Let me start off by saying that the title is misleading. I don’t actually love the recession; I don’t even like it. This is more of a story of the latest way I, like so many others, am learning to survive the recession.
This summer has been one of the scariest summers of my life. I did something that, in a recession, was foolish, risky, and undeniably invigorating: I quit my job to work full time on Lawsonry.
Bachelor of Recession Arts
Let’s back up. In the fall of 2008, as the stock markets crashed and the housing market collapsed, I entered college. I’d been at a community college in Portland, OR since 2007, but in 2008 I began as a sophomore transfer student at Swarthmore College. It was the best of times, and the worst; while I made lifelong friends, one of whom I have been dating for three years, I learned and partied more in those three years than I had in my life, I also struggled with severe bouts of depression, compounded by a crushing workload and that nagging feeling that I had no idea what the hell I was doing. In a word, college.
And before I knew it, it was over. It was 2011 and I had graduated from Swarthmore College with a degree in Political Science and not much else. The bright side was that my parents financed my education, borrowing against their house at a lower rate than I could have ever gotten – so while I owed (and still owe) them tens of thousands of dollars, I enjoyed a freedom that most of my peers did not. The downside was that I had done nothing in the last three years except go to school, and work in restaurants during the summer. Not only had I somehow missed the memo on internships being the new summer job, my parents and I couldn’t afford for me to take unpaid internships while I was in school; instead I worked at the student cafe during the year and in various restaurants during the summer.
So I left college with my cat and my boyfriend, and moved to Ithaca, NY. Erick, my boyfriend, had gotten into a PhD program at Cornell, with tuition fully paid and a comfortable stipend. I immediately went out and did what I had been doing my entire adult life: I walked into a restaurant and landed a job. I was working full-time by the end of the first week.
Anyone who waits tables knows that it isn’t exactly glamorous; it’s long hours, unpleasant customers, and being paid less than minimum wage for non-stop manual labor. But the restaurant I worked for ran smoothly, the owners were reasonable, and all of my co-workers were nice, fun people – about a third were still in school, another third had BAs like me, and the last third had Masters degrees or higher. This is what the recession looks like for people in my generation – we’re by and large underemployed, but feel infinitely better off than our unemployed peers. And for a while, I did feel lucky.
But as the months wore on, I felt restless. I was making enough money to barely pay my half of our expenses, but nothing else. Even if I’d had the money to go to an occasional movie or travel, I certainly didn’t have the time. I had taken a serving job not only because it was something I could do instantly, but because I had hoped the hourly job would give me some flexibility to figure out what I wanted to do. It didn’t – I often worked more than two weeks consecutively before having one day off. It was made clear to me that if I wanted more days off, I was more than replaceable. And since I worked the day shift, those days could yield as little as $20 for a full shift.
Now it was 2012. I was no closer to paying back my parents, no closer to doing anything I felt was even remotely meaningful, and each month I just barely scraped by. I couldn’t bear the thought of living in Ithaca for another year with no purpose, and even if I had been willing to sacrifice my relationship, I couldn’t afford to live anywhere else. The one thing I had been really good at – running Lawsonry in February after being tapped by Jesse for the position of C.O.O. – was not only unpaid, but a hobby I didn’t really have time for. I had built up our traffic to over 1,200 unique visits per day in a matter of weeks and then watched the visits drop down to zero as my day job overwhelmed all of my time and energy.
Just after I turned 22, I sat down with Erick and told him everything. He had known that I was beginning to hate my job, but didn’t realize the extent to which it was eating me away. After I finished my litany of worries, fears, and miseries, he looked me dead in the eye and said, “You need to quit your job.”
Despite everything, it had never even occurred to me that the end result of all of this would be me quitting my job. Even after we talked through our options, drew up a budget, and resolved to find a cheaper apartment that we could afford on one income, I had serious doubts. Every few days, I would come home from work and inform Erick that I absolutely could not quit, it was too risky, it was stupid, and there was no way we could afford it. And Erick – who for doing all of this is undoubtedly the best partner imagineable – would calmly reassure me that he was more than happy to support both of us while I launched Lawsonry full-time, and would pull up the Google spreasheet that showed we could, in fact, survive.
Living the Dream
This week, we moved into our new apartment the same day that Lawsonry relaunched. It’s already been difficult – Ithaca has been hit with a heatwave and our apartment is an oven, plus I’ve been overseeing a website launch without being connected to the Internet at home. But that hasn’t made it any less exhilarating. For the first time in my life, I feel truly confident and capable. I have energy I haven’t had since high school, and I’m excited to get up in the morning and start working.
Not having an income still terrifies me. I know that I have an emergency fund stashed away in case something goes awry with my living situation, but it’s still a little uncomfortable to be dependent on my significant other’s income while building up enough revenue for Jesse and I to cut ourselves salaries.
At this point in my life, I consider myself the luckiest person I know. Through an incredible support system – both financial and emotional – I am getting to do what everyone my age should be able to do. I’m striking out and doing something I feel is going to make a real difference in the world. I, unlike the Romney campaign, know that I “didn’t build that,” but I’m fortunate enough to have the chance to build something on the foundation that those around me have laid.
And that’s what Millenials have been robbed of, by and large, in this recession. So few of us can afford to have carefree twenties, where we can enjoy life and discover ourselves, our abilities, and our paths. We’ve done what we were supposed to, we graduated high school and went to college, but we still can’t find a job or pay down a debt the size of a mortgage (with no house attached). The jobs most of us can find aren’t enough to live on. It’s not fair and it’s ultimately unproductive to only allow the most basic of economic freedom for people like me who were lucky enough to have a family to support me through college.
So many Millenials have been thrust into the world without even a shot at success, and then to add insult to injury, sneering talking heads can only gab about how irresponsible and shiftless we all are, how so many of us moved back in with our parents, and how it’s all due to an attitude of immature entitlement rather than being the victims of unfortunate circumstance.
That loss of hope, and the ability to translate hope into action without going broke, is the unreported loss of this recession. It’s something we all deserve. Yes, we’ve been told that all we deserve is to work ourselves into an early grave at minimum wage jobs while the rich get richer. We’ve been told that fairness is starting out adulthood in debt while the people responsible for the terrible economy get to buy shares the government.
It may not feel like it now, but this is our time. This isn’t the age of the Boomers, who have attempted to dismantle every social program they themselves benefited from. It isn’t the age of the oil companies, who take billions of dollars in tax cuts every year only to ignore safety standards and destroy the Gulf of Mexico. The era of Romneys who can rest on their laurels and screw the rest of us is over – if not before he wins the election, certainly after what is sure to be a disastrous presidency. And it sure as hell is not the age of the Tea Party, a vocal minority of old, scared white people terrified of losing their status in the world.
This is our time. Be it one vote at a time or one individual revolution, eventually we’re all going to come together and say “enough is enough.” It’s time for us to take our dreams, our opportunities, and our country back.