Three months after graduating college, Brad Foster wakes up at 12:30 PM, finishes the warm beer on the cardboard box nightstand next to his bed, and falls back asleep until 3. It’s a Wednesday and his next four hour shift at Old Navy isn’t until Saturday afternoon. Until then, he has nowhere to be, no one to tell him what to do, no money and no self worth.
In another part of town, Chris Germano, a fellow graduate, spends his afternoon break taking a few laps around the office building alongside middle-aged secretaries. The bottom of his once perfectly ironed shirt is starting to curl up from heat and Notorious B.I.G. pumps through his headphones. As disheartening as this scenario sounds, Chris couldn’t be happier at this particular moment. There are only a few hours to go until this week’s Hump Day is finally over. He might even buy himself some Ben and Jerry’s Americone Dream to celebrate.
Finally, there is the case of Jackie Adams. A grad in an all-too-familiar circumstance, Jackie now lives at home with her parents and has no employment prospects to speak of. Her daily agenda and outlook for the future are both so bleak there is virtually no reason to divulge in frivolous details.
It may seem as though these recently escaped students have nothing in common except degrees and gowns that are beginning to gather dust. In reality, however, they are the combined face of aspiring young professionals in America. More importantly, these three are sharing arguably one of the scariest realizations; their lofty aspirations are laughably unattainable and The Rat Race is more of a rapist than a temptress.
“I thought I was going to get a job at a P.R. Firm and would be making 60k right out of the gate” says Brad as he sorts the laundry around his room based on smell. Despite an average amphetamine-fueled GPA, schmoozing for recommendation letters and an impressive amount of obligatory volunteer work, he has not been able to find employment aside from his subpar retail job at Old Navy.
“By this point I imagined I’d be wearing a nice suit, driving a cool car and having relations with two or three career oriented women” he laments as he pulls on his ill-fitting polo shirt. “Instead, it’s Flag Tee’s and Flip Flop Fever.”
Meanwhile, despite a full-time job (with great dental benefits) that is sure to look impressive on a resume, Chris finds himself equally as discontented. Watercooler chatter and cramming his legs underneath a tiny desk have left him feeling as empty as the sleeping pill bottles scattered around his sparsely decorated apartment.
And with good reason. Less than a year ago, Chris had his eyes set on working in the film production business. This had been his passion for over ten years and his major in college, where he earned a 3.9 GPA in addition to his extensive work with the college’s TV station and student film festival. Unfortunately, he quickly realized his chance of breaking into the film industry was virtually nonexistent given the state of the economy and his geographic location. A month after graduating, Chris received an enticing job offer (read: salary), which he jumped at just to have “something to do”. Ironically, his strong academic record and extracurricular achievements are what ultimately attracted the job offer in the first place.
“It’s not all bad, but it definitely isn’t all good either” Chris admits in between sips of a frozen treat from Jamba Juice. More than just a refreshing beverage on a hot summer day, he says little indulgences such as this provide “small joys to look forward to”, despite mounting hopelessness and declining interest in his once important dreams.
Unfortunately this seems to be a familiar pattern for recent grads. Jackie feels the same way as she scans the Craigslist Job Postings for the fifth time in one day. Brad feels the same way every time he sees the words “old” or “navy”. Even those who are lucky enough to secure gainful employment in an industry outside their true passion, like Chris, are prone to this curse. After all, there is something flattering and seductive for a student when an employer becomes interested in them based on their hard work and achievements in college; accolades professors often overlook in their tunnel vision of personal interests and perpetuation of education as subversive big-business. As a result, bamboozled students often fall victim to the allure of this recognition and leave their goals and beliefs to deteriorate inside their once hungry heads.
So the million-dollar question now becomes: how do we keep the nation’s youth from jumping off of tall structures when they realize the world is not what it was promised to be? Luckily, we might not have to do anything. Like many generations before, these feelings of dissatisfaction tend to pass as convenience and necessity of life pervade. It is no secret that dreams, when pushed from the mind by superficial desires and complacency, are left to die in the metaphorical shed alongside dusty kites and bicycles with woodblocks on the pedals. Ambitions for one’s life become memories as life barrels forward without remorse. Somewhere, a would-have-been country star will write a song about this phenomenon, but no one will ever hear it.
But that doesn’t need to be the case. Today’s frustrated and discouraged youth, such as Jackie, Chris and Brad, may appear to have dismally ordinary futures, but their fates are far from sealed. There is still a chance for them to avoid owning a Ford Taurus and dining at Olive Garden. Their hope comes in the form of a mutually existent introspective question that serves as the lifeblood for dreams. Furthermore, recent studies contest that this question may also hold resurrecting powers for dreams that have already died from neglect, or in some extreme cases, murder (though these statements have not been evaluated by the FDA or CIA).
The question is so simple it only consists of three words and four letters, yet it becomes increasingly elusive among the psychosis of living. So pay attention and ask yourself before it’s too late: is this it?
–Brett Jones, July 2011