Posted by: Alice Inc. | June 17, 2009

I think, therefore I’m broke

Might as well be a line up.

Might as well be a line up.

“Shannan got a job offer todaay!”My sister told my mom triumphantly.

I stopped peeling the skinfat off the uncooked chicken breast in front of me. Just the day before, my dear, shiny, recently graduated MD of a sister had berated me at a restaurant for the better part of an hour for not following my boyfriend to Charleston, WV because, in her words, “Shannan has nothing else going for her.” Yesterday, she’d considered me arguably qualified for an entry level housewife position. Today, she was my headhunter?

“I was talking to the girl at Buckle, and she offered me a job working retail there. Haha! Can you believe that? I told her ‘Sorry, I just graduated from medical school, and was offered a position at Tufts Medical Center for their Internal Medicine and Pediatrics combined program.'”

Me: “Did she care?”

Sarah: “But I told her my sister wasn’t doing anything. Shannan, you could get ahead there. They even have management positions.”

My eyes, having never left the chicken breast in front of me, began to burn. As she listed the benefits of the retail profession, I resumed my chicken peeling with renewed vigor. I imagined that the skin fat was freckled, and the chicken was my sister.

When she finished her sermon, she left the room. My boyfriend, who’d arrived that afternoon but was aware of the follow-your-heart-to-west-virginia conversation the night before, put his hand on my back. “You’re not going to work at the mall,” he said.

I’m not going to work at the mall.

I have nothing against retail. Actually, I’ve worked in retail for two summers, so I have everything against retail. During my punk rock phase in high school, I almost got fired from Ann Taylor Loft for dying hot red streaks in my hair. I ended up quitting a week early to “go to basketball camp,” aka “abscond from the sales of pastel ankle length pants.” Last summer, while unpaid-interning (slave laboring?) at an internet television company called Boston.TV, I worked at the Gap in the center of Cambridge. I loved the people I worked with almost as much as I hated selling strappy tanks to the morbidly obese. “Wow, that halter really does wonders for your Ho Ho arms. I think you should get it in red, along with a denim jacket and an eating disorder.”

I’d like to say I went to college in order to never have to work in retail again. It’d be beneficial to my point to say I paid 40 some grand a year to one day look back at my time at Gap and ATL and talk about how they developed my work ethic that got me where I am today. But that’s not why I went to college. I went to college for the last reason you should go to college. I went to college to learn about the world around me.

I’m hardcore liberal arts. I love math, history, sociology, religion, and philosophy — the latter of these I turned into my major. Philosophy, i thought, the love of knowledge. Yeah, that about fit. I wanted to know everything — to be a human Wikipedia. I wanted to play basketball in college, write for the paper, be as well rounded, as renaissance as a woman could be. And I did all of that. Unfortunately, I did it all without giving much thought to my cover letter.

The truth is, I don’t exactly know what I want to do the rest of my life. I know I want to write, to be creative, to be constantly learning, and exciting others. But those fields — television, journalism, writing, advertising, even law, are protected by yards of red tape. They require connections, years of higher education, or a decade or so of destitution. It’s like a 50 dollar cover charge at a bar that you’ve never been to. Why would I invest that much when I’m not sure if I’ll like it?

I took a  test my freshman year to figure out what I want to be when I grow up. It was standardized. It came with a bubble sheet. I was either A, B, C, D, or E. I had to fill in the circles with a number two pencil or the machine wouldn’t read it correctly, and I’d spend my life as an unhappy dolphin trainer, or a depressed campaign manager. If I used a number three pencil, I’d be guaranteed a mid life crisis by 34.

When the test came back, the career counselor laughed light-heartedly. “Well,” she said, “this never happens.” She showed me a piece of paper with a pie chart, divided into equal portions with letters identifying each slice. Two slices on opposite sides of the pie were black. “Those dark portions represent you and your characteristics. Usually, individuals are comprised of two neighboring pie slices. Realistic and Mechanical makes a good engineer; Idealistic and compassionate make great Non Profs. You’re Realistic and Idealistic. They’re opposites.”

