Spring marks that time of year when twenty-somethings all over the world start to develop anxiety disorders. College is over and the Real World awaits—the sharpest of double-edged swords. You’re free from school, for the first time since you were five. But the working world is just around the bend—and it smells fresh blood.
Many of you readers probably spent four years at a college that championed individuality, creativity, and passion. But that’s not really what the Real World has at the top of its To Do list. When I graduated I was told to pursue my dreams, but no one added that hardly anyone wants to hire a dreamer. I was urged to make art and hike the trails abroad, but no one gave tips on how to land a day job that pays the bills. I was told to continue honing my mind, but that don’t necessarily bring in the bones. So unless you’re coming from a vocational school or have serious connects (which, by the way, don’t always get you where you want to go), it’s quite possible that upon graduating, you feel as I did: hung out to dry by your inside-out pockets. And it’s true what they say—the job market sucks out there. But that might actually be in your favor. Here’s why.
It buys you time. The economic recession means less work is available, so it’s harder than ever to find a “career” right away. This means more time to sink into life after college, which is never a bad thing, and part time work doesn’t bear the weight of commitment or sacrifice an entry level office job you hate does (which, incidentally, may pay even less.)
There’s a climate of re-evaluation. These days everything seems ripe with reflection, and even those with steady work are forced to reconsider their values, as it could all be ripped from them at any time. What can they afford, and what can they live without? What’s Plan B? Suffice it to say, you’re not alone in the search for purpose. Many people are starting over right now.
It will force you to be imaginative. There are a million things one can do in the world, many of which you may not have considered before. A stressed economy calls for more ingenuity amongst its inhabitants, which can lead you (albeit perhaps using stranger paths) to your own “niche.” Not to mention the local, small business opportunities that pop up in times like these.
This, of course, does not take fully into account those who may need to find work to feed their families, or to pay off massive loans. Money is important, and we need it to survive in the world as it is now. But there are ways we can go about making money that are less…soul crushing, according to some.
Writer Dave Pollard, in Finding the Sweet Spot: The Natural Entrepreneur’s Guide to Responsible, Sustainable, Joyful Work, offers graduates (and other people beginning new careers) real advice on how to approach the job market, in a way that honors one’s own passions first and foremost. Pollard says we should not dread going to work, and that it is possible to find our truest profession by combining our gifts, passions, and purpose. What a concept: to be able to enjoy one’s life, if given the opportunity. To find our “sweet spot” as Pollard calls it, where there is an intersection between what we love to do, and our work. Many cynics will say this is impossible. Don’t listen to them.
In my first years out of college, I believed the options were artist or office (and I had to choose the latter to pay the bills.) Not that the two years I spent in urban office land were torture—I was healthy and my rent got paid—but when you spend eight hours a day doing something that isn’t in line with your true nature, it wears on you, and fast. And while true, if you’re lucky enough to have gone to college to begin with, it makes sense to honor the many doors a degree can open; but you can get sucked into the grind without knowing it. I know people who say, “I woke up fifty years later and wondered what I did with my life.” I didn’t want to be one of these people. Life’s too short.
Six months ago, I decided it was time to change everything. During the most historic presidential election of my lifetime, in the throes of the worst economic recession since the Great Depression, at the emotional peak (or precipice) of my mid-twenties, from the mean streets of New York City—a Greenwich Village apartment, a big job in publishing, and mounting debt—I left my job (an ugly scenario), packed up my life into a friend’s pickup truck, and moved to the middle of rural Vermont. I didn’t have a car, or a clue what I would do when I got there. I went from assisting one of the most powerful literary agents in the world, to being unemployed in the middle of a hay field. But by choice. And most importantly, I had no job waiting for me on the other end.
Why did I do this? While living in the city, I didn’t wake up feeling good about my life. I didn’t believe in my job; I felt like a corporate machine, and I wanted to be a writer. I felt disconnected from my body, alienated from my community (which felt illusory and fractured to begin with), and to be frank, not sure what it was that made me feel human. I’d worked one summer on a farm during college, and loved it. And even though I was conference calling with Pulitzer Prize winning authors, and handling book contracts with world leaders, I thought about farming and writing all the time (I did write a little too, found NYC very distracting.) I was depressed. I google image searched pictures of mountains and lakes. I lay up nights fantasizing about one day living a full life, within my means, where I might wake up excited about the day, where I could work the land, and where I could write. “Dream on, sister!” Is what I heard. Snap out of the fantasy. So I resigned to the thought, I guess everyone hates their job. Life happens on the weekend.
I’m not saying great jobs fall from the sky. Sometimes you have to experience boring internships, or things you hate to figure out what you don’t want. Many people need any job at all, just for health insurance. And we all have to pay the bills. But it’s worth remembering, for those interested, that there are environmentally sustainable, socially responsible, and personally joyful jobs that are looking for you: people who seek a connection between their work and their “life,” and believe their labor should reinforce a purpose they believe in. Keep that in the back of your mind in these coming years. Fantasize with your friends about things that seem impossible. Write down what you love to do, what you believe in, and what you’re good at. Times are rough, but in rough times you’re forced to dig deep. I sound like my mother. But it’s true!
Read an excerpt of Finding the Sweet Spot by Dave Pollard HERE