As most students at the College of William and Mary know, the pursuit of jobs has been particularly difficult for recent college graduates, a generation caught in the throes of a severe economic downturn. Racked by ominous headlines of zero percent job growth, underemployment and a looming double-dip recession, weary applicants often fret about a grim job market devoid of opportunity.
Despite these anxieties, upperclassmen should not lament their countless hours spent slogging through tomes only to reap the reward of an anemic job. The degree still matters. Yet even degree holders may wind up working for mainstream coffee shops or bartending in the interim period after college. Conflict resolution theory might apply to diffusing tensions between two rowdy drunkards, but most graduates hope for more definite career paths that continue to challenge their expressed interests.
There is a certain dignity in confronting the unknown. In fact, some of life’s most valuable lessons arise from the trials and tribulations of living in the margins, emotionally or physically. A low-paid job fresh out of college will not provide the comforts of your youth or the security of your university, but it will instill a sense of drive unparalleled by past endeavors. The desire to improve your quality of life will embolden your passions and fuel a determination to reach your goals.
Furthermore, the transitional phase between schooling and career allows ample time for reflecting on passions, exploring interests and adapting to an independent lifestyle and new environment. Many post-grads have a vague sense of direction, but usually not to the same extent as pre-med students. But even intelligent, driven students need time to wrestle with indecision. They explore the world in the liberal arts tradition, surveying all avenues. Only then can these post-grads comfortably take the next steps toward a stable job.
The pangs of a low-wage job are felt surely, and no one denies that the lack of financial security creeps into all aspects of life. Even so, post-grads should strike a healthy balance between work and exploring passions.
A career will consume decades of your life, and it would be a shame to spend your healthiest years avoiding a social life because of work. These examples fit the extremes, but still bear a resemblance to truth. Finding satisfying work remains important for young adults, but work should never define you, especially at such a young age.
Our society has a way of evaluating one’s stature superficially based on predefined metrics — namely the prestige of a line of work and its relative wealth. Often these variables mirror one-another. I can’t help but think of the throngs of relatives accosting me about future job prospects lately, and the stagnant air of disappointment when I express a passion for developmental economics.
In an age of hyper-specialization, I am unapologetic about my eclectic interests. If everyone were to focus on a microcosm of life, no one would manage to discern the larger issues at hand. Visionaries, artists and dreamers often propel society forward, frequently with the partnership of the more technical trades. Consider architects, who envision beautiful designs for buildings and public spaces. To execute their vision, engineers must calculate the feasibility of the structure, and ground the construction to the laws of physics. Only by cooperation between two seemingly polemic mindsets does the vision cross into reality.
I believe the world works in a similar manner. Non-technical graduates thrust into the working world need time to harness their vision — a vision for themselves and for the world — and sometimes that requires confronting hardships.