The hardest thing to learn in life is which bridge to cross and which to burn.
In 1980, my husband and I lived near Detroit in Ypsilanti, Michigan. He worked on the line at a General Motors plant. Twelve hour night shifts. Sometimes seven days a week. Newly married, I taught school and whenever we had time off or a few dollars saved, we'd load up our Chevette for an adventure up north, to Chicago, Lake Michigan, Lake Huron, Ontario, where ever the road took us.
My husband is a pretty smart guy (don't tell him I said that.) Doing the same task, over and over, sixty times an hour, twelve hours a day, wasn't working for him. After two years, we decided to chuck that job and have him return to school full-time for an engineering degree. I would support us.
Shock waves wafted through my husband's family. Generations had made their living through the plants and offices of the motor car maker. Landing a job at General Motors assured 40 or 45 years of a steady paycheck, generous pension, and a second home -- up north. Once a GM job had been secured, never, ever did giving it up laud consideration.
An engineering degree earned at General Motors Institute or the universities of Michigan or Michigan State, and then a return to the car industry, might have redeemed us. But, no, we headed west to Colorado - and a degree in chemical rather than mechanical engineering.
How we chose that path, I'm not quite sure. Perhaps we didn't want the same life as those in past generations. Perhaps we saw into the future and knew that opportunity may not garner the same results generation upon generation. Or perhaps it was simply dumb luck. A young couple choosing a different route.
At present, we worry for our family members and friends who depend on the pensions they earned so diligently. Also for the thousands of current GM and Chrysler employees who join the ranks of the unemployed, not to mention the trickle down effect that will have on many industries. I will not be lonely in the Midlife Jobhunter quest.
Although I do believe GM squandered their chances to remain competitive in this world and that the years they made gobs of money and gave everyone, union and non-union alike, healthy packages and salaries, and made poor car choices, I do hope for their rebound. Any trip to the Midwest does not find a BMW, Toyota, or Nissan in front of one on the freeway. The true believers in the Rust Belt drive their Pontiacs, Buicks, Chevys, Dodge, Ford, and Chrysler vehicles, and of course the ultimate sign of success in the GM automotive industry, the Cadillac. They are a people who support the American life in a way they know best.
Long ago, my husband and I burned the bridge to the GM legacy. Instead of the car business, we chose the precarious semiconductor industry. True to the form of their parents, our children have chosen their own bridges. The journeys continue.