After I graduated from college in 2009, I was lucky enough to land an internship at a corporate communications firm that allowed me to work between 8 and 10 hours per day in exchange for a monthly train ticket that would get me from my hometown, to which I’d returned in order to live with my parents, to Grand Central Station. I usually got to the office before most of the salaried employees in order to monitor media for high-profile clients, spent the day working on a variety of projects that were, when they were explained to me, given the importance of something like the development of a life-saving vaccine, and left promptly at five o’clock, as I felt it was my right to do. I arrived home each night exhausted, irritable, and ready for the weekend, when I could finally hang out with my friends.
I knew there was an opening for a junior position at the company. Over the course of the summer, I developed crippling anxiety as I realized that I both needed the job badly and didn’t want it at all. It was driving me insane. I could barely keep up with my personal life then and I wasn’t even getting paid. What would happen when they did pay me? And there was the much bigger question that had started forming somewhere in the back of my mind, which was, “Is this what I want to do with my life?”
Certainly it would have been helpful if I’d thought about that earlier. College would have been an excellent time for that. But I must have decided long before I graduated to stick to the easiest path, which was to move back to New York, get a job, and make money. This wasn’t a bad idea. It’s just that once I was commuting every day, I wished I had explored other options. Why hadn’t I taken my history professor seriously when he’d encouraged me to apply to graduate programs? Why didn’t I move somewhere a million miles away to teach English? Why hadn’t I used any of my talents to do anything worth anything?
The answer to those questions is simple. I had been afraid. And I was still afraid.
So, I stuck with the internship and chased the job. I had coffee with more senior people at the firm and told them how much I wanted to work there. I almost never surfed the internet or checked my phone. I did good work and I always got positive feedback on my projects. And then I didn’t get it.
The day after my twenty-second birthday, my manager informed me that she’d offered the job to a male candidate with a graduate degree in communications who she’d been in contact with regarding the position since April. And because of that, she had to hire him, she said. This was all extremely interesting to find out considering she’d allowed and encouraged me to jump through hoops all summer in order to get a job that was never going to be mine. But I was polite and thanked her “for the opportunity.” She told me I could keep interning for as long as I wanted, but I declined her offer on account of the fact that I was not being paid. The next day would be my last.
When I walked out of that office for the last time, I felt relief. Of course, the Type-A part of me felt a degree of disappointment and humiliation because not getting the job was also like losing or failing, which is not something I was used to. But I really felt like I’d dodged a bullet. There was no way now that I’d be stuck in a job I didn’t like.
I planned on taking the next few months to figure out what I wanted to do, after a brief period of relaxation. I thought that in the near future, I’d go on a few interviews for practice, start a writing class that my father had very nicely offered to pay for after I had a miniature nervous breakdown about never having seriously tried to write and feeling like it was too late to start, and work on my family’s genealogy project. I was going to get in shape. I thought maybe, if I got really desperate, I’d get a job at a restaurant or a bookstore or something. But in the end, I was going to make a plan for ultimate fulfillment in work and life – and follow that plan!
Then I went on my first interview a week later and ended up getting the job. I’ve been working in advertising sales ever since.
Seriously, that’s what happened. Sometimes I wish that I did have those few months off to think about what I really wanted to do. However, I don’t think I would have found the answer I was looking for. I loved my first job. I’ve felt, variously, hatred, ambivalence, and a sort of mild keenness for the jobs I’ve had subsequently. None of those jobs were or are “what I want to do with my life,” but I think the collective experiences have helped me know myself – a self that no longer defined by academic achievement – and understand that no job is ever going to be “what I want to do with my life.”
Having a job that pays me means that I’m able to live comfortably and do whatever I damn well please, including writing, in my free time. Of course, I don’t write as much as I’d like to write and I find it hard work on any of the projects I start. I know this is because I’m still afraid. I’m afraid of failing and judgment and not being comfortable and having to do things the hard way. But I’m confronting those fears gradually. I believe I’m learning from my experiences. And I know that all of this will lead to something. I don’t know what that something will be, but I’m a lot more patient now than I was a few years ago. I’m willing to wait and see.