I clearly remember the feeling I had when I signed the papers for my first salaried full-time job, about a year after I had graduated college. I was sitting with my district manager under the fluorescent lights of the clothing store I managed. It was a strange mixture of gratitude and excitement. Yet, there was a slight anxiety that kept bobbing up to the front of my mind as I repeated my cursive signature. Two weeks paid vacation, I mulled over in my head to try to convince myself it was a positive phrase and indicative of upcoming adulthood. But two weeks paid vacation flashed in my head not with joy but with a fear that those would be the only two weeks in my year that my time wasn’t owned by this singular duty.
Flash forward to nearly a year later: I had quit my retail job, and moved to New York City to be closer to family and friends and to pursue a career in publishing. I was lucky to get a paid internship at a small publishing house in the Flatiron District. It was exactly what I wanted to do, but like all internships good and bad, it came with an expiration date. When people asked what I was going to do post-internship, of course I said I would pursue a full-time position in publishing, perhaps as a publicity assistant.
But as the months passed by and the end of the internship approached, that old anxiety kept bobbing it’s head to the surface. Two weeks paid vacation. Why was this anxiety there? This was what I wanted to do, and this is what I moved to New York for. A lot of my friends here had full-time positions in which they had a typical workweek: Monday to Friday, nine to five. They had busy and fulfilling lives and knew how to manage their time. But the anxiety persisted: it wasn’t that I didn’t want to work hard, or put in a lot of hours – on the contrary, I was ready to be out there and to be dedicating myself to something worthwhile – I was ready to be dizzyingly busy – only stopping to sleep and eat, and to cherish any free time as a gift. But I didn’t want to sacrifice: I didn’t want to be just one title. I wanted more variety. And ironically, after moving across the country to escape my full-time customer service job, I realized that I missed the public aspect of that job immensely and needed it in my life even in small doses: the meeting and talking with new people, the quick pace, and the unique community of coworkers.
During my publishing internship, I got a second job as a hostess at a restaurant through a friend of mine. It was only supposed to be a one-day-a-week thing at first, as a cushion to my internship. When I talked to my other coworkers at the restaurant, I discovered that most of them had second jobs, often working in fashion or music or something else creative. That was a brand new idea to me: not that you could have multiple jobs, but that these positions could be so different from one another. This idea of working a few different jobs glimmered brightly in my head for a few weeks, and finally dampened my anxiety about the next step.
My position of privilege definitely influenced this drive to avoid a full-time, salaried position: I’m lucky to be young enough to still be on my parent’s health insurance (thanks Obama) and I only need to support myself, not a family. I’m also lucky to live in a city that seems to reinvent the idea of time: big events are happening on any day of the week, and you’re guaranteed to find at least one place open at 4 AM within a six block radius to inspire you. When I was offered more weekly shifts at the restaurant after my internship ended, I accepted without hesitation and started looking for my dream second job…and maybe third?
Navigating post-grad life is very scary, no matter what you’re doing with yours. This is the advice I would give other young people who are exploring the job market:
One of the best things I discovered over the past year is that I prefer atypical work hours. That is going to inform work decisions I make from here on out, and it will help me resist the temptation to compare my choices to the other fantastic things my peers are doing that are simply not for me.
But be open minded
If you had asked me six months ago if I ever wanted to work in customer service again, I would have an emphatic NO. Don’t be afraid to change your mind. It was only through the right work environment that I was able to enjoy customer service again and make it work for me. I ignored my previous assumptions and you can do the same for yourself. In addition, you should look into anything that appeals to you: you don’t have to get a job that relates directly to what you majored in college, and sometimes the most interesting opportunities are hiding just around the corner.
Take criticism with a grain of salt
Your peers will always be critical with what you’re doing with your life – it’s inescapable! Just smile, thank them for their input and know that feedback is important for every skill. Don’t confuse criticism for negativity. In the end, to make decisions for yourself and your happiness is one of the most adult things you can do.
I will gladly work six days a week if each of my days holds the possibility of variety. What I want more than security and vacation time is a workweek in which I look forward to each day instead of waiting for the weekend. I always searched for variety in my life even in the smallest of ways: I’ve always wanted to be multiple – to be one and the other, to avoid any semblance of monotony. Ditching the full-time trap for multiple part-time jobs is my escape from two weeks paid vacation.
Young people are taking control of their own pathway to careers, college and contribution. Powered by digital learning, “GenDIY” is combatting unemployment and the rising costs of earning a degree by seeking alternative pathways to find or create jobs they love. Follow their stories here and on Twitter at #GenDIY. For more on GenDIY, check out:
- How Millennials View Making a Difference
- Build Your Brand: How a Positive Social Media Presence can Lead to a Career
- Harnessing Uncertainty as a Learning Tool
Savannah Lamb graduated from Bard College at Simon’s Rock in 2013 with a Bachelor’s degree in Literary Studies and French. She is from Great Barrington, Massachusetts and currently works as hostess in Manhattan’s Chinatown. Follow her on twitter at @TVgirlfriend.