I just graduated from a top American university. This is why I’m not looking for a full time job.
(Well, at least not yet. As determined as I am to evade traditional social pressures, I have come to terms with the fact that I can’t escape the dreaded System forever.)
Before you start making any judgments about me and my generation, let me begin this essay by predicting some criticisms and offering a few defensive disclaimers.
You might be thinking: given the dismal job market, she probably just couldn’t get a job. Well, to be honest, I didn’t exactly look for a job. I skipped all those recruiting fairs. Neglected my LinkedIn. Believe it or not (I can barely believe it myself, much less my parents), I actually turned down more than one job offer to get to my current nomadic state.
Now, you might think: she must be another spoiled millennial, flaunting how she can afford to have a choice to postpone working. While I am fully aware of my privileges as a child of middle class America, I am far from immune from economic pressures. My time off has been carefully calculated to be within budget. My budget, that is, not my parents’. I juggled over 40 hrs/wk of work during college to save up to fund my own post-grad adventures.
And, just for the record, my parents weren’t particularly charmed by my decision to put off life. Faced with questions from their peers on why their daughter didn’t have a job secured (and is therefore, according to traditional tropes of success, a failure), they were more than mildly concerned. I had to convince them that I have the plans and the means to do this independently. I also had to convince myself that I’ll make my parents proud eventually, but right now I need to do this for me.
So why am I not looking for a full-time job? The easy answer is freedom. This is the first time I’ve been free from school since my toddler days, and I’m not about to give it up so readily, not when off-season plane tickets have such alluring prices.
There is a degree of freedom that you give up once you graduate. The freedom of manipulating your schedule. The freedom of ditching class (a freedom I exercised more frequently than I care to admit). The freedom of constantly moving from one place to the next, scheduling meetings in between classes, utilizing down time to catch up on work and keeping track of an ever-changing routine. The freedom of living a hectic lifestyle by choice, and doing things — or not doing things — because I could.
People say school is the easy part. Those people probably didn’t juggle 22 units on the UC quarter system with 40+ hours of work and internships each week in addition to miscellaneous extracurricular and volunteer responsibilities (yes, my classes often overlapped and yes, I would regularly ditch classes to go work/intern). Since sophomore year, I’ve jumped from job to job every term (I filed 5 W-2’s in 2015 alone). I worked two jobs while tackling a surprise independent research thesis my last quarter. By the time I finished school, I barely remembered what free time felt like. Sure, I don’t have a mortgage looming overhead, but adult life really can’t be much more hectic than being a full-time student while working full-time hours. So forgive me for wanting to hold on to this newfound freedom for as long as I can.
But the answer isn’t that simple.
To some extent, I can blame my generation. We millennials think the world is in our hands and that we live to dissent from constraining social standards and to rewrite the rules.
Sometimes, I feel like I don’t fit the millennial label at all. I prefer writing to typing, a notebook planner to a productivity app. I would rather spend a day wandering through a bookstore than surfing the web. And I make it a point to read the New York Times more often than BuzzFeed. But there is one part of me that undeniably screams millennial college student/graduate: my attitude. I’d like to think of myself as more practical than most, but I can’t help but buy into that romanticized headstrong belief that if I try hard enough, I can pave the path to whatever future I can dream up.
Maybe it’s because I was educated in the 21st century. Maybe it’s because I attended a public university in California. Maybe it’s because I’m a woman and a first-generation American and, God forbid, a creative. I have been thoroughly brainwashed to think that anything is possible. Like every generation of twenty-something year olds before me, I have this crazy idea that I don’t need to go with “the System,” that I can create my own future and do whatever my heart desires.
But this crazy idea is grounded in some truth. Like it or not, we currently live in a reality where people can make a successful living out of talking to their camera in their bedroom and offices have been traded for coffee shops. In many ways, the rules have been rewritten. One thing that I love about my generation is our ability to look past practicality in favor of passion; our determination to see things differently and to seek something that is fulfills our hearts while filling our wallets, finding a way to reconcile dreams and goals. My parents always say, finding a job is lucky, finding a job you love is more than you can ask for. But what if it isn’t? What if we all make up our minds to do what we love in a sustainable way? Would we avoid mid-life crises? Would we be happier in the long run?
College is at its core a community of creators: bringing ideas to life, and asking questions rather than accepting reality. As students, we ignore limits and demand progress. This mentality is prolonged in the Internet age, when we can continue to seek answers, generate discussions, build connections and support passions in an ever-present virtual classroom. There is an undeniably high profile community of technology-literate millennials creating and curating messages we believe are important in fresh and viral ways. When there is so much opportunity, how can I bring myself to conform to last generation’s molds?
To some extent, I blame California. Home of Silicon Valley and Hollywood, the West Coast celebrates an entrepreneurial creative spirit that values the freedom of working in yoga pants and avoiding rush hour traffic more than traditional financial security. Like the cowboys of the Wild West, the expansive frontier of possibility is captured in the start-up culture and the unlimited freedom is exalted in the allure of freelance opportunities.
While our East Coast counterparts dutifully secure competitive entry-level jobs in finance long before picking up their liberal arts diplomas, we students of the West stumble through college and often actually seek to meander in the world of start-ups and non-profits, persistently pursuing impractical passions and flirt with fleeting ideas while dodging the 9 to 6 drill. And I have been brainwashed to think that that is ok. More than ok: that that is something to aspire to and celebrate. So thoroughly, in fact, that I feel basically no pressure to even start a job hunt. So thoroughly, in fact, that I would feel judged to accept a “normal” corporate life. Why settle for normal when you can have exciting? Why eat pack breakfast for the commute when you can make a brunch meeting? Why give up the freedom to take ownership and do something amazing to work for someone else? In 2016, work and life don’t need to be mutually exclusive entities and I’m not looking for a full-time job because I want to first give myself a chance to figure out how I can reconcile it for me.
