I Am Not My Job

Living and working in Washington, DC means that you will encounter one question each and every day, from every possible person you meet – Who do you work for?  You might get a slight variation but it’s almost always phrased it this exact way.  In the District, everybody works for somebody and is trying to work for somebody else.

I tired of this question about two hours after moving here.  Perhaps it is because the effects of the recession have not been felt as deeply here, insulated by layers of government pork, but the job chatter is absolutely non-stopping.  I was absolutely floored last week at a birthday happy hour for a friend when her young, idealistic sublet-er talked at length about his work, not his actual job.  It was so refreshing in its naivety and enthusiasm, I almost felt like a person again.

Over at Huffington Post, Marlise Karlin posits that being unemployed, for a lot of people, can be a very positive experience and I think this blog is a testament to that.  Without having a job to define you, you are forced to start defining yourself in a way that you probably never had to before.  I was thinking back to a post from last year, where I discussed how weird it was to introduce myself to people without having the easy signifier of an occupation, but now I wonder if we’d all be a little better off if we didn’t identify our jobs at all.

I’ve been thinking about the young man from happy hour last week a lot.  He seemed so passionate about the civic-minded work they were doing and was so eager to integrate his own skills and loves into his day-to-day work experience.  He was such a stark contrast to me, where I believe very deeply in the work we do but get bogged down in the realities of my day-to-day job.  I’m been playing around with a post about the struggle between a cause you support and a job that drives you insane but this kid, full of freshly postcollegiate energy, made me wonder if I’ve grown a little too cynical about as of late.

New mantra for the week – I am not my job.  I am not my job.  I am not my job.

Teach Them Well And Let Them Lead The Way

You may remember the witty and erudite Kate Golcheski from her Post-Collegiate Profile in Courage a few weeks ago.  Kate is currently student teaching and has a great blog about her adventures with 6th graders.

Hey Ma, Look What I Did!

For anyone considering going into education (or currently on track to be a teacher), this is a great real-life perspective on what it’s like to be in the classroom as well as just a fun look at grad student life.  Kate takes questions here – if there was ever a question you wanted to know about what teachers really think, this is the place to ask it!


A Kinder, Gentler Philosophy Of Success

I’m a big fan of TED (Technology, Entertainment, and Design) talks.  The concept of disseminating ideas worth spreading seems tailor-made for my liberal college-educated self.  In July 2009, author and modern philosopher Alain de Botton gave a talk on redefining success, something that seems to be a continual theme on this blog.

De Botton is an interesting creature.  His career took a turn when he wrote his first self-help essay in 1997, entitled How Proust Can Change Your Life, and began exploring some of the key questions of modern life – Am I happy?  Where do I stand in?  What kind of life am I choosing to lead and why?  His most recent book, The Pleasure and Sorrows of Work, explores ten different careers and is an extremely interesting and well-written analysis of the modern workplace.  He also founded the School of Life in London, which has the mission of making learning and therapy relevant to today’s culture.  In general, he wants people to live wisely and well.

In his TED talk, De Botton opens with an exploration something that seems to be key to most of us – career anxiety and crisis.  He keenly acknoweledges that for many of us, it’s a first world problem:  we have the ability to make a good living, but doing what? Is it fulfilling?  Is it financially rewarding – but not too rewarding so as to make us feel guilty?  What will others think of my job?  As he says,

But I think that we live in an age when our lives are regularly punctuated by career crises, by moments when what we thought we knew, about our lives, about our careers, comes into contact with a threatening sort of reality.

He goes on to discuss job snobbery, something I am incredibly familiar with.  That all-encompassing sense of dread when someone asks “what do you do” and then you have to watch the inevitable look of disappointment when you tell them you’re between jobs or temping or working part-time in retail or stuck in a dead-end job.  De Botton ties this not to an implicit interest in jobs as a way to obtain material wealth but instead posits that we want high-paying jobs (and want to associate with people who have high-paying jobs) because:

…we live in a society which has simply pegged certain emotional rewards to the acquisition of material goods. It’s not the material goods we want. It’s the rewards we want.

De Botton touches on another theme that’s relevant in the life of 20-somethings, as evidenced in the New York Times article posted last week, and that’s the pressure of trying to have it all and do it all.  He talks about the dangers of a living in a meritocracy, where we believe that anyone with enough pluck and personality can rise to the top and the people who are at the bottom deserve to be there.  As he points out, this is a lot of pressure to put on people, especially emerging adults:

There is a real correlationship, a real correlation between a society that tells people that they can do anything, and the existence of low self-esteem.

He goes on to discuss the word success and makes an observation that I find brilliant – success is easy to define on the surface.  Describe someone or something as successful and a picture will enter your mind – possibly a different picture for every person you act.  That’s the part that’s less easy – if success can be all things, then it’s impossible to be successful because you cannot have it all. We should stop trying to.  As he concludes,

So what I want to argue for, is not that we should give up on our ideas of success. But we should make sure that they are our own. We should focus in on our ideas. And make sure that we own them, that we are truly the authors of our own ambitions. Because it’s bad enough, not getting what you want. But it’s even worse to have an idea of what it is you want, and find out at the end of a journey, that it isn’t, in fact, what you wanted all along.

You can watch the entire TED talk here with an interactive transcript.

