What I’ve Learned From a Year in Americorps (So Far)

I’ve been meaning to start an Americorps series to give you guys a peek into what life is like for an Americorps member. Since right now, all I’m capable of writing are listicles due to post-New Year burn out (even though I explicitly express my dislike for bloggers that depend too heavily on them), I figured no time but the present!

After break, the entire organization attended mid-service training, which for me meant excessive amounts of time mentally wandering and self-reflection. So here we go.

What I've Learned From a Year in Americorps (So Far)

How much I need to live

Of course, I’m talking about money. Possibly one of the more valuable lessons I’ve learned so far during my service is knowing how little I actually need to be happy. The fact that it’s possible to survive off $1000/month is surprising and not surprising to me. Before starting my job here in Austin, I really had no concept of how much I would need a month in order to live, like many recent college graduates. I really should have known before packing everything and relocating to a potentially expensive city (thankfully Austin is not) so that I wouldn’t run myself into the ground in additional debt. Of course, more would make me happier only because the ability to save is nonexistent.

With this knowledge, I can move onto a real job and know that after the first $1000/month, I can basically put that back into savings! And if I don’t find a job that pays more than a yearly salary of $10k, then I should probably reevaluate my self-worth.

Managers are not all scary monsters

Through my experiences working at minimum-wage jobs, I’d developed this authority allergy. It seemed that every manager I met was a dick! All they did was go on power trips and complain about the lives that they’ve made for themselves and this hatred was continuously doled out to their poor employees. No effort of better communication was ever rewarded, let alone acknowledged, so I expected it to be no different once I’d graduated from minimum wage to… less than minimum wage. Yes, I did the math and completely regret it.

However, the relationship that I have with my current manager is more of a friendship tinged with awkward spots where she’s supposed to boss me around. Recently, I sent her an email explaining that I was going through a rough week and that it should be getting better and she responded through text, telling me she was there if I needed any help.

If I told my pre-Americorps self that I would start to see managers as people and even befriend a few of them, she would’ve cursed me out for being brainwashed. Whatever, she’s dumb anyways.

Finding something you care about is so important

When you’re not finding satisfaction in your job, you need to find something worthwhile to feed your soul. Otherwise, you’re just this world-hating grumpy dirtbag that wanders the halls of your company… and no one wants to be friends with someone like that! We all need friends, especially when there’s this commitment that you have to do 8 hours a day. I realized that when I wasn’t volunteering, I would be so wound up that nothing would go right that week.

For me, it’s been volunteering at the local humane society and fostering various cats here and there. Animals have always held a soft spot in my heart simply because whatever happens to them is so beyond their control—global warming, abandonment, etc. Spending a few hours walking some dogs and lending cats a safe space to live makes such a big difference in my mood.

My role as a superstar

Just kidding, that was lame. I remember the first day of actual work, after the two-week build up of “Let’s all get pumped because we’re all amazing, unique little butterflies!” my manager held a team meeting in which we were supposed to list things that we were good at so that we could all work together as a team. I rattled something off like brainstorming!, or data entry!, or emotional support! All in exclamation points because we were still at the naive, chipper stage of our existence.

But honestly, it was all shit. Having never been on a professional team of any kind before (no, not even sports, surprised?) I had absolutely no idea how I compared to others. Maybe compared to others, I was an emotional robot! Maybe I was actually surprisingly good at public speaking, ha. You never know until you’re in an actual work environment what you’re good at. What may have been intuition for you might have been a struggle for another person. Or, maybe you’ll realize that you’re the most incompetent person.

So, what is my role? Apparently I’m good at technology, photography, and being very efficient. Put that on a business card.

Co-pays are the devil

The moment you graduate from college and near the end of being able to use your parents’ insurance, your health with go to shit. I promise you. It would make too much sense to discover all these pre-existing conditions while you were on university insurance! By the way, it’s no longer free to consult a doctor over something simple, it costs a co-pay every time you even glimpse a doctor, which means each referral, each consultation costs money that you don’t have. Oh, and the symptoms will hit during the worst possible time and stress you out to no extent.

Since starting the job, I’ve gotten sick 4 times vs a yearly average of 2, I was diagnosed with Celiac Disease, and my shoulder problems came back raging with bursitis that requires 4 weeks of physical therapy, twice a week. How many co-pays is that? Too many. How do people live?

Also, the hours that you can go see a medical professional? Those are the same hours that you’re supposed to be at your job, you lazy slob.

There IS a finite amount of free activities

I never thought I’d reach it, but I did. I’ve run out of free activities that Austin has to offer now that it’s winter.

When I took this job with this stipend, I thought hey, at least I’m in a new place where I can explore a new city! What would’ve been better is if I’d thought hey, exploring cities cost money, remember? How will you do that on a stipend like this? Do you see the difference there? Of course, there are countless cheap and free things to do in Austin (another upcoming post sometime within the next 6 months), but it’s a pretty finite, seasonal list. Especially if the season is summer.


I just realized that this list could apply to any ol’ job but I’m too lazy to rename it. And because this is the first draft of this post, one that I’ve convinced myself is not too shabby and actually is, it will probably be edited—or even deleted—sometime down the line.

What did you learn from your first job?

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  • http://snowintromso.com/ Van @ Snow in Tromso

    I learned from my first job (well the first that’s actually paid anyway and moreover in Norway) that you should inform yourself about taxes in order to not end up paying 50% taxes even though you don’t need to pay any taxes as a student because you didn’t know that you need a tax exemption card BEFORE you start working and nobody told you :D

    • http://mishfish13.com/ Michelle @ Mishfish13

      So many things about your comment… students don’t pay any taxes?! You can pay up to 50% in taxes?!?! Haha, taxes are all around CONFUSING for me.

      • http://mishfish13.com/ Michelle @ Mishfish13

        Haha, I have and always will be a “book hipster” (coined by me in this moment). Any time one of my books makes it onto the big screen, it’s like you have to start differentiating yourself from the people who read it post-movie. I should also read more Hemingway; I’ve only read The Old Man and the Sea.

        YES! I was recently diagnosed! Thankfully happened after devouring half of Europe, but now it’s like I have to renavigate how to travel with it! Any tips, mentor? ;)

      • http://snowintromso.com/ Van @ Snow in Tromso

        Yeah for me too and experiencing this in the country with the highest taxes in I don’t know, the world????!!! doesn’t exactly make things easier :D

  • http://lanivcox.wordpress.com/ Lani

    I think you are right, this post could apply to many jobs. A good boss is important and rare, unfortunately. It sounds like you have a nice one and thank god, right? Budgeting…well, most folks don’t figure that out, ever and your post is a reminder that I need to be better about where I spend my money. (Suprise!) But what I really love is that you volunteer at an animal shelter and you love it! Awwww. Warm fuzzies abound.

    • http://mishfish13.com/ Michelle @ Mishfish13

      Haha, yeah, thank god! Otherwise I’d only know horrible boss relationships! ANd I’m sure that if I did have a great salary, I’d have had a harder time figuring out what I did here.
      I know! I love volunteering there :) Warm feelings al the time haha