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How To Be A Professional 20-Something

girl on phone

Struggle to find a job. Send application after application, resume after resume, until it feels like throwing handfuls of sand back into an endless ocean. Never hear back from any of them, of course, because you are applicant number 134 of 232, for a position that requires exactly one person, and was actually filled last week but hasn’t been taken off the website yet. Re-do your resume for the tenth time in two months, asking yet another person to give it their feedback, considering how far you can exaggerate your computer skills until it will get you fired from any job you actually land. Briefly consider that at least having a job at all, even one you are laughably unqualified for, might be worth the lie. Pretend to be really, really good at Excel.

Then one day, when you have given up hope and (mostly) stopped refreshing your email 50 times per day to make sure you haven’t received good news, receive it. Get that little email that takes you a few seconds to register, because it is written by an actual human and is not a form rejection letter (or total lack of response). Be asked to come in for an interview, and, when they ask what time is best for you, pretend like you have anything else going on in your life besides waiting for their email. Give them a time, go in.

Get the job.

Feel the most wonderful sense of accomplishment, and immediately look back on the time you spent struggling to get your cover letters even read by an assistant as a powerful time of growth and learning. Forget what it was like to be constantly on the hunt, constantly waiting for even the whisper of interest, because now you have a Real Job. Feel an acute sense of relief that you have passed that magical border between “floundering post-grad” and “20-something with a grown-up job.” Think of how wonderful it’s going to be to tell your parents, your friends, and your parents’ friends that you have finally gotten your job, and they can stop worrying about you. Realize that it makes you a bit of an asshole to feel so much relief, especially because, when you were looking for your career, you hated that feeling of judgment and pity from your professional friends. Be unable to stop yourself from feeling it anyway.

Learn that you are going to be earning a salary. A salary. Feel like $34,000 is the most money you’ve ever heard of in your life, and the idea that it’s going to be deposited twice-monthly into your account feels like a profound, almost magical privilege. Wonder what you’re going to do with all that money, because there’s just so much of it, and a new check is always coming. Contemplate the idea of being able to take a sick day — or an entire vacation! — and still get paid as if you had worked. Contemplate benefits, and being able to say that you have insurance through your employer. Google “401k.”

Start the job in a haze of excitement and nervousness, unreasonably happy to be wearing the business casual clothes you used to consider dorky and boring. Set up your little office space with your favorite knick-knacks and quotes, and revel in the ability to Instagram your new ~professional life~. Join the world of the working, and see every little boring thing about office life, from the sad desk lunches to the tedious meetings, as secretly thrilling. Post about the “grind” and the “work week” in thinly-veiled humblebrags. Professional life can suck, sure, but you are simply too happy to be a part of it. Take a selfie in your sweater in the office bathroom, and a snap of your perfectly-arranged desk space. Be in a flirtatious new relationship with your work.

Let time pass.

Begin to slip from the infatuation stage, no longer seeing every element of work as a magical new step into adult life. Start to see your desk lunches as simply sad, instead of an exciting chance to grind away on a project. Realize that those paid vacation days are harder to actually take (and feel un-guilty about) than you thought. Look at your salary — now up incrementally from the $34,000 you used to be so incredibly excited to receive — and feel frustrated at how low it is. Google how much other people are making in your field, in your position. Linger on Glassdoor for a while, wondering if it would be worth it to send a very casual email to a competitor. Spend a good portion of your afternoon Gchatting with friends, complaining about petty work things and wondering how often is too often to be meeting for weekday happy hours.

Realize that your salary might seem so low because you’re spending so much of it on half-priced margaritas and appetizers, but continue to buy them anyway.

Consider changing industries. Consider going back to school. Consider moving to a new city. Ask yourself how you can be so bored with the thing you worked so hard to get to, the “real job” in your field that used to be the thing you coveted more than any other part of your life. Wonder why you thought that this job would be more “real” than others, or what that even means. Berate yourself for thinking that an office that required business casual clothes and gave you your own computer to eat salads in front of made anything more “real” than the jobs you used to work before you were an “adult.” Regret ever feeling relief that now you were one of the adults, or that tinge of judgment or pity for your friends that hadn’t yet reached that milestone.

Realize that, if nothing changed, you could continue like this for the rest of your life, only with incrementally-better salaries and nicer desks, each of which you would undoubtedly become accustomed to, and then bored with, a few months into having them.

Wonder why you ever thought this would make you happy in the first place. Wonder what other options there are. Wonder what comes next.

  • Lisa1597

    Well, on the one hand, this is probably one of the best things I’ve ever read written in second person. On the other, now I feel oddly depressed and lost. Kudos?

  • i_archer

    Its like you read my mind this morning on what I needed to describe how I am feeling.

  • Julia

    “Wonder why you thought that this job would be more “real” than others, or what that even means.” This topic could be a great post on its own…featuring discussion on the trend of cringey social media posts about “big girl” jobs

    • Yesss, I hate when people call them “big girl” jobs haha

  • Charlie

    this could definitely be about me right now, quarter life crisis anyone?! 🙁

  • Jen

    This reads like a “Tales of Mere Existence” video transcribed. Not sure if that’s good or bad. But it speaks the truth!

  • I can relate to so many things in this post! Not all of them, but I struggled to find a job for a long time and am currently flirting with a quarter life crisis.

  • Katie

    Sooooooooooooo much whining.

  • Rebecca

    Love the honesty of this. Not whining, just real. I feel like I’m finally on the up-slope of this personally, trying to learn to be happy with what I have instead of constantly scrambling for something new / more lucrative. I’ve started consciously enjoying the security and comfort of having a job. I think everyone gets to the point where they have to decide if they want to take something for granted or to be thankful for it (and that applies to relationships, possessions, jobs, you name it). Let’s decide to be grateful. <3

  • “Think of how wonderful it’s going to be to tell your parents, your friends, and your parents’ friends that you have finally gotten your job, and they can stop worrying about you. Realize that it makes you a bit of an asshole to feel so much relief, especially because, when you were looking for your career, you hated that feeling of judgment and pity from your professional friends. Be unable to stop yourself from feeling it anyway.”

    So much this. My grandmother was SO EXCITED that I finally have a desk job after nearly 2 years of freelancing. I know she was just worried about me, but it felt like such a slap in the face for her to be so effusive about taking up a steady position. As though the money I made freelancing didn’t count because the cheques weren’t big or regular enough.

  • AN

    Going through these stages right now.

  • This shit was so real.

  • Renáta DX

    Spot on.

    The problem is that many still think that this has to be their only option.
    ” You are entitled to be miserable. And just be thankful that you get a slice of bread at the end of the day. ”

    Only exceptions have the balls to exit this mindset and experience a different lifestyle. Make no mistake – your life won’t change a bit if you’re not able to shift your mindset.
    All that self-bullshitting lie of ” I will do something new after I get enough of this hamster-wheel lifestyle ” is an illusion – the more you wait to change, the less chance you have to make it.
    The ” now ” is the quintessential turning point in your life. Otherwise in your ” today ” there is no ” tomorrow “.