Class of 2013 Seeking Employment: Lucrative and Meaningful

In May, I graduated from one of the many ivy-covered, East Coast liberal arts colleges. My university was a place filled with brick buildings, idealism, and money — or at least student loans, because those brick buildings and ideals don’t come cheap.

Nearly every class I took, regardless of discipline, circled back to themes of equality, oppression, race, gender, sexuality, and discrimination. We took ourselves seriously, and even have a special college within the university devoted to active citizenship. This year, like every year, we sent prodigal numbers of graduates to Teach for America, the Peace Corps, Global Health Corps, AmeriCorps, CityYear, and every other service-learning and –corps program the world has to offer. Post-graduation, I have good friends who are getting paid to work as community organizers. It's very much the kind of place where you're encouraged to link what you do in school with your career once your diploma is in-hand.

So, as a recent graduate who's been sent out into the working world, the question becomes this: How am I supposed to find a job that lets me save the world and pay my rent, my phone bill, my student loans, plus buy work appropriate clothes (because, as it turns out, lacrosse pinnies, hippie skirts, and “