Tuesday, June 12, 2012

The real world sucks

Last week I took a overview class on the publishing industry, hoping to learn more about my future job prospects. I learned (among some other legitimately cool/enlightening things):

1. My prospects suck.
2. Anyone who wants to write for a living is crazy.
3. Anyone who wants to publish, edit, design or print books for a living is also crazy.

Amidst the discussions of business planning and finances, which seemed to strategically coincide with my monthly bill-paying routine, and the arrival of a health insurance statement, and the planning (ie. budgeting) for an upcoming trip, my head was spinning with numbers. A head full of numbers is always an unsettling feeling for someone who’s used to working with words, but on this particular occasion, it really hit me: Being an adult sucks.

When it comes down to it, I’ve never been an adult before. Sure, I grew up and went to war, but I did it in a bubble. A military base is essentially a small city, full of like-minded people telling you what to do, where to go, what to say, and how to dress. I was part of a well-oiled machine which, in exchange for my blood, sweat and tears, would provide me with everything to meet my basic needs. Right out of college I had zero debt, a steady paycheck, a housing allowance, healthcare benefits, free moving services, a gym membership, a work wardrobe, access to religious advisors/career advisors/education advisors, and all-expense-paid trips to lovely vacation destinations like Afghanistan.

Military life certainly has its cons. In typical fashion, these are the things I noticed most while serving. There were midnight recalls; contingency responses; high-stress, high-profile assignments; working long hours, holidays and weekends that made it difficult to find time to utilize many of the available services. Next to trendy, chic civilian women, I felt frumpy in my camouflage and boots – a uniform that essentially declared me “Property of the U.S. Air Force.” And of course there’s the whole Afghanistan thing . . .

But I didn’t realize until now how, in many ways, my life was so comfortable. Sheltered. Meandering somewhere between childhood and independence.

Then came war.

People say war makes men out of boys. If to be a man is to carry a country’s expectations on your shoulders, to live on the edge of death, to witness the cruelty mankind is capable of committing, and to question everything in which you believe, then yes, this statement is true.

Thus, the military both inhibits the transition to adulthood, and forces it.

And what comes after? What happens to these “men” when the bubble pops?

I left the military still fresh from my baptism-by-war. I can’t say the rug was ripped out from under me, because I stepped off the rug. But that’s how it felt. My only foundation was military-made, and was shaken by my deployed experience. Afterward, I had nowhere left to stand.

Unemployment is a common post-military landing place. In 2011, the Iraq and Afghanistan veteran population had a 12.1% unemployment rate, compared with 8.9% among their civilian counterparts. After eight months as part of that statistic, I chose grad school.

The lack of structure in an academic environment both excited and overwhelmed me. So did my expanding wardrobe. (I take, on average, 40 minutes and five outfit changes to get dressed in the morning.)

Most things about civilian life intrigue me, but my shrinking bank account is just plain scary. I’m not used to seeing all those red numbers, with so few black ones to counteract. Apparently I’m not alone. A recent article on marketwatch.com reported that “veterans ages 29 or younger have average monthly expenses that exceed their net income by $880 as well as average credit card debt of $7,234.” YIKES!!

Granted, financial woes are not just a veteran problem. These are tough times for many. However, I’m sure a lot of of these veterans are, like me, struggling to reinvent ourselves outside the military bubble. When you take the cog out of the machine, the machine still runs. But the cog is useless.

We’ve outgrown the military, but in our circuitous route to adulthood, we failed to keep pace with our civilian peers.

I like to think of myself as pretty responsible, though I’ve been known to go on an occasional shoe shopping binge (justified under "non-combat boot footwear diversification"). I like to think of myself as pretty low maintenance, though past boyfriends and my dad, who lugged around an entire suitcase full of aforementioned diversified footwear when I moved to Boston, might disagree.

I’ve never made a budget because I’ve never had to. Just another lesson I’m learning the hard way out here in the real world.

I gave up a comfortable life in exchange for uncertainty. I didn’t realize how difficult, how complicated, how uncomfortable the transition would be. But for me it’s worth it, because I seek other comforts: expression, creativity, peace of mind, fulfillment, a cute wardrobe. A life that is mine.

And a winning lotto ticket.

Actual magnet from Lauren's fridge


  1. Awesome post Lauren. Hang in there! You are an incredible writer and will land a job you are passionate about. WRT budgets, mint.com is a really cool website and they have an app as well which rocks. You can load all your account info and check all of them at once without logging onto 10 different websites. Best of luck!

  2. Thank you for reading and for your comment! I will definitely check out mint.com... anything to make the numbers-infused budgetary slog more manageable is much appreciated.


  3. this post speaks volumes to us!! we were blessed that within a month of separating from the air force, andrew found a really great job - but now we face the fact there are extra bills to pay, no free gym, walmart is not tax free, where do we find friends, you mean i have a choice in choosing my doctor?? it's a crazy transition...i often wonder if our new normal will ever feel normal?