So I’ve been officially unemployed for almost two months now.
Now this may not seem like a big deal to some people. Most of the people that I know who feel this way are still in school and continue to feel fairly positive about their prospects after graduation.
I used to be one of these people.
Midway through college, I decided to forgo the route that commands students to attend a higher education institution for the sole purpose of increasing the likelihood of being hired somewhere that will provide benefits for that perfect shiny American family. I thought, Who needs job security? I’m gonna do what I love right now and figure out this American Dream shit later. Fight the man! Non-conformity! And so on . . .
Contrary to popular belief, this is what students of my time are encouraged to do.
The traditional American concept of going to college in order to get a job, while still prevalent in some circles and areas of the world, is in reality more of a dated rule for our parents and grandparents. Back in the day, if you were fortunate enough to go to college (and graduate), there was no doubt that you would land a decent job with benefits that, in addition, required your presence for a long enough time that could allow you to save enough money to raise a family and build a substantial retirement.
From the start of my college education, I have been berated constantly by all sorts of teachers, faculty and other professionals for, it seems, to have even tried to achieve this idea of success passed on to me from my elders. On my first day of school, the faculty from the specialized Liberal Studies program I was a part of opened with the statement, “Welcome to your education: which forces you to pay more for less.” We were taught that no matter our major or our circumstances, our education would never be as valuable as we were promised and that it was likely that we would continue to struggle for stability for a long time to come. I, along with my peers, began to understand that we, as students, had no chances, no prospects, and no real hope for our futures.
At the same time, perhaps in an effort to ease our newfound pessimism towards the future, the same Liberal Arts campus also supplied its students plenty of propaganda encouraging us work around these jobs for which we would never qualify:
“Don’t like the current system? Create an alternative system!”
“Can’t find a job in your limited area of study? Become an entrepreneur in your field!”
“Didn’t quite learn enough the first time around? Check out our grad school programs!”
Well, I ate this crap right up.
Convinced that I would never be able to attain true happiness through the traditional route, combined with the excitement that I could create for myself any occupation that I desired (which would of course be way more fulfilling and exciting than any job already out there), I made the decision to major in both Liberal Studies and History. You know, for funzies. I loved how the creative, discussion-based atmosphere of Liberal Arts and the structural, research-based knowledge I gained from History complimented each other. I enjoyed it so much, in fact, that every time someone called me out for not having any remote idea of what I would “do” with these degrees, I would simply reply, “I don’t know, but I’m gonna be happy ‘doing’ whatever it is.”
So now, two months later, here I sit in coffee shop trying to articulate my recent graduate woes, living off my boyfriend in a city that I don’t know or understand. People constantly tell me that I should really just try to enjoy this time off.
“Sleep in!” “Do some art and discover your creative side!” “Get in shape!” “Find yourself.”
Although I have definitely followed much of this advice, it honestly never occurred to me that “finding myself” could remain a priority after graduation. In fact, almost every article and blog I see catered to people my age tell me that discovering oneself is what college is for. Well, that and traveling. Which is pretty difficult to accomplish outside of college and without a job and the money that comes with it. And, in all honesty, the idea of learning more about myself during my peak of un-productivity is a bit scary.
Despite the fact that it has only been two months, as someone who has always had a job and earned money of my own, I can’t help but feel a little bitter towards “The System” and “The Man.” This system has taught myself and my generation to always remain busy. If you can’t find a permanent job, find a temporary internship, regardless if it pays or not. If you can’t find an internship, volunteer. If you can’t find a volunteer program suited to you, make your own. Because everything you do now (or don’t do) will affect your prospects in the future. Etc. I have been conditioned to know that if I don’t remain busy, employers will notice the time gap and assume that I am either lazy or perhaps went to rehab or participated in some other vacation from reality and, subsequently, from responsibility.
However, everyone I meet here in Merced is still so hopeful about their future. I can’t tell if it’s because everyone here studies math, science, and engineering (which are the only areas of study that actually guarantee students a job) or if maybe this optimism is due to the fact that they have not yet graduated and tried to find non-fast-food or off-campus jobs, but the positivity inspires me nonetheless. So in spite of my trained hopelessness and reluctancy to do for things for myself, I’m slowly opening up to the idea that this (hopefully) temporary unemployment could be good for me. And hey, if it does end up becoming a healthy and nurturing experience, perhaps I can instill some hope in other disgruntled graduates. Or not. Guess we’ll have to see.