I'm 30 years old. I have a masters degree. I've probably served you eggs on a Sunday morning. This wasn't part of the vision. But somehow, it's where I ended up.
Nine years ago, I graduated with all the sense of optimism and invincibility befitting a new graduate, led by ego, searching for that perfect job. One year in, my employment prospects were nil and since I was still fascinated by the world of research and exploration, I decided to do my masters, channelling my passion toward something "productive." Seemed like a good choice at the time. I was awarded a full fellowship which was lucky considering the undergrad loans still weighing me down. Ironically, I figured getting my masters degree was the only way to pay back those loans. Did I mention I am still paying them off?
Hoping the pursuit of education would broaden my horizons and open new doors, I was, and still am, disappointed to find out that it truly did the opposite. A masters creates a sense of tunnel vision—chapters, thesis, research, arguments, late nights, critic after critic until the work you started isn't even really yours to begin with.
Though I was successful in earning my degree, I left school feeling so beaten down, a side effect of the world of academia they don't often advertize. I was restless and confused and so far from ready for work; ironic, considering the purpose of my educational endeavour.
My mind was so closed off—I needed a way to re-discover my own thoughts. My partner and I went travelling. Though not my first trip abroad, this is the trip that started to change everything. Low on funds, we chose to use World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms. Travelling this way connects you to people and places in wonderful ways. Getting my hands dirty (literally) after the stuffy world of academia was exactly what I needed to do. One thing is for sure: Those months of adventure were significantly more valuable than the five and a half years of higher education—and quite a bit cheaper.
My travel companion is now my husband and to this day, we are avid gardeners. We were fortunate to find a place outside the city, with land enough to grow food. The dream of self-sufficiency is one I hold onto and work toward daily, especially after seeing what the alternative is.
We came back to Halifax and sadly, I was faced with the same dilemma as when I left. Application after application, resume after resume. The same two answers kept repeating themselves: you are overqualified or you don't have enough experience. I took what I could get: Skill-building in the non-profit sector, lots of volunteer positions. Unable to gain the experience I needed due to lack of jobs, I hit a wall in my job hunt.
I found myself back in the hospitality industry, the industry I had used to support myself while going through school. I did well, multiple promotions in a few short years. Oh right, and 55 hours a week, no overtime for about the same hourly pay I made at Dairy Queen when I was 15. When I had to start rolling change to pay for my gas to get work and prepare myself for the inevitable overdraft every month, I realized I had taken a serious wrong turn somewhere.
So here I am, 30 years old, and back to doing what I did when I was 19. Serving is still more money than I've made at any other job I've had. (The things they don't tell you on career day.) Applying for jobs is a daily part of my life, though it's almost become robotic. I used to get excited about each individual application and resume, waiting in vain for responses that never came. I have redone my resume multiple times, had it reviewed by an employment counsellor and an HR professional. Still nothing.
I think about going west all the time. Reading David Flemming's Voice of the City, "Saying Farewell to Nova Scotia for a Reason" (December 12, 2013), inspired this reflection. I have been fighting so hard against leaving. I am from Ontario and I have lived in Nova Scotia for 12 years. I love it, I love the pace, the beauty, the friendliness, the fact that you are judged for who you are and not what you do. Nova Scotia is my home. To undo everything I have built in these past 12 years would be heartbreaking. Sadly, I am running out of options.