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Last Sunday was my 22nd birthday, the first in a long line of birthdays with no extra legal benefits attached. A friend of a friend wrangled five free tickets to Shedd Aquarium in Chicago, the city of my dreams, the love of my life, so at 7 AM on Saturday we piled into cars and drove, drove, drove.
There’s no hiding that the past week has been agonizing. I was afraid that even Chicago would be ruined, that the air would still feel tight and sour with fear. But I shouldn’t have bothered. With all the construction on crosswalks during rush hour, the street performers banging gallon tubs outside the Museum of Modern Art, the newlyweds taking pictures on the steps of Millennium Park, the people with their eyes closed and humming in a circle of guided meditation in front of the Bean, the young girl taking pictures in her quinceñara and the choir gearing up in the Cultural Center, there wasn’t all that much space for fear.
Now I’m back in post-election Middletown USA, a liberal student surrounded by conservative townsfolk. Not all Trump voters are bad, and not all Clinton voters are elitist, but there is no denying the awful, horrible, no-good, really bad racist, sexist, and all-around sucky messages the Trump campaign is now bringing to the White House.
The next four years are going to be very difficult, but we can never stop fighting for what is right. Our strength as a species lies in our ability to empathize with each other, and our curiosity and eagerness to explore what it means to be human.
As I wandered through sand castles and a rainbow of knick-knacks and ordinary wonders in the Cultural Center’s art exhibit, I felt connected in my soul to this phenomenon we call humanity. We place so much importance on such trivial things – red wagons, toothpaste brands, how we spend our vacation time, where we get our quinceñara pictures taken – but they’re all important, aren’t they?
Things I know for sure:
- Shedd Aquarium serves pretty decent pizza.
- Half an hour of walking is still half an hour of walking.
- We can do this. We can. We will.
It is my first week of my last semester spent in the embracing arms of university, before the ice demons of debt and struggling workforce tear me away. Just because I’ve had an internship and think I know what kind of job I want after college doesn’t mean I’m actually ready for the kind of job I want after college.
Let’s make a list of all the bad post-university job things that could happen.
- I don’t get hired because I’m an English major. No word nerds wanted.
- I don’t get hired because I’m an English major and my internship counts for nothing.
- I don’t get hired because, surprise, the field isn’t freaking hiring!
- I don’t get hired because online communications is basically a job that’s been made up by millennials for other millennials, or by pissed Gen Xers who don’t actually care about online presence and expect millennials to solve all their online problems because that’s just what we do. Either way, it puts a strange level of competitiveness on these kind of positions and there is literally no way to tell how effective one candidate is at social media over another unless one candidate is a complete flop.
- I don’t get hired because I just don’t get hired.
Mmm, the sweet smell of anxiety in the morning. Now, let’s make a list of all the good post-university job things that could happen.
- I marry rich and never have to worry about work again.
- I marry rich and my rich hubby gets me a position at his company because he’s that rich.
- I land the job of my dreams! Everything is perfect! I make a steady paycheck and can pay off my loans with minimal stress!
- I land a job, maybe not exactly what I wanted, but I still make a steady paycheck and can pay off my loans.
- I land a job, probably not in the field that I wanted, and struggle to live under budget so I can pay off my loans.
My most realistic option is #5. Wow, that’s pretty sad, says anyone reading this who is my boyfriend, my parents, or over 40. Besides heaven-bent on providing for me always all the time (my boyfriend) and hardcore supportive in all of my endeavors (my parents) – which I love them all for – there is this ironic belief that college students should be optimistic about employment, despite the fact that most employed persons right now went through some serious shake-ups around, say, 2008.
The truth is this: I know I will get a job, and I know that I will never “settle” for a career. Perhaps I am doomed – blessed? – with a career in freelance. Perhaps I will be a stay-at-home mom and find a career later. But the options are endless, and more pressing every day.
The first day of school, I woke up in denial. The fact that I could have several job applications circling right now, that my budget is shrinking because on top of food I have to buy junk like soap, toilet paper, and laundry detergent, that at any minute my car will need a 50 dollar oil change, and yet I still have to take notes on Shakespeare for two hours feels ridiculous. What will Shakespeare do for me in a high-stakes interview? Tell me that one, Bard!
But I have to swallow it down. I have to settle in. There’s no point in rushing headlong into the craziness of post-grad when I’m not even a grad. I have to find that blessed plane between horrible real-world stress and horrible homework stress. The job market will still be there in December.
I mean, I hope the job market will still be there.
- Nonprofit organizations are not my scene. I appreciate all they do for the community, and I love the earnest camaraderie and loving hearts of all involved for the people under their care. I love knowing we have made a difference, because here is the tangible proof: a new house for a family, a safe haven for children, a support group for new parents. I love being able to see with my own two eyes the result of my work – good, pure results, that really do make the world better.
Except nonprofits worry about money all the time. I mean, they have to. No matter how pure the motives or positive the impact, every nonprofit has to fight tooth and nail for grants and donations, or disappear. Money is the biggest stressor in my personal life, and I can’t be worried about it at work, too.
But I still want to be a part of something good. At my internship, I get to sit at a desk and hear children laughing from the lobby. I get to visit summer camps and hear admins offer scholarships and bus passes so low-income kids can have fun during the week. I get to hang out with men and women who fight for the defenseless every day of their lives. I get to design things and write things that important people see and utilize to make a difference. I don’t want to give this up.
