I had an unsettling conversation with my mema the other day.
It was the first time I had talked to her on the phone since arriving back in America from China, and as we were discussing the ever-popular topic, “Where do I go from here?” she was giving me a bit of advice. Things like, “Be careful with your money! Don’t spend all of your savings during your first month back home!” and, “Living in China was certainly a memorable, once-in-a-lifetime experience, but now it’s time to find a real job and get back to normal.”
After hanging up the phone, I was left with a sour feeling in my stomach. I realized it was the uncertainty of “getting back to normal” that was really bothering me. After all, what is “normal”?
In Mema’s day, “normal” meant rows of neat houses nestled behind white picket fences, and saving up spare bills and change in mason jars for family vacations in the summer. In my dad’s day, “normal” meant working at the same company for thirty plus years, dressing in a suit and tie, carrying a briefcase, and driving his Buick to the office each day. But I’m afraid that this isn’t my mema’s or my dad’s world anymore, and the rules have drastically changed.
Now we’re living in a place where going to work can mean walking from the bedroom across the hall to the office in your pajamas and logging on to the computer. We’re living in a place where making websites and apps is more profitable than manufacturing tangible goods, and people who have devoted a lifetime of service to their company are being rewarded for their efforts by being forced into early retirement (or losing their retirement altogether).
I want the house with the white picket fence, and I want to work at the same job for thirty years. I think I’ve grown up my entire life wanting these things and seeing them as “normal.” But with people losing more money on houses than they’re making, people moving from job to job after being let go, and people relocating all across the country (and even the globe!) in search of the fabled “job security,” is it really feasible to want this kind of life anymore? Realistically, no matter who we elect for president in November, it’s going to be a long time before America gets “back to normal.”
“Recession” can be a yucky word (I suppose that’s why politicians are always so reluctant to say it), and I’m not trying to make anyone feel depressed by bringing all of this up. There are a lot of people out there who are making the most of these uncertain times–reinventing themselves, going back to school, and learning trades or skills they never thought they would use. People are getting creative and turning a time of economic trouble into an opportunity for new possibilities. I hope I can do the same.
This past year, my husband and I turned what would have been a year of unemployment and discouragement into a year of adventure. We lived and worked in China, traveling all across the country whenever we had the opportunity, and rather than being financially unresponsible, we managed to make money off of our year-long vacation! The question is, can lightning strike twice? Now we’re back in America, living off of the hospitality of family and friends, jobless again, and we’re not sure what happens next. We want to go back to our normal jobs, of course, but if that doesn’t work out….we may have to come up with a new normal.