How to stay motivate in tough times?
June 22, 2009 3:00 PM   Subscribe

How do you stay motivated when you're living in the ghetto and broke, and how do you get an edge against the competition (for grad school/job applications) when you have such a lowly background?

Recently I've moved back to the neighborhood I grew up in -- in South Central Los Angeles. Since I've had a rough childhood, I've tried my best to break out of this area and I did for a while -- I went to college and ended up graduating from one of the better University of California schools.

However, as a result of a lot of bad advice, my time spent in college was not very fruitful. I was raised to think that getting a college degree alone would be enough to guarantee a job, and I also believed all of those counselors who told me to "major in whatever you're interested". As a result, I got good (not great) grades in a major that should have been more of a hobby/interest (and has very little value in the real world), no significant work experience, no internships, and a very small network established.

(This link to an interview, "Class Matters", lightly touches upon my feelings about my college experience, especially the third question).

While living away from home, working for a year in a so-so dead-end job, I ended up discovering a certain somewhat obscure career field while I was looking for a new direction in life. This career field seems to be a perfect match for my personality and interests, and makes decent money too. However because my major is unrelated to that particular field, I decided to focus on studying to get the necessary prerequisites to get into a graduate school in that field. To make the time for that, I had to leave my job and return home. (Since I can't afford a car and there are no good schools in the ghetto, I have to take online classes.)

However, I've immediately found myself hating returning home. Since I have no income and receive no unemployment checks, I live on about $60 of monthly allowance from my single mom. On top of that I've never had a good relationship with my family. We live in a low-income government apartment complex and I routinely hear neighbors yelling and what sounds like them beating their children. I've gotten in touch with some old friends from this neighborhood too, but most of them have lives that are going nowhere (many unemployed people who have addictions, for example: video games, winning the lotto, drinking, doing drugs, etc.). Physically, I can feel my health worsening because there is only junk food available around here.

For the first few months my motivation was enough to fuel me through this environment. But eventually it's just been too draining to stay focused. I just have too many negative influences around here and none positive. I've found myself being not the optimistic, upbeat, hard-working person I was away from home, but now becoming increasingly bitter, pessimistic, angry, lazy, etc. I find myself obsessing about how tough my past was and how nobody cares, fantasizing about how things could have been different, and then coming to the realization that I have to stay focused and move on. (I know the standard MetaFilter response to something like this is to find a shrink to help with this, but I have no health insurance.)

I've also been looking for part-time work to improve my living situation (though avoiding minimum-wage stuff) or looking for an internship related to the field I want to get into to increase my chances for graduate school. I've leaned towards going for the internship because getting into graduate school is my ultimate goal. However since it isn't a well known field it is hard to find relevant entry-level internships.

And even when I do apply for a job or internship (even unpaid), it seems I just don't have the background/experience that people look for. (Meaning, I haven't gotten any replies yet). It's particularly discouraging encountering class discrimination when I look through job or internship ads too -- most of these jobs/internships I'm looking at are in west LA (because there aren't many good jobs around here) and it's common to see job descriptions that require applicants to have a vehicle (even if the job has nothing to do with driving around).

It is becoming increasingly tempting to lie about things on my applications now (I'm even considering it for my school applications). I've always tried to be an honest, virtuous person, but it just feels like it's becoming a handicap now. It's just too hard to compete with people who have had better opportunities and influences in their lives. I don't think anybody would seriously take "a tough, poor background" as a legitimate reason for not having enough credentials, experience, whatever.

So now the questions:
- What can I do to stay motivated in such a negative environment and a particularly tough time?
- How can I find any positive influences -- any mentors or people in similar situations -- in this area? (It's hard for me to meet people outside of this area because I have no car.)
- What can I do to improve my chances of getting a job or internship without resorting to being dishonest in my applications?
- How do you feel about the ethical dilemma of being dishonest on applications in a situation like mine?
- Any other suggestions on what can help?

Since this is anonymous, you can email me questions at anonymous.metafite AT gmail DOT com.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (29 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
I always wonder why people avoid talking about things like what their actual major and interests are in these kinds of questions. It's always very strange, how likely is it that we could identify the poster based on that information? And also, the advice you would give to a lawyer would be different from that given to chemist, which would be different from that given to someone who wanted to be a poet.

And actually, a lot of people with "just" a degree go on to lawschool, rather then regular grad school. So that's a possibility. I have a friend who got a degree in Film and then went to law school.

