Millennials are perhaps the most coached of any generation — if you’re anything at all like me, then since elementary school, or middle school at the latest, you had this idea of going to a good college. Because, as it was explained to you, everyone knows that the way to get a good life is to get good grades so that you can go to a good college where you can get good internships and then a good degree so that you can get a good job with a good healthcare plan and a good chance of promotion so that you can work hard and put your money in a good savings account and eventually retire and enjoy the good life.
Except it doesn’t work like that, as many of us found out (and if you haven’t yet, then hold on, because it’s a doozy.)
In my case, I had done everything right. I went to a religious prep school where I made excellent grades and did volunteer work out the wazoo, then got into a private college where I was an honors student who double majored in journalism and Asian studies and minored in Mandarin. I interned at NPR, volunteered regularly, and worked retail in my spare time (got to pad that resume!)
Then graduation came and all of those good jobs that people had talked about for my whole life just weren’t there. I was now more highly educated than about 70% of American adults, and I was unemployable. Recession, they said. Hard luck. Nothing you can do about it except keep going out for those unpaid internships.
Like about half of other college graduates in the US, when I did eventually find a job, it was in a field that didn’t require a bachelor’s degree at all and had nothing to do with my major — I got hired to unpack boxes at Old Navy. Most of the people on my team were like me: highly educated, highly trained, very smart people who had been hired to do a job that probably would have been done better by robots, because we didn’t care nearly enough to do a very good job.
I stuck with it for six months and then decided to chuck it. My longtime boyfriend and I moved overseas, where I sent out over 200 resumes and cold call letters and got about three responses back, all of which were rejections.
So one day, in desperation, I applied for an online freelance content job as a stopgap — and I actually got paid something! Except it was all of about $3.00.
But I was hooked. The idea that I could work for myself caught hold and I went after it like crazy. And I mostly screwed it up for the first few years. I mean, I was getting paid and I got a lot of clients who came to me exclusively, but I didn’t know the first thing about running a business, so I was making so little money that I barely cracked the poverty line.
I kept with it though, and I slowly learned how to make it work. Now I work from my home office, travel when and where I like, and control my own schedule completely.
So what’s my point? It’s not so say “Oh look at how great I am, yay for me.” It’s to draw your attention to the fact that you don’t have to do this whole job thing like it’s always been done. You certainly don’t have to do it like I did — but you should think about how you can make the system work for you, because chances are if you just try to float, you’ll drown. No matter what you decide to do, you need to think about why — because how you respond will literally change your life.