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Under 30 and feeling lost? You’re not alone.

Things were easier in some ways for older generations than they are for today’s young adults. It used to be that if you were a man, you’d find a job right out of high school that you’d stay in for the next 35 years, or maybe you’d be lucky enough to go to college, or you’d join the military (either voluntarily or not). If you were a woman, after high school you married whomever you happened to be dating. You might go to secretarial college so that you could work for a powerful man. Or if you went to a 4-year college, you went just to find a husband. (Are you cringing? Me too.) (Side note: This is of course from a very heteronormative perspective. Back then, if you were anything other than heteronormative, you had to be invisible or pretend to be something that you’re not. Things were not easier for these folks.) When I say that things were easier back then, I don’t mean that they were better. People had very limited options back then, but they knew what those options were. That made things easier for them.

Today, young adults graduate from high school and either go to college or find a job.

Let’s look at both of these options, starting with the college option. Did you know what you wanted to do as a career when you were 18? Neither did I. Some people do, and that’s great, but for most of us, deciding on a major can be extremely anxiety-provoking. I knew I liked to read, so I majored in English, but I didn’t know what kind of job I’d be able to get with an English degree. The jobs in which someone pays you to sit around and read Shakespeare and celebrity memoirs all day are few and far between. (If you can get used to the writing style, Shakespeare can be hilarious.) When I was 18, I signed up for a meteorology class because I thought clouds were kind of cool. I later had to drop that class to preserve my GPA. Who knew there would be so much science and math involved? The point is: I had no idea what I wanted to do as a career when I was 18.

Not only do we not know what we want to do as a career when we start college, but we also feel immense pressure to choose a major quickly so that we don’t waste time (the immense pressure to graduate in 4 years or less) or money (either our parents’ money or the student loans that we’ll be saddled with after graduation.) We have to choose something that can earn us a good paycheck. We have to choose something that we’re good at or could become good at. And bonus if the major we pick is something we actually like to learn about!

And then we graduate. And. . .then what? Now we have to find a job not just to cover our living expenses, but to start paying down those student loans that accompany most of us into life after graduation. Can we even get a good job with just a Bachelor’s degree? Should we go to grad school? What kind of job should we even look for? How do we afford to live while we’re job searching? If we have a lot of student loan debt, we may need more than what an entry level position pays. When will we be able to eat ramen as a choice and not as a necessity?

Let’s pause there and visit our friend who didn’t go to college, but who decided to get a job right out of high school. What kind of jobs do you think are available to young adults who only have a high school diploma? More than likely, our friend is a non-white young person who can’t afford college, so the cards are really stacked against them. The only jobs open to them are the unskilled labor jobs with long hours and very little pay. The system is set up to keep these kids in these jobs for a lifetime. My father didn’t go to college. He was good at math and so he found a job right out of high school as an accounting assistant and worked his way up to Chief Financial Officer of the company. Nowadays, there’s no way you’ll land an accounting assistant job without at least a Bachelor’s degree in Accounting. The opportunities like my father had no longer exist in our workforce without a college education.

Young folks today have all of these choices to make in education and career and a lot of pressure to make the right choices.

And these are the same folks who watched their “we-got-married-right-out-of-high-school” parents go through divorces that at best merely interrupted the family structure and at worst were brutal and traumatizing. These young people don’t want to make the same mistakes their parents made. In addition, young women are going to college (for an education) or entering the workforce just as young men are, instead of starting families right out of high school. The unwritten mandate to get married young doesn’t exist anymore. Most young people are waiting longer to start families. Some are choosing to never get married. Some are choosing not to have kids. Also, ideas about what’s an acceptable family structure have changed. Families no longer have to be a mom and a dad and 2.5 kids. And while expanding the definition of family is a big step forward for our society, for our young folks it means that this part of their lives is no longer prescribed. The options are wide open for them. This is great! And confusing. And sometimes terrifying.

It’s no wonder that young adults are experiencing high levels of anxiety.

Having all of this freedom and all of these choices is both amazing and incredibly daunting. There’s no road map for most of them. Even those who are taking this time to explore their options feel the immense pressure to make these life choices – and to make the right ones. Education, career, family – they even have more choices now about where to live. People aren’t necessarily staying close to their parents and extended family anymore. It’s now quite common to choose to move away from home. The possibilities feel endless.

