Graduations, Reunions, and Life Choices

Got my lease renewed for this year.  So I don’t have that hanging anymore.  Also got a few new shirts in the mail from my dad this morning.  Thanks Dad.  I appreciate it.  Ever since I went more minimalist than most people a few years ago I have less of everything, including clothing.  This means I wear what I do have more often and have to do laundry often.  Maybe I should pick up some more clothing just so I don’t have to do washing and replacing clothing more often.  Unfortunately clothing wears out if you wash it a lot and wear it quite often.  I found this out through my own experiences.

Been going outside more often lately even with it being a damper and colder than usual spring.  I still don’t drive much except when necessary.  I fire up my car at least every few days just to make sure everything is in proper order.  Even though I no longer take road trips like I did even a few years ago, it is good to know I could if I had to.

I might be making a couple trips this summer.  I have a family reunion in Colorado at the end of June I might be going to.  And my twenty year class reunion is the first weekend in July.  I’m still undecided if I’m going.  Sadly, many of the people I spent the bulk of my time with in high school live far away and probably aren’t the types to go to reunions anyway.  Some days it’s hard to believe I’ve been out of high school for twenty years.  Other days, especially when I’m in the grips of mental illness, it feels like someone else’s life.  An incredible amount has changed since I graduated high school in 1999.

I occasionally break out my high school annuals and photographs of high school and college friends.  I remember when we graduated high school, one of the speakers said something to the effect that we wouldn’t truly appreciate the power and beauty of youth until we were older.  So true.  I guess the biggest thing I miss about high school and college is how easy it was to socialize and make friends in those environments.  I was a geeky kid I admit.  I would have been the stereotypical nerd in high school and college except that I had a lot of physical strength (but no coordination).  I was on the football and track teams in high school and did intramural softball in college.  I probably couldn’t have done any other sports as a kid.  I wasn’t fast enough for soccer or coordinated enough for baseball or basketball or quick enough for wrestling.

Another thing about school and college I miss is the academics.  Even though I never got straight A’s in any level of school, I still did pretty decent in classes.  I did well enough grade wise and test wise to qualify for some really good scholarships.  I am so, so glad I graduated college debt free.  I couldn’t manage on a disability pension while paying off loans.  It was tough giving up on the MBA program once I lost my graduate assistant job.  But I wasn’t going to continue on in school if I had no way to pay for it outright.  Debt scared me then and it still scares me even though I haven’t had debts for years.  I don’t know if I even have a credit score anymore simply because I don’t borrow money.

My eldest nephew recently graduated middle school.  He will be starting high school at a large suburban public school this autumn.  So he may be going to college in four years.  I don’t really have any advice for the youngsters except remain flexible and open to new experiences.  We have no idea what jobs will be around in even ten years.  Many jobs could be eliminated due to automation and artificial intelligence.  Of course, many new jobs could be coming too.  I can’t in good faith advise any kid on what career path to take.

I won’t even tell them to ‘follow your heart.’  I saw too many people take that advice and end up with degrees that have few job prospects, at least right now. Yet, I remember an interview Mark Cuban gave on a business news show a couple years ago and he said to the effect that if machines keep taking over jobs, then people with humanities and liberal arts degrees might be in demand more than even business and technical fields within ten years.  Wouldn’t that be ironic; for years kids were discouraged from being arts and humanities students for fear they’d be able to do nothing but make coffee and work fast food.  Soon we may say the same thing about accounting, business, and delivery drivers.

In short, we don’t know what will be available.  In fact, the youngsters coming through the ranks may have to retrain every few years for new job skills.  The tech and science isn’t going to slow down anytime soon.  It is actually getting faster.  We could be going into a really cool future but it could be a rugged journey to get there.  The next generation or two could be quite rough as we navigate the biggest change to civilization since Industrialization got going in the lat 1700s and early 1800s.  I hope we are up to the challenges.

Graduation and Optimism During Times of Great Change

It is that time of year again, graduations and the end of the school year.  As it’s been chillier and damper then usual this spring, it doesn’t feel like early May yet.  It still feels like early April to me.  This year will mark twenty years since I graduated high school and fifteen since I graduated from college.  My class is having their twenty year reunion this summer.  As I have a family reunion out of state during the same weekend, I won’t be able to do both.  Haven’t decided which one I’m going to yet.  I haven’t been to any of my class reunions besides the five year.

I guess I just don’t have much in common with some of my old classmates or people in my childhood hometown.  Sure I had cool friends and enjoyed school activities like playing football and doing speech.  Yet I never felt like I really fit in back during my younger days.  Could have had problems with paranoia even as a child.  It also didn’t help that I spent the last two years of high school with a developing mental illness and not seeking help for it.  But we didn’t know back then.  We didn’t have the information easily available to us twenty years ago, certainly not like now.  I definately loved college, in part because I was seeking help and getting regular treatments.