As far as your background, aren't those things usually beneficial in terms of admissions? I know they are in undergrad, and I would assume that they would be for graduate school as well.

As far as a job goes, no one puts that stuff on their resume. Just list where you got your degree, your grades, and any work experience. I'm not sure what you would even lie about.
posted by delmoi at 3:08 PM on June 22, 2009 [3 favorites]

Get an office job through a temp agency. Your degree and background will help in this regard, and your background shouldn't be a stumbling block. That'll probably be a better way to get paid than minimum wage local stuff, and because it's an office job, it'll be better for your resume for when you're ready to move into your chosen career.
posted by infinitywaltz at 3:08 PM on June 22, 2009

- What can I do to improve my chances of getting a job or internship without resorting to being dishonest in my applications?

You can refine your resume, make it more effective, write better cover letters, tailor both your resume and your cover letters to the particular job you are applying for, and apply for way more jobs than you currently are applying for. And be totally honest, but don't include irrelevant information, particularly where that information might hurt your chances of getting a job. I say this with extreme confidence and a better-than-average familiarity with hiring practices in Los Angeles and Southern California: Almost nobody will base any part of their hiring decision on what neighborhood you live in, unless it has something to do with concern about your ability to be at work on time.

- How do you feel about the ethical dilemma of being dishonest on applications in a situation like mine?

I feel that, even if you did not consider the ethical dilemma, lying on a resume or application is a terrible decision in practical terms, since it can have far-reaching legal ramifications on your employment, as well as ruining your reputation. I don't think there is really any ethical dilemma. Lying on your resume or application is unethical. No dilemma about it.

- What can I do to stay motivated in such a negative environment and a particularly tough time?

Set a daily productivity benchmark and stick to it. Focus on the task at hand, and stop giving unwarranted weight to irrelevant factors.
posted by The World Famous at 3:26 PM on June 22, 2009

School is only the path to making more money over the long term. Over the short term, school can result in folks having less money, as evidenced by the massive amount of student loan debt currently carried by recent graduates throughout our country. Especially in this economy, it's hard to pull yourself up by your bootstraps.

It sounds like you want to be self-sufficient, and that your environment is actively keeping that from happening. The very first step to get yourself up and running is to get a job. Not necessarily in the field you majored in, or the field you want to be in -- and maybe not even something you really want to do -- but one on public transportation and one that will get you just enough cash to get self-sufficient. You can find that, even if you might find it demeaning as a college graduate to get a crappy job somewhere, selling used cars or doing admin work or tending bar, or whatever. You don't need to be dishonest, you just need to keep plugging away until you find a job where you can make a little cash.

With the cash you get from the new job, you can buy a car, get yourself a small place in a better neighborhood, and put some healthy food on the table. Until that point, it's probably going to be hard to stop for a second, get focus, and keep pushing on your dream. But when you do that, you'll find that you'll start having some time where you can explore the options.

After you have a place in a better neighborhood, food on the table, and a car, you'll want to actively try to find a job in that obscure field you mentioned that doesn't require a Masters. Doctors have nurses, lawyers have paralegals, and it's possible to get a support position without a higher degree in almost anything you want to do. If you're persistent, and get an entry-level job, you can not only get on-the-job training and work your way up, you can also ask them the best way to get a higher education in that field.
posted by I EAT TAPAS at 3:26 PM on June 22, 2009 [2 favorites]

There are a few things I won't be able to relate to in your question, but I know I had one hellishly tough time after finishing university/college getting into the job market etc.

I didn't have spectacular grades, or family connections to get me job so I had virtually no ties in the white collar world. I also lived in what was then one of the worst economies in Canada. The sad truth of the matter is that when things get a little desperate a lot of people adopt "me first" attitudes.

Its hard to stay positive. I don't know about your particular experience with minimum wage or near-minimum wage but I worked as a cashier and a telemarketer, these aren't good jobs but they aren't entirely miserable - for the most part I had good times and I met interesting people. I tried to do things like read the economist on the bus when I wanted to be stimulated intellectually, I also volunteered for a couple of political campaigns which got me excercise knocking on doors and meeting people (this got hard, because my retail job involved a lot of standing on concrete which played havoc with my feet and back and sapped my strength for walking). This will bring in some money and keep you occupied, if not entirely fufilled.

I fired out lots of resumes, and had been working on the grad school applications when one of my classmates got me a job on an entry-level team at his workplace (it started from me asking on MSN if he knew anyone who was hiring) and I've now been there for years. It also doesn't hurt to talk to your instructors and people around your school too, a lot of them have placement offices - they usually try to be helpful but sometimes can't do much - quite a number of places hire people based on referals, so this can be a huge help.

