The Roses of Success
I was having dinner with some friends the other night, about six weeks after we’d handed in our coursework in our final year of college. I’d moved home since finishing up with school, and was glad not to be worrying about having to pay rent, bills and for a weekly food shop that I normally only ever used half of. Instead, I was just glad to be in a safe place, in a lovely family home, and looking forward to saving money for the next few months while I worked as a waitress. No, it wasn’t what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. But so what?
I had thought, up until this point, that this is what my friends from college thought too. I hadn’t seen them in a while, so we were doing the usual rounds of catching-up through dinner and hearing what the others had been up to over the summer. One girl though, looked disturbingly pleased when I told her that I was “just working as a waitress”, while she was working as someone’s assistant in a big marketing company. I was happy for her, genuinely. But the glee that filled her eyes for just a split second when I told her that I hadn’t heard back yet from any employers made my fists clench. “Oh don’t worry about it!” She said condescendingly, as she patted my wrist like a five year old across the table. “Something’s bound to come up! It’s just like, luck. I mean, look at me. I never would have thought I’d be working in a dream job at this age but I am! I’m sure it will happen for you one day too.” As she was a girl who my former roommate and I had often been wary of when talking about ‘accomplishments’, I smiled back politely and drank my wine.
After a while at the table, I began to drift off into my own thinking. I watched the people I had grown up with over the last four years, wondering what they would all be one day, even though some of them – including the girl previously mentioned – were so convinced they had already ‘made it’. I take that back actually: none of them were convinced that they’d ‘made it’, (whatever that means.) They were all just so desperate to convince themselves and other people that they were a ‘success’, that they were making money and “making a name for themselves”. But at the end of the day I thought, as my former roommate passed me the dessert menu, how was their success measured anyway?
When I was growing up, my family and I lived modestly to say the least. Although we lived in a good-sized house in a nice area, my parents worked in public sector jobs which only made enough to pay the bills. We never had a holiday abroad and for twelve years my dad used to pin bin-bags on the downstairs lounge windows because they couldn’t afford to buy curtains. My grandparents paid for music lessons, and I went to a good school on a scholarship. Despite our lack of wealth though, my parents were content with their choice of career because they knew that (despite never being able to afford a new suit) they were doing good in the world and helping people. Their jobs garnished neither fame nor attention; money nor respectability – none of the things that my friends counted their success by. As I mulled this over, the girl who had patted my hand as a symbol of hope, loudly exclaimed that she was so happy that the campaign she had “worked on” would now be seen on the sides of London’s red buses by “like five million people.” “You’ve made it,” the girl beside her said, and they clinked glasses before taking a shot of gin.
As I write this at home, I’m happy knowing that I’ve sent away another three applications today, despite the fact that I haven’t got my “dream job” yet, which is working for a record company. Who cares though? It’ll come. Slowly but surely it’ll happen. And when it does, I won’t be happy because I’ve got a job with a well-known label which puts my face on a bumper sticker, it’ll be because I get to spend my whole day listening to people playing music, and helping them iron out the creaks in the bass in a downstairs studio with no cameras or windows.
So here’s to being happy, ladies and gentlemen – and may it be the measure of your success.
Vying For My Trophy
by Lexi Sydow in Gulf Breeze, Florida
The recent political cartoon by Matt Bors, ‘The generation we love to dump on’ on cnn.com really rings a bell with me, as I’m sure it does for most fellow millennials.
As he highlights, there seems to be a generational habit of critiquing the next soon to be ‘rulers of the world.’ It’s nothing new. However, I can’t help but join in on the ‘rage-reading’ of our generation being viewed as seemingly entitled.
Perhaps some of us do think we’re entitled to certain standards, certain ‘trophies’ just for completing a task. Finishing a tournament- boom plaque for your wall, finishing college- boom paying job.
