If you read any news outlet aimed at twenty-somethings, you’ll read about what to do before joining the real world. There will be statements about doing what you love, about traveling, about taking risks, about moving to that incredible place you’ve always dreamed about.
What a novel concept of being middle-class and graduating college with options. I read these articles and am conflicted. Half of me says, “oh my gosh, why didn’t I think of moving to a new place or traveling the world?” Or, “why was I dying to get a good job out of college when I’d have my whole life to work?”
The other half of me thinks back to graduating college from a private liberal arts college in one of the most expensive cities in Chicago (oh how blessed I am, really). And how proud I was when I could pay my rent and start building my savings account because I found a good corporate job. And how planning my future was (and still is) a favorite activity.
I lived in a dump of an apartment with five girls and only four bedrooms in a less-than-safe neighborhood with month-to-month rent keeping us all “free” to leave if we needed. We had rat friends who would visit us when the storms were bad, probably invited by our pet rat (don’t ask).
But we had steam heat (a total luxury in older buildings). A seven minute walk to the train which took us anywhere in the city. A local grocery with the best prices, freshest produce and fresh-baked garlic sourdough loaves three minutes away. The energy of our college campus that we’d just graduated from down the street. And always enough money to grab a 30-pack of beers with our girlfriends.
When I graduated, I thought of nothing else besides finding a good job that afforded me these things – rent, small student loan payments (again, I’m lucky), and enough for a trip to TJ Maxx for new work clothes once in a while. Oh and beer, had to afford beer. That was my dream.
So when I found an internship that allowed me to maintain my 20 hours/week retail job because it started at 5:30 a.m. I was thrilled. And it paid? Done and done. I left my house at 4:30 to get to work on time. That means waking up at 3:45 everyday. And some days I’d work until 9:45 before commuting home. I couldn’t have been happier or more proud of what I have built for myself at a really tough point in the recession (I graduated in 2009).
The internship turned into the job at a PR agency that I stayed at for four years. I climbed the corporate ladder. I bitched at the water cooler about wanting more balance, less stress with the smartest and most incredible people. In reality, it was an incredible four years that I wouldn’t have had if I hadn’t been so damn driven to get a good job right out of college. Did I travel the world in a gap year? Hell no, and I wouldn’t have been comfortable doing it with the impending worry waiting for me when I’d come back. My dream was to work in a field that challenged me with awesome people and constant learning.
Work/life balance is a middle class construct, certainly, but it is a major component of a young twenty-somethings happiness. It matters, for sure. But I’m planning on a fabulous retirement. I’m planning on how I will have a house to raise a family in. Every week, I’m thinking about how my decisions prepare me for a long life of stability and happiness.
Travel is in that stable happiness. So is adventure. And passion. And love. And exploration. All of the things media outlets and trending articles on Facebook lead me to believe I missed out on by jumping into a “real job” right out of school. Stop it, news outlets. I don’t want to hear it and I find it rather disconcerting that you’re telling all these young, confused 20-somethings that getting a great job shouldn’t be their dream.
I didn’t miss out on anything. My best friends that I met in a cramped office closet during our internship are all driven, the people I spent time with at the water cooler at the big PR agency, the friends who also went hard into corporate America or nursing or teaching who I share beers with while talking about job challenges… these are my tribe. The people who took time off to find themselves before digging into their careers? Sure – their experiences are incredible. But I am glad I went to work. I am glad I work hard in an office while trying to find myself.
My dreams of travel and adventure have to fit within a corporate PTO calendar. My dreams of retiring comfortably fit within my 401k planning. Buying a house will be a reality because I chose to jump into my career right away.
Maybe my life would have been different and I would have a different outlook if I followed my dreams of traveling for a year or if I volunteered in a foreign country. But maybe my life is exactly how it was meant to be. And I love that my career is a big part of who I am. And that working is one of my passions.
I would love it if every 20-something writer would stop trying to tell me I should have done x, y, or z before starting work in the “real world.” Anybody else feel this way? Am I crazy for following a traditional path to success?
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