Keep working at it, eventually you will win. I know how this feels.
posted by Deep Dish at 3:31 PM on June 22, 2009

I know it has a bad rap, but give the Los Angeles transit system a fair try. I lived and worked on the eastern side of LA for 7 years without a car... and that was even before the Metro Rapid bus routes were as extensive as they are now.

Eventually, I had a job that required a car, so I purchased a $700 hatchback off Craigslist. It looked like a joke, it drove like a joke, but it got me where I needed to go. $700 might seem like too much money now... but with a temp job, you could save up to get a cheap used car in a shorter amount of time than you think.
posted by the jam at 3:32 PM on June 22, 2009

Jesus, that sucks. I think your focus should be on moving out. I don't come from your background, but I've been in the position of staying at my parents' place in a remote area with no job prospects, no motivating friends around, no car, no good public transportation, and it's hell. The environment is toxic. However, it's no good to move if you don't have a financial cushion.

What is your access to public transit? If you got a temp job, would you be able to get transportation there? If not, then you may want to bite the bullet and get the local minimum wage job. Save up enough money to get a beater car, maybe $1000-1500. You're also going to need money for initial insurance costs and registration and all of that. It will take you about two to three months, if you're working 30 hours/week.

When you get the car, start bombarding temp agencies with your resume. Get thee to a better-paying job. A temp agency will also give you white-collar experience that you can put on your resume to apply for internships and better jobs and stuff. Save up money from the better-paying job, and move the hell out of there.

I would avoid lying on applications, as it will go very badly for you if employers check (and they will).

As for mentors, online mentorship is probably the best bet. Were there any professors with whom you really related? Can you contact your college's advising or career counseling office for help, especially with things like applying to jobs? Is there an alumni organization you can use for networking?

Oh yeah, and another option is something like AmeriCorps. That's how I got out of my marooned situation--I got an AmeriCorps position in a different area with better public transit, and moved away from the parents. It's no good for the financial cushion--they'll pay you at 105% the poverty level--but you'll get $5000 towards education at the end, health insurance, and depending on the program assistance with transportation, housing, and moving costs. They'll also bend over backwards to help you get food stamps and stuff to make living on their income a bit easier. You'll develop some good job skills and it will look good on your resume. They take people fresh out of high school, and I got in with like a year of college, so you'll definitely be qualified.
posted by schroedinger at 3:35 PM on June 22, 2009

To answer your questions...
First off, you should get a job- it'll get you out of the house and give you some extra money, plus, you'll feel better about yourself. It doesn't have to be a dream job or relevant to your grad school application, but just something! Office temping is a good way to go- or maybe you could subsititute teach (less opportunities for that in the summer) or teach an SAT prep course through Kaplan or someting.

As for mentors- any teachers or principals you were fond of back during high school? They'd probably love to hear from a former student. What about local politicians? If there's one you like, you could offer to volunteer for them and do some networking. Museums or galleries? Volunteer there. Any local teen centers that might want a tutor? Don't let the lack of a car stop you ... I'm assuming that there is some sort of bus system? Maybe it's not the most convenient but it's probably worth it for getting somewhere once a week that could renew your spark. The most important thing is to get away from your surroundings, meet people, and do something you find worthwhile.

Since I don't know what field you are trying to get into, I can't give any advice on the career front other than recommending you not to resort to dishonesty. Don't get into a whole "woe is me" sob story, but don't make stuff up, either- chances are it will come back to haunt you. You graduated from college with a decent average. You are now taking online classes. Focus on the positives- you do have them! Also, don't talk yourself out of applying for jobs, programs, or internships. You don't want to become a self-fufilling prophecy- i.e. nobody hires you because you think no one will hire you. I've been hired for jobs that I applied to on a whim even though I didn't meet the "mandatory" requirements. Ambition, the capacity to learn, and enthusiams about the position count a lot, especially at the beginning of a career- you're what, 23 or 24? Nobody's going to have all that much experience at that age.

Lastly, try not to obsess about people who had it easier than you and now have more experience and connections- it'll only make you bitter and suck you into a vortex of self-pity. Life isn't fair, and it's up to you to create the opportunities that you haven't been handed. And you are perfectly capable of doing this!

Best of luck.
posted by emd3737 at 3:45 PM on June 22, 2009 [1 favorite]

I think you seriously need to do whatever you can to get the fuck out of there.