She looked down at a list of jobs. “You’re in luck! There’s one job listed for RI’s! You should be a librarian.”

There it was. My fate. I was condemned by a number two pencil and 59 questions to spend my days censuring adults for late book returns and huffing paper-protecting chemicals. I wondered if my field included the kind of librarian in the pages of Playboy.

“But, I don’t want to be a librarian.” I told her. “Well,” she said, “that’s what the test says. Think about it. Maybe it’ll grow on you.”

It never did.

So, instead of concentrating on one field of study, I pursued every divergent passion I had. I played basketball all four years at Cornell. I was a major player in the first three, helped the team to its first ever Ivy League Championship and NCAA appearance in the penultimate, and became the leading scorer and rebounder, and the captain in my ultimate. I wrote a social commentary in the Opinion Section in the Cornell Daily Sun since my sophomore year. It was pretty good, and I got a few free drinks and friendly stalkers out of it. I also wrote for the sports section, and earned a 3.49 as a Philosophy Major with a minor in Law and Society. For my “service” to and “leadership” for Cornell, I was even tapped for a secret senior honor society.

And where am I now? Exactly where I was 4 years ago.

At a recent interview, when my potential employer looked at my resume, her eyebrow raised. Then her eyes widened, then she just looked confused. She put the paper down.

“What do you consider your strongest attribute.”

“I’m good at practically everything I do.”

“And, what do you want to do?”

Dead air.

When I was driving to practice at 3:30 pm about a week later, I almost hit a drunk kid in the street. I recognized him as the drug abusing hot mess who lived across the hall freshman year. A week after that, I found out he got the job. He was a business major with a 2.8.

At the restaurant where she berated me, when my sister explained that there’s nothing for me in DC, so I should give up and go to Charleston, I shouted, “I have to do something first. I have to do something.” She rolled her eyes and said, “And what’s that? Every time I talk to you its something different. Advertising, television, PR, engineering…”

And she’s absolutely right. She doesn’t quite understand, because she’s lucky enough to have know what she’s wanted to do for as long as I can remember; she’s followed a set path and succeeded on every step. I keep thinking about my sister playing operation, or wearing a stethoscope around the house, when she was 7. At that age, I was burning the hair off barbies and beating every boy in my class in foot races. And I’d still spend the afternoon wafting the smell of burn plastic and sprinting the blacktop if it came with health benefits.

I’m not sure what I want to be, and, in this economic climate, I’m not getting much of a chance to try things out. Before this job search started, when I still had grit, people would ask me, “why study philosophy?” I always had the same answer:

“I figure, if I keep doing what I love, I’ll end up where I want to be.”

If I get a job that I like, my first paycheck’s going to embroidering that onto a pillow.

Posted by: malpants15 | June 11, 2009

Indig(nity)estion

So today I received an email from a human resources department about the status of my application.  Apparently, there are candidates whose skills more closely match those that the position requires, which, as the posting describes, include:

Must be able to attend work regularly and predictably

Ability to operate a personal computer

The employee may be required to push, pull, lift, and/or carry up to 20 pounds

Work involves walking, talking, hearing, sitting, bending, using hands to handle, feel carry or operate objects, tools, or controls, and reaching with hands and arms. Vision abilities required by this job include close vision and the ability to adjust focus.

Of course I have simplified this list for my own uses, but I have not fabricated any part of it.  One of the things the job description included was administering drug tests.  Yea.  Peeing.  The educational requirements?  High school diploma and a year of semi-relevant experience,  three years of experience, or any other relative combination of education/experience.  I guess a BS in labor relations from Cornell doesn’t qualify.  Did I mention I had someone at the company turn my resume in?  Because I did.  Even though I was embarassed at how much I had lowered my standards, I was willing to swallow my pride for health coverage.  Now I have no way to pay the doctor to remove the dignity lodged behind my tonsils. 

