Graduating from college in 1981 is very different from 2012. I was debt free and job free and felt quite happy just looking for a job. My plans had changed the summer before I graduated as I had decided not to go to law school. Interning at the public defender service my last semester had changed my mind drastically. No worries, it was just a new twist in a life waiting before me. Finding a job, any job was key and when I found one as a residential counselor for troubled youth in the state next to mine, I was set. I never once thought this job was the next step in my career, it was a first job with a salary and benefits but it was not something I was interested in doing for the long haul. I had no idea what that job would be, but I had always felt that I was a lucky one, working to help those who weren’t so lucky seemed a good fit.
Well I was young, that was a tough job that needed skills and I stayed for less than a year. What I took away both personally and professionally was invaluable though: a real interest in working with children, and my husband ( we got married a year later).
My daughter was graduated from college in 2008, right at the beginning of the economic crisis. She had career plans when she graduated and there were expectations. She was in debt, heavy debt and she needed a job. She did not want to accept any job; she was on a road to a career, but she did. Those first jobs were invaluable too, but for her they slowed down her forward motion which she feels is detrimental to the overall career plan. We have had many conversations about how life doesn’t come with a map and that forward may seem sideways or even backward at the time….. you just need to keep moving. That, she says is not her reality; that was mine and now we are in a very different age.
( She loves to remind me how old I am) Now it is about getting to the next level, moving up in the position and making a mark, right away. It is graduate school and volunteer work and it is making the right connections. The stress on these young graduates is enormous and the serendipitous life that we had the privilege of experiencing is being left behind.
I went on to follow my dream, once I knew what it was, and go back to school and have a personal life as well. I pursued what made me happy, but I balanced it with what my family needed. I am driven, she did get that from me, but I did not map out life I walked the path that was in front of me. We have so many choices but if we are not open to those possibilities we feel trapped. I worry too about my son who is about to graduate this year, what are his options; he too is in heavy debt and the driving force for him is a job, to begin his career. It is not that I don’t want that for him, I do, but I want his life to be much more. Stress is part of life, but it should not be the driving force in life.
We do live in a different time; a more determined time. Careers are made earlier and families are started later. Youth is only offered once; it is a constant in all this and we must never forget its importance on society. We need the optimism, the vitality of our youth, it is what makes aging bearable.