Wednesday, July 31, 2013

On Job Hunting

I haven't exactly been quiet about this but just to ensure there's no ambiguity, I'm looking for a job.

What that means this time is completely different from what it's ever meant before, meaning I have no idea what it means this time.  I've had lots of jobs.  I've liked most of them and learned from all of them, but they were always low-risk because I had the comfort blanket of being able to identify as a student first.  All my previous jobs were "filler" jobs--the kinds of jobs I wouldn't feel too invested in and in turn, wouldn't feel sorry to leave should they start to interfere with school.  I've done nannying, serving, cooking, baking, barista-ing and working the front desk at a yoga studio.  More recently, I've gotten non-throw-aways, including three years as a per diem day treatment counselor and as many years teaching reformer Pilates.  But even still, when I started these more recent jobs, I was a student.  Pursuing them felt safe because I knew, should anything go awry, I had a valid out.

The out has gone the way of an old (super stuck on) bandaid over a mostly healed wound.  Ouch.

In school, there's a lot of talk among students about the excitement of finally being finished, as if finishing school will allow all the doors that have necessarily remained shut for however many years (22 in my case
-->winning) to fly open.  As if there is no stress or pressure or uncertainty or hard things after.  Granted, school can be pretty rough.  But it also, to me, felt very safe.

It took a couple of months post-graduation to finally feel ready to start seriously considering applying for jobs.  I had one interview after classes had ended and before the graduation ceremony.  I ended up e-mailing my interviewer that afternoon, asking her to take me out of the pool, telling her it would be a disservice to let anyone hire me when I was still so drained from the rigors of finishing school; I didn't want to start a job having not yet recovered from the previous one.  I'm grateful to feel ready to get back into the game, not only because it's necessary but because I want to work again.

Now I just have to figure out what game I want to play.  How does one job hunt as an adult?  I've always had fantasies about my career--there would be a careful mix of working with others (all super happy and easy to work with, of course) and working alone in my beautifully designed, light-filled office.  I'd have opportunity to do creative aesthetic work, write, plan great events and help develop the community with a little social justice work thrown in for good measure.  I'd always feel fulfilled by my work.  I'd earn a great salary.  I'd leave work at a reasonable, regular time each day with plenty of energy to exercise, make dinner and spend time with H.  Of course, I'm also 6 inches taller and have a much more fabulous wardrobe in these fantasies.

I know.

I think the fantasy serves as an escape from anxiety brought by the reality that I'm a real adult now (I know I'm a little late to the game).  Being a student for so long has allowed me to put off this final transition to adulthood.  I know it'll be fine, I just don't know what fine looks like.  While there are definitely a lot of great people sending me information on job openings and trying to help me get set up (I do not take this for granted--thank you!), ultimately it's my choice.  It's a shift from the world of semesters, syllabi and externally set timelines where the next indicated thing is always obvious to something...different

The big conflict (likely the product of too much privilege in a life) is between prioritizing stability and prioritizing fulfillment.  Perhaps someday I'll get both, but I know in my gut it's unrealistic to expect both now.

I've been thinking a lot about how this conflict fits into generational norms.  My parents and their parents (and I image their parents ad infinitum) are/were hard workers.  My father has never been interested in leaving work at work, and while I know he's passionate about and fulfilled by his work, I suspect at least some of this fulfillment comes from knowing he works (much) harder than external pressure forces him to.  This approach to work--arrive early, stay late, work weekends, take your two weeks of vacation--is typical of his baby boomer generation.  Achievement is the goal.  Fulfillment is a nice bonus but not the primary motivator.

On the other hand, my generation (y--side note: this is also a product of my socioeconomic background) has grown up with the belief that fulfillment ought to be number one.  And while many may deny this, we've also been fed the implicit message that we deserve a high standard of living in addition to that fulfillment.  How do we reconcile this in a work world still mostly dictated by the myth of the American Dream (work hard and ye shall receive) and that rugged individualism (work work work)?  Further, how do we reconcile it in a world also imbued with a hyper focus on obtaining demonstrable wealth while also striking a work-life balance (who the hell has this fabled work-life balance, anyway?)? How do we choose between the side pushing us toward a secure job (and the associated home purchase and two weeks off each year) and the other pulling us to take risks in the name of finding fulfillment (often with unpredictable paychecks)?  Why are there so many mixed messages?  Why has nobody given me a cookie and a juice box to soothe all this existential angst?

So there we are.  Two strong conflicting cultural messages hammered into me for the past 27 years.  I have no idea what the answer is.  Some days I think if I don't take a risk now, I'm going to be locked into steady but perhaps not-quite-right jobs for life.  The other days I cringe to think of the privilege of feeling it's an option to turn down a regular paycheck for the chance to be happier than I am (which is already pretty darn happy).  I also cringe at how weighty this decision feels, as though I'm choosing my life-path now and there will be no opportunities for detours later.

But then I realize I'm being melodramatic and should probably just take what's offered to me, for f*ck's sake.

Or should I hold out?

Job hunting.  Fun in that "I know I'll be thankful for this in 10 years" kind of way.


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