What If I Run Away to Mexico?

I could, you know. I could do it. I could quit my job to go teach English in Mexico City, or get my MBA from Ibero. I wouldn’t be fluent, but I could learn enough Spanish to get by if I studied really hard for a few months. Or I could keep my lame job, and just work from home…in another country.

Or I could stay. And keep working at the job I’m slowly starting to hate and will only grow to hate more. Maybe I could find a different job here, one I’m a little better at, and I’ll just continue to be mediocre and boring and I’ll marry someone boring (probably someone my dad actually likes) and have a nice, tastefully boring wedding and I’ll have kids when I’m 30 and I’ll retire peacefully when those boring kids are in college.

If I go, I might miss some things. But I’ll miss those things if I stay. My grandparents will grow old while I’m gone, but they grow old every day and I’m only a couple of hours away now. I’ll be back before they get too old, I’ll tell myself. I might miss my youngest brother B as he grows up, but he grows up every day without me. He’s 10, and about the enter the awkward phase I’m probably better off missing anyway. I’ll miss my friends, but I miss them anyway. When I tell them I’m leaving, they’ll say “But I’ll never see you!” and I’ll want to say You never see me anyway but I’ll try to bite my tongue the best I can. Because the ones that will say that will be the ones that never try to see me now, and I’m barely an hour away. I’ll still see them once or twice a year when I come home, and that’s about as often as I see them now. Nothing will change. They won’t be jealous of my lifestyle because they couldn’t imagine ever leaving. They might even think I’m crazy or fucking stupid for “disrupting my career.” And all of that is fine, because I think that’s how things are supposed to work. They’ll buy house and get married, and I’ll keep traveling. I will continue to disrupt my career until I’m doing what I love.

But I think I might actually go. I won’t love every second of it, but I would regret not going a lot more than I’ll regret going. If I stay, I’ll regret every second of that boring life.

I want and need good stories to tell. A writer needs to live to have something to write about. Staying in a Midwestern suburb my entire life isn’t going to give me enough to write about.

So what if I really go to Mexico?

Trying to Network as an Introvert

“It’s not about what you know, it’s about who you know” says the salesman father to his straight-A-student and introverted daughter.

I used to think I was outgoing, once upon a time. Then I went to a summer camp in Chicago with no one I knew and realized I am not that person.

I hate networking. It all seems fake and I’m terrible at small talk. I’ve only successfully networked once. I don’t even really remember how we met, but he ended up recommending me for a job before we ever met in person. Let’s call him Joe. Very nice guy, and probably the closest thing to a mentor that I have.

Joe and I get together every time I’m back at my Alma Mater. He understands some of the painful parts of my job that I hate. He knows a lot of people in the industry and in the business world in general. Any time I mention any potential company I might want to work for, he seems to know someone who works/has worked there. I picked a good person to network with.

Joe works for the university, and because he works with students trying to find a job, he encounters a lot of people like me. Young professionals, out there in the world trying to figure it out. So occasionally I get emails where he tries to connect me with these people – people with their first real job, in my general metro area. Which seems great, right? So I reach out to the first few all “hey let’s get coffee!” and got nothing back. So I stopped trying to reach out.

I just recently received a LinkedIn message from one of these people Joe suggested (months ago) I connect with. Which is sort of great, right? Even if it’s months later, she’s still trying to connect. But between the phone tag I’m playing with her right now, all I can think about is: wtf am I going to say to this person?

I know what to say to random recruiters when they call. I know what to say to people who are asking me for help finding a job. I know what to say to lots of other strangers that I have to interact with.  I have scripts for a lot of situations. I have answers ready to the questions I expect them to ask. But this is a new thing for me. And I haven’t had to put my fake bubbly face on in awhile. Then again, do I have to? I’m not trying to impress this person like I’m interviewing for a job. She’s just a person that’s nice to know, right? But still: wtf do I say to this person? What do we talk about?

Hopefully she’s outgoing and extroverted and good at small talk and this will all be okay. It’s all about who you know.

Respect

I used to have this stepdad. He was ex-military and still looked the part: close-cut hair, bald eagle tattoo on his calf, and preferred to wear his correctional officer uniform even after he left the prison for the day. If not for his rounded, aging face and worsening posture, you’d think he just got back from basic training. He wanted to treat my brother and I like we were part of some sort of boot camp where periodic, unannounced room checks were the most annoying part of this weird role playing. And he liked to talk about “respect.” How he just wanted to earn our respect, how we were always disrespectful to him, how he respects us and our space but he just wanted the same respect in return.

And it was always bullshit. My brother and I talked back to this stepdad a lot, that much is true. But we were teenagers and we already had a dad who didn’t try to treat us like recruits so I’m not sure what this stepdad expected. My brother and I did not appreciate him coming into our lives and trying to change our routines, our lifestyle, our relationships. So we made that known to him, and he found it “disrespectful.”

