Over the past few weeks, I have gotten clarity about two things: what I most love to do, and the fact that few people seem eager to hire me to do it. After conferring with friends, it’s become clear that they’re facing similar dilemmas: the things that we want to do don’t ask for resume drops or third-round interviews. How, then, to balance what we want with the reality of having a freshly minted bachelor’s degree?
For the past three years, I have been lucky enough to work at the Yale University Art Gallery as a teacher and guide. I learned how to approach teaching art history, how to facilitate varied experiences with different kinds of art and how to communicate the overwhelming delight I felt in the museum’s collection to the people I led through the gallery. I fell in love with teaching art, and count the hours I spent in the art gallery as some of my happiest at Yale.
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My friends who are actors, writers, artists and musicians have expressed similar feelings of joy when describing what they do. My friends who are looking for jobs teaching or doing research or policy work have likewise found things that they are passionate about. Some of us have found jobs we’re excited about; many — including me — haven’t.
This fact is a source of mingled embarrassment, exhaustion and uncertainty. I’ve spent the last many months watching waves of friends get corporate, consulting, finance and tech job offers, heard them begin to make plans about where they’ll be next year. Some will go to graduate school; others are doing Teach for America. Even if they aren’t excited about what they’re doing, they have clarity, and are moving forward with their lives.
So I am torn: between wanting clarity, a city to move to, roommates and an apartment, and not yet wanting to settle for a certainty that wouldn’t necessarily let me do what I love. At the same time, I know that such an ideal combination of factors, community and work may not be possible for next year.
When I shared this set of fears with friends, they added their own set of anxieties: They too want less conventional careers, and spoke to the reality that it often takes years for people to find the work they want in career trajectories that don’t begin with interviews and resume drops. In my anxiety about the future, I immediately began picturing a series of “lost years” — adrift from art museums or trapped in a series of unpaid internships, which are rapidly eroding the job market.
A certain paralysis sets in while looking for work: anxiety, compounded by insecurity, further compounded by the inevitable tiredness that comes at the end of nearly four years of studying and working. The end result is avoiding situations where people are likely to ask, “What are you doing next year?” and panicked dodging of the question when it does rear its ugly head.
Of course, there are saving graces: I am free to imagine my life wherever and doing whatever I want, which, though panic-inducing, is also liberating. Someone may still hire me to teach in an art museum. And I still have hope — enough — that I will get to do the work I want in future years. Life is long, and the year after graduation is short by comparison.
The solution? Probably graduate school. If no wants to hire me this time around, the solution may be to return to the loving arms of Mother Yale or another like-minded institution that at least has an art museum for me to haunt. For now, I’ll wait and see, and sympathize with the other denizens of this land of uncertainty. We’re a tired and motley breed, deserving of your compassion. And possibly, if things don’t go well, of your couch as well.
Zoe Mercer-Golden is a senior in Berkeley College. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org .