Young adults have all of these choices to make and at the same time may not feel qualified to make them. They may not feel like full-fledged adults yet. Many of them may still be reliant on parents for financial support and housing. Jeffrey Jensen Arnett, in his article on emerging adulthood (the name he coined for this time of life) says that folks in this age group, “have left adolescence but have not yet completely entered young adulthood” (2000) and goes on to say that most people in today’s society don’t consider themselves adults until their late 20s and early 30s.

If you’re in this age group and you’re feeling both excited and terrified by all of your choices, you’re not alone. We’ve left you with all of these options and very little guidance. We didn’t give you classes on life skills in high school. This can be a really scary time. It can be hard to know what the right choices are to make. You may feel lost. It may feel like you’ll never be able to move out of your parents’ house. It may feel like you’ll never get a good job. It may feel like you’ll never get out from under your debt – debt that you shouldn’t even have at this age.

Talk to someone who understands.

Maybe that’s a therapist, maybe it’s your parents or another trusted adult, or maybe it’s other emerging adults who are going through what you are. Portland can be a hard place to make friends, but luckily has a lot of meetups for young adults. Talking through your anxieties and exploring them can help relieve some of your distress. Find a place where you can let your guard down and where you can be honest about the challenges you’re experiencing. A place where you don’t have to act like you have everything figured out when you still have so many questions and so much is still unknown for you. And a place where you can take a break from worrying about the future and where you can have space to breathe.

Self-care during this time is also very important.

We put so much pressure on ourselves every day and our bodies aren’t meant to have this much constant stress. Find things that are relaxing for you (and that aren’t ultimately detrimental to your health). Rediscover an activity that was fun for you when you were a kid. Reconnect with old friends who you may have lost touch with. Visit an animal shelter and hang out with the dogs and cats for an afternoon. Watch old movies that you loved growing up. Play old songs that you grew up with. Make sure to take care of yourself during this time. While it can be a really exciting time, it can also be a very stressful time. And you’re worth taking care of.

Reference:

Arnett, J. J. (2000). Emerging adulthood: A theory of development from the late teens through the twenties. American psychologist, 55(5), 469-480.

Job Search

Things We All Need When Job Searching

Looking for a job? Maybe you’ve just left your last position because of budget cuts, or it wasn’t the right fit, or you’re just burnt out and want to do something more meaningful to you. Or maybe you haven’t left yet because you can’t afford to or because you’re not sure how to even start looking for a new job, or you just don’t know yet what it is you want to be doing instead. Maybe you’re trying to re-enter the workforce after an extended leave and you have no idea how to go about finding a job in this day and age. What does “networking” actually mean? Why do I have to do it? What is LinkedIn? Do I have to have a profile? Do I have to fill the whole thing out?

Most people would rather hang upside down by their toenails than look for a job. As stressful as it can be, looking for a job is a necessary evil for most of us at some point in our adult lives. So what are the things that we need when job searching?

The first thing we need is a plan to find a job.

And not just any job – we don’t want to be back here in a few months or a year going through this again. We need a plan to find a job that’s the right fit. But what does it mean to have a job that’s the right fit?

In his book Drive, Daniel Pink tells us that when we find autonomy, mastery, and a sense of purpose in our work, we increase our physical and mental well-being. We seek to become “better and better at something that matters” and this is connected to our “quest for excellence to a larger purpose” (p. 79). A job that’s a good fit for us is going to provide us with a feeling that we’re working to our full potential and that the sky is the limit in terms of what we can learn in our work. That job will facilitate learning so that we feel not just competent in our work, but that we’re increasing our skills all the time. And that job will provide a sense of purpose in our lives. It’ll help us feel that we have something to contribute to society and that we’re making life better for ourselves and others by engaging in our work.

As we think about where our interests lie and what kind of job could give us all of these things, we might be tempted to buy into the adage that if you do what you love, the money will follow. (There’s even a book with that name.) No offense meant to Marsha Sinetar (the author of said book), but that’s just not always the case. Yes, taking some risks in our careers can get us out of slumps and help us discover new things that we may previously have not thought possible, but the reality is that most of us also have to pay attention to our finances. When considering a new career, it’s important to make sure that all three of these conditions are met: the work has to be something you love, something you’re good at, and something that someone will pay you to do. I may love sitting on the couch all day watching 80’s movies and I may be really good at it, but someone probably isn’t going to pay me to do it. (If I’m wrong, please feel free to contact me at your earliest convenience.) I also may love driving a race car and theoretically someone could pay me to do that, but the reality is that I’m not very good at handling a car that’s traveling over 80 mph. (Maybe 90 mph on a good day.) Unfortunately for some of us, we’re stuck in a job that we’re at least okay at and that someone will pay us to do, but we don’t love it. That job is not a good fit.

