Twelve 20-somethings chronicle their lives for WBUR. Learn more.
Twenty-five. This number represents both my age and the pay cut, percentage-wise, that I took to move to my current job.
It was the right decision. I am doing the work that I like to do: writing about science, drawing silly pictures, and sometimes a combination of the two.
I should preface this all by saying I’m aware that I’m well-off compared to your archetypal Millenial. By the way, is there someone we can we talk to about changing this designation? It sounds like a disco musical on roller skates. I have never had to move in with my parents, my longest bout of unemployment was a month and a half over the summer before I started grad school, and I have health insurance.
But, yes, I share a lot of characteristics with the other members of the species Twentysomethingus privileged-post-collegiens: student debt in the upper five figures, unpaid and low-paid internships, and the promise from all kinds of pundits and economic analysts that I’ll never make as much money in my lifetime as the hypothetical version of me that graduated in 2000 instead of 2008.
I’m not sure what I expected to become at age 25, as my professional plans have always involved either art or writing. And whenever you decide to pursue these things, you will quickly be told by parents and teachers and friends that success is never assured and money is almost never forthcoming in these lines of work. And then you find out just how right all of that conventional wisdom is.
So you find your bliss where you can.
One of my favorite jobs I’ve ever had was working at the New Deal Fish Market on Cambridge Street in Cambridge. On paper, I suppose I was “overqualified” for this position. I don’t even want to call it “underemployment,” because it was good work. Gutting a fish and wrapping it in paper wasn’t exactly my minor in college, but there was a feeling of pleasure in providing something nourishing and tangible that is not quite as easy to capture while slinging pixels for The Man.
But I don’t want to undermine the whole concept of underemployment — to be the jerk 20-something telling my peers to just roll up their sleeves and keep a stiff upper lip. I was lucky in that my fish market job was something where I got to actually use my hands. Evisceration as soulcraft. Plus I was working for a small family business. This is not the usual day job, I think.
(I have seen the best minds of my generation bored hysterical by tweeting and breeding Excel spreadsheets out of consumer surveys.)
Anyway, back to “the cut” I first mentioned. A year ago, I was working as a legal reporter. I had a decent salary, employer-paid health insurance, and a tiny but steadily burgeoning 401(k). There were little granola bars in a cupboard at the office. I found out that the really nice thing about having a bit of money was not having to worry constantly about money. I was content.
But while I do enjoy legal reportage from the likes of NPR’s Nina Totenberg and Slate’s Dahlia Lithwick, my heartstrings weren’t exactly thrumming while poking around in a 200-page filing in an insurance case that had dragged on for 18 years. Being immersed in the minutiae of the corporate legal system, even as an observer, was disheartening.
So when the chance came to take a position as a science reporter, I transplanted my 401(k) into an IRA, bade farewell to my co-workers and free granola bars, and packed off to the new office at the southern tip of Manhattan. Journalism isn’t exactly a cracker-jack career option right now, but I think in picking science reporting, I at least have one of the nicer, more lifeboat-adjacent seats on this foundering ship.
I don’t know everything, but I know enough to have an idea of what questions to ask. And I got over my fear of sounding stupid to an interviewee a long time ago.
At this point, the thing I have to keep doing is yanking my gaze away from the long view of whatever is my perceived “status” as a journalist or a cartoonist, and back to my actual writing or drawing. Because that’s the thing that matters.