I don’t have a job yet, and I’m okay with it. Why aren’t you?
No matter what stage of life you are in, there seems to be an age-appropriate question those around you feel compelled to ask. When you’re young, it’s “What do you want to be when you grow up?” In high school, it becomes “What college do you want to go to?” As college graduation rolls around, it evolves into “What are your plans? Where are you working?” After that comes “When are you getting married?”, “When are you having kids?”, “When are you retiring?”, and “When are you going to die?”
The problem I have with this line of questioning does not lie within the questions themselves, but rather the reaction to their answers. When I was younger, I went through a number of phases trying to figure out my niche in life. At three years old, I had decided I would be a reverse psychologist when I grew up, an idea my mother laughed at. In third grade, I was hell-bent on becoming a stand-up comedian, a phase I was encouraged to grow out of. When I entered high school, I had decided I wanted to become a profiler for the FBI, yet my high school guidance counselor felt the need to dash my dreams as she told me I “wouldn’t pass the background check.” Never were my decisions supported.
Lately, questions about my plans for the future have flooded in. Am I going to continue with school? Do I have a job lined up? Is my résumé updated? Do I know where I will be living? With each inquiry into my future, it is hard not to grow aggravated with the seemingly unending barrage of probes.
Now that my graduation is less than four months away, I have been bombarded with questions about graduate school or where I plan on working. When I reply with the simple “That’s a good question,” people respond with looks of pity and condolence. Why, I ask, do people feel the need to feel bad for me? I am perfectly content with my situation, and there is no need for anyone to feel bad for me, particularly when they do not understand my position.
The larger issue at hand is our incessant need to ask others the questions to which we do not have answers ourselves. Ellen DeGeneres once joked that the reason adults ask kids what they want to be when they grow up is because the adults are “looking for ideas.” Are we asking those around us about their career aspirations because we cannot find direction on our own?
I find that there are only two other reasons people grow inquisitive about my job prospects. First, they are making polite conversation. Typically, these inquiries come from distant family members or people I interact with in passing. The second group, and perhaps I am cynical in thinking this, consists of people who are itching to share their own good fortune, wanting to tell of the wonderful job they’ve landed at Deutsche Bank or Goldman Sachs.
Congratulations. Your future is secured with a 401(k) and health benefits. But will you be any happier than other people who are still searching for the jobs that are right for them?
So often people forget that we are still in our formative years, working hard at finding ourselves and what we are good at. The constant pressure to define our worth by knowing our future plans is often too much to handle, making the already stressful time leading up to graduation seem even more arduous than it is. Why do we find the need to justify our life and our work with solid plans for our future?
I, for one, will not allow the value of my work be determined by the plans I cannot make. And, more importantly, I will not allow those around me to shame me for not having answers to questions that do not need answering.