I am trying to get out of the habit of offering recent graduates advice other than “stay flexible.”  I don’t tell anyone what career fields to look into anymore.  For beginners, we don’t know what jobs will be in demand in ten years anymore.  Many people can’t afford even going to state university without going into heavy debt anymore.  I’m glad I had good scholarships in college and got help from home.  I graduated debt free and that has saved my hide more than once.

It’s sad that so many people have crushing debts from school before they even begin a career.  I have far too many friends struggling with student debts even in their thirties.  And it’s absolutely asinine and unforgivable that student loans can’t be discharged in bankruptcy.  I don’t think college is viable for most kids anymore simply because of how out of control the costs have become.  An eighteen year old right out of high school would be better off doing an apprenticeship, going to trade school, or joining the military in most cases it seems.  Some kids might be better off moving overseas and looking for work in East Asia or Europe anymore.  A college friend of mine teaches high school in Netherlands and absolutely loves it as far as I can tell.  A cousin of mine lived in Japan for three years while her husband was stationed over there in the military.  It might not be such a bad idea.  National borders mean less now than they did even twenty years ago.

I try not to offer advice, not because I don’t care.  It’s because we no longer know what the future holds, at least not in terms of in demand careers.  I blog on a regular basis yet that was in it’s early days when I was in high school and college.  Youtube or social media didn’t exist when I was in high school.  Amazon was just getting started in the 1990s.  And of course smart phones didn’t exist and AI was nowhere near as good as it is now.  Renewable energy tech like wind and solar are becoming more affordable and in many cases now competitive with old style fossil fuels.  That wasn’t the case even fifteen years ago.  While many older jobs are definitely going away or getting drastically reduced, there are likely going to be others taking their place.  What if instead of economic Armageddon we were actually heading for one of the biggest industrial and economic booms in history?  What if instead of ecological collapse we solved the problems of air and water pollution?  We have people working on those problems, and many others as I write this.  I once read that in America during the Great Depression of the 1930s, more self made millionaires were made in that decade than in any other before that.  Yet we often think it was a hellish time.  For many people, it was. Yet for others, it was a time of opportunity as well.

It seems to me that during times of distress and upheaval (like we are living now) there are also opportunities as well.  I may be mentally ill, but I also have an outlet to talk about it and hopefully offer help others that I didn’t have in my younger years.  I have pretty decent treatments when had I grown up in my grandmother’s generation I would have spent the rest of my life in an institution or prison.  Sure I have gained a lot of weight over the course of this illness and my physical health has declined, yet I still have a sharp mind and am stable in spite the illness.  Overall I’m pretty happy.  Maybe not all the time, but then no one is continually blissful at all times anymore than people are always physically healthy.  I doubt I would have ever become a blogger if I didn’t become mentally ill.

 

Letter to My High School Self

High school graduations are this weekend in my home state.  Many of these kids will be going to college, some to the military, others to work or travel or do missionary work.  It was eighteen years ago, in 1999, that I and my cohorts graduated from high school.  That was half of a lifetime ago.  I’ve been legally an adult now as long as I was a juvenile.  An incredible amount has changed in my life, and the world at large, since that Saturday May afternoon in the farming village of my youth.

What follows is a hypothetical letter to my eighteen year old self, mainly about things I wish I knew in my younger years that would have made my transition to the world of 2017 easier.  Too bad I couldn’t do this for real, I’d tell my younger self to buy stock in Amazon, Facebook, and Tesla when they first came out 🙂

Dear Zach,

You have just graduated from high school and now the world awaits.  I know you are looking forward to college much more than you did high school graduation.  That’s understandable.  For many people, high school is some of the roughest years of their lives.  You definitely had your problems in school, but those are now past.  Some of the people you went to high school with you’ll never have to be around again.  College will be better in many aspects.  You’ll get to pick what you want to study.  You’ll have more say in who your friends are.  The bullies and idiots will be in the minority.  Besides, most people will be too busy with their own lives to harass you like you got it in high school.  You may not think so now, but someday you will be thankful that you’re smart and nerdy.  Within the next fifteen years, you will see so much science and tech advances that you will realize that, yes, nerds really do rule the world.  No one is going to care that you weren’t a star jock or class president in college.

