Wednesday, September 22, 2004

Who moved my after-college job....?

My momma once told me there's no such thing as a free lunch. And yet as I sit here, post-graduation, navigating through the reams and reams of classified ads advising only those with "minimum three years experience" to apply, it occurs to me that the idea shared by all those employers out there is that she was wrong; there actually IS a free meal to be had…and it appears, to my horror, that I'm it.

After over thirty thousand dollars and at least that matched in hours I am presumably now qualified to donate the next three or so years as an intern-- in other words, a worker with no salary at all, in layman's terms: labor for FREE (…and won't mom and dad be proud?)

Maybe it's because I've graduated with something as obscure as a B.A. degree in English Literature ("So, what are you going to DO with that...?", they all ask.) But after four years, all meant to prepare me to be taken on by corporate America(TM), I was singularly unprepared to discover that the only thing that distinguishes me from a high school kid is that the McLaborer has no student loan to pay off and he (the clever-negotiator) won't work for less than a $5.15 minimum wage. Meanwhile, the employer for any job that would put me in line to use the skills I've developed during the best years of my youth spent in rigorous study expects me to work for 'the experience', 'the contacts', in other words: 'the opportunity to fetch our coffee and collate our copies, for significantly below what fruit pickers in Mexico are paid'.

Call me a dreamer, but this is not the future I saw as I flipped through glossy brochures for the private institution where I ended up plunking down my hard-loaned money and my ambitious self before the altar of higher education. According to those shimmering pages, I would gain much more than a degree, I'd gain a new, more marketable self, bursting with so much skill and professional savvy that employers would be tripping over each other in their attempts to woo my qualified brain to their table.

Speaking of professional savvy, you would think that having a four-year undergrad degree at the very least signifies my ability to navigate through the bull-shit politics of academic life, this skill being the one which probably MOST qualifies me to participate in the 'real world' because of the relative ease with which it transfers to navigating the bull-shit politics of the office.

But in actuality, all the professorial butt-kissing, those 'make it happen' all-nighters, that brilliant creative problem-solving, the team-building group projects, and those hours of lab overtime has qualified me for, in the mind of my prospective employer, is: jack-zip.
I have emerged from the chrysalis not as a butterfly, poised to float on the zephyrs of financial liberty, but one of those ubiquitous silkworms of the daily workday grind: the office coffee fetcher. Actually, as it turns out, in some instances below a coffee fetcher: one company informed me that before they deign to take on a free laborer (euphemistically dubbed "intern") they like to see that the tart has already worked for free in one or two previous companies.

This can only mean one thing: SOMEONE out there is buying into this (I see you there! Hiding behind the filing cabinet and living in your parents' basement to fund this fiasco won't protect you! Admit it, you encouraged them, not only to perpetrate this monstrosity, but to have the chutzpah to be PICKY about it!)

At this point, I realized that I've reached the breaking point. If it's true that I am not only too inexperienced to work for pay but also unqualified to work for free then there's no alternative for me than to do something drastic. If I can't give these guys a reason to hire me I will give them a reason to fear me, I'll become… the COMPETITION! I'm going to pull myself up by my bootstraps and START MY OWN BUSINESS. Call it the realization of some primordial American spirit, but I guess the bottom-line is after four-years of turning my brains inside out to the tenured powers-that-be for nothing more than alphabet marks, now if I'm gonna work for nothing for someone, it's darn well gonna be ME.

I've got my business plan (affectionately known as: "the crush the competition play-by-play). I've got my office (ok, ok… it may only consist of my laptop computer perched on my lap at the corner Starbuck's, but it's my cubicle away from cubicle.) And finally, I've got my pride, intact, ready to take on the corporate world that dared spurn me and my newly minted B.A.ness.

And it's gonna be great, I tell ya, if I can just get some help with all the grunt-work it takes to get this corporate coup off the ground, someone to run off a few copies, to fetch me a refill…

Maybe I could take out a classified ad and hire an intern…