While finishing my BA degree, I worked at a grocery store not far from campus. Even though it was on the higher end of price and quality, its proximity to campus meant a lot of students shopped there. I earned a dime more than minimum wage and paid that dime right back to the union that helped me earn it. As I spent my shifts selling groceries and beer to college students, I constantly had the feeling that I was playing someone else’s game. That the other students and I were just moving meager amounts of money and product back and forth while people much more powerful than us grew richer. They were the adults in the real world, and we were the kids. I felt this way even though I was twenty-five at the time.
Now that I’ve been in the grocery industry for more than ten years and I’ve moved up into middle management, now that I know a little more about economics, I see it a little differently. Every player in the industry is playing a role, from the clerks to the farmers and all the levels of management in between. No one is making big bucks on the whole deal. Food isn’t the industry for that. But even at thirty-two, I still look around me to see how the world operates. I don’t feel like I’m a part of the system, but that I’m watching the system from outside.
I don’t know why I feel this way. I have a job, a house (a mortgage), a car (an auto loan) a baby. I’m fully integrated into the system, so why don’t I feel like I am? Is this the way everyone feels? Maybe it’s just the feeling one has when they are one person among millions, watching how everyone else is moving forward (or failing to move forward) and choosing to go with the flow or not. It’s probably Americans who feel this way more than anyone else, because we’ve been sold this false idea of individualism.
I think one day I’m going to retire (if retirement is still a thing in three or four decades) and realize that all this time I spent looking around me and looking ahead, I was actually in it the whole time. I wonder if I’ll regret my decisions, my indecisiveness or my inability to see that my decisions mattered.
And even as I write this, I look around at other blogs that are written with much more resolve. The bloggers have a point they want to make, and they speak boldly about it. Here I am just asking questions and I wonder if I’m playing the game correctly.