Perhaps, more so than the desire to make my own future is the fear of succumbing to the future that the System has laid out for me. After 16 consecutive years in the highly bureaucratic American public school system, can you blame me for needing a break before becoming yet another pawn in an all-encompassing System?
For as long as I can remember, the next step was always certain. Preparing for the next grade, for high school, for college. The scary part is that I didn’t even realize how well integrated I was into this terribly unhealthy system (re: college apps) that dominated every aspect my life to the point where options that diverge from the paved path never even crossed my mind. For the first time ever, I have been able to make a decision on my own to not charge on towards the next step. And it’s socially acceptable to do so. A weight that I never realized was there, gone.
Why do I despise the System? Many reasons. But the short answer is, I don’t. I have gone through enough education to know that the convoluted bureaucracy that puts down women and minorities and starves hardworking people and rewards despicable people is inevitable. I know that even if legislation is passed, society is always a step behind in adapting, and culture evolves slowly when catching up. But despite all this, I don’t hate the System. I hate what it perpetuates, but I accept it as an inescapable reality that needs time to mold.
That being said, I fear the System. I fear the lack of humanity, personality. When people work together, we can achieve great things. But what is an individual in the scope of the bureaucracy? My worst fear is to be stuck at a desk doing something that I couldn’t give two shits about for 40 hours a week and knowing that nothing would happen even if I stopped. Is it too much to ask to feel like I’m doing something that matters? Is it too much to ask to feel a connection to society and people and culture; to create and bring ideas to life every day as a part of my job? I’m too young to settle. I deserve to have a chance to dedicate myself to drawing my own path, even if that just means kickstarting a passion project.
As a creative human who has always limited art to hobbies, I need time to figure out myself and my aspirations. I had a mini quarter-life crisis when I realized that I need creativity to play a major role in my life to stay sane. Before that, I felt unqualified to be artsy professionally. And before that, I felt insecure to get formal training to be qualified in the first place. Now, with so many creative success stories out there, I have inspiration and models to study on my path to reconciling my passions into viable projects. I need time weasel myself into this global community of creators.
Speaking of life crises, a major influencing factor in my decision to deflect comes from other people’s mid-life crises. Gathering advice from professionals who I truly look up to, so many mentors implored me to do things now. To travel, to follow your dream, to volunteer, to live abroad; because there is always time to work later, but never time justified to do these things once “life” begins. My hesitations faded away with each piece of advice validating my choice. I don’t want to have regrets later on. Knowing me, if I start working, I’ll have a hard time stepping away. So to some extent, it’s now or never.
There’s something different about traveling when you’re young. There’s also something different about living abroad, rather than vacationing. I’ve never been too fond of vacationing. I like to get to know a place (the good and the bad), I like to feel foreign streets become familiar, to find my favorite spot, to create another home far away, to feel connected and disconnected all at the same time.
After spending three and a half years living in a (albeit educated) bubble, I have this urge to go out and forge connections. To become a global citizen, to learn and try to understand as a student of the world. To inspire and be inspired, to expand my horizons, push my boundaries, examine my prejudices and reshape my perspectives. After writing a thesis on the impact of digital media on global issues like terrorism, I’ve become obsessed with how the world is interconnected, how communication at every level (from interpersonal conversations to viral media messages) can deconstruct walls and how conversation can spark revolutions.
It seems slightly counterintuitive, but by distancing myself from my own “reality,” I can get in touch with the real reality, the one that is easy to ignore in the midst of my personal day to day obstacles. I want to dispel the terrible reputation of self-centered millennials by caring. About things that don’t directly affect me, but affect millions of others. About the things that won’t show up in your newsfeed, not even in the form of an Upworthy video. About the things that you only see by going somewhere and opening your mind and heart to understand at a deeper level. I want to defy social media activism by gathering wisdom through stories, and becoming more aware about who I am in the grand scope of things and how I can be a positive impact for the global community.
In some sense, I guess I’m looking for a reality check. To get perspective, to understand my own privilege. UCLA, Los Angeles, Hollywood — I come from the factory of global culture. Before committing myself to this world, I want to see the breadth of its influence, the repercussions of globalization. I want to see the good and the bad, and understand my place in it all. I’m already becoming acutely aware that with my diploma in hand, even while jobless, I’m already in the top 1% of the world. I want this reality check to guide my life decisions and shape my aspirations.
A caveat. Might I say that being jobless isn’t such a breeze? Anyone that knows me can tell you that I’m not the carefree type who can simply go play for the sake of playing. To be clear, while I’m not committing to a 9–5 (let’s be real, probably more like 9–7) cubicle routine, I am finding ways to value productivity while rebelling against society’s definition of productivity. What does that mean? Basically, a lot of freelance work and volunteering, staying connected at home while forging new connections abroad. And learning at every opportunity.
You see, here’s the thing. I know my priorities. Money, surprisingly, is not one of them. Success, in the traditional social definition, isn’t too high up there either. Seeing the world, making it better, connecting people, learning cultures and living are. So for now, my office and my classroom is everywhere and anywhere.
Now, all of this is not to say that I plan to go on and wander forever. But that I know I need to give myself time. Half a year, maybe. A year, tops. Then, I’ll come back and spend whatever money I have left on grad school applications. Or perhaps I’ll “settle down” and obediently go search for a job and become a real adult with a real career. Either way, I’ll be a different person by that time. But no promises. Because who knows? Anything can happen in the meantime.
Originally published at ephemeralreverie.com on January 10, 2016.