It was less than reassuring to hear repeatedly throughout my final year as an undergraduate that this was the worst time to be graduating from college, that the job market was more bleak than the daily dining hall options, and that soon I would be emerging into the dark underbelly of unemployed American life, forced to confront and question my self-worth and every misstep that had led me to this Top Ramen-infested ditch.
Embittered professors whose positions were being threatened by budget cuts told me that going to graduate school now guaranteed as much financial security as following the path of a starving artist, so that was out. When May 2010 arrived and I bid farewell to my college days with a Bachelor of Arts in Literature, I wondered what promise America now held for an ambitious young 22-year-old lad like myself.
So far, the first few months out of college haven't been what I anticipated, nor have they been what I thought I would want. I spent a lot of time, particularly during my final spring semester, getting anxious about my expectations for life after graduation, envisioning what I believed would help me to feel stable and worrying that it didn't seem to align with the grim realities assaulting me from every direction. Indeed, stability is what I was hoping for. It's not what I got, and I'm extremely grateful for that.
A heady time
The beginning of post-graduate life, in the expert opinion I have developed over the past four months, should feel like hurling yourself off a cliff. This doesn't mean, however, that it should make you actually want to hurl yourself off a cliff. What I mean is that it should be exhilarating, uncertain, sometimes scary and anything but stable. I was fortunate enough to have money left over from jobs I had as a student, and I also qualified to defer my student loans for a while, which admittedly put me in a position that not all recent grads can afford.
Still, I haven't been making money for four months -- the longest consistent period of time since I spent a semester abroad in the fall of 2008. Yes, I've been applying for jobs that aren't working out for one reason or another, but the freedom and excitement that have defined this summer for me are more valuable than building my resume or getting a jump start on a career.
I've been hiking when I want, cooking with my family, working on my fiction portfolio and then submitting pieces to journals and contests, and catching up with people. A good friend and I spent a week living out of my old car, exploring some of the western states neither of us had seen before, including California, Nevada, Colorado, Wyoming, and Idaho. Of course, we weren't sure whether the car would survive the journey; most of our meals came out of cans that we heated on my camping stove, and we slept in the car, stretched out on the reclined driver and passenger seats while parked on dubious streets throughout (and occasionally being asked to relocate by friendly authorities) -- so it was far from a luxurious trip.
But while I was seeing mountain ranges and rivers and finding myself in strange towns with stranger people, some of my other friends from the Class of 2010 were wallowing in despair, trying to figure out what had gone wrong, why their majors weren't suddenly translating into careers, and why the job market wasn't waiting for them and their degrees with arms wide open. They were going over the edge of a cliff as well, only they weren't embracing it; rather, they were resisting, which only meant that they were tumbling, getting caught up and bruised by every piece of rock jutting out along the way.
There's a chance they'll be employed sooner than I will, but they spent all of this time panicking. These precious summer months, brimming with unscheduled time that most of us will not see again for quite a while, slipped right past my friends.
I'm not trying to be an advocate for unlimited irresponsibility and laziness. My anxieties are far from completely at bay, and I will soon be writing cover letter after cover letter and making endless follow-up phone calls, trying to find a job with a publishing house or a magazine. I'm even moving to New York City, since that is where most of those jobs exist.
Still, this is the first time in my life that I've had no guarantees and no structure of any sort. That's monumental, and it's worth celebrating. I'm paying the debt I owe to the young boy who once dreamed of traveling with minimal worries and attachments, and I'm doing my best to avert an eventual midlife crisis by giving myself plenty to look back on and smile about. Far too many of my friends in their 30s lament the fact that they didn't spend even just one summer taking some time to explore and appreciate a fleeting freedom. I'm falling off a cliff, but I'm glad to be doing so, and when I am eventually somewhere stable I will think fondly of the journey that brought me there.
[Editor's note: Matthew Taylor has since found a job in New York City, "selling tickets to comedy clubs in Times Square, totally on commission," he tells us. It's "very difficult to do." He is still trying to find employment in his chosen field.]
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