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Life on Pause

Richard Connor

THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC has disrupted so many aspects of our lives. I was reminded of that recently at, of all places, a bar in the Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, airport.

My wife and I were returning from our 40th wedding anniversary trip to Charleston, South Carolina, and Sunset Beach, North Carolina. Our evening flight was delayed, so we decided to get a glass of wine at a small kiosk bar in the terminal.

The bartender was a young woman in her early 20s. She was friendly, knowledgeable and adept at serving several groups of boisterous seniors returning from the Myrtle Beach area. We struck up a conversation. She told us she had recently graduated from a local university with dual degrees in political science and women’s studies.

Her women’s studies major focused on a challenging topic: the history of women’s inequality and subjugation. She said she’d begun her college studies with the idea that she could use her dual majors to help the plight of women around the world.

But the combination of the depressing coursework, along with several years of COVID-induced isolation, now had her questioning her career choice. She said she was working as a bartender because it paid well—and allowed her to go back to school, where she could take some business and marketing classes.

Another young couple at the bar joined the conversation. The young man had just graduated from one of New Jersey’s state universities with a degree in criminal justice. He said COVID had badly disrupted the last two years of college, and had him also questioning his choice of a major.

When I asked him about his career path, he acknowledged that he didn’t have one. He said he was going to spend the summer figuring out his next steps. Like our bartender, he said he planned to work in the hospitality industry to make money while he contemplated his options.

It’s a similar story with some of the young women who have looked after our grandson over the past two years. I’ve seen how COVID upended their college plans. Several switched from attending out-of-state schools to our local college.

All these young people I met are friendly, intelligent, articulate, and able to hold pleasant conversations with my wife and me. They all demonstrate a strong work ethic, finding ways to make money while they figure out what they want to do.

Still, I worry about how the pandemic years have delayed their transition to longer-term careers and adulthood. The internet is rife with articles and studies discussing the impact of COVID on high school and college students, including decreases in graduation rates, increases in mental health issues and delays in attending college.

As a parent, one of the great joys is to watch your children grow up and succeed. This isn’t just about workplace success. It’s also about becoming adults, building families and taking their place as valued members of their community.

I’m sure many HumbleDollar readers have a wealth of experience navigating challenging career and life obstacles. I’ve had my share, and somehow came out the other side. I had the good fortune to work with, manage and mentor hundreds of young engineers and scientists. Watching them succeed is one of my career highlights.

I can’t think of anything I faced that compares with these past few years. The extreme level of uncertainty has made it hard to make plans. Engineers like me hate uncertainty because it’s so difficult to build a life on shifting sands. I’d be interested to know if other members of the HumbleDollar community share my concerns, and if they have any ideas for how to help.

Richard Connor is a semi-retired aerospace engineer with a keen interest in finance. He enjoys a wide variety of other interests, including chasing grandkids, space, sports, travel, winemaking and reading. Follow Rick on Twitter @RConnor609 and check out his earlier articles.

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