Can you get in touch with people from school, see if you can get a roommate and live somewhere else? It's hard because we don't know what your major is, but you're tech savvy enough to have found yourself here and you have good writing skills. I think temp work might be fine for you.

Everyone has no skills when they start out and plenty of people blow off their undergrad work and take wrong turns before ending in the land of adulthood, which takes a lot longer than people think. So, all that's fine. Living on ramen-fine. You, however, are not doing fine living where you live. You have to get out of there. It's eating you up in a bunch of different ways--get out. Make a friend, have a roommate, ask for help, do like everyone else does.

You can find other smart people from working class backgrounds or you can decide you'd like to have people in your life from a variety of backgrounds--whatever, but the important thing is to put yourself in a position where you're moving to the kind of life you want.

Also, expect that it may take a long time. Be patient. Don't get frustrated. Don't allow yourself to be pulled down emotionally.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 3:54 PM on June 22, 2009 [2 favorites]

Honestly, I would leave. Take a normal job, get a roommate, and concentrate on making as much money as possible for the next few years. Pursue school after that. Your environment is extremely important when it comes to motivating yourself to get out of bed in the morning, much less pursue something academically.

(you know, what the terrible llama said.)
posted by davejay at 4:02 PM on June 22, 2009

I'll just add my voice to the others who have advised you to definitely NOT lie on your application or resume. The risks and possible costs to you in the future are not worth what few immediate benefits you might get from doing so.

As others have also mentioned, it will in fact look good on your grad school application if you explain the difficult situations you have lived through and what you have done to keep it at it and remain dedicated to your goals despite severe obstacles. That will benefit you far more than any lie.

You'll find that a lot of people go to grad school for things entirely different from what they did in undergrad. I'm in an anthropology graduate program and I took only one anthropology class in undergrad. (Besides, many schools understand that what you learn in undergrad, even if it was in the same subject area, often has only minimally prepared you for what you really need to know anyway.) What matters is your performance in the classes you took and, most importantly, letters of recommendation from professors. Those arguably carry the most weight in a graduate school app, though it can vary depending on the field you're going in to.

This also depends a lot on the field you're getting in to, but another thing you can do to really boost your chances of acceptance is to get in contact with a professor at the university you're interested in working with, via email or phone. Read up on their work and ask them questions about it and about potentially working with them in the future. If you can get a professor gunning to work with you, you're doing really well.
posted by paralith at 4:06 PM on June 22, 2009

You know what--while you're trying other things: volunteer work. A good way to meet people, you'll feel useful, help people, make connections, add something nice to your resume, etc.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 4:07 PM on June 22, 2009

I think that when you're in an environment you really dislike (your home/neighborhood), getting out is key. Even if you don't physically move right away, could you at least spend your time studying at a public library? You could declare that studying is your 40 hr/wk, 8 hr/day job and spend that time at the library, no matter what.
posted by medusa at 4:22 PM on June 22, 2009 [1 favorite]

FYI- if you had good grades, and started volunteering, you would have a very compelling story for grad school personal statements that would probably be pretty impressive. In the meantime, of course, I think those suggesting volunteering until you get a job are right on. Also, sometimes volunteering can get your foot in the door for a paying job.
posted by ishotjr at 4:28 PM on June 22, 2009 [1 favorite]

Go and talk to career services at the university you graduated from. They are there to help you and will. Your major does not have to equal a profession to get a job or internship. In the meantime, temp. That's exactly what I did to avoid home and it worked!
posted by vincele at 5:06 PM on June 22, 2009

While living away from home, working for a year in a so-so dead-end job, I ended up discovering a certain somewhat obscure career field while I was looking for a new direction in life. This career field seems to be a perfect match for my personality and interests, and makes decent money too. However because my major is unrelated to that particular field, I decided to focus on studying to get the necessary prerequisites to get into a graduate school in that field. To make the time for that, I had to leave my job and return home. (Since I can't afford a car and there are no good schools in the ghetto, I have to take online classes.)

Are you sure this was the best course of action? Quitting your job and moving home in order to take classes online?