Your Words: How I Quit My Job That One Time

When I was 27, I had been working at a big media company for three years, focusing on what was then called “online community” and is now known as “social media” because they figured out that “online community” didn’t make any money.  I had my own office on a very high floor.  I had a generous travel and entertainment budget (the mid-90s were awesome) [Ed. note:  Truly unfair for those of us still toiling away at secondary education during such a time.]  I hired some fantastic people.  I had a great relationship with the head of the online division, who told me the company would pay for me to get my MBA.

The leadership of the company changed.  We all got reorganized.  I was dispatched to a new magazine for teens, supposedly working on its online content but really just sending mildly pornographic IMs back and forth with my fellow reorg victim while we waited for something to happen.  The head of the online division wouldn’t return my calls and was never available to meet with me.  I got a new boss, one who didn’t delegate anything and didn’t invite me to meetings and didn’t copy me on status reports: all things that sound trivial, but in a workplace, that kind of behavior can make someone invisible.

I spent two months doing nothing all day, then going home to cry to my roommate.  I didn’t start looking for a new job because obviously I wasn’t the kind of person anyone would want to hire — if I were, then why would the company I’d worked so hard for be freezing me out?  I ate a lot of cheese and drank a lot of beer.

And then one day in January, sitting at my desk in the mostly-empty bullpen, I IMed my fellow reorg victim: I need to get out of here.

Lunch? he sent back.

No, I mean I need to GET OUT.

I got up, walked over to my boss’s desk, waited for her to acknowledge that I was standing there, and said: I don’t think this is working out.  Do you want me to work through my notice period?

Honestly, she looked at me as though she’d never seen me before. After a minute she said no, and I got my bag and walked out.

I spent a week sleeping till ten, pretty much paralyzed with fear.  My roommate, who hated HIS job, told me to shut up and enjoy my freedom while it lasted; he had a point.  The next week I borrowed a car and went on a solo road trip.  The third week I started making some calls to industry acquaintances, some of whom believed I was actually employable.  I was shocked.  The fourth week I got a new job — one that was lucrative and ended up eating my soul, but was a hugely valuable experience anyway.  I switched careers eventually, and then took a few years off to have babies.  I’m not at all sure what I’ll do when I go back to work.  But the benefit of having had a couple of agonizing work experiences is that I know now that nothing is permanent, no job or career should define me, and if I keep an open mind and can psych myself up enough to take some risks, there are a lot of opportunities out there.  Also, I shouldn’t have eaten so much cheese.

Many thanks to the anonymous reader who submitted this real life tale!  Want to share your experience?  Drop us at email at postcollegiateblog [at] gmail [dotcom].  Cheese references not required but encouraged.

Generation Now

I admire the heck out what many of my fellow Gen-Yers have accomplished, but this “now, now, now” attitude is brainwashing us to think that if you’re doing ANYTHING less than your most idealistic dream, you’re “settling”. – Matt Cheuvront, Life Without Pants

I would like to give Matt a standing ovation for that sentiment.  I find myself overwhelmed with what our generation has accomplished – take a look at the number of under-30s who work in Barack Obama’s administration or the young entrepreneurs who are transforming the way we use the Internet.

Even on a “closer to home” scale, I find that there’s a perception that our generation has everything it needs in terms of technology, access, and skills to pursue any dream, so why waste your time doing something else?  The idea that if you aren’t pursuing your passion every second of every day right now means you’re settling is obnoxious.  As Matt mentions in his post, settling is an ugly word and should be banished from our vocabularies.  I couldn’t agree more.

The pressure that I feel – and I think of a lot of you feel too – isn’t internal; it’s external.  We have to stop comparing ourselves to every 22, 25, or 29 year old that’s achieved their career goals.  We have to realize that not everything happens in 140 characters.  We have to embrace the reality that while technology moves at the speed of light, our lives do not.  As far as I’m concerned, the only imperative I have right now is to persevere each day and have a little fun while doing it.

The Dreaded Job Envy

O! beware, my lord, of jealousy;
It is the green-eyed monster which doth mock
The meat it feeds on.
~William Shakespeare, Othello

My first blog topic request!  Reader Aught Nine Grad wrote with the following question:

How common is job envy?  I find myself constantly checking my friend’s Facebook pages to see where they’re working, if they love their jobs, etc.  It seems like everyone has a better job situation than mine.

I’m going to go out on a limb and say that most of us wandering through our 20’s have, at one time or another, been envious.  Despite having heeded the lessons of Othello, I certainly strive to live a life free of jealousy but it’s difficult.  Living in the digital age, with so many people sharing so much information through social networks, it’s easier than ever to get insight into people’s careers and how they deal with them.  When other people are happy, fulfilled, and successful (oh that word…) and you don’t feel that way, envy can breed.

It can be easy to sit at home, wishing you were that girl you went to high school with who now has the glamorous, big city job or your best friend from college who received a prestigious research grant and is going to save the world.  I have friends across the country with a wide variety of jobs and careers, some of wish I’d never want to pursue, but many which get me thinking, “If only I had that job.  If only I was smart enough, determined enough, lucky enough to score that gig.”

The thing is, jealousy is not productive.  Some people may attest that jealousy can spark productive action, encourage you to take a leap.  That sounds like an urban legend to me – reread Othello and tell me how being spurred to action worked there!  A wise group of women taught me that jealousy will get you nowhere. I’m not saying you’ll never be jealous: you will.  I’m not saying that people who get jealous are bad people: we aren’t.  Just remember to keep a little perspective.  I believe, Aught Nine Grad, that the perfect job is out there for you – the kind of job that will stir a little envy in the hearts of others even.  Finally, remember that jobs are not set in stone – if you’re in a job situation that doesn’t work for you, find one that does!