As a recent college grad (or maybe just as a Millennial, I’m not sure), I am very brainwashed into this very linear trajectory my life should be taking:
College –> Job –> Marriage/Life/Family/Happiness/Etc
All through school, we looked towards the end game. There was a very specific path I was to follow. Finish college, then get a full-time job. Earning a job in my career field was the light at the end of the tunnel, the yellow tape to run through, the finish line that I was to cross that signaled that my college career, my degree, and all of the blood, sweat and tears over classes to get to the fancy piece of paper at the end would all be worth it.
So much so, that even before returning to Bloomington this past weekend, I was filled with so much anxiety about not having a definitive answer to the question I knew I was going to get:
“So what are you doing now? Where are you working?!”
And I knew that I would get that question by everyone I saw (which I did) because I asked that very question myself to countless people in the years before— I am so, so sorry about, by the way. Because, obviously, what else was the point of the college degree if it didn’t equal a job to help pay back the loans you used to get there?
When I answered that question this weekend, most answers were relatively the same:
“I have a few part time jobs, but I’m living at home for the time being.”
“I got really involved with the organization I interned with over the summer, so I’m working with them and have a few other jobs on the side.”
(and my favorite, which happened while I was slightly intoxicated)
“Oh, ya know, I’m just hanging out.”
Each answer got relatively the same reaction: A very controlled, but somber, head-nodding and a sympathetic reply that basically meant that I did not give them an answer that signaled to them that I had my life in order.
But, when I replied simply “I work for a nonprofit” the reaction was a much happier one, and had no head-nod what so ever. Because they assumed it was a full-time job, one that I had earned with my degree in Public Health. To them, I had reached the destination on the career conveyor belt (Gilmore Girl’s reference) that we are all on.
It has only taken me a few months out of school in my current life situation to realize that this concept of having a career is what validates you as an adult, or functioning member of society.
And how backwards is that?
Our lives should not be controlled by our careers. My life is not validated by having a full time job. My life achievements are not measured by my resume.
How many of us have mothers (or fathers!) that have led entirely fulfilling lives while taking care of their children, making a home and a life for their family, but cast their eyes downward when they talk about their work history? “Oh, I’m just a stay at home parent.”
Or, how many people have you met with the most interesting stories who will sit and tell you all about the numerous jobs they’ve had over their lives, intermixed with the life adventures they have had that have shaped them into being the people they are in that moment you are speaking with them?
Or, how many people do you know that are in jobs they currently hate because it’s their career field, and switching to something else or finding a new job is too daunting of a task?
I’m not saying we don’t all do things that we don’t enjoy to help us pay the bills. I don’t work two part time jobs for fun, I work them because I like food, my phone, my car, and buying lipsticks that are the wrong shade for my face.
It just really sucks to me that this is our approach to things, such as college. A time when we should have been just enjoying learning, broadening our world views, making memories and growing up, we instead viewed as a gateway to something else. And I hate that it took me this long to figure it out, or else I would have taken far more electives in school.
I’m not sure if I’m just having a hippie moment, or if a conversation about the future with a friend yesterday just really did a number on my brain, but I think the bottom line is that there is no right path to follow. Your life does not start after you tick off a task on your “growing up” to-do list. Your life is always happening, and if you love your full time job and that is your life, then great. But if you don’t, and you’re taking your time figuring out what you want to do, that’s also great. Just because you’re not salaried doesn’t mean your life has yet to start.
I just know I don’t want to look back on my life and wish I would have figured this out sooner. I would like to hope my family and friends don’t love me based on my resume, so I should apply the same philosophy to my own view of my life as well.
My happiness should not rest on my job title, but if I am doing something that fulfills me instead. At the end of the day, if the sum of my experiences makes me happy, then that should be all that matters.