It's not too late to reconsider. Put yourself back into a good place, where your motivation and positivity work for you. Even at a dead-end job. You can take online classes while maintaining a full-time job. Lots of places downtown or in Long Beach or Torrance could care less if you had a car; and you happen to live in one of the few areas in L.A. that actually has a serviceable public transportation system. Also, try registering with AppleOne or some other temp agency.

now becoming increasingly bitter, pessimistic, angry, lazy, etc. I find myself obsessing about how tough my past was and how nobody cares, fantasizing about how things could have been different

At least you realize that this is a bunch of bullshit. I won't recommend you to a shrink. You more likely need a boot in your ass to keep you motivated. Do you have any friends that can help you keep grounded?
posted by jabberjaw at 5:31 PM on June 22, 2009

I'm sorry, I don't have any clear answers. I just wanted to post to say that you are not alone - there are others who are or who have been in your situation (even the car thing - I hate it when I see that).

Sometimes it's worth it to get whatever work you can, just for the self-esteem boost. After my undergrad, I had run out of money and had to take any job I could get - I ended up doing near minimum wage tele-survey. And though I hate tele-marketting, I discovered that I really like giving surveys on the telephone - you get to talk to people, but you can honestly say that you really aren't selling anything. I've since gotten into grad school, but I always think that, well, I know I like telesurvey, and people will pay me to do that.

And actually, people do take "a tough, poor background" as a legitimate reason for not having enough credentials or experience - on my graduate school applications, I pointed out that I was the first in my immediate family to go to college, and that I didn't know what graduate school was when I started. I don't know how the admissions committee read it, but I know I got into a good History program with fewer formal credentials than other people entering the program - many people in my program already have masters' degrees, have studied other languages, and/or done archival research in their undergraduate program, but I didn't. But we weren't coming from the same place - I would have loved to have done languages, but couldn't afford not to work for pay every summer. Don't ever lie on an application, but don't be afraid of telling the truth.
posted by jb at 5:52 PM on June 22, 2009

I definitely didn't come from the same background as most of the other students at my college did, and it made a huge difference in the way I approached everything. Question No. 3, as linked in your post, really resonated with me, too. I also neglected to network or get much work experience, for a variety of reasons, until right near the end of my undergraduate degree. The steps I'd suggest:

1. Proofread your resume. Don't lie.
2. Think outside the fields you've been applying in, and apply, apply, apply.
3. Hopefully get a job.
4. Spend your free time reading and taking online classes in your chosen field.
5. Save the money you make. Don't spend it on ephemeral crap.
6. Buy yourself a car, then look for better jobs, and apply, apply, apply.
7. Hopefully get a better job.
8. Save your money. Don't spend it on ephemeral crap.
9. Move out. Get your own place, where you can be who you want to be.
10. Keep working.
11. Keep saving.
12. Take more classes—and/or volunteer—in your chosen field.
13. Network online in your chosen field via blogs, Facebook, nearby events, etc.
14. Figure out some prospects for grad school in your field and apply, apply, apply.

It's not that easy, I know. But that's roughly the order things probably need to happen in. If you have any friends worth moving in with, who won't drag you down or distract you, you might be able to bypass some of these steps. Alternately, look up your friends from college on Facebook and see where they're living, whether they need a roommate, etc. You might have more potential connections than you think.
posted by limeonaire at 6:06 PM on June 22, 2009

Obviously, I don't know what your career interest is, but it can't hurt to talk to the people who are involved in the field. It wouldn't be a conversation about job availabilities, necessarily, but about the work they do. Ask questions and develop relationships wherever you can and are able with the people you can identify as doing what you want to be doing.

You could do the same thing with educators. Grad school professors involved the field you're interested in. The point is, I've noticed that children of academics are successful in academia because, much like the interview you pointed to says, they are able to ask for help. They are also able to talk to academics without being unduly intimidated (something it took me far too many years to get over myself, if I can even say I am over it.)

It's really way, way, way too easy to give up, so don't do that. Obsessing about how tough your past is and how nobody cares -- it only makes things worse. I'm not saying that you have to just pretend you had the same ride as everyone else, or that you're not isolated. But if you let that stuff sink in too deep and stay there, it's quite easily self-fulfilling. Concentrate on your future and not on the ways you can get stuck.

I wish you the best of luck, and I know it feels lonely out there right now, but I am pretty sure there are will plenty of advocates and mentors and colleagues and friends out there for you.
posted by theefixedstars at 6:33 PM on June 22, 2009

Moving home to take online classes vs working at an entry level post college job is not a good career decision. A) you need to show a work history- it doesn't matter if your first two years out of college was spent digging ditches, you need to work (I have hired people who essentially dug ditches into their first professional jobs because I knew they would work hard and it showed me they were "grown ups".) B) Online classes aren't worth a crap.

