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Thoughts on Work

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Image from here.
 I've been thinking a lot about work lately -- as most people in my age bracket usually are. Whether we're the ambitious, go-getter types or just trying to land a job to keep us afloat, our careers (or lack-thereof) weigh heavily on all of us recent grads. I ran across an article in the Washingtonian the other day that really spoke to this. The title was a real kicker: "Are Twentysomethings Expecting Too Much?" Are we? And if so, what do we do about it?

Author Hannah Seligson looked to generations past and compared their attitudes on work. Our parents and grandparents and great-grandparents weren't necessarily raised to believe there was an endless supply of dreams and choices and jobs out there for them. They may not have had the belief from early on that all doors were open to them if they just worked hard and got a good education. Look at your mothers and grandmothers -- how many opportunities did they really have? Teacher, secretary, nurse.... the list was pretty slim. Nowadays, we have the opposite phenomenon. Kids are raised to believe that they can be anything they set their mind to, and parents elevate those dreams even higher. Want to be a nurse; why not a surgeon? Like art- be a world-famous painter! Want to just have fun and get by?
Well, that's not an option.

Most people would argue that our horde of choices is a good thing, but as we've come to realise, once you get out into that jungle of options and opportunities life can get pretty confusing. And while you are working to cross options off your list based on your talents and interests, the economy is throwing its hand in too, crossing off more options - whether you like them or not. Now is not the time to be a successful non-profit worker, educator, or even stockbroker. So now, you're a college-grad, under-employed in a job that wastes your talents and you still don't know what you would do if you did have the opportunity to do something great. Kind of puts a huge pit in your stomach, right?

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From here, via Pinterest.
 According to Seligson, twentysomthings are "trying to make good use of their expensive college degrees, and along the way they’re asking themselves: Is this all I can expect from my diploma? Shouldn’t work be fulfilling? How do I make it in a world where career paths are no longer linear, with so many options and so little job security?" Um, yes, yes, and yes. That is exactly what I am asking myself. It's pretty hard to stomach paying upwards of 100 grand for an education and working an entry-level job three years later. Even harder if you're still paying off that 100 grand.

The article goes on to tell the stories of some of our contemporaries. Take Scott. He got into an elite school, an achievement that gave him a "messiah" complex - he got in where thousands failed to.
But then he graduated. 
"No one was hiring. His liberal-arts degree was useless. 'It felt like a real fall from grace,' Scott tells me. His messiah complex was eradicated by a string of rejection letters. 'It was tough being unemployed, but it was also one of the best experiences because it forced me to think about my identity as something that didn’t just revolve around achieving,' Scott says.
'That’s not a real identity.'”
Illustrations by Jesse Lenz
Are these our Demands? from here.
But that spawns another conundrum. If we are no longer all wound up in our need to achieve, and therefore seek more intrinsic rewards from our professions, where are the jobs that meet our requirements? Seligson says twentysomethings have become "evangelical" about life work balance and finding meaning in our work. But do those jobs really exist ... or are they just an urban work legend?

Naturally, there are unique challenges for women.
83% of women in the US, the UK, Japan, France, and Brazil believe they are expected to achieve more than the women of previous generations. "As Courtney E. Martin put it in her book Perfect Girls, Starving Daughters, 'We are the daughters of feminists who said ‘You can be anything’ and we heard ‘You have to be everything.’ ” So true. And, if you're thinking about starting a family, take note of this - most young women plan to start a family at about the same time their careers will start to peak (early to mid-30s.) So when we are busiest at work we will also be busiest at home.

I don't mean for this to be Debbie Downer post; in fact, I found this article really comforting. There are others, hundreds of thousands of others, out there feeling exactly the same way I am. So maybe I'm not doing something wrong - or if I am, at least I can blame it on the influence and pressures of my generation. Experts say the key is to moderate our expectations; many choose to hide in grad school for as long as possible. Me, I've decided to ride it out for a while and see where the wind takes me. My only concrete life plan ended after graduating college; as of now, the future is pretty indistinct. 
And that's been kind of a nice change.

Stay strong, twentysomethings, we'll find a way somehow.


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