Speaking of sports, I know there were some aspects of high school football and band you hated.  I know you didn’t like the summer practices at six a.m. or the macho atmosphere of the locker room.  But be happy you got to play.  Playing football on Friday nights is the closest you’ll ever get to being like a gladiator or warrior.  Be happy you got to be in the school pep band.  It’s the only chance you’ll ever get to feel like a rock star.  Most thirty year olds don’t get to stand out or preform at anything.  Even though you didn’t have a great social life in high school, be happy you went to a smaller school and had opportunities to be involved in many different activities.  Most of your college friends and coworkers who went to much larger schools won’t be as well rounded as you will become.

Don’t feel guilty if you don’t work your dream job out of college.  Most people won’t.  In fact because of the technology advances I talked about earlier, many jobs will be taken over by computers and machines.  So many people will be in that place where they’re working jobs they didn’t train for.  It’s not a failure on your part, it’s just that the world is changing much faster than people even in 1999 could anticipate.

Also, don’t feel guilty if you struggle at dating.  In the future, almost everyone will struggle at dating.  Besides, you will see many of your classmates go through divorces and marriage issues as the years pass.  Almost half of marriages will end in divorce.  And in the future, many adults will forego marriage entirely.  Surprise, so will you.  But being single isn’t bad.  It’s actually quite peaceful at times.  Some really big achievers in world history never married or had children.  You’ll be grateful you never got married.  Trust me.  You always had a hard independent streak in you.  That’s only going to get stronger with age.

Don’t take the opinions of others too seriously.  People in general can be quite dumb at times, so their opinions are almost never right.  The only person you have to answer to at all times is yourself.  Guard your integrity.  Be a man of sound character even if most people around you are liars and cheats.  Yes, cheaters do prosper.  But people will not honor their prosperity as much as they condemn their lack of character.  This was true in the past and will continue to be true.

You will have victories.  You will have struggles and losses.  People will come and go out of your life.  But hold onto your close friends and family.  Be happy you got to know your grandparents.  They won’t be around forever.  Be content and calm no matter what happens or doesn’t happen.  You will change your mind and thinking about almost everything several times over during the next eighteen years.  The only people who have their life philosophy set in stone at age eighteen are fools who are setting themselves up to be obsolete and out of touch with reality.  Like I told you, major changes are coming.  You wouldn’t believe me if I told you some of the things you will see before 2017.  You’ll just have to see them for yourself.

Be happy that you traveled and were open to new experiences in your youth.  The older you get, the tougher it will get to just travel or try new things.  Continue to be open to new experiences.  It will put you far ahead of most adults in your life.  Speaking of adults, don’t just think that because someone has gray hair or more money that they are smarter or wiser than you.  Many times they won’t be.  Some of them were just lucky.  And chance does play more of a part in your life than you would like.  You like the thought that you have a lot of say in your own destiny.  But in reality, you really have less control than you would like.  Sometimes things just happen that aren’t your fault or because of your hard work.

Remember to relax and know that life is a competition only against yourself.  Never compare yourself to anyone else.  You can’t live their life and they can’t live yours.

Sincerely,

Your 36 year old self, May 2017.

Thoughts on Upcoming Graduations and Future Possibilities

College graduations are this weekend in my home state.  Some days it’s hard to believe that it’s been thirteen years since I finished college.  Other days it seems like it was somebody else’s life.  I am definitely not the same person I was then.  Back then I believed I could still work in spite my mental illness if I found the right situation.  Over the next several years I worked a variety of jobs; retail clerk, sales man, teacher’s aide, factory worker, loading dock worker, cook, dish washer, janitor, and now blogger.  Besides the teacher’s aide job, none of these jobs had anything to do with what I studied in college.

In my younger years, I was kind of resentful that I didn’t find a good paying job in the field I studied.  For awhile I believed that college was a waste because of this.  I really don’t feel that way anymore.  After studying science and tech advances for the last few years, I know now that it’s impossible to spend four to five years in college and expect to have a career in that field for the next forty years.  The science and technology is advancing too fast anymore.  Entire new industries are being creating and being destroyed every year anymore.  It’s foolish to tell an eighteen year old kid fresh out of high school that what they major in has to last them until age sixty five.  Most eighteen year olds don’t know what’s even available, let alone where their true strengths lie.  When I started college I never saw myself becoming a writer and blogger.  There were very few blogs in 1999 when I started college.  There weren’t even social media sites, good search engines, youtube, netflix, etc back then.  And that was just eighteen years ago, not that long ago.  Who knows what will change in the next eighteen years.  I might not even need to use a keyboard to write a blog by 2035.