So how do we find this kind of job?

A good career counselor has the tools to help you discover what you love to do (if you don’t already know) and the tools to help uncover your strengths. And a good career counselor will be able to match your interests and your skills to careers that someone will pay you to do. Once you know which career(s) you want to focus on, a good career counselor will help you get your foot in the door and get hired. This may include:

  • Helping you with your resume (What’s the right format? Do I list the dates of my education or not? What’s a functional resume and when should I use that one?);
  • Helping you craft cover letters (What do I say to stand out and get their attention?);
  • Helping you prepare for interviews (What’s the difference between a phone screening and an in-person interview? How do I answer the strengths/weaknesses question or the one about handling conflict? What are they looking for when they ask me to tell them about myself?);
  • Helping you create or fine-tune your LinkedIn profile (Do I really need one of these? Do I have to fill everything out? Are certain sections more important than others?);
  • Helping you with networking (Do I have to do this? How do I do this and still stay in my comfort zone? What is an informational interview, how do I do it, and why is it the key to me finding a job that’s the right fit?); and
  • Helping you once you receive an offer (Should I negotiate salary? If so, how? What if I have two competing offers?).

If you’re thinking at this point that all of this sounds like a LOT of work, you’re not wrong. Often finding a full-time job is a full-time job. You might be reading all of this and feel yourself sinking into the couch even further. This feels daunting. You certainly don’t want to do all of this work to find a (better) job, but you may also be feeling like you can’t do it. You may not know where to begin. It might feel really overwhelming. At the same time, the alternative – sitting on the couch watching 80’s movies and feeling guilty about not doing some work to find a (better) job – also doesn’t feel good. You feel bad either way.

And these feelings are real. Because having a job that’s the right fit can give us a sense of purpose and meaning in our lives, without one we can sometimes lose hope. We can lose confidence in ourselves and in our ability to do something that benefits the world. We can lose our sense of our place in society. We may even feel worthless and like our lives don’t matter. While this sounds pretty extreme, I’ve seen folks who are between jobs sink into this kind of depression. Having a job not only gives us a sense of meaning and purpose, but it also gives structure to our day-to-day life. When we don’t have somewhere to go every day we often don’t know what to do with ourselves. Have you ever been unemployed and forgotten what day it is? Without that structure, one day can bleed into the next and weekends become just like any other day. We lose that thing to look forward to and we lack something to strive for.

Ideally our work isn’t the only thing that gives us meaning. But even when we have a larger sense of purpose in other areas of our life, not having a job that’s a good fit or being between jobs can still be a struggle. For instance, we may worry what others think if they find out that we’re unemployed. We may feel a sense of shame when we tell family and friends that we’ve lost a job or that we’re having a hard time finding a new one. We may not know whether we’ll find a job before the unemployment checks stop coming. We may have hope after we get a call for an interview or from a recruiter, only to be let down when we end up in the second spot for the position. The ebb and flow of hope and disappointment, of encouragement and discouragement can take its toll when we’re job searching. We may feel a loss of control over our future and struggle with not knowing if and when we’ll find the right job for us.

This is where therapy comes in.

This is when it’s helpful to have someone to talk to who understands what you’re going through and who has been there too. Someone who will help you explore your feelings of anxiety and guilt and at the same time the feeling of not wanting to get off of the couch. Someone who can help you build some structure into your day-to-day life and help you find meaning in other areas. Talking through your feelings and exploring what it’s like to feel hope and discouragement, shame, a loss of control, worry and anxiety can help. It can help give you a direction that feels right to you to help you move forward. It can help you unburden yourself of the distress you might be feeling. A good therapist will work collaboratively with you, will be your partner in what you’re experiencing, and will understand and accept you for who you are. As you’re embarking on your job search, don’t forget about this piece of the search. Taking care of your own mental well-being during this time is as important as the job search itself – and it’ll make you a better candidate for whichever job you find next.

