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The Opt Out Nurse Wants Back in

Back in August this NYT magazine article about the opt out moms wanting back in caught my attention and I’ve been thinking about it ever since. Basically, in the earlier part of the millenium, many successful women decided to opt out of their careers in order to raise children. Now that the economy has changed, they want their jobs back. The only problem is that when you leave the workforce for 5 years, it’s hard to get back into it. This scares me.
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Gen X Nurse

I’m a Gen X nurse.

What does that mean?

In the most obvious sense it just means that I was born in 1970 and I’m a registered nurse. I try not to put too much stock in all of the generational stereotypes, but I have always felt like I was Generation X to the core. Gen Xers tend to be cynical. We’re hard on ourselves and others. We have this reputation for being slackers, not because we’re lazy, but because our standards are too high to just grab whatever old McJob comes our way.

When I graduated from college in 1992, I had a liberal arts degree and no clue what to do with it. I wasn’t interested in graduate school. At that point I was ready for the next step. I wanted to play the game. I wanted to get a paycheck.

The conventional wisdom at the time was to pick a company. (How? Based on what?) Get an entry level position (doing what?) Establish yourself and move up the ranks (to become what, exactly?) It was all so nebulous.
So I got a job in a bakery. I have always loved working with food. It was extremely low-paying but that was okay. I was happy.

I knew it was a dead end job though, so I started taking community college courses. First in psychology (I thought I wanted to be an art therapist) and then in graphic design. Meanwhile I “moved up the ranks” and became a waitress. I started to make a lot more money and it was a job I rather enjoyed.

I did this for 10 years. I traveled a lot. Bought a house. Always in the back of my mind was, “You have a college degree! You should be doing something else!” But that voice was never quite convincing enough.
Then in August of 2001, I attended the funeral of a close friend’s brother. He was a young, wonderful, hard working person who was ruthlessly killed by a drunk driver. Nothing like a funeral for a young person to send you into an existential tailspin.

I fell into a temporary despair. I desperately tried to come up with ideas for what I should be doing different, how to change my life.

And then September 11th happened. Despair turned into anger, followed by numbness. My existential tailspin was curtailed by the need to just go on living. To try and make sense of day to day things without being overcome by rage. I thought about joining the military.

8 months later I made the decision to start nursing school.

Sometimes it takes a tragedy to make you see what’s really important. And the important thing for me was to do something that I could define, something that had meaning, and something I could take pride in. Sure I could pay my dues and work for a company, sell things, market things, design things, manage things, get promoted. But nursing is different. It’s so much more simpler:

What does a nurse do?
She takes care of people when they are sick. And gets paid for it.

And that’s why despite all the bitching and moaning I like to do about cleaning up poop, I’ll probably always be a nurse.