As long as these nauseating misalignments between my logical expectations and my occupational experiences continue to give me indigestion, you can look forward to similar rants.

Posted by: lazilox | May 31, 2009

Meet Rob.

 

Joyous

Joyous

I’m an arrogant sonofabitch. Always have been. Probably because I’m good at everything. Or at least I was. Except for athletic endeavors, which I’ve primarily blamed on my height: my biggest insecurity which I’ve covered up by a pretty sizeable Napoleonic complex that I’ve been working on for 22 years give or take (note: above).  Yet as I find myself dreading the eviction date that is my graduation from Cornell University looming, I should be resentful of the university that’s succeeded so well in attacking that complex by making its students feel smaller, dumber, and intellectually inadequate. Wait, I am resentful.

Let’s start at the beginning. Long story short, I had pretty much all the knowledge I would need until high school by the second grade. I was going to change the world when I invented that cancer cure, or designed that new space ship. My life’s goal was outlined explicitly by my Jewish parents: to get perfect grades, do a whole bunch of extracurriculars to flesh out that bottom half of my resume, all to get into the best college I could (and marry a jewish girl somewhere along the way). I didn’t have to think or study. What the hell did studying mean if you already knew the stuff? Thus, when all my friends started composing their college lists with neatly bulleted points that intended to differentiate all those different institutions, I sent out a bunch of resumes and copy/pasted the common app, eventually deciding on CU off a coin flip. I wasn’t disappointed; in the hour I had visited the school I had bumped into Bill Nye and he told me I should “definitely go here”. Why not? Besides, my goal once in college was the same as every other kid’s: to get as drunk and laid as often as possible within a four year window.

You know that speech everyone wishes their parents gave them, the “you can be anything you want when you grow up” speech? I hate that speech.  The only job placement test I ever took was  on a computer in high school, probably programmed on a commodore 64, proclaimed that based on the honesty in my answers I should pursue a career in either commercial fishing or astrology. So I did the logical thing: I enrolled in the arts and science school, so as not to limit my opportunities. Signed up for the math major because, well, I’m good at math. Then math got hard. No, not hard; math got useless. To actually complete the major, I joined the econ major as well, since I needed five upper level courses in blah blah blah for the people atop Mallott hall to check me off on their lists. Econ lead to business, and then voilà! I found something I liked!

I started collecting knowledge of finance, entrepreneurship, skipping accounting (there’s that arrogance again), and eventually found a place that I thought I was a perfect fit for. I could leverage my math skills and go into the extremely lucrative world of investment banking. Playing with money, I could have a salary that no fresh graduate should ever have, at something that was fun, and I was legitimately good at? Too good to be true. Just as the applications for summer internships went out, as the bulge bracket firms swung their sticks at the piñata that was the investment banking industry, it sprung a hole and shit started spraying out all over them and the rest of the world. That’s like (really bad analogy ahead) stepping out of law school clutching your diploma, and watching on TV as Obama passed some new Amendment banning law from being practiced. Oops. At this point, I’m slightly embarrassed to admit that it’s still the industry I want to be in.

So as I leave Cornell, and I begin packing my intellectual baggage, I find myself coming up short. All the job-specific knowledge I’ve acquired is for a dying industry. All those complex securities I learned to build are ridiculed daily on CNBC as the item on the balance sheet of some poor, innocent, American company causing it to go under. My math major gave me the great power to compose a mathematical proof of the form: “If: obvious statement, …?, Then: obvious statement” (which usually nabs me around half credit).  Real useful tool. I used it just the other day in real life. Seriously. As for the econ major? Considering the fine print at the end of each chapter legally states that the economists that wrote the book have no idea what they are talking about, and that none of these theories work in the real world for inexplicable reasons… I don’t even want to finish that sentence. Useless. Wines might have been the most practical class I took.

Cornell University did do something for me. I wound up with a bruised ego, a general feeling of inadequacy, some unhealthy habits, a bill for some $180,000, and of course that quasi-justifiable pretentious elitism. That elitism that nags at you, convincing you not to take the entirely decent job because there’s a better one waiting. We are the best of the best here, right? So why won’t any of these companies call me back? And why do all my state school friends have jobs? Cornell has this lovely program for its engineers allowing them to stay an extra year, tack another line or two onto their resumes, and more importantly: be fully shielded from the real world for another year. So while my friends stay here for a victory lap, I don’t quite have that luxury. So, I’m just gonna have to start my own company.

Can I borrow some money?

Posted by: malpants15 | May 31, 2009

Meet Mallory. (AKA Pomp as a Victim of Circumstance)

 

Bright future in front of her.

Bright future in front of her.

Ah, graduation.  Finally, the culmination of my academic efforts boiled down to a two hour ceremony surrounded by some of the brightest and most well accomplished students in the nation. And about forty reminders that I don the traditional silly robe and square hat in the worst economic situation since the Great Depression.  Steinbeck’s second wet dream.  

David Skorton, Cornell’s President, offered this helpful little number game: Less than twenty percent of graduates are getting jobs.  Awesome.  Twistedly, I felt better about myself. 

That is, until I got to my major’s graduation, and my dean told me that two thirds of our class had plans for the next year.  He said it in a celebratory manner, forgetting that a third of the class was still trying to figure out how to justify their student loans and four years of academic masochism.  I mostly tried to refrain from throwing my chair at him and settled my need to disagree by turning around and shaking my head at my parents.  I am sure they were proud. 

Recently, I had an interview during which I was asked to talk about my high school and college experiences.  I listed of my pre-Cornell prowess, covering the spectrum from Mathlete to sports captainships to band geek.  I explained how I arrived at my major, Industrial Labor Relations, a mix of the soft sciences and a focus on the people end of business.  I wrapped it up with a 3.6 in the best school for my major at an Ivy League institution (read: well-adjusted nerd).  What more could an employer or parent want?  I was a well-balanced, likeable over achiever without the ego or drug problems of a pre-I banker or sorority president.  Chalk it up to my socioeconomic background, appreciation for hard work, or general malevolence for wasted opportunities, but I have done my best to prepare myself for the real world.  I was a shoe-in, bound to have multiple offers by the time graduation rolled around. 

Enter economic clusterfuck.  Now I am an apathetic, bitter, grumpy graduate.  What happened to the security of the top 15 university rank holders, the great equalizer? Jobs were supposed to come to me.  Now, maybe more than ever, I am seeing just how unequal this all can be.  Those with connections still can hold their heads above water while I move back home accompanied only by student loans, unsellable textbooks, and a suitcase full of theme party outfits.  Welcoming me with open arms are the stuffed animals I left on my childhood bed and my parents who I feel I have disappointed but support me anyway; as grueling as it has been to receive back to back to back “we don’t have a position open right now/that meets your qualifications/that ever existed.” It has been stomach destroying to try to explain to my mother, the most optimistic cynic ever (which only makes it worse) that no, something won’t come along.  No, please don’t turn my room into dad’s personal yoga studio…whether I am home or not. 

I used to think only old men whose diets consisted of OJ and chili variations needed ulcer prevention methods.  The application process, however, has turned me into Mylanta’s #4 customer, behind three men with two first names each.  (I am rapidly approaching Billy Bob’s #3 spot, wish me luck!)  The parents are slowly starting to understand just how dire my straits are and how little I want to discuss my job hunt.  They let me sleep past noon and eat pizza for breakfast and no longer question what my plans are for the day. 

That said, I am slowly organizing my post Baccalaureate life; if not putting the pieces back together at least making piles.  I know that I have a great network of friends, a supportive family, and easy access to a large city.  I remember once being driven and dedicated to my future.  I even recall a time when I put pants on before 4pm.  Baby steps.

 

Posted by: Alice Inc. | May 31, 2009

Fall into the Gap Year

 

When god closes a door, he closes a window to keep the central heating in.

When god closes a door, he closes a window to keep the central heating in.

At our graduation from Cornell University in May of 09, our dear old President Skorton — who’d felt the blow of these economic times when he volunteered to forgo a salary increase, forcing himself to live off a measly 427 grand — reminded us that only 20% of college graduates this year who applied for jobs got one.           


You have found the majority.

Hey there, youuuu. Welcome to the virtual equivalent of our moms’ couches. We’re post grads, we’re Ivy Leaguers, and we are considering marrying the diploma-less technicians at Apple Stores for the health insurance. We’ve come from the Big Red of Cornell and fallen into the Big Red of student debt, with no visible way out. We’re the delirious young’ns in the unemployment line, still wearing our cap and gown, clutching our diploma and rambling to ourselves, or to anyone nearby that, “I’m going to Cornell in the fall. Once I graduate, I’m going to make it big!” That’s right, kids… we’re overeducated and unemployed.

 I started realizing my own inadequacy for employment back in the fall, when Gap, Inc. didn’t hire me for their business program based entirely on the fact that I didn’t know the equation for pricing off the top of my head. I sat stunned as the shrill voice at the other end – probably the same voice that announced the dress code for the theme mixer with Tau Psi Zeta back at Texas State – told me, “Well, it’s obvious that you’re very creative, but how are you going to price our line of sweaters.”

Suddenly, my collegiate bubble was popped by the hailing shit of the real world. I had received a 5 in AP Calc in high school, earned an A in Calc at Cornell, and rocked my micro and macro econ classes. I have a near photographic memory. On top of that, I had captained six 3-hour basketball practices, written a column for the Cornell Daily Sun, and written an 8-page paper on Hume’s philosophy of perception – in the past week. And I remained gravely unqualified for the glorified position of generic-sweater-pricer.

Over the year, I had numerous conversations with brilliant, active, admirable people. People I want running my country, or pricing my sweaters, or whatever they choose to do. Hotel School Presidents, Cornell Daily Sun Editors, Econ geniuses, captains of athletic teams, feminist leaders – they’ve all been transformed from starry-eyed school leader to curve-backed, listless unemployed.

We know. We’ve been told. I feel like I’m in seventh grade again, behind the curtains of the auditorium with Alex. “It’s not you,” he said, furiously cleaning up his Nanopet’s shit. “It’s the economy.” Regardless of why Alex based his relationship decisions on the rise and fall of the stock market, we, those pawning off our silver spoon to pay for our Starbucks double shots, keep hearing it every day. “It’s not you, it’s the economy.”

I held Alex down and made him kiss me. I could, because my father was a Yetti, and I was a 5’11 seventh grader. But no matter how much we grope and grab at Yahoo Hotjobs, Idealist.org, and every other employed person we meet, we can’t sexually assault the economy into submission. Layoffs, cutbacks, and hiring freezes have taken the autonomous power out of the hands of college graduates. No matter the force of our efforts, our fates are no longer in our hands, but rather in those of Tina, the HR specialist from San Francisco who humps the pricing equation each night. Or, perhaps worse, the digits of the tiny numbers on the last page of USA Today’s Money section.

I know that people have it much worse than we. I couldn’t imagine being a mother of three, having to come home and tell my kids that I’ve been laid off. But I do believe there’s a story here. It’s one shared by many one-hopeful college graduates around the country, and one that is too-often told through numbers like 80%, rather than autobiographical words. Each of the contributors to this blog are intelligent, active, well-educated, and jobless. In the shredded remnants of my collegiate idealism, I believe this country should have a place for them, or make one.

But until that point, grab your Easy Mac or Ramin, curl up with your favorite stuffed animal from grade school, and watch them struggle. Bahahahaha.

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