Move back, get another entry level job and attend community college at night. Yes, it will suck, yes you will be eating ramen noodles and studying for 2 years while all your friends are going clubbing and buying $10 cocktails. Then you will get into grad school and eat Ramen for another few years, though maybe brand name Ramen. This does not only happen to people from the ghetto though, this is a common thing for people who majored in the wrong thing and had to go back to school.

I know many people who have worked full time and attended school, even graduate or law school, full time. While raising babies and getting married/ buying houses/ having hobbies. It can be done and you too, can do it.

But you have to move out- if you are unhappy where you live you can't motivate. Find one of those houses full of young penniless graduates and grad students and enjoy the next few years (while working your ass off).
posted by fshgrl at 6:47 PM on June 22, 2009 [1 favorite]

When my father got out of the Air Force, he started his own refrigeration business. I might have been 12 and my brother 9 when one day he decided he wanted a new front wall at his shop. He tore the old one down -- it was probably 16 feet high and 40 feet long. And he told us that this was going to be our gig over the summer. We were standing there thinking, There will never, ever, be a wall here again. We went brick by brick for the entire summer and into winter and then back into spring. One day there was a wall there again. I know my dad had been planning this for a long time. He said, "Now, don't you all ever tell me there's something you can't do." And he walked into the shop. The thing I connect to is: I do not have to build a perfect wall today. I just have to lay a perfect brick. Just lay one brick, dude.
-Will Smith

- What can I do to stay motivated in such a negative environment and a particularly tough time?

Read positive, motivating books and other publications. Read biographies and the success stories of many famous people, some of whom overcame huge odds, probably just as bad or worse than your situation in many cases -- things like war, disability, lack of education, discrimination, etc. Read personal growth books, business books, psychology books; LOTS of books and papers on your field of study -- read ANYTHING that fires up your imagination.

- How can I find any positive influences -- any mentors or people in similar situations -- in this area? (It's hard for me to meet people outside of this area because I have no car.)

See above. When you've got no one to make friends with or mentor you, read about and keep in mind the men who have come before you and have gone through the same things, and who didn't give up, and what they accomplished. Make your own mind your own best influence.

- What can I do to improve my chances of getting a job or internship without resorting to being dishonest in my applications?

This is your brick wall. Concentrate on laying the bricks, and the wall will take of itself.

- How do you feel about the ethical dilemma of being dishonest on applications in a situation like mine?

Don't do it. Many bad habits start with just a little now, then a little more, and then it slowly snowballs out of control. And a man who is willing to lie is a man who will succumb to just about anything.

- Any other suggestions on what can help?

You don't need *that* much money to stay physically healthy. $60 is plenty. Eat oatmeal, and learn to cook rice with legumes like lentils and beans. This is some of the healthiest food on earth. Find a ghetto playground to do pullups and chinups, a ghetto basketball court to ball, and a ghetto tennis court to hit. Exercise will energize you and give you a sense of accomplishment when you don't feel like you've got anything else good going on in your life, not to mention it will keep you out of trouble and away from bad influences. Make do with what you got for now -- and that's your legs, your arms, and your head. Keep your head on straight.

This can be a huge help: Keep a journal. A cheap $2.00 notebook from Wal-Mart will do. It will give you a sense that you are making progress. You can use it to jot down anything you are thinking about, notes from your readings, and things that you have to do. Nothing fancy. But it will give you a place to consolidate your learnings and bring order to your life.

No more excuses. You got a problem, then find the solution. It's out there. Solve it.

Now get back to work. Now.
posted by Theloupgarou at 6:47 PM on June 22, 2009 [2 favorites]

One more thing: You are looking at your tough upbringing as a liability, but I think you can look at it as a huge asset to sell yourself. People love that kind of folksy, "bringing yourself up from the bottom" sort of story. You came from a tough place and had a tough life and still you got an education and now are trying to go to graduate school. That takes enormous motivation -- don't sell yourself short on that. If you explained it like that to me, and that I should take a shot on you, it would be a whole different ballgame.
posted by Theloupgarou at 7:01 PM on June 22, 2009

Frankly, no one worth their salt as an employer or administrator in a graduate program gives a damn about your poor background. They're interested in who you are now and what you have to offer; no one and nothing else matters. I know what I'm talking about.

Not one person in any school I went to as any kind of student, not one teacher or classmate, cared about my ghetto upbringing or my less-than-stellar familial background, and some people didn't even want to hear it because it was the past, not the present. To bring it up is succumbing to a victim mentality, and that will steer you ABSOLUTELY wrong.

