Recently walking through one of DC’s more trendy neighborhoods with my husband and his father I came across a young man I’d place in his 20s sitting on a stoop with a cardboard sign. I can’t remember exactly what it said but it let passersby know he was a veteran and about to be evicted. I walked a bit further and then turned to go back. I told my husband and father to go ahead; I would catch up with them at the café we were headed to. Having lived in San Francisco, New York, and now DC homelessness is nothing new. But something about this man compelled me.
As I approached and said hello he seemed startled and stood up abruptly. “I just want to chat,” I explained. We had a seat and I heard his story. He was an Iraq War veteran with a dual degree in finance and economics. He said he had “actually” been a financial advisor but had made poor choices with his own money spending too much and investing in options. Then he lost his job. Now he was close to eviction unless he could raise at least half of the rent.
I’ve been laid off before living through San Francisco’s dotcom bubble burst, and I know it can happen to anyone. Anyone, no matter how much education they have, no matter where they were educated, and no matter how much experience they have, can become poor. Hardship is an equal opportunist. So when he told me that he “didn’t deserve this,” I said, “No one does.”
I told him about my experience being unemployed – how I had been able to earn some money waiting tables and through a temp agency. I told him my husband, upon graduating with his masters, had waited tables before he found a job. He told me that if he worked as server he would want to work in a “nice” restaurant and that it takes time for them to train you. I suggested he adjust his expectations, that my husband had waited tables in mid-range, nice restaurants in New York and DC and usually brought home at least $200 a day. Neither restaurant required training beyond shadowing another server for one day or two.
I told him my husband had temped in DC after moving from New York and actually got a full-time job offer from a company he temped at (though he chose to accept another offer). Perhaps it was poor judgment, but I gave him my email address and told him to get in touch, I’d connect him with my husband about his experience temping in DC.
He never emailed me. Perhaps he found another job in finance. Perhaps he found a job waiting tables at a “nice” enough restaurant. Perhaps he found a job temping. I wish him well, and I’d like to give him the benefit of the doubt. Unemployment and underemployment leave their damages to our financial security and our self-esteem. But even though no one, not anyone, ever deserves it, sometimes it happens. And if you don’t adjust your expectations to the reality life has served you from what you think life should be, all you are accomplishing is further distancing yourself from your ideal. Sometimes rising to the occasion is accepting what we thought was beneath us.