As far as telling an eighteen year old kid that they have to stay in one career field for their lives, that’s asinine.  These kids graduating high school this spring won’t hit even our current retirement age until the mid 2060s.  We can’t realistically train these kids for lifelong careers when we don’t know what will be available by then.  Maybe some of the kids graduating this year will be working in vertical farming, yet in 2017 this tech is still in development phases.  Maybe some of these kids will be robotics mechanics.  Perhaps some will become technological nomads and just go wherever the work takes them.  Have lap top, will travel much like the hired guns of the Old West.  Maybe some of the kids graduating this spring will work on building moon and Martian colonies.  Maybe some of these kids will be among the first to have their children genetically modified.  I don’t know.  But I doubt few of them, if any, will be able to make careers as truck drivers, fast food workers, retail clerks, telemarketing, book keeping or most manufacturing.  These jobs will be among the first to be automated.

And ironically, no one else knows exactly what the future of work holds for these kids leaving high school either.  Tech gurus like Bill Gates, Elon Musk, Ray Kurzweil, etc. can have good ideas but we realistically can’t foresee what will and what won’t happen in the next twenty, thirty, or forty years. And politicians can say they want to revive blue collar manufacturing jobs, but that’s not going to happen in spite their best efforts.  We can’t go back to the past and trying to do so will only make the transitions to a higher tech world civilization even harder and delay the inevitable.  For all I know, by 2065 the basics of life could be cheap enough that working may optional for some people.  Maybe the only real jobs humans can do will be in science research and space exploration.  Of course I could be completely wrong and World War III knocks humanity back to the Stone Age.  What I do know is that as much change as I have seen since graduating high school in 1999, even that change is going to be dwarfed by what’s coming in the next couple generations.

Struggles With Mental Illness in College, Part 2

            In a previous blog entry, I wrote about my struggles during the first year and a half of college before I began treatment.  This entry will be about my struggles after my treatment began.  Just because I was under treatment didn’t mean my problems were over.

            During the last three years of my collegiate career, I never achieved the quality of grades I had during my first year of college.  I also changed over to a different major.  I originally started college as a pre-pharmacy student.  After a year and a half of struggling with my mental illness as well as my classes, my grades were bad enough that I wasn’t going to be getting into pharmacy school.  I needed a change.

            I switched to a business management major, which was a surprise to my family.  I had never taken any business classes in high school.  I didn’t have much of an aptitude for sales, and I was quite an introvert.  So to my family and friends the move didn’t make much sense.  But to me it made a great deal of sense.

            In my line of thinking at the time, I wanted to be able to be employable with a good job as soon as I graduated from college.  Even though I was really passionate about literature and history, I always figured I could read all the history books and classics of literature on my own time when I wasn’t studying for my business classes.  With my best friend being a history education student helping me out with history and classical literature books, which is exactly what I did.

            I admit with this “Dual Study Program” with my studying business classes officially by day and reading my classical literature and history books late at night and on the weekends, I didn’t have much time for outside socialization.  I had my small core group of friends, and I also made it a point to be friendly as possible to as many fellow students as possible.

            As the last three years of college went on I slowly picked up a few more friends and gradually went to more social activities.  There were a few music bands on campus that occasionally played weekend concerts that I went to.  They were pretty much cover bands that also played some of their own material.   I made a few friends with some of the band members through that.

            I also made a few friends through some of my business clubs like Students In Free Enterprise.  I also went to many of my college’s home baseball and basketball games.  I preferred the baseball games because of the more laid-back atmosphere of baseball and I had a few friends on the team.  I also made a few friends through games of softball, ultimate Frisbee, and flag football.  I wasn’t a fast runner but could be a vicious blocker.

            I bring all of this up to show that I was able to have the average college experience in spite of having a mental illness.  There were a few things I obviously couldn’t do, namely the drinking scene because of my medications.  But I wasn’t in college to drink and drug.  I was there to get a degree.

            I didn’t work during the school year because of the stress of going to school full time, having a mental illness, and having a job would have just been too much.  So I worked in the summers instead.  It also helped that I had a good academic scholarship based on my grades.  Even though I wasn’t getting straight A’s, I was still managing to do well.  And I was enjoying the college experience at the same time. 

            A strange thing happened during my last year of college, I became interested in writing.  I had been reading voraciously the previously two years, so I suppose that writing would only be the next logical step.

            All of the struggles, problems, victories, and defeats of five years of college came to a culmination on May 8, 2004.  That was the day I graduated from college.  Graduating from college meant that I had overcome the problems of mental illness and accomplished my life long goal of finishing college.

            While it’s been several years and I still haven’t found permanent employment in my major, I still won because I was able to finish college.  I thank God that I was able to finish in spite of my illness.  Finishing college by itself is hard enough.  Throwing a mental illness in the mix makes the degree of difficulty pretty steep.  I hope that by finishing college that perhaps someday I can encourage someone with a mental illness to reach for and achieve their dreams.