a speaker system the size of my car. Five or six 40 or 50-somethings were jamming to Michael Jackson.
Ray told Abbie the party had been waiting for us to arrive, and that he’d heard I was a good dancer. I don’t know about that, I thought, but I grabbed a beer and hit the dance floor. Later on, one of Ray’s friends complemented me on my dance skills. “You must have some African American in you!” she said. “Not that I know of,” I said. “A little Cherokee, but that’s it.” And a lack of inhibitions.
I found out that Ray is in an 80s cover band, and he showed us pictures of him with a permed mullet. He even treated us to some Christmas songs played on his sax.
Anyway, if Eileen’s extreme couponing has made it so they can splurge on turning their basement into a full-service bar and dance club, I think I need to sign up for her financial management class.
In the past my occupation has been student, and the only person who stood to gain or lose from the amount of effort I put in to my studies was me. Now I’m accountable not just to my boss, or my 19 co-workers, or our corporate headquarters, but to the whole business community of Dayton. Talk about pressure. Before, when in pretense I was a student, but in real life I was devoting my life to raising money for families in the hospital, I really felt like life had a purpose and I treasured every second, especially senior year. By warming a seat in a lecture hall while designing an advertisement on my computer, and maybe taking notes every three minutes, I was not slacking; rather I was as I saw it achieving the ultimate level of efficiency. I was getting a degree and saving the world at the same time!
Now I just make news. And do my laundry.
Don’t get me wrong, I’ve found some very meaningful volunteer work in tutoring at-risk middle school guys with the Victory Project (http://victoryproject.org/), but I’m overwhelmed with a sense of inadequacy and always leave with a feeling of needing to do more. Much more. Also there’s this niggling little sense that I am perhaps missing my calling in life.
On some of my most unmotivated of days at work, I’ve asked God to show me how I can do my job according to Colossians 3:23. “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men.” But the answer I’m not getting is, “Write a bajillion really important stories today,” which is the standard I tend to think I’m supposed to be living up to. In fact, I don’t think I’ve gotten any answer. So I’m still listening, and while waiting I slink off to the kitchen to see if someone has maybe left a banana or a half a muffin for me to eat because my pantry is probably empty. “And all the grocery stores were closed, is that it?” Joe will ask. I have plenty of money to buy groceries, or even to eat out for most of my meals, but the truth is I don’t actually know how to feed myself. I think a balanced meal is a peanut butter brown sugar sandwich with peanut butter crackers and chocolate chips on the side. That’s something I’d thought I would have learned in six months of adulthood. But instead I now have a reputation as the human trash can who will gladly dispose of all your leftovers, especially pizza.
But what’s the fun in life if you can figure it out in six short months?