"How are you doing?"
It's been fourteen months since my 33rd birthday; it was setting off to be a big year of progress and growth for me. That's how I had envisioned it coming into January of 2020. My wife and I had things heading in right direction. I had just received the highest grade during my companies year-end reviews; I was working with luluelmon and University of Chicago executives directly on projects that could be launching pads for our companies expansion and growth, and my wife had gotten an internship doing ADA work for the Forest Preserve after completing her college courses. I was owed a decent sized bonus from my employer, been approved for a raise, and I was earning the ever valuable data and financial analyst experience I had sought after but struggled to acquire in the past without the formal educational background. We had saved money for a down payment on a Condo and my wife and I were looking for a two bedroom in our area to buy in July of 2020, to allow for her mother to visit with greater frequency. My wife had gone over 20 months without seeing her mother; her best friend and emotional rock for her entire 27 years on this planet. The toll it had taken on her is immense, and while she had tried to remain patient and understanding it's a lot easier said than done.
My wife never lost her job/internship, but she was unable to go into the office or do her job because the Park District shut down. The money continued to come but that opportunity was never about income; it was about networking, and meeting people, to further her professional career and get a full time job offer. Now she was forced to participate in an saturated job market with very little demand; the stress and pressure can be overwhelming I'm sure, and I do understand it. Which is actually why I'm writing this.
I lost my job officially in June of 2020, but I had been furloughed earlier. I was one of the first put out to pasture given that my industry (events) was predicated on large gatherings which I've read might not be a good idea? In reality that was beneficial for me at the beginning. I was one of the first to file an unemployment claim, and I didn't deal with any issues with IDES. I was taking a pay cut (down 40%), but with the stimulus checks and me opting out of paying taxes on that money today, my cash flow remained relatively unchanged. I lost my health care, which forced us onto a high deductible plan so I went another year without a doctors check up or tests done on my knees and annoying palpitations; YEAH AMERICA! Due to us saving money for our wedding and house, we had back up cash for an emergency but an emergency would feel devastating; a set back on the plans and goals we had envisioned just four months earlier. That early period of the pandemic hadn't felt like a gunshot wound or a guillotine, instead it felt like one million thumb tacks pushed in one minute after another. A slow and demoralizing pain that grew with each passing day. It's the multitude of circumstances that made that time so different, even for an overly opportunistic thinker like myself. While I have big aspirations, I'm not emotionally tied to materialistic things. I want a bigger house so those around me - my wife, my parents and family, my kids, my mother-in-law, my friends - can be more comfortable but I can honestly say I'm just comfortable anywhere they are. I want to make more money because I want to be able to repay and support all everyone has done for me and I don't want anyone around me to worry about money and the lack there of. It's not the fear of having nothing that causes me angst, but the fear that those around me will suffer such fate that has become the driving force behind my ambition. It's with this pain by which I learned to understand and relate to the silent struggle.
What is the silent struggle? It's that terrifying feeling that you'll never leave this life satisfied. The fear that however far you may be from the finish line, you'll never have enough time to collect all the pieces to the puzzle you had pictured yourself completing. It's not daily goals as much as it's completed thoughts, driving your way on life's road; some people have clear directions drawn from a young age, while others required further exploration before becoming certified cartographers, but far too many are just left behind without even a compass or piece a paper to chart their path. I fall into the second category and the pause on a life I already started later is something that admittedly scared me, and the unknown future ahead will always be darker than the familiar paths of the past. I want to continue to discover the impact I can have, not just on my life, but on the lives of those around me because despite the pain I may feel at times, I can't even imagine the overwhelming fear that is consuming those who fall into the latter category.
As I have gotten older, I began to understand the sheer volume of money that exists in this country and the amount of poverty that somehow coexists around it. For the past century, corporate propaganda has created the concept of "skilled" vs "unskilled" labor, which has separated people into two groups; the paid and the unpaid. As the pandemic swept through the world, many of the "unskilled" workers turned out to be essential for the every day survival of people. The irony of that wasn't lost on me, but it may have been on others. It turns out that we all provide value to the world in different and unique ways, and while some people have their own garage, a Princeton degree and $300,000 from their parents to start a business, many don't and there's no reason that the person putting their life on the line during a pandemic at a meat packing facility should have to work 7,540,000 years before making the amount of money Jeff Bezo's has. The struggle so many face is not self inflicted, but systematically guided. It's not about socialism, capitalism, communism, liberalism, fascism or any other ism; it's about people, and the inherent greed that lies within so many.
Let's talk about the obscene wealth, and what it would cost to uplift those that were left behind - those that the system has convinced so many aren't worth the clothes on their own backs. Those with obscene wealth have been glorified to the point of admiration when the reality of their comeuppance is likely darker than space. The theft of ideas, betrayal of their employees, family and coworkers and the exploitation of a system that was intended to assist and protect societies most vulnerable are at the core of many of these nightmares disguised as fairy tales. People like Steve Cohen, Mark Zuckerberg and Jeff Bezo's in another time wouldn't be celebrated but better yet they'd be ostracized. Companies aren't built by executives or upper management, instead the foundations are laid by the very employees who are discarded like a dirty napkin left on a restaurant table.
I am not one to express frustration or blame with any sense of frequency. My family and friends can go days, sometimes weeks, without hearing from me. When they do, it's certainly not to complain about anyone in my life, whether work or personal, nor is it to blame people for my standing. I've never blamed anyone but myself for any situations that have come my way, but these struggles have opened me up to understanding so much more. People speak of the silent majority, which does not exist, but those who are silently struggling do. I wasn't raised to be prideful, or to succumb my thoughts and feelings; I think I've evolved into this person due to the guilt I feel about my own failures in life. For years and years, I have taken sole responsibility for my shortcomings and felt that I was in no position to complain. In many ways, I still feel that way about myself; shameful for feeling sad knowing how hard life is for so many and how many chances I've had, regretful that I haven't done anything to improve the struggles of others, and fearful that I'll never leave life satisfied with who I am.
As things have began to change for me in the past six months, again given chances to succeed in areas many have been rejected, I circle back on these thoughts of loss and aspire to do better. It is that desire that has guided me back through school - where I have finally excelled for the first time in my life - and into a professional field that often times overlooks people like me: people with no formal education. I may have been lost for a decade, but I returned to the place where I discarded my future and resurrected in hopes of utilizing my, what feels like, tenth chance at life's prosperity. As my wife stands by me I plan on executing on the promises of the past that betrayed me much like America's executives and politicians have betrayed the masses in the face of greed. We only get one chance at this and that silent struggle can quickly evolve into a silent motivation that I plan on using to fulfill the promise many saw in me as an irresponsible and neglectful child. The pandemic was the fire that fueled my quest to redraw the map that had misguided me before. After all, ashes were once a roaring flame giving heat, life and energy to those who surrounded it. Fuel to ones success will always blow away in the wind in the end, but it will never be lost - only scattered among the world and people that it once supported.