Un-entitled: Why I'm Keeping The Faith In The Uncertainty Of My Future
Dear genius-Generation-Y-urban-private-college-private-party graduate,
Despite four years spent paying $60,000 to believe otherwise, you are not entitled.
You are actually un-entitled, which we'll refer to as "untitled," since in the aftermath of graduation, every “microwave safe” food that explodes in action, every torn sock, every demon howling in your car’s rusty viscera and every spider bite is going to remind you of that.
You are untitled.
It doesn’t matter that your doting mother raised you on organic, uncured chicken hotdogs. It doesn’t matter that your nitrate-free childhood empowered you to score a 2380 on the SAT.
It doesn’t matter that you were pick-of-the-ivy-league-litter, groomed for success and a photo shoot with J. Crew (nice side part).
Alternately, it doesn’t matter that you tested in the top 10 percentile of your public university with a population greater than all of Europe in 1200, or that you started your own business, wrote an app, or that in your free time, you knit sweaters for homeless kittens.
Welcome to summer 2015, where you can have it all and still not have a job. Me too.
I have, in my mother’s unsparing summation, “no money, no job, no boyfriend.”
The intellectual challenge of the week has been a grown-up variant of Operation, where I have to extract peanut butter from the fridge without upending last night’s tzatziki into the homemade caramel sauce.
I looked up at my mom, spoon of generic peanut butter raised with a knight's dignity, and tried to put a positive spin on everything: “For the first time in my life, I have finished one task completely before planning my next one. I’m free; I can do anything that I want.”
My mom, never one to romanticize failure, finished for me, “But you’ll get a job eventually.”
Her voice took on that pinched positivity of someone who refuses to consider alternative options.
She wanted me to reassure her I hadn’t lost my ambition; that I retained my characteristic craving for excellence; that I had not taken it into my head to throw some undies and a Cliff bar into a backpack, lace up my Doc Martins, light up a joint and hitchhike to Indiana.
“Yeah, I hope so.”
As I have discovered in the last few weeks, ours is a digital society driven by a hungover economy.
Recruiters can flip through our Facebook profiles and corporations can purchase our contact information.
But, a decent GPA, and what would once have been considered impressive experience, turns into de facto anonymity.
We wanted a spotlight and ended up under a microscope.
I won't deny that this anonymity -- even helplessness -- hurts. It's hard to spam the universe with your résumé, check your email every five minutes and come up unemployed.
It's disappointing to snag a job at a local theater shoveling popcorn and swabbing the deck from 11 to midnight.
But, even as you skip meals, buckle a smile to your face and slump home with a sore back at 1 in the morning; even through the searing pain of a migraine, you still see privilege.
Are you too smart for this work, as you told yourself all those years? Probably not.
Your coworkers, a piratical band of down-and-out film majors, all have college degrees as papery and useless as the cheap paper towels you are expected to sanitize the counter with.
But, looking at the lifers behind the concierge desk, you promise yourself your diploma will bust you out of here one day.
You have the privilege of temporarily suffering in a job that, at $10 an hour, pays better than the minimum wage salary some people live on for whole lifetimes.
And you may have to heft the tub of toxic cleaning water from popcorn machine to drain, but a member of the cleaning crew — as opposed to the "floor staff" to which you belong -- washes it for you.
So, yeah, you're tired and sore. Stop feeling sorry for yourself.
You are in the throes of withdrawal from privilege, the most addicting drug to hit college since caffeine. The road to recovery will get a lot smoother if you accept a few unpleasant truths.
You are not going to get an itemized letter apologizing for every injustice the universe has committed against you, no written acknowledgement from those nasty bureaucratic recruiters that you are worth more than your circumstances, and no Magna Carta immortalizing your undervalued excellence.
So stop waiting on it; like your Hogwarts letter, it isn’t coming. You are also not going to get a letter apologizing for that nonexistent Hogwarts letter. Since you are untitled, they have no address, anyway.
You are not too good for your current job (or lack thereof). You can't write that on a résumé anyway.
This is the work you have now; take it and be grateful.
And, most importantly, your identity is in not your job, your apartment, or your paycheck. The system can't rip it out like the bread basket in Operation. This is both bad news and good.
When the privilege of education, upbringing, class, connection and lifestyle falls away; when you grudgingly admit you deserve no better than the next person; when no one cares that a hot plate burned your precious skin during tonight's dinner rush, you find yourself held to higher standards that you might have once held timecard employees.
No longer "entitled" to pettiness or cruelty; no longer absolved from cynicism or laziness because you "worked hard" or "earned it," you must be kind, honorable, diligent.
The onus is on you to cultivate a valuable person in your skin because you can no longer deflect criticism with your ninth grade soccer medal or the puff-paint on your graduation cap.
Now for the good news: If our society miraculously learned to distinguish between standards of behavior and standards of living, to judge people by their intrinsic as opposed to extrinsic qualities, one summer job behind the counter wouldn't condemn you to lifelong failure.
So if it helps at all, I'll tell you what my best friend told me when I told her about all my rejections: "Keep the faith."
Before you flip your hair, lower your glasses and ask me deadpan, “wWhat faith?” I’ll just add, I don’t know.
It’s the faith, the polyester one in which our parents swaddled us at birth, the one we slurped down with otter pops in fifth grade, the slim folder where our high school counselors stored pieces of our souls.
Maybe it’s a Gatsby dream, but it’s still the faith, and it’s the guarded tenderness that wobbles in my mom’s gaze as she watches me curl up on the couch with a mug of coffee and a classic novel, still in my robe at 10 am, unemployed.
Lose the privilege, but keep the faith: the faith in hard work and human decency. Keep faith in life as art and art for art’s sake.
Call it Pascal’s Millennial wager; if you dare to believe you are special, you are special, because so many people have lost the faith, or more accurately, had to pawn it to finance another month of cable.
The faith is not entitlement; it courses much deeper than that. And, when you have lost the shelter — and the burden — of all that privilege, some fragments stay behind.
Believe your passions invoke destiny; you are smarter than your retail job; you have a purpose in this world.
Believe this because no one else believes it of you and almost no one else believes it of him or herself. This is the faith. Wager against all odds.
Speaking from the corner of a sofa shaggy with cat-hair, I know I’ve got nothing to lose. Or at least, no money, no job, no boyfriend.