The Lucky, Unglamorous, Out-of-College Job of Your 22 Year-Old Self

“The rabbit-hole went straight on like a tunnel for some way, and then dipped suddenly down, so suddenly that Alice had not a moment to think about stopping herself before she found herself falling down what seemed to be a very deep well.”-Lewis Carrol. Surprisingly applicable.

You’re at your friend’s party, they’re moving to the Bay Area for a job with an impressive title and an even more impressive paycheck with a large tech company. Everyone oohs and ahs at the exciting details of his new job and the condo he put a down payment on. Then they start talking about their jobs with various biotech firms, research labs, or the graduate schools they’ve gotten into and will be starting after their summer backpacking through Europe and Asia. Finally, someone asks you. “Don’t you have a job?”

And your heart starts to beat rapidly and you can feel the flush creeping across your face.

“Um, it’s a lower management position with [insert retail job here].”

“Oh,” They say, obviously unimpressed. “I always thought you wanted to [insert your dream job] .”

Of course, that’s what you’d rather do; however, unlike everyone in the room you barely scraped out a 3.0. And every internship that would’ve opened the right doors for your dream job wanted you to have a 3.5 or above. It also rules out grad school, for that prolonged safety net effect. If only you’d gone to a different university, one which hadn’t forced you to take so many science courses you barely understood, you could’ve had those opportunities. But you didn’t.

You applied for those jobs, but they turned you down so soon you knew they didn’t bother to read your letters of recommendation or references. You didn’t have the right experience for them. So now you need some sort of experience in management with consumer relations or sales so that you can angle your way into a different department and maybe eventually get bumped into the job you want. But that’s a long shot, and in your heart of hearts, you know it.

Eventually, the conversation turns and people start talking about that one time where R put his head in a fish bowl and they thought they’d have to go to the emergency room. Everyone laughs, but you don’t quite feel it. For the rest of the night, you try to shake the feeling that you should be doing more with your time. But the opportunities are not endless and you have to make rent.

The conversation turns back to two of your friends, they’ve been dating for four years and have decided to move in together. He’s in his final quarter of school and she graduated early. She currently has one part-time job as a research assistant in a lab she loves, but she has been looking for a second job in order to be able to make ends meet. He already has offers from a couple engineering firms in the area and will be making 6 figures out of college.

“You’re lucky,” she turns to you and says. “It’s hard to find a job right now.”

And she’s right. The first month and a half out of college you applied to a variety of job in a panic. You were about to start applying for part time jobs waitressing and in retail because your parents were starting to get antsy.

“We love you, and we’ll support you, but when your lease is up you should come home.”

You heard this often. You recognize you’re so damn lucky to have parents who can afford to support you while you look for work in an expensive city, but the clock was starting to run out before your obligation to go to your hometown, a place you never quite fit in. No, going home was never an option.

Your mother says that it’s fine, she was in the same boat before she met your father. That one day you will meet someone and everything will fall into place. She says that it’s a great area with good friends and that you should do what you need to do to stay out there because you’re happy. But your years in the South taught you she expects you to meet a doctor or a lawyer or an engineer and marry. So you can quit your job and pursue your passions on his dime. Bless her heart.

But it’s still not your passion. Between your engineering friends and science friends, all you hear is about how they are working on their passion project at work or were hired for it. And you’re glad for them, but it makes your job feel dirtier and dirtier. The songs all talk about how one shouldn’t “do it for the money” or “grow old” and start a suit-based job. Isn’t that exactly what you’re doing?

You remember a drunken conversation you had with a good friend of yours that you wish was more than a friend about being so broke and hungry he’d donated blood or platelets in order to eat that day. And you feel grateful again because your job covers all your bills and rent and food with some left over for retirement and fun things you enjoy. Some you might even set aside so you can go on one of those nice vacations everyone seems to be sending their college graduate kids on. And while it’s a bit more than 9–5, you’ve found your stride for after work so you can maximize what you want to do with work. Plus the overtime is nice.

And you still apply to internships with reputable people, hoping that maybe one of them will agree to take you on. Until the day where you interview with an agent like The Dread Pirate Roberts, “I’ll probably fire you in the morning.” And she doesn’t.

You remind yourself that you can always apply for other jobs and when you find one quit if you’re that unhappy. Again, you need experience and this seems to be the only way to get it. But you keep your eyes open, only applying for ones that will move you in the right direction.

And for now, at this party, you keep your head up because you know that this job is the only thing that allowed you to go in the first place. That you do more than just your job. And that it is just a job.