When I was in school and meeting people, I had to remind myself that, yes, I may have been born a bastard in a ghetto but I was not of the ghetto. Big difference. People at uni were talking to me because of who I was, with no idea of where I came from. It sounds to me as if you're associating yourself with the neighborhood to some extent. Don't do that. Your neighborhood isn't you. Don't look up those old acquaintances. Bless them in your heart, let them go and move on.

Get any job that you can do and will pay you enough to move away, even if you have to get roommates. Contact anyone from your class who gave you an email address or phone number or friended you on Facebook or Twitter. Contact any counselors from your department or alumni office at school. Get in touch with people in your alumni association who were either in your major or in the field you want to go to grad school for. Hell, contact teachers or counselors who were cool with you in high school. You must ask. You must stop thinking that these "privileged" people don't want to help you because you didn't start out middle class like them, but that's wrong. For every snob, there's many more who like helping and showing off what they know. They will talk to you, and it makes you look resourceful by asking for information. Stop thinking of yourself as "less than". Stop right now.

I'm sorry if all this sounds harsh, but I've been digging myself out of the same mentality and the false self-image of unworthiness you're displaying here since the end of high school. I wish someone had been around to say this all to me before I went to college, because struggling to learn this on my own has been a real bitch. :/

If you were able to escape that neighborhood once and go to university, then you have it in you to come up with other ways to get out again. We have faith in you! Now you have faith in you and get out of there!
posted by droplet at 7:07 PM on June 22, 2009 [5 favorites]

As an aside: if you are young and desperate, need "start up" money and to get the hell away there are a lot of jobs that cater just to you! Cut fish in an Alaskan cannery, work on a cruise, build trails, be a camp counselor, join Americorps or Teach for America, hell join the Peace Corps, Any of those options will provide you with a ticket out of your mom's house, 3 squares a day, a place to sleep, some great friends and a few grand in your pocket when you're done. In my experience they will also provide you with a healthy dose of motivation of the "dear god, there must be better jobs than this" kind that is just the thing for returning college students.

MeMail me if you want more details. I'm pretty familiar with the world of poorly paid but fun stuff to do in your 20s.

You are supposed to be having fun at your age after all.
posted by fshgrl at 9:09 PM on June 22, 2009

I agree with what everyone else said above. Only thing I have to add is this: first, a big hug for someone who's working and trying as hard as you are; second, find something beautiful to look at or listen to, just to give you something to feed your spirit every day while you're stuck there. Could be a geranium, a poster, a soothing piece of music, but something that gives you a spot of sunshine that's all yours and will give you a minute of peace here and there. I didn't come from where you are, but I know what it's like to live in hell. I never felt so free and happy as the day I was out on my own, with my life in my hands, my own patch of ground to stand on and a piece of the sun shining just for me. I wish you success. You'll get there.
posted by x46 at 9:22 PM on June 22, 2009

Not one person in any school I went to as any kind of student, not one teacher or classmate, cared about my ghetto upbringing or my less-than-stellar familial background, and some people didn't even want to hear it because it was the past, not the present. To bring it up is succumbing to a victim mentality, and that will steer you ABSOLUTELY wrong.

This was my experience as well. I grew up in a terrible neighborhood in southwest Houston, gunshots all the time and people driving their cars into other cars in the parking lot, or into the side of the building (seriously), people beating their wives and kids, drinking and fighting in the parking lot, etc. It was one of those neighborhoods that was so bad that the police wouldn't even bother to come if you called them; we reported gun fights in the parking lot several times and nothing was ever done.

It somehow never occurred to me that this should or would have any effect on my academically, though. And it never did. And no one ever cared what neighborhood I grew up in, seriously. If anything, being from a low income background is helpful when applying to schools. I know more people like me, too.

I understand being bothered by it, and other posters have great advice for getting out of that situation. But it feels to me like you might be overthinking this, or using it as a scapegoat when you're really just frustrated that you got a degree that won't get you a job -- trust me, I empathize -- and you're going to have to change directions and take years getting to where you want to be. It's daunting, yeah, but if you pin it all on your surroundings when that's not the underlying issue, you're just distracting yourself. Make sure this is actually what's upsetting you before you expend a ton of effort to change it. You might be right, but you also might end up in an apartment in another neighborhood and still feel your motivation is sapped just because the task at hand seems so big.
posted by Nattie at 9:24 PM on June 22, 2009

I agree with others that you may be over-blaming your surroundings and upbringing. Being in this post-college, moneyless funk is something a lot of us have gone through. Its a tough time because you're just beginning a career and you need employers more than they need you.

