Sometimes, if you aren’t sure about something, you just have to jump off the bridge and grow your wings on the way down. —Danielle Steel
Kat and I were both sitting in the living room reading Sunday when I looked up and mentioned that I was having to be careful about what I read. Too many articles and books and studies pique my interests. I could jump down any number of rabbit holes and waste untold hours of time chasing a topic that has no application to anything I do. The problem is that I enjoy learning new things far too much.
“Would you like to go back to college?” she asked. The expression on her face told me she was serious. That’s Kat, though. She’s all about tackling challenges head on, embracing one’s passion and hanging on as tight as possible.
I gave her my standard set of excuses. I wouldn’t know what to study. My GPA is too low. Most importantly, I don’t see the benefit of going $60,000 or more in debt at a point in my life where I’m not likely to ever earn enough to pay it back.
We are, by government standards, poor. No, we’re not destitute, but the last thing we have the money to pursue is some random jump into a career or field of study that may prove to be impossible. Our general situation improves only with the careful management of our limited funds. Chasing other interests is a fantasy.
When To Jump
Earlier this month, the Huffington Post started a new section specifically aimed at people pondering some of the same questions I ponder. The description of the section sounds appealing:
When to Jump™ is a community dedicated to exploring the fundamental question we all think about: when is the right time to go do what you really want to be doing? HuffPost has partnered with When to Jump founder Mike Lewis to curate the stories and ideas of people who left something comfortable to chase a passion. Whatever your jump may be, this is the place to help inspire you to make it.
The stories have headlines that sound incredibly encouraging. This Would-Be Doctor Switched Paths To Help People In An Entirely Different Way. How A Former Pre-Med Student Found Another Way To Build Healthy Communities. I Left My Successful Career as a Doctor to Become an Art Student.
Wait, are you noticing what I’m noticing? There’s a trend here, at least early in the community’s inception, to focus on those abandoning the medical field. Reading through these three articles, I could feel happy for each person’s story. They took the risk, made the jump, and it worked. Yay them! I couldn’t help noticing, though, that these people come from a much higher socio-economic class than I do. Financial challenges have a much different meaning for them than it does for me. For the OB/GYN cum art student, there didn’t seem to be any severe challenge beyond her own self-doubts.
Is this whole career jumping just for the affluent? Thousands of people my age who lose their jobs to acquisitions and mergers, economic downsizing, or technological advancement are told to “make the jump” into something they love doing. But when each month is a challenge to keep the lights burning making a blind jump into something that could, at least for a moment, involve a substantial investment, that move isn’t so attractive.
Let’s All Be Astrophysicists
Over the past few years, I’ve taken quite an interest in astrophysics. Neil deGrasse Tyson has done a great job of making this incredibly complicated field of study seem relatable and even obtainable. Being an astrophysicist sounds like an incredible amount of fun, even if the amount of math is intense. I’m sure I would do better with math now than I did back in 9th grade. I think I could come to love astrophysics.
I’ve had arguments similar to this before, though. Back in 1988, I was all in turmoil over whether to go back to school and get my master’s degree in something music related or chasing this photography thing and seeing where it took me. We know how that debate ended. Finances played a large role in that decision, too. Photography meant having a paycheck right then, even if it was small. Going back to school meant not knowing if there would ever actually be a paycheck. In the end, the decision wasn’t all that difficult. Paycheck wins.
This takes me back to the article from a couple of weeks ago, Stop Doing What You Love. I might really like astrophysics from an amateur perspective, but does it really make sense to jump into the field with any hopes of being successful? Probably not. In addition to all the cost for additional education and tutors, there’s the fact I would be well into my 60s before achieving the level of education necessary to become employable. Better I stick with what I’m good at doing.
Stuck To The Ground
Personally, I don’t even know if I really want to jump. I still love photography. I’m not yet done taking all the pictures I want to take. As I look into the future of the profession, I cannot help but wonder if my days are numbered. Once everyone can take pictures with the contact lying on their eye my usefulness decreases considerably, Imagining a day when there are no more professional photographers isn’t terribly difficult.
But to jump requires having money. Money to go back to school. Money for equipment and books and materials. Then, there’s that matter of paying bills, feeding a family, while in the course of such a jump. When people have some kind of financial backstops, those worries are not so large. For those who have none, however, such concerns are a roadblock. We have to take care of our families first. Making a jump may put our careers at risk, but we can’t put our families and their well-being at risk. We’re stuck.
Such is the way our country works, though. Anything is possible if you have money. If you don’t, those who do go out of their way to make you feel like a burden on society, no matter how hard one works or how hard they try to fit in. Being poor removes one ability to jump.
I don’t expect anything to change. I might investigate the choices a bit, but I’ll see a price tag and probably back off the idea of making a jump. After all, I’m not a doctor or pre-med student. They get to jump. The rest of us just dance in place. Our feet are too poor to leave the ground.