*** A quick note about paid and unpaid work: This writing focuses on paid work, but is not meant to detract from the importance of unpaid work. Unpaid work can absolutely give us autonomy, mastery, and a sense of purpose and meaning and is of great importance in our lives. My admiration and gratitude goes out to everyone doing any unpaid work, either inside or outside of the home.

References

Pink, D. H. (2011). Drive: The surprising truth about what motivates us. Penguin.

Vitamin D Seasonal Affective

Vitamin D and Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)

I’ve been thinking about taking a vitamin D supplement. I’m not much for taking pills and supplements. I don’t even take a multivitamin and rarely take pain killers like Tylenol or Advil. Generally, I just think one should eat a relatively healthy diet and get good, moderate exercise and good sleep. However, if you’re like me and experience some seasonal depression, maybe a vitamin D supplement is in order.

Oregon has some of the highest rates of depression in the US

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a type of depression in which symptoms arise in response to the changing seasons – frequently fall and winter, although some people are affected by the hotter months in the spring and summer instead. Researchers have not identified a particular cause of SAD, although it has been noted that SAD is more prevalent in people who are young, female, and those who live farther from the equator. In addition, a family history of depression increases a persons likelihood of experiencing SAD. Yeah 🙁 – unfortunately, genetics do seem to be at play.

People like us who live in the Pacific North West (PNW) experience some of the greatest rates of depression in the nation. In fact, a CBS news report on depression ranked Oregon the seventh most depressed state in the US. The same study reported that 7.58% people living in Oregon have experienced an episode of major depression in the past year.

We also experience very long and dreary months of rain and dark skies here in Portland, which can bring on feelings of sadness, irritability, changes in weight and/or appetite, lack of concentration, social isolation, changes in sleep patterns, and general discontent. Sufferers may also experience a loss of interest in activities and general apathy. Unfortunately this frequently means further social isolation and restless discomfort.

Vitamin D and light therapy can help

I’m thinking about taking a vitamin D supplement because I suffer from anxiety and depression, and it gets particularly bad during the winter. So, I’m looking for some way to feel better as we head into the cold and rainy season. Vitamin D can help, especially in addition to light therapy because our skin produces vitamin D (in the form of cholecalciferol) in response to the UVB radiation from full spectrum light. Sitting in the presence of a full spectrum bulb (“light therapy”) is recommended for the treatment of seasonal depression.

I haven’t yet taken the step of buying a full spectrum lamp, or even just a bulb, but I am considering taking a vitamin D supplement (see the photo on the right).

What’s the best dose?

Primary care providers sometimes prescribe high doses termed either “physiologic” or “pharmacologic” doses to help treat people with abnormally low levels of vitamin D. A ‘physiologic dose’ is about 3,000 and 5,000 IU/day, whereas the ‘average’ person is recommended to take between 400 and 800 IU/day. Wow! That’s a pretty big difference.

In addition, a “pharmacologic” dose, which is prescribed by a provider when a patients vitamin D levels test substantially low, is around 50,000 IU once per week. Lets’s take note and think about that: 50,000 IU is a HUGE dose! It is also called a ‘mega dose’ or ‘stross dose.’ “Stross,” or “speeding up” is not something we should do without the supervision of a trained medical provider (i.e. a primary care physician). Thus, a dose we choose for ourselves should be substantially lower. I’ve decided to take a 1,000 IU dose (see the picture on the right).

1,000 IU a day seemed like a fair compromise based on the research I did, and the variation in doses that are prescribed. I took it late last night –  around 8:00pm – and had a hard time sleeping. My partner then told me this morning that this is a ‘potential’ common occurrence with vitamin D supplements because it can have an activating effect. If you experience this, too, try taking it in the morning, like I did today. I’ll report back about my experience as the weeks go on!

References

Https://www.cbsnews.com/pictures/depression-nation-16-saddest-states/

Https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/seasonal-affective-disorder/index.shtml

https://www.psycom.net/depression.central.seasonal.html

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3405161/

Under 30 and feeling lost? You’re not alone.

Things were easier in some ways for older generations than they are for today’s young adults. It used to be that if …

Job Search

Things We All Need When Job Searching

Looking for a job? Maybe you’ve just left your last position because of budget cuts, or it wasn’t the right fit, or you’re …

Vitamin D Seasonal Affective

Vitamin D and Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)

I've been thinking about taking a vitamin D supplement. I’m not much for taking pills and supplements. I don’t even take …