However, I’d like to think there is more individualism than that. It’s not that we’re ‘entitled’ to see the world and travel before starting a career. It’s not that we’re ‘entitled’ to the perfect job right away. I suppose in support of this argument I can only speak for myself. But I know for me the right choice immediately after graduating is in fact to travel. To see the world. To explore opportunities and cultures. I don’t plan on throwing aside my education. In fact the opposite. I want to break into the start-up industry and get a job that will tailor my next step in life- be it a Doctorate in Economics or a Masters in Business. I just want to do it in another country, specifically one with kangaroos. But so what if I didn’t? If I wanted to work in a coffee shop in Tahiti, that’s my choice. And it may not be because I am entitled to it. Or it may. And it may not be that I have no other opportunities ahead. Or it may.
But everything needs to be considered in context. I think that’s a point Matt Bors is making. Our world and our countries are structured in a certain way- culturally, politically… (gap yah anyone?) but seriously, they are. And part of that shapes the decisions ‘millennials’ are making and the way they view the world. The job market, applicant pool, and the economy are less country-specific and more international in nature. And this is all an accumulation of past policies, decisions, and advances made by the generations prior to us.
In a world that is increasingly global, why should we establish boundaries- especially mental walls? We need to be open to opportunity, open to change, open to new ways of life. Open to the idea that there are many different paths we can take and many different individual plans. We’re dealing with hiring freezes. We’re dealing with decreased government expenditures. But we’re also dealing with increased worldly awareness, increased potential for involvement, and increased opportunity to create- even if only through the clutch of our daily lives we call the internet. Herein lies an opportunity. Breaking down mental constructions of what one ‘should’ and ‘shouldn’t’ do is perhaps the greatest key to personal success. Containing thought and restricting growth haven’t been the engines for progress the world needs. Our generation needs to embrace our individualism, our choice to define our next steps in life – in spite of or because of where our society is today. And if that is congratulated with a trophy, I’ll take it.
Welcome to American Public Education
by Christina Clark in Chapel Hill, North Carolina
Graduating with an English degree from a liberal arts university in the southern part of the United States offers few lucrative paths. A handful of graduates are blessed with powerful and generous connections, and thus have the means to survive with merely a Bachelor’s, but the majority of us go on to graduate school. Some hope to become lawyers or politicians, some continue their English studies to stay on as professors, and a small number decide to teach high school.
I decided my talents would serve best in the hellish abyss that is the American public education system. Two days ago, a year after I finished my four years as an undergraduate, I completed my Master’s degree in the ‘art of teaching’ secondary English, and I will begin teaching at a small rural high school in August.
As a North Carolinian, I feel obligated to devote my time and skills here, even though the legislature has abandoned its obligation to maintain sanity. In addition to proposing a bill that would install Christianity as the state religion, a significant portion of the NC legislative effort has been determined to punish teachers and those who aspire to be teachers for our wayward and selfish natures. Currently, North Carolina is comfortably situated in forty sixth place for teachers’ salaries and is in the process of removing pay incentives for teachers who have Master’s degrees. Needless to say, my colleagues and I have been somewhat discouraged, but we carry on, sustained by the naive hope that appreciation for educators will return to this land in our lifetime.
Anyway, despite all the doom and gloom, I do not regret my decision since I will soon have power and influence over the minds of America’s youth! (Cue maniacal laughter.)
Sincerely though, I am excited to join the teaching profession. My short stint as a student teacher was difficult but incredibly fulfilling, and the experience confirmed that I belong in the classroom. My students were supportive, although many were mystified that I should choose of my own free will to be in a high school instead of a place where I might actually make some money. On my last day, one of them gave me a baseball he had autographed, assuring me that I would have a future source of income when he made it to the big leagues and I was still making forty thousand dollars a year. His concern was touching, but I will not be dismayed.
The first years will be challenging, but if I can share my love of language and literature with my students, and perhaps succeed in convincing one of them to crack open a book, then I will find reward in teaching. And I still have the baseball, just in case.
Living It Out Vigorously in Nevada
by Genevieve Parker in Las Vegas, Nevada
At seven thirty on a Monday morning, I pull up to a stop and double-park Rob’s moss-green Saturn. Gravel grinds on gravel and the final bars of my commute’s soundtrack blare: if hip-hop should die, we die together – bodies in the morgue lie together, before I cut the gas, and safety precautions start to waft through the door of my vehicle. I’ve got a bright, geometric lunch sack, wallet, and keys in hand as I step into the morning circle beside Terry, our boss-man. Rob is finally delivering news to the crews of the chainsaw accident I filed a workers’ compensation claim on, four days ago; and he cautions all who wield mechanised equipment to be careful of the kickback and all other dangers. We just last week began chainsaw training in Las Vegas, and everyone under the age of twenty eight knows that Corey, K.V. and Nathan were fucking around and carving their initials in stumps just last week.
I’m an office staff member, not field staff, so I bid everyone farewell for the week as they pull away in white trucks emblazoned with our organization’s logo. They’re going out to maintain trails, or collect native seeds from federal land, or build wooden fences against trespassers, or to pull invasive weeds from around the lake, and they’ll be back again after four (or eight) days of hard labour and camping. They are the conservation corps members who have dedicated a year of service to America and its environment, and earned a year’s clemency against paying student loans and regular rent and having a credit card. They have agreed to work for next to nothing, live with six other individuals in a three-bedroom apartment, and apply for food stamps in return for the opportunity to work outdoors and live as only the transient and freedom-loving can, and to spend eight hours a day at the hardest physical work any agency can devise.
Matt holds the office door for me as we step inside, out of the morning and into the workday. He was my first friend when I moved here for this job, and he loves to tease me about the HR Lady sleeping with the intern, but we’re very professional in the office. I’ll spend today in my ‘kitchen-office’ (our space is a converted house) interviewing individuals who want to come on for the summer and drawing up contracts for those who have acknowledged the challenges, displayed no red flags, and indicated that this work is what they expected and what they want. I take especial pride when I finish up an interview with someone who started off nervous, but ends up confident and enthusiastic. I’ll also communicate with a dozen more still wading through the application process before I have some free time to work on the projects I’ve picked for myself, like moderating our social media; collecting data for reporting and networking on the phone with nonprofits, schools, and other organizations to expand our recruitment.
I was only supposed to write about a day at work, but I feel like I want to give you some job-hunting advice as a person who interviews and hires on a daily basis, and who landed a job she never expected to fit into or enjoy – but I do, both: figure out what you like. Figure out what you’re good at. You don’t have to have a lifetime plan, but decide where or who for you’d like to work, right now. And then, apply. Apply for that job you don’t think you qualify for. You could be under or overqualified. Apply anyway. Tell them why you like them and why they’ll like you. Tell them what you hope to accomplish. Tell them where you’re coming from and what you can do, considering your talents, your education, and your ambition. Be honest, and the right company may just offer you the right position.
When they do, you’ll be scared as fuck. You’ll think, but I never planned on moving there. I didn’t expect to take on a permanent position so early. I’m not sure I have all the expertise they’ll want. I’m not as responsible as they think; I surprised myself in that interview. Weigh your options carefully, and never take on anything that doesn’t excite and inspire you. But when you face fear, recognise that your fear may be your own happiness challenging you: are you ready? You must embody your best self and charge forward into the good things that beckon you. I’ve lived this, and I’ve seen it manifest over and over again in only a few short months. You won’t know you’re on the right track until you’re on-board, barreling headfirst into you-don’t-know-what, but you love it. I know you’re nervous, but don’t you dare be too scared to be exactly what you always wanted, or what you didn’t know about, but now you feel it calling your name. You know life it too short to do it all. Do what you can, and be proud of it. Live it out, vigorously. It’s going to be an awesome day.