This stepdad never actually did anything to earn our respect. He only tried to bribe us or win us over – and he failed. He would let us have something that mom wouldn’t, maybe, but then “our little secret” became a twisted form of double-sided blackmail. He tried to teach me how to drive, I think. He let me drive his truck on back roads before I had my permit. Unfortunately for him I’d been doing that with my actual dad since I was probably 10 or 11. I wasn’t impressed.

These things were supposed to make us like him, but they never worked and definitely didn’t make us respect him. If anything, we respected him less for trying to earn our trust in cheap, cliche, stereotypical stepdad ways. He didn’t respect us or our intelligence enough to understand that we knew what he was doing. Not only did we know what he was doing and why, but we exploited it as teenagers (especially those with divorced parents) tend to do. So when he yelled and screamed about how disrespectful we were, my brother and I just laughed and lost even more respect for him.

Long after this stepdad has gone from my life, I still have little respect for people who demand respect without earning it. Respect isn’t something you can just demand, like a child with a temper tantrum. Respect is earned, not handed out. Just because you got a promotion, just because you’re older than me, just because my mom decided to marry you – these things don’t mean I’m automatically going to give my respect. I might be polite, but respect takes time. And the more you demand undeserving respect the less polite I will become.

Impress me, and I’ll respect you. Help me when I need it; do something I can’t. Make possible the impossible. Give me your respect. You can’t treat me like some sort of object or inferior being and in the same breath whine about my lack of respect. Learn some manners. I can respect manners.

If you’re my “superior” that’s so deserving of respect, then why don’t you help me and answer my questions when I have them? The people I respect the most are the restaurant managers that help bus tables, or the prestigious university professor that’s willing to individually tutor a struggling student. The people who are willing to help people below them, even if it isn’t their job. Just because they know what’s needed, and they know what it’s like. The ones to get to the top just to be lazy and yell at other people to do their job? They’re the worst kind of people. I won’t respect those people.

homecoming

A couple weekends ago I went to my alma mater’s homecoming. The air was cold but the sun was warm, and all the right people were there. The game was so lopsided (in our favor) I only stayed for half.

The food was good, the drinks even better, and it turns out I missed some people I never thought I would. I saw most of the people I expected to – the types that never leave. There was one or two people in particular I wanted to run into, but didn’t think I would. I know them and enjoyed my time with them in school, but we were never very close so we didn’t keep in touch very often.

One of these people – let’s call him Andy – did happen to be at the bar I went to. He was a friend of a friend that I had a few classes with senior year and I always loved hanging out with him. We did the usual “where are you now/how’s the job” bullshit type of conversation that you’re supposed to have. To everyone who had asked me this, I didn’t even try to mask that I wasn’t overly happy at my current job. When I expressed this to Andy, he said something to the effect of:

You’re too smart for that! I found a job I like, you just have to keep looking and keep networking. You’re so much smarter than me and you deserve to do something you love.

This was followed by the usual “I love you/I miss you” drunken conversation, but those words stuck with me. “You’re so much smarter than me, you deserve better”.

Andy is someone I barely know, who barely knows me! Yet, he knows and believes I deserve better (and he already has a girlfriend so it wasn’t like he had ulterior motives). Maybe I’m reading too far into a slightly drunken encounter, but how does this acquaintance of mine have more confidence in me than I do? I think that was the part that stuck with me more than the words themselves. If certain friends of mine had said this, I would have brushed it off as “oh they’re just being nice”. But because we don’t stay in touch, because we barely know each other, that somehow made what he said mean more.

On that note, I started applying for jobs again. I also turned down my first ever interview this week, because it would have been another job where I’d be unhappy in six months or less.

Finally, I got someone’s attention with some old writing samples. I’ll hear back next week if I get to interview with this tech company in a tiny nearby suburb I adore. The fact that it’s a tech company is terrifying, considering I don’t understand half of what their website says, but I’m excited about the fact that I would get to work on things I enjoy. Or at the very least, I could expand my knowledge and actually gain valuable skills – as opposed to what I’m doing now.

If someone I barely know has faith in me, at the very least I should have some faith in me.

Goals?

In college it was easy. Lots of little goals, a few big ones. They were all of relative importance, S.M.A.R.T., had deadlines. Do this assignment, study for this test, pass that class, eventually graduate.

Now what?

My goals have all been met, the boxes checked. I graduated. I have a job. There are annual reviews, but it’s not the same as a grade, as a pass/fail.

I’ve been constantly evaluated my entire life up to this point. Now that the rest of my life is pretty open, I don’t know what my next goal is, that next thing I want to achieve.

But I guess there are still different tracks, like there was in high school. Some kids go to college, others start working, some start families. So I guess that’s where I am, 4 years later. Work on “settling down”? I already chose to work instead of continuing school, but I can always go back. But what if I want all of it? To be in the academic circles, to be successful in my career, and maybe even have someone to share it with? What are the small steps to reaching those goals? What are the deadlines?