Off the deep end

Posted by on July 2, 2010 at 5:37 pm.

We live in a society in which our lives are more or less planned out for us until the age of 22 or so:

  • Step one: the basics. Learn to walk, talk, and be nice to people. Easy enough, once you get the hang of it.
  • Step two: go to school every day until you’re 18. While you’re at it, convince the adults there that you’re clever enough to contribute something to society.
  • Step three: get a college degree, no matter what it takes to pay for it. Assuming you want to do anything with your life, that is.

There are, of course, plenty of exceptions to this path. Some drop out of school early to have a baby, get married or join the military (or, in the case of many girls I went to high school with, marry someone in the military and then have a baby). Some people decide to skip college, and somehow (to society’s dismay) manage to lead perfectly fulfilling lives anyway.

I am one of those who dutifully stuck to the path. I’ve spent my whole life so far moving steadily ahead, checking each educational goal off the list and living on minimum wages. Eventually, I was rewarded with a handshake and a piece of paper—and then the sidewalk ended. In front of me is a seemingly bottomless pool of debt and responsibility, and only a vague idea of how I’m supposed to proceed. Get a job? Okay, great. I’ll…get right on that.

A few of my colleagues are already bravely paddling ahead, lucky enough to find a full-time job or paid internship. Others have decided to buy some time (quite literally) by enrolling in graduate school. Many, like me, are still treading water by the edge, making barely enough money to get by (for now), but not ready to go anywhere yet. We’re driven, of course—how else would we have made it this far? We just need a direction to drive in now.

We’re talented but desperate people who have to seem self-assured in order to be taken seriously. We need to seem ambitious, but not too ambitious or they might think we’re after their jobs. We have to have experience, but not too much, or they won’t be able to pay us enough.

In the spirit of networking, I recently talked with a friend of a family friend, who is in the publishing industry. After a pretty helpful and encouraging conversation about the industry and a few interviewing tips, I asked him if he had any other advice as I move ahead with the job search. His response was something like this: “Be prepared to cry yourself to sleep some nights because it just seems so hopeless.”

Well…wow. At least he was honest.

Leave a Reply