Many people avoid this hump altogether by going straight into law school or grad school. Unfortunately, many of those same people emerge in deep debt years later and then wonder if they did the right thing.

I came from a poor family too. After college, I moved back in with my parents and decided the first thing I needed to do was - SAVE MONEY. So, I got a job, borrowed my dad's beater truck and just saved like a madman. My social life sucked, I was always worried about my future, but I knew I was doing the right thing.

After saving for a year I knew I needed to get out on my own. So I brashly decided to move up to San Francisco, to give myself a kick in the pants. I lived in a crowded apartment with four other people. My money started to run out so I got a job as a bike messenger and as an office temp. There is no shame in these jobs. They were great in getting me through some tough financial times while I kept looking for work I wanted to do. My funds were often so low that I had to walk across the city to work rather than spend the money on bus fare. I ate a lot of potatoes and ramen.

Anyways, this was 1991. The employment situation was pretty bad in the US but I persisted. And I'm glad I did. Silicon Valley in 1991 was one of the best places in the world to be then - though I didn't know it. And everything afterwards was basically me hanging on and floating upwards with a rising tide.
posted by vacapinta at 4:23 AM on June 23, 2009

I think the only thing you need to do is start being more positive. Do you have any hobbies? A hobby can be a great way to build up forward momentum. A hobby can also be a great way to meet other people, many of whom may be good role models.

I am a skater. I've only been skating for about a year and a half, but the difference in my life between then and now is night and day. Then, I had a job that made me miserable, I was alone and isolated in a city that suffocated me. Now, I have a job I love, and I'm living in a place I could feasibly see myself living forever. Skating gave me the confidence to make tough decisions and the insight to notice opportunities. In addition, when I was completely alone, skating was a friend who wouldn't leave my side. Now, I'm actually starting to meet some incredible people simply by skating.

I strongly encourage you to find something internal to motivate you, as long as you focus on the external whatever you build will be subject to dissolution.
posted by satori_movement at 7:56 AM on June 23, 2009

The long term strategy is graduate school, correct? Lets start with this.

Research a list of the most appropriate schools for you. Email every department secretary and ask which professor might be willing to talk to a student looking to attend. Then start a dialog with those professors. They may be able to give you advice about applications and recommendations toward internships. The emotional benefit to you is that you will start some momentum toward your eventual goal.

Does your new field have a professional society that meets in LA? Contact the membership or the outreach chair. Explain that you are unemployed and looking to transition into the field. Ask if they can help you with a membership to attend meetings. If not, can you do some volunteer service at the meetings in exchange for attendance? Go whenever they meet. Again, you are building momentum and you've got something for your application.

Call your UC school and ask them to set up a reciprocity arrangement to allow you to use UCLAs career placement services. Use that to look for internship/job opportunities. Go charm the career placement staff and do mock interviews. When a company you want to interview with is on campus, hang out at the office all day. If someone flakes out on an interview, they'll put you in that spot. (Or ask if you can escort the recruiter to lunch on campus. The university will pick up the tab for that.)

Short term stuff -

You need to get a job (any job) and get out of your family home. You're starting to feel lazy and bitter. Accepting a handout from your mom (who probably doesn't have it) is starting to erode your vision of yourself as capable and self reliant. You need to shut this down now. Write an IOU to your Mom. You don't need to give it to her; you can keep it in your wallet. When you write it and sign it, you'll know you are committed to repay your debt to her. This will help you feel a little better about your current situation.

On to jobs. Don't worry about finding a career job. Cobble together 3 jobs at Starbucks, waiting tables, etc. Whatever you need to do to have enough money to move into an apartment with 6 other roommates. This is short-term. You can put up with this for a little while. Sign up for government assistance in your own name and get help.

Here is what I've noticed in life - affluent people ask for assistance from people who've got what they want. If they need some help, they aren't afraid to ask. In fact, they expect people to cooperate and help them. Less affluent people ask from help from government or charities. I'm not sure that's an effective method of reaching the target. Go ask the people who've got what you want to help - professionals, professors, career services.

(Sorry in advance for things I missed in proofreading. I've got to run, but wanted to toss some ideas out to you.)
posted by 26.2 at 9:03 AM on June 23, 2009 [3 favorites]

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