When I was a young girl—15, maybe 16—my mother and I would have the occasional disagreement. I wasn’t allowed to have sugary cereal, but all I wanted to eat in the morning was Marshmallow Fluff-Pops. I couldn’t watch television past 10 p.m., which made it difficult for me to participate in the morning carpool’s discussion of “Charlie Rose.” Nor could I sleep over at a friend’s house, have a MySpace account, drive in the rain, or smoke my marijuana cigarettes inside.
But for all our silly rows, Mom always encouraged me to celebrate my individuality and parade my strangeness. “We’re all freaks,” she’d say. “And anyone pretending otherwise is a liar or else incredibly dull.”
No one in my home told me I needed to dress a certain way, tuck in a shirt, or hem a pair of pants. No one told me to use a lint roller or dry-clean a raincoat. No one told me black didn’t match with brown or that I was too young for clogs and leisure suits. And no one told me I needed to brush my hair.
That was until I started looking for a job. I’ve only just dipped my toes in the job-hunting water, but already it has chilled me to the bone and made me doubt everything I once liked about myself.
My crisis of self-confidence began about a week ago when I resolved to go to the career fair. I had heard that attending such an event might lead me in the right direction down a rarely-trodden but ultimately rewarding path toward some great professional goal.
Naturally, I had high hopes. I envisioned not just any old Career Fair, but a virtual job playground! I would go from one happy, laughing booth to another to a funnel cake stand and, finally, to the perfect job. I’d find a place where they wear what they please to the office. (That is, when they wear anything at all to the office—that is, when they even bother to go into the office!) I’d find an employer who understands my peculiarities, my creative needs, and my incredible potential—one who didn’t care a lick whether I combed my hair.
Walking to Edmunds Ballroom that morning, I woke up to a harsher reality, or at least a rainier one. I don’t mean that as a metaphor. It was actually raining very hard. And my usually unkempt hair was not the better for it. I walked in, a mess of frizz and tangled bobby pins. My umbrella broke, and so did my spirit.
Everywhere there were suits and professionalism and perfect hair. There was nobody who looked like me at all. It was just like high school, only with more Costco cookies and lemonade. I tried my best to fit in—really, I did. But I was just not ready to wear a suit, as I explained to the nice lady from the Princeton Review who gave me an old GMAT prep book in which to hyperventilate.
My attempts at networking were a bit demoralizing. But through the process, more and more discouraging thoughts occurred to me: Why did I even go to college? What if my best qualities are the ones that can’t possibly appear on a resume and certainly don’t come across in a Manhattan Beach once-over? What if I don’t have any best qualities? Am I a person or a commodity?!
These past three-and-a-half years, I’ve learned almost nothing about how to immediately impress other people or leave them with the inscrutable impression that I’m an efficient go-getter who deserves a job. Perhaps I’ve learned about more nebulous and valuable things that will make me a thoughtful citizen in the long run. Perhaps I’ve gained critical thinking skills that will make me an essential problem solver in our nation’s most serious times. Perhaps I’ve realized the importance of engaging systems of oppression and using words like “reductive” and “marginalized.” Perhaps.
I would urge my fellow desperate job-seeking seniors (or over-achieving, internship-crazed sophomores) to follow their dreams, even though they’re hard to come by in a truly depressing and confusing economy. To not let the Princeton Review intimidate you into buying a subscription to their newsletter. To put your best foot forward, but walk with both feet wherever you want to go. To do what will make you happy, really happy. And very rich.