Funemployment and the real (or imagined) life crises of a twenty-something.

I just finished my masters in public health in May (woohoo!), but the job search hasn’t been the kindest (womp, womp!). However, it hasn’t been the kindest to many of my classmates, and most of my friends who graduated last December are just now finding full-time employment in their field. So I really shouldn’t feel bad. It’s a rough economy and a tough job market, and considering that I pretty much went straight through school, minus a short break for a year with Americorps, I’m young and without the years of work experience that many of my classmates had prior to starting their degree.

So I continue to write copious cover letters and scan multiple job boards online, trying to stay focused and positive. Every so often the feeling of discouragement starts to creep up, and I have to push it back down. I start getting this notion that at my age I should at least be on the path to having it figured out. I mean I only have another 5 years before I’m 30! When you’re in your early–now mid–twenties, being in your thirties seems so distant. It seems like an age category where you should have your stuff together, be in the midst of some defined career path, and be settled into a life–not just starting. It’s really TV’s fault that most every twenty-something thinks like this. Movies make 30 seem like the turning point to becoming old, like it’s all down-hill from there. They make it seem like college through age 25 is the only time to wile out and have crazy adventures and from 25-30 you should be serious and unilaterally focused on climbing the employment ladder and finding a spouse. Once you hit 30, movies portray women freaking out about a ticking biological clock, people struggling to hang on to their “youth” while looking foolish doing so, and the envy of friends whose lives worked out “correctly” because they’re married, have a great job with benefits (as does their spouse), just bought a house, and have a baby on the way.

It’s all silly. It’s a very naive and narrow idea of how life should/does work out. To buy into this idea that in your thirties you should be settled and sitting cozy in your decided mid/upper level profession and not out doing new things is stifling and paralyzing to the twenty-something who starts to feel like a failure for not being on this false and contrived path. It also connotes that if you’re in your thirties and just really starting your career because you were still deciding, still trying to piece together a series of seemingly disparate experiences to fit into a career path, that you’re somehow late in the game.

I was one of the younger folk in my graduating class; most were in their mid to late thirties. For some of my classmates, this degree was a complete career change, and for others, it served as one of the last puzzle pieces that would open doors and build upon skills that they had already acquired from being out in the working world. Either way, the majority of my classmates had time and experience to make a strategic decision to pursue this degree. For me, it seemed like a good idea. I was interested in health and not ready to commit to medical school. Perhaps I got the order wrong; perhaps I should’ve gotten some more experiences before getting weighed down by all this student loan debt. But hey, it’s all a learning experience and I don’t necessarily think my MPH was a mistake. Maybe my timing was off, maybe I rushed into a degree because I bought into the notion that I should have it all figured out by my thirties, before I got “old.”  But what’s done is done, and I have to look forward. And as I look at my friends, many of whom are in their thirties, aren’t really any different than me or my twenty-something friends, and are still out trying new things and bumping around, I can remind myself to calm the eff down.

I’m re-strategizing, which is a good thing. I’ve always had the next two steps in my life planned out, and for once, I have no idea what’s coming next. The uncertainty is kind of refreshing, because it means I could do anything. I’m a bit more limited than I would like with this student loan debt hovering over me, but I’ll figure it out.

I’m looking at these job descriptions for positions I would like, and maybe don’t meet the qualifications for, as personal challenges. First on my list is to get my language skills in a better place: Portuguese, French, Spanish. There are certain concepts I don’t have a good grasp on that I can learn through the many free online classes that universities are now offering. I can revisit my class notes and fill in the gaps for things like data analysis and M&E that I may have missed the first time around. The prospect of not having my ideal job until my thirties is becoming less frustrating and more of a shoulder shrug. And it may happen sooner than I think. So for now, I’m going to focus on my own personal development, and, of course, finding employment that helps me further those skills and experiences I want whether directly connected or not.