- I miss the freedom of academic social media. At this new job, we have to count every letter and weigh every phrase to be as rhetorically poignant as possible. Everything we do on social media peacocks to potential corporate partners. “Look at us! Look at the friends we have! Don’t you want to be our friend and give us money?” One of our partners signed up because one of their competitors was featured in a Tweet, and God forbid they get more attention than them! We got much-needed funds out of the drama, but, you know, it feels dirty. Especially after the family-feel of @bsuenglish. It is the first time I’ve written for corporate social media, and most of it is culture shock to be sure.
- Hell hath frozen over. I, Lauren Birkey, introverted ambivert and great avoider of public speaking, wish that I was in a management position. My mom would be so relieved.
There’s no problem with management at my internship. In fact – and this will sound like crap, but it is so true – I love my bosses. The entire Communications and Development department is just good. My immediate boss, especially. She’s a great designer (so, so creative, and so good at translating design into common language) and always knows exactly what and how to write for any medium, for any person. She can shave characters off a Tweet in her sleep. Every graphic and paragraph I make goes through her, and then she has the agency to change it to match her official vision. I want my work to be as rhetorically effective as possible, and I appreciate her feedback and guidance, but I miss having the agency to make my vision the official vision. One day I shall be the head of some communications department, and my intern will complain about me altering their work to match my expectations, and I will understand. A good designer knows how to stand out, and how to blend in. It’s my time to blend in.
- I want a Wiacom tablet so badly that I can feel a ghost stylus in my hand.
- My first ever bachelorette party is this weekend – tonight, actually – and while I’m super pumped to celebrate with my girlfriends, I’m also a little sad. Once my girlfriend gets married, the whole group dynamic is going to change. It’s the kind of bittersweet realization most people get when they graduate high school and everyone splits to different colleges. I didn’t get a true group until college, so I’m feeling it now. Late mourner, I suppose. (Speaking of weddings, there has been much talk of engagement with my boyfriend. God help us all.)
- I am officially graduating in December and boy oh boy am I terrified. The job search is basically a full-time job in itself, and somehow I have to find a real job while making enough money at a low-tier job to afford living wherever I live during the job search not to mention possibly being engaged and making plans for a life with Noah and all the plans he’s making and holy crap why did I ever decide to do this I’m not prepared…
Things I Know For Sure:
- Sometimes it’s okay to just ask someone for money.
- I need to make a personal website so people can know how awesome I am and hire me.
- Wedding Pinterest boards are very underrated.
As I was driving all over central Indiana, first to fill out papers for a background check – apparently a background check consists of lots and lots of paperwork, not being interrogated by a hairy cop – and then to take a drug test in an obscure clinic – so obscure that my two-hour trip took three – I had a lot of time to reflect on life, sunshine, and how I was too hot to wear a cardigan in the car but too cold to go without a cardigan once I was inside.
I’m so complex.
Mostly I was grateful, a) because I can afford to own not just this cold-warm gray cardigan, but multiple cardigans of varying consistencies, b) because I have a car to drive me to ridiculous adult appointments, c) because my friend gave me back my AUX cord so I could jam to obscure indie techno, and d) because I have a job which requires me to get a background check and drug test.
I was never afraid of not getting an internship – not that it was a confidence thing. I applied for every single position with some combination of PR/Digital Media/Marketing/Social Media Editing/Copywriting in the title.Once I applied for 8 jobs in a week. The odds of getting at least one interview were pretty high. And sure enough, out of the 2 interviews I finally had, one of them wanted me. Bless.
If you’re an English major, reeled in to this post by my snappy URL, you can probably identify with the overwhelming relief of finding a job you don’t hate. Since you announced your major, everyone’s been like, “Why don’t you just go straight to working at Starbucks?” or “You know, getting published as a writer is really hard” or the oh-so-popular “To teach?” Believe it or not, all ye naysayers, not every English major wants to work in a coffeeshop, write a novel, or teach.
The job market for English majors is broader than any other major except for maybe, like, business majors, or something equally soul-sucking. We know how to write and communicate – which are skills all businesses need. The problem of unemployment is all in our heads. There is no spoon.
English majors can do anything. Want proof? During my three years in college, I have
- designed and edited a literary magazine (check out The Broken Plate for a delicious sample. Any mistakes are the other design editor’s fault.)
- written and drawn my own digital comic book (and then lost it in the Great Vanishing Flashdrive Debacle of October ’15)
- designed a brochure for the CJC department (I’m pretty sure there are copies of it in their office)
- currently work as a PR intern for the English department, which means I get to write for their Twitter/Facebook/Wordpress accounts, develop the voice of the department (i.e. branding, if you want to get technical), make flyers and posters and tons of little fun pretty things to promote events, classes, and visiting speakers.
I never thought I would be doing any of these things. But if there is any opportunity to put your learning to practice, even if its something you’re only partly qualified for, do it. Find what you’re good at, find what you can get practice in, and freaking do it. Carpe freaking diem.
My job with C– B– I– (no offense, but for privacy reasons, you know) is almost exactly the same thing as what I’m doing for the English department, except it’ll be for an actual real-life corporation that impacts the community in all sort of positive and uplifting ways. Hopefully this will lead to a permanent PR position at another real-life corporation. I never thought marketing would interest me – my exact words were, “I don’t want to be a business robot, Mom!” and yet here I am.
There are a lot of things to be thankful for, which leads me into Things I Know For Sure:
- You literally have to apply to everything to get anything.
- Podcasts make long trips fun (thank you, This American Life).
- Job descriptions are intense, but odds are you already know how to do most of those things.
Also, if anyone is interested, there will probably be a post soon with some sample designs from work and my private creative annals. Design is another thing I never expected to get into, and yet…