If you’re a recent graduate or in any sort of period of transition whatsoever, you know the feeling of well-intentioned interrogation: variations on “What are you planning to do next?”
I’m wrapping up a service year with the Episcopal Service Corps, and you’d think my potential career opportunities were the talk of all of Baltimore. “Hey, how are you?” escalates quickly to “Have you thought about what you’re going to do after this year is up?” Sometimes I give a beneficent if vague “I’m sending out some resumes,” but at this point, I’ve basically snapped, because…
Because sending 200 resumes doesn’t guarantee a job. Because this economic downturn has been unspeakably hard for recent graduates who were told to go to college, work hard, accrue debt, get a good job, work hard, and pay off the debt accrued. Because “good job” turns out to be relative at best and nonexistent at worst. Because unpaid internships have become an abusive economy. Because it’s not anyone’s business what your survival and well-being entails unless you want it to be their business.
I’m pissed off. I’m tired. Fraught with cynicism, snark and self-satisfaction, here are my current responses to “What are you going to do after your service year?” and the responses to my responses (which are parenthetical).
Deadpan for best results.
- I’m committing aliyah and joining the Israeli Defense Force.
- I’m setting world records for binge-watching on Netflix.
- I’m reuniting with my vinyl collection.
- I’m moving to L.A. to focus on my acting career.
- I’m moving to Brooklyn to focus on my writing career.
- I’m moving to Nashville to focus on my music career.
- I’m going to be a temporary resident of a permanent site in the suburbs in order to serve as house manager and canine companion.
- I’m moving in with my parents.
- I’m going to live in a house with air conditioning for the first time in six years.
- I’m leading nuclear warhead awareness tours in the Eastern European bloc.
- I’m going back to high school. (“Oh, so you’re going to teach?” “No.”)
- I’m going to write a series of response poems to Shel Silverstein’s body of work, because the dude was a bona fide creeper, and the world needs to know about it. Seriously. Wiki it.
- I don’t know. What do you think I should do?
- I don’t know. What did you do after [insert transitional stage here]?
- Actually, I’m a freelance editor. (Insert disbelieving looks.)
- Actually, I’m a freelance reporter. (Insert pitying looks.)
- Actually, I do a bit of blogging. (Insert pitying looks, a pat on the back and an “Oh, well, I’m sure something will turn up.”)
- Actually, I haven’t even thought about it yet! Still have two weeks to go, right? (Best if you want a horrified stare.)
- You know what? I’m really sick of that question. (Insert defensive retort and anxious laugh.)
- You know what? I’ve decided it’s going to be a surprise. Wouldn’t want to ruin it for you. Or me.
Honestly, the best advice I’ve got isn’t my advice at all. It’s Cheryl Strayed’s advice. Strayed writes the “Dear Sugar” advice column for the website The Rumpus, and here is her reply to a letter from an English teacher who needed help fending off the career critics:
“You don’t have to get a job that makes others feel comfortable about what they perceive as your success. You don’t have to explain what you plan to do with your life. You don’t have to justify your education by demonstrating its financial rewards. You don’t have to maintain an impeccable credit score. Anyone who expects you to do any of those things has no sense of history or economics or science or the arts…
I hope when people ask … you’ll say: Continue my bookish examination of the contradictions and complexities of human motivation and desire; or maybe just: Carry it with me, as I do everything that matters. And then smile very serenely until they say oh.”
Good luck out there, sweet potatoes.