Twelve 20-somethings chronicle their lives for WBUR. Learn more.
I used to say that I wanted to be: a wildlife conservationist; a PR officer for a human rights focused non-profit; maybe even an interior designer or event planner. The one thing I was adamant about never wanting to do: teaching.
If I had followed my dreams and intuitions as a 14-year-old girl, I would have continued dancing pre-professionally and likely joined a major modern company such as Paul Taylor or Alvin Ailey. When I lost that vision, I think I also lost any firm expectations for career paths.
Since then, I’ve been an intellectual wanderer, creating my own path as I’ve gone. My reluctance to pigeon-hole myself meant that I double majored and double-minored in college, and that I’ve since gone on to design my own Master’s degree. Now, if you ask me what I want “to do,” I want to do something that challenges me to learn and grow, while allowing me to use the knowledge and skills that I have to make a direct, human impact.
So, I teach.
I am relatively comfortably employed. In the social realm of the American 20-something — where most of the people I know are un- or under-employed, and many of those who do have jobs are working in fields they never cared to dream of — it is unpopular, even unkind and impolite, to be openly comfortable in one’s employment.
But I live in an in-between realm, where most of the friends I see on a regular basis are in their 30s, and most of the people I work with are in their 40s, 50s, or 60s. In 30-world, people are settling down, getting married, having babies, and buying first homes. In 40/50/60-world, people have grown children, grandchildren, paid-off mortgages, gardens, cancer, and all the other attendants of increasing age.
Meanwhile, as a 20-something, I am still somewhat itinerant, living paycheck-to-paycheck, and not sure I’ll ever be able to buy my own home or retire. Which means that I ultimately feel somewhat like a field anthropologist in both the social and work realms of my own life.
For the first 15 months after college, I was either un- or under-employed. After the first few months of a fervent job search, I stopped telling friends and family what jobs I was applying for. It got too depressing to keep telling people that “I didn’t get the job” that I had been hoping for, and it got too embarrassing to keep telling people that I couldn’t get any job, even for something as simple as scooping ice cream at the local Emack and Bolio’s.
I eventually ended up working part-time as a sales associate at an Ann Taylor store, where I learned that I would rather fold sweaters than wait tables. After quickly working my way into a low-level management role, I also gained more transferable work skills than I anticipated.
Finally, nine months after graduation, I got an email from an old supervisor: a mentor and friend, the director of a school, had an opening in their English department. Was I still looking? If so, I had just 48 hours before the application deadline. I dropped everything, applied, and after two interviews, one on Skype and one on-site, had a job contract by the end of the next week. I then had to wait another six months before the school year — and, therefore, the position and real paychecks — began.
In the end, the vast bulk of my income during that first year out of school came from the same summer job I’d had throughout most of my college career.
Today, three years after graduation, I’m still working in the only position I could find.
That being said, I don’t feel overqualified for my current job. Undercompensated given my educational debt, sure; but not overqualified. I work at a nationally ranked and internationally recognized high school. I have a Bachelor’s degree in the subject I teach, and I had a few years of summer teaching experience under my belt when I started full- time. But I had also, until very recently, never formally studied education.
Honestly, the worst thing about the job is the location: Cape Cod.
Yup, I said it: I don’t like living on Cape Cod. Let me be clear: the Cape is a beautiful place. I understand why you might want to retire or spend your summers here.
But the Cape is a very difficult place to call home if you are between the ages of, say, 18 and 40. Especially if you are, say: unmarried; without children; politically liberal, interested in rock climbing and Latin dance as your main forms of exercise; not interested in shopping, TV, or tanning; and generally a fan of cultural diversity.
If you know of anyone else on the Cape that fits this profile, please send them my way.
In the meantime, don’t get me started about the winters, when most of the restaurants shut down and even the nice weather disappears. Within two months of moving to the Cape, I got so desperate to have something else alive to interact with that I adopted two shelter cats.
Now I compromise by living in Plymouth, the mid-way point geographically and socially between the Cape and Cambridge/Somerville, which still feels more like home to me than anywhere else I’ve ever lived. Sadly, this move also feels like a compromise of my own health and morals, since I now spend the equivalent of a full workday each week doing nothing but sitting and spewing emissions into the atmosphere.
So, why haven’t I left?
The obvious: I need the job, I need the money, the Boston teacher market is oversaturated, and I’m in a committed relationship that keeps me from playing the international teaching card.
The not so obvious: I have a steady job with a stable salary doing rewarding work that I actively enjoy. I work every day with an incredibly supportive administration, some gifted colleagues, and inspiring students. Can I really look a gift horse like that in the mouth?
The question of whether or not I want to leave this particular field is a whole ‘nother monster.
I do feel that I can advance in this field. In fact, I feel that I am advancing already. I’ve recently taken on a low-level administrative role; I’ve helped develop and facilitate some faculty training; I’m involved in multiple special committees — all of which has helped me hone conveniently transferable skills, but which has also enabled me to focus my work on areas of personal interest, talent, and growth.
That being said, I really don’t want a Master’s in teaching English 8-12. It feels too small, too specialized, which seems risky in this shifting global economy. It’s also risky, though, to not get a degree that I’d need if I wanted to maintain my state teaching license. But, I’ve gone out on a limb and decided to pursue a self-designed Master’s of Education in Mindful Education. On the one hand, I’ve stuck myself in a very small niche; on the other hand, that niche is pretty much universally transferable and a nearly ideal intersection of my interests and experience.
So, moving forward, I suppose I am actively working to shift myself into a field that is in the process of inventing itself, with no clear-cut career path.
I feel strangely optimistic about it. My current school has been very supportive of my endeavors, and has — in the name of increasing students’ sense of overall health and well-being — embraced a pilot of a grant-funded program of an established mindfulness curriculum. Meanwhile, at both national and international levels, mindfulness in education is gaining increasing credence in scientific and policy-making communities.
So I think I’ll be alright. And I guess that, by “doing what I want anyway,” regardless of the current economic situation, I’m pursuing the American Dream more than I realized.
I have no idea what that will look like five or ten years from now. Fifty years from now, retirement seems out of the question. But maybe if I can just keep working at things I enjoy doing, it won’t matter so much?
In any event, between all of my work and grad school commitments, I’m working the equivalent of two full-time jobs right now, so: “Heigh-ho, heigh-ho, it’s off to work I go…”
Actually, I looked up the lyrics of the famous Disney tune to confirm the spelling.
The real lyrics: “Heigh-ho, heigh-ho, it’s home from work I go…”
It’s funny which version we’ve chosen to emphasize, no?