Planning Beyond Tomorrow

images-5“I need to put a resume together,” Rochelle told me quite a while ago.  I think this actually was a year ago when her unemployment ran out and she knew she needed a job.  She asked if I would help her put one together, and I agreed.  Two days later she got the job at the home for the disabled and said she no longer needed to have a resume.  She got her new job at the grocery store without a resume, too, but when I was interviewing her last week we talked about the future.  The future is something Rochelle rarely talks about, and I’ve come to understand that, like a lot of people in her position, Rochelle deals in the present and has a very hard time moving her thoughts to the future.  “I’m just so busy every day I don’t have time,” is how she explains it to me.  She had again brought up the fact that she needed a resume.  “I would like to have a state job,” she told me when I asked what she thought a perfect job would be.  “They have good benefits and good hours and I know plenty of people who work for the state who only have high school diplomas or G.E.D.s.  “I know I’ll need a resume, though,” she said.  “I know, I know, I’ve brought that up before and didn’t get it done,” she admitted.

There are lots of things that come up in Rochelle’s life that get postponed repeatedly.  Her eldest child goes to middle school in a few weeks, but she hasn’t yet registered her.  I suggested a “to do” list–a written “to do” list that she has to look at every day.  She says she puts thing into her smart phone to remind her when she needs to do something. “That’s not working,” I said.  We meet again this week, and I’ll bring it up again.  Our interview about thoughts on the future isn’t finished.

Yesterday, while researching “culture of poverty” on Google, I came across a column by Esther J. Cepeda of the Washington Post.  She had been a high school teacher and had been strongly influenced by Ruby K. Payne’s A Framework for Understanding Poverty.  She read the book in preparation for working in a low-income school district.  “Being proactive, setting goals and planning ahead are not a part of generational poverty,” wrote Ms. Cepeda.  She had learned this in her training.  She goes on to say,  “Also pervasive in the culture of poverty is the sense that time isn’t for measuring, that it occurs only in the present, and that the future exists only as a word.”  Though perhaps somewhat overstated, this certainly struck home with me having now interviewed Rochelle for what will soon be a year. I knew it described much of the thinking in Rochelle’s world.

Ms. Cepeda’s column is titled “Culture of Poverty Shapes Educational Achievement.”  She mentions that her trainer, Ruby Payne, also writes, “Most of what occurs is reactive and in the moment.  Future implications of present actions are seldom considered….devices for organization such as files, planners, etc. don’t exist.”   Well, this was not the first time that I had read about the problem;  however, the column I read was recent. And having read it just after interviewing Rochelle about her lack of planning , it was educational and struck home.  Of course, as Oscar Lewis pointed out more than fifty years ago when he introduced the notion of the culture of poverty, a lack of planning among those who live in this subculture, however maladaptive, is both comprehensible and in the short term, rational.   They know almost no one who has planned carefully and succeeded.  Maybe it works for middle class people, runs their thinking, but not for their friends and family.  And as for delaying gratification in favor of a greater future goal?  That goal will probably never be achieved so you might as well grab what you can right now.  Is it wise?  Of course, not.  But is it understandable?  You bet.   Planning beyond tomorrow will be difficult for Rochelle, but to move forward she will need to see herself in the future and to plan for it.  Luck could happen, but for most people, successful plans are what guide them forward.

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