When I graduated college in May with a degree in Creative Writing, emphasis in Poetry (yes, really) and a minor in Leadership (again, I’m totally serious), I knew that companies would not be pounding down my door, hoping to get a piece of Sam Escobar Brain Action. Sometimes it feels there are more writers than things to write about in the world, so it’s difficult to be particularly sought after the way someone who majored outstandingly in, say, finance at a prestigious school could be.
Indeed, I knew it was unlikely that I would be graduating into a world of success, fame and people clamoring to produce hardcovers filled with my ex-boyfriend anguish and drunk thoughts resulting in widespread Instagrammed photos with my quotes under them. Unfortunately, very few people achieve instant success after graduating college–which many people I knew seemed to believe they would–or even find paying jobs in their field of study.
Right now, I’m not only happily writing online about things I find interesting, I’m also working at a call center. Not like a “tech support” call center; unfortunately, I’m far too inept with most technical stuff to be able to advise others. No, it’s the second most frustrating type of call center: I’m a telecom researcher. The first, of course, is telemarketer because they’re trying to sell you something. I’m simply trying to understand why you bought something or what you think. I call during dinner, I’m sorry in advance, but we get sworn at a lot and paid minimum wage, in the event that makes any angry folks feel better.
And you know what people like to openly think? That I must’ve done something wrong or didn’t yet achieve what I have, thus why I have to work at this job.
Recently, I conducted a survey with a man who agreed to take it, but kept cutting me off whenever I tried to ask questions. I finally asked him if he’d like for me to continue, which he agreed to, but not before condescendingly chuckling, “You’ve gotta go to college somehow, eh, honey?”
Not long after, there was a woman I surveyed who was describing a gift she had given her daughter for graduating college. In an attempt to make happy conversation, I said, “That’s so lovely, my parents did something similar when I finished my Bachelor’s!” The respondent paused, then whispered, “Well, she did really well in school.” Then she whispered, “Fucking loser.”
I finished the survey, primarily trying not to cry, but I was completely taken aback. It was as though people imagined I couldn’t possibly have a job like this if I was a college graduate, which made me wonder if I was performing some form of embarrassing tasks or should be ashamed. Why was my job so easy to disapprove of? What makes you think your daughter won’t be sitting in my chair in a few months? Do you think some 22-year-olds are recession-proof just because they did well in school?
Then I snapped out of it, looked at my co-workers–all of whom are incredibly intelligent, clever and motivated people–and remembered that I had a job. I had a job that I was fucking lucky to have; going to school for four years didn’t mean I somehow deserved a different, more Sam-personalized job. After all, “The world owes you nothing. It was here first.”
But other people have this incredibly warped idea of what makes your job “cool” or “shitty” and what that says about you, which can influence how you feel about yourself.
When older people have shitty jobs, we either feel sorry for them (Wal-Mart greeters) or intensely respect them (“blue collar” workers and whatnot). My dad worked in a horrible factory when he immigrated here and many of my friends’ parents did the same; they all worked hard at unpleasant–but attainable–jobs to get where they needed to be for their children. These days, though, the work that is more easily obtained often involves retail, food service or janitorial work. All of these are jobs that will help to support you or, if need be, your family, but there’s a stigma about doing crappy jobs pervading our generation, as though we are somehow the lucky ones who aren’t “supposed” to work banal, long, repetitive and ill-paying hours.
I’ve noticed a lot of people, particularly women around my age (22), who seem to feel ashamed about their jobs if they’re paid by the hour and/or frequently depend on tipping. Those whom I know that are from other countries rarely feel this way–at least not openly–but it seems that in America, we’re brought up to feel like total failures if we don’t achieve our childhood dreams within the first twenty-five years of life. But ladies and gentlemen: you are not losers for not having achieved your childhood dreams at 25, 35, 65 or otherwise. Your job does not define who you are nor what your value is as a person. It might exemplify certain things you love in life, if you’re lucky as fuck, but it doesn’t prove your value.
I know it’s easy to roll our eyes at any sentence beginning with, “in this economy…” but in this case, it’s the truth: in this economy, this incredibly difficult and harsh period we’re in, there is nothing to be ashamed of when it comes to what job you do (unless your job is somehow cruel to others in which case, uhm, you’re on your own). With an unemployment rate of 12.7% in the 18 – 29 age group, it’s absurd to just consider every person with a minimum wage job to be some sort of deadbeat loser.
Do you flip burgers every day? Who cares! The people at In-N-Out flip burgers and that doesn’t say anything about who they are; all it says is that they got a job involving delicious fries and milkshakes. Do you empty trashcans at night? That doesn’t mean you “didn’t try hard enough”; it means you found a job, congratulations, and that you may work in a generally unpleasant environment serving people who potentially look down on you (I worked in food service all through middle and high school and, my god, people are such dicks to anybody who gives them food… poor move, by the way).
And then, there comes the ultimate shame…
I live with my parents right now. Why? Well, besides some health-related reasons, I simply don’t have enough money to live elsewhere. My parents are very nice people who offered to pay my rent for the first six months of post-college life, but after having them graciously support me during college–though they insisted I have an almost full-time job throughout, as well–I felt like a bit of an asshole asking them to keep giving me money. Granted, they are letting me stay for free, which is essentially like being given rent money, but much less so. I almost never spend money on clothes or makeup, I never go out unless it’s a free activity, and I make sure to help them as frequently as possible so I won’t feel like a bum, nor will they feel like I’m couchsurfing there.
I won’t lie to you: it’s still fucking embarrassing to tell people. Not because I think it’s some shameful thing to do. As a matter of fact, plenty of friends of mine between 21 and 30 still accept or rely on money from their parents, whether it’s because of medical difficulties, car trouble, student loans, rent issues, simple necessities… most have jobs and want to be sufficient (there are those who don’t, but that’s a whole other topic), but have had a lot of difficulty doing so, so their parents generously offer assistance from time to time.
In my opinion, how you make ends meet is up to you. I really respect people who work hard, no matter what the outcome, but I also know that a lot of hardworking parents achieved what they did solely to ensure their children would never have to fear money issues. As of now, I’m saving up to move out in two months and not ask for a dime again (my mom’s a librarian, my dad’s a poker player… even if I wanted to, it’s not an endless well of dinero), but that’s not something I can be certain about.
I do know, however, that I’m comfortable with my situation and work ethic enough to know that assholes on the phone aren’t going to make me feel bad about where I’m at. So if you’re in this same situation and feeling down about it, remember that you are working. You are ambitious. You will get to wherever you need to be going and how you get there is nobody’s business but yours.
Pics via someecards, Jennifer Hudson and Warner Bros.