It happened again the other day -- I bumped into someone I knew from school, someone who's now a senior, someone who reacted like he'd seen a ghost when he noticed me walking around the library.
I've learned it's best to just smile and say a huge "Hello!" in order to assure them that yes, it really is me. Once they've wiped the veneer of shock from their face, the questions start. "I had no idea you were still here!" "I thought you graduated!" "What are you doing at the library?" "Is this temporary?" "So when will you get a real job?"
In fact, I did graduate: on June 21, 2013 to be precise. I stumbled out of bed after a dissatisfying night of sleep in a hot apartment with no air conditioner and made it to the stadium 45 minutes after call time. The graduation ceremony was uneventful, unremarkable, and contained absolutely no indications of where my life was heading.
It became clear a few weeks prior to graduation that a "real" job offer wasn't going to appear out of thin air. I was relieved when I learned that I could expand my job at the library from 10 hours a week to a semi-permanent, part-time position through the summer. But for the next 3 months or so, I was in a strange place. I moved a few miles north of campus, upgraded to a full-size mattress, and biked to work at the same library where I'd spent too many late nights frantically finishing papers and too many early mornings trying to print them out.
I didn't quite know how to classify myself -- could I call myself a graduate if I hadn't, well, graduated and moved on from the campus? Once New Student Week arrived in September, I did everything I could to avoid being seen. I took the back hallway so that I didn't have to walk past the computer lab on the first floor, where dozens of students would gather in the middle of the day. I ate lunch at my desk rather than venturing to the student center to pick up a sandwich. I remembered a friend who graduated a year before me in 2012 ended up working in the Admissions Office at the school. It took me months to figure it out -- he made himself as invisible as possible.
After a year, I'm still at the library. I earn enough money to pay rent, buy the groceries I want, make my student loan payments, and still have some left over. More importantly, I have independence. I somehow snatched up one of those elusive treasures: a source of income that would allow me to retain my dignity after graduating with a deflated bachelor's degree in anthropology. (While I don't think my major's worthless, employers don't seem to be as keen on it as I am.)
Yet, my classmates still don't seem to think I have a "real" job.
Part of this has to do with distance. The farther you go to take a job after graduation, the bigger your journey and therefore the more legitimate the job. Or is it the more you suffer, the fewer benefits you have -- these are rites of passage for 20-somethings, correct? Or what matters is exclusivity -- how many rounds of interviews did you have to go through to get your prestigious job? Are you inching your way up the socioeconomic ladder, or just cementing your already-established status? How much money do you earn? Is your job at a trendy start-up, or are you the golden employee at a Fortune 500 company?
Here are some facts about working in the library. First, it is peaceful. For the first time since high school, I get enough sleep every night. I don't have to work overtime to meet deadlines, and more importantly, I know that the institution I support is capable of understanding that "value" isn't always defined monetarily. I'm not beholden to the bottom line, but instead support a research library that benefits scholars, students and the wider community.
Second, I have the respect of my boss. Instead of working for an organization I've never heard of, I have the privilege of working with an established mentor. It also means that I'm treated with respect; I never had to battle the detrimental "last hired, first fired" mentality.
Third, the library is gorgeous. And I have a huge desk. (Relatively speaking). My colleagues are eager to see me do well, and are constantly encouraging me to further my education and develop professional skills.
Granted, some of the stereotypes you hear about libraries are true. Sometimes, especially over the holidays when all the students are away, it can get slow. And the day-to-day activities of an administrative assistant are not necessarily thrilling. When I entered college, this is not what I imagined I would be doing after graduation. But waking nightmares surrounding unemployment started to plague me about a year before that fateful day. I imagined my parents showing up with my sister's truck, hauling all my shoddy furniture back to Texas. I imagined not being able to make my student loan payments, and going into dreaded default. Unemployment, for most college graduates, is synonymous with defeat.
So, to answer your question: No, I don't know when I'm going to get a real job. But it's the perception, not the job, that needs to change.