I’m a second-semester senior. OK. Let that sink in. Now let the quivering begin.
Lately, there have been countless news articles and commentaries about how millennials, and especially those of us about to graduate, are more pessimistic than our predecessors. And I totally get it. I’m more than a little anxious about the future.
In four months I’ll be graduating, released into the adult world with challenges more severe than writing the entirety of a 15-page paper in two nights. Life will no longer be divided by semesters. I can theoretically live anywhere and do anything because my prescribed four years will be up. And that terrifies me, as it surely does other soon-to-be-grads.
The job situation doesn’t help. During my summer internship at an arts foundation, one of my tasks was to sort the applications for an open program assistant position. While looking through each applicant’s papers, I noted that almost everyone had graduated from a recognizable university with a good GPA. Many had studied abroad. Some even had post-graduate degrees. We received almost 200 applications, but only one person would get the job.
It is worth mentioning that the program assistant’s job is to answer phones, file tax information, process mail, etc. The organization is small enough that they do more than a secretary would…but not much more.
Here’s the thing: I have a high GPA. I have held several internships. I studied abroad. These experiences do not make me more qualified than anyone to else to man a company’s Twitter profile.
Essentially, I anticipate my future to be a dismal wasteland accented with economic ruin and minimum-wage jobs forever.
Maybe I’m a bit of a fatalist. But how can I not be? I’ve never done this real-world thing before. It’s not helpful that I don’t know exactly what I want to do with the rest of my life; and you, reader, can probably glean that I’m not an engineering or accounting major with a clear career path. The major isn’t especially relevant, though. According to a February 2012 research report from Pew, only 54 percent of us 18- to 24-year-olds are employed — the lowest rate ever recorded.
For everyone reading this and thinking, “Well, duh, stop complaining and start working harder,” I know. OK? I know.
We are the generation with the best technology, the most opportunities, blah blah blah, “Amurrka” for the win and all that.
I’m still freaked out, though. It’s not going to keep me from practicing my interview skills:
“Describe a time when you worked efficiently under pressure?”
And saving up my hard-earned Saxbys tips — please, I’m begging you, Temple, that 6:30 a.m. opening shift is a killer. But it is going to keep me in therapy for the rest of the year.
By the end of last semester, I started to feel OK about my place in the job search process — meaning that I tried not to worry about it because I couldn’t possibly start to figure out May when it wasn’t even January yet, right? Well, joke’s on me. It turns out that approximately all of my high school friends have a solid idea of where they’ll be a year from now, be it grad school or teaching abroad or working with benefits. Based on this, my best hope is to enter into a “New Girl” situation and be the Zooey Deschanel to my three Philly-based medical school-bound guy friends. The only downer is that I’d probably be Jobless Jess circa season two, episode one. Womp.
And it’s not just the job thing that’s keeping me up at night. Up until the middle of last semester, I dated someone for two years who was, rightly, more interested in the state of the present than what might come. My near-constant worrying about the job market, my classes, our relationship and on and on, helped to ruin an otherwise good thing. For another perspective on this, check out Daniel Smith’s CNN blog article, “Can anxiety kill your ability to love?”
When we broke up, I felt like I’d lost my last bit of security, the only knowable part of my unknowable future. Now, not only did I have no idea where I would be living and working after graduation, I also had no one person to count on and keep me from myself.
To quote the seminal novel “White Oleander”: “Despair wasn’t a guest, you didn’t play its favorite music, find it a comfortable chair. Despair was the enemy.”
However, I cannot stress enough how much more easily said than done this is. You can’t reason away anxiety, just like you can’t force-quit heartbreak or make yourself stop missing someone. It’s an emotional response to something very real and terrifying, whether that something is a cloudy future or the threat of loneliness or something more concrete.
When I studied in London last spring, the best reward of the many that I received from the experience was the pervading sense that I could do anything — that because I could be accepted to such a program, live in a new city for three months, thrive at a high-pressure internship and travel throughout Europe, I could handle newness.
It’s time to get back to a place where change is not scary, but exciting. In the meantime, maybe I’ll just write a hilariously melancholic and satirical account of my youthful pessimism. Oh, wait. “Girls” already exists.
Back to saving up those Saxbys tips.
Julie Zeglen can be reached at email@example.com.