27 February 2009

Facing Future

(title of an album by Israel Kamakawiwo'ole, featuring traditional Hawai'ian music)

Looking ahead hasn't really ever been my strong suit.  Sure, sure, I make plans like everyone else, but things rarely work out the way I planned.  At least, not since I was about 16.

Growing up, through school, I planned to be a doctor.  I took Latin (oh, so useful) in high school with the idea that I would study medicine.  I planned out my high school course work around being an exchange student; took summer school classes, had a very full class schedule so that I would be on track to graduate with my class.  Beyond, that, though, I didn't really have a plan.

I figured out quickly enough in college that medicine wasn't the career for me; neither nursing or doctoring was in my future.  I got very interested in the law, but that wasn't until I was close to graduating from college.  I applied, but did not get accepted to law school.  I drifted through college, graduating eventually with a practical, run-of-the-mill business degree.  I was hardly passionate about studying management; languages, psychology, music, and fiber arts all held much more fascination for me.  Yes, even then, weaving and spinning were things I thought were really interesting.

But I was at least smart enough to recognize that a degree in German, or psychology, or music wouldn't end up landing me a good job right out of school.  Want to teach German in the US?  You should probably have a master's degree.  All I could see doing with a 4 year degree in psych was going on to grad school, and at the time, grad school wasn't something I wanted to do.  After K-12 schooling and around 5 years of college, I wanted to be the hell out of school.

I started working for Ye Olde Evile Bank when I was just in the middle of my college coursework; staying there, once I graduated, was easier than looking for something else.  I watched the internal postings and when I worked for the Stiffs Division, that was my first "real" job.  As a glorified secretary, in that department, they required a college degree.  There wasn't anything I had learned in college that helped me do that job; I think the reasons for requiring the degree had more to do with expectations of maturity level and the fact that you had a four year degree showed that you could stick with something and had an accomplishment or two.

I got unhappy with the bank when I had been working for the trust department for a few years.  Disillusioned.  I wasn't making much money, and I wanted about a $10,000 a year raise; my boss laughed when I told him that.  But with that college degree and 5 years experience, I was making around 20K a year.  I thought #1) I was worth more than that and #2) for the responsibilities and work they gave me, 30K a year was the bare minimum they should have been paying me.  They disagreed.  I found out years later that among the secretaries in my division, over two cities, I was the lowest paid assistant/secretary.  Which, incidentally, really pisses me off NOW.  I didn't know then; I just knew that I hated my commute, I wasn't excited about what I was doing, and I could see myself turning into a bitter 40-something career secretary, which wasn't in my plans at all.  My plans had been to set the world on fire; to change the world, to do something important.

That led me away from the bank and to my old non-profit job.  There, at least, I felt like I was making a difference, even just a small one, but I was working to help people right in my own community, and I got immense satisfaction out of that.

Until that house of cards collapsed.

Let's skip over the part where I worked in that awful sales job and the subsequent black hole of depression, yeah?  OK.

Where I am now makes me very happy, and I think I could probably be quite happy here until I retired; although that is putting the cart a-fore the horse a little; at 34 years old, I have a minimum of 26 years left in the workforce.  Maybe I don't want to come to this job every day for the next 30-ish years.  Maybe I do.  I don't know.

I do know that now I *do* want to go back to school and get a master's degree.  I'm no more passionate about studying business now than I was 10 years ago; but again, I recognize that a business degree is useful, and has many applications.  And I don't hate it; it just doesn't do the same for me as say, learning a new textile ability, excitement-wise.

Tangentially, did I mention that I learned a new knitting stitch at a fiber festival a few weeks ago?  Called a picot cast-on, it creates a frilly, feminine edge to baby blankets or what-have-you.  I love the way it looks, and promptly cast a shawl on to the needles with yarn purchased at that fiber festival.  Hand spun, hand dyed, 100% merino wool, the softest I have ever touched.  I can't wear wool next to my skin, even cashmere bothers me, but I'll have no trouble using this as a light wrap in the summer or as a big, big scarf in the winter.

So if I could, I'd find a way to incorporate the knitting and my interest in spinning into a way to make a living.  (Which, hello, if you think my knitting habit is expensive?  A "good" spinning wheel will run you around $600.  Seriously.)  But not in such a way that I'm taking on commissioned knits....let's take my new (unfinished) shawl as an example.  That lovely handspun merino was $32 a skein, and I bought 2.  So we're at $64 for the yarn.  The class for the new picot edging I learned was about $30.  The shawl might be as long as 6 inches right at this moment, and I've spent about 10 hours working on it to date.  Skilled, specialized labor...hmm.  Let's agree on a $20 an hour figure.  Then there are the notions (stitch markers, measuring tape, thread cutter/scissors, ball winder) that I already own and have invested some pretty serious money in.  Then there are the needles themselves; I'm a knitting snot, and I won't use needles that you can get in Michael's or JoAnn's craft stores.  They're plastic, and they're crap.  The Addi needles I prefer start out around $7, and the needles I'm using on this shawl were $12.  Time for some math.

$64 Yarn
$30 Class/instruction
$12 US size 9 circular needle, 24 inch cord
$20  assorted notions that will be used
$20/hr for labor; estimated 50 hours production time - $1,000 for labor (I am a slow knitter, admittedly, but I place a high value on my time.)

Cost of shawl;  $1,126.00

You'd buy one, right?

So I can't exactly plan a future that incorporates my current knitting passion.  But I do like what I'm doing for a living now.  I'm wondering if I should be making a plan, other than the retirement monetary planning I've already in place, for moving forward.  Where do I want to go, career-wise?  What do I want to do?  Or, considering the state of the world's finances, should I keep my head down, keep doing what I'm doing, and worry about facing the future another day?

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