Published on Huffington Post College!

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I got some very exciting news yesterday afternoon: An article I wrote about my job at the library, and some of the issues recent college graduates face, was published on the Huffington Post college blog! You can read the original article here. 

Which brings me to another point… Originally, my plan was to keep this blog completely anonymous, but I decided that if the HuffPost accepted my article, then I would, in turn, accept that blogging and anonymity don’t really go together very well.

But more on that later, perhaps. If you don’t want to click over to the Huffington Post website, you can read the text of the article below.

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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.

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24 thoughts on “Published on Huffington Post College!

  1. It IS a legitimate job. I guess their basing in on your situation being a college graduate though. Still, it is completely unequivocally a solid job. You do what you love, and I, myself, envy that. If you think you are for something bigger then chase your goal but still live your dream. That’s just rational thinking. Otherwise, no shame whatsoever in being in a job that puts food on the plate. I’m in the service, Alina. 😀 Congrats on making it getting published in Huffington Post College. Your other post on expenses should make it there as well. I bet if you suggest it yourself, they will publish it too. And oh, so is this mean you will be posting your portrait some time too? 😀

    1. ha! no, no portrait. I don’t want people to judge what I write based on how I look. You will notice that I was careful not to post any pictures of myself on my Instagram feed, either. But there is a tiny picture of me at the top of the HuffPost piece, and now that my full name has been revealed or whatever, it’s just a matter of googling, really…
      What do you mean you are in the service – you mean the military? Were you stationed at Kadena in Okinawa?!? That’s where I used to live!

  2. This was a great article! 🙂 Well done! Working in a gorgeous library must be pretty magical at times. As a recent graduate I totally get where you’re coming from. I’m looking for work in my field but also managing a bookshop in the meantime, and sometimes it can be embarrassing to admit that I’m ‘still’ in retail despite finishing my course. At the same time, I think if you enjoy what you’re doing, you should be proud of it! I make up for my personal embarrassment by giving people lots of free books because I love giving people presents.

    1. It is! I should post pictures of it sometime. Or better yet, there’s a magical video of a poetry performance / outdoor light installation that I can share (once it’s uploaded to youtube). Ahh working in a bookstore would be amazing! But I totally get what you mean about retail being supposedly embarrassing — I worked on & off at Target for 2 years in high school and college, and people could be pretty weird about it. That’s super cool you get to give people free books 🙂 Thanks for the lovely comment, Anna!

  3. Congrats on being famous :-). Actually, your job sounds great for now. It’s too bad that the burden of loans and the high cost of living compels some people to go into panic mode upon leaving school. I think in my day it was a little easier to skate by and enjoy life before the real adulthood takes over.

    1. haha so far I’m pretty sure the bulk of the article views have come from my Facebook friends 🙂 You’re telling me about cost of living. I lived in a studio my last two years of college but that was simply not sustainable — gotta split the rent! As far as I’m concerned, “real adulthood” won’t start until I can afford a house — and that’s probably 10 years away at this point! Which is okay by me.

  4. It’s really kind of sad that you had to go through that. I think that, like when I graduated, having any kind of a job is a success. It took me ten years after I graduated from college (during part of which, admittedly, I was in graduate school) to find a “professional” job. In the meantime I did anything that I could to keep me independent and out of my parents’ house–cook, waitress, cashier, bookkeeper, the worse one was manager of a youth detention center. And yes, I also worked part-time in the Transporation Library on campus. Congratulations on finding work!

    1. Yes, to a certain extent, having any job is considered a success. But there’s definitely a hierarchy when it comes to post-grad employment, and at a very competitive school like Northwestern, the pressure can be pretty intense. I learned not to tell people that I worked at Target in high school, for example. But as time goes on, the less willing I am to bow to that kind of peer pressure…hopefully 🙂

      1. I guess things have gotten worse in one way than they were in the 70’s. When I first graduated, things were so bad up in Michigan that we were all glad if we just had a job. The only person I even knew who had a professional job immediately after school was one of my friends who was hired as a schoolteacher by the grade school she attended as a child. The rest of us were selling baskets and musical instruments, waiting tables, etc. On the other hand, if the economy is good enough for people to be snobbish about other people’s jobs, that’s sort of a good thing. I worked in the public library in high school, BTW!

        1. Yeah, I don’t think the economy is really good enough for people to by snobby about jobs, but it happens anyway. That’s interesting to hear about the 70s – graduates today (myself included) tend to assume that things “were always better” prior to the 2009 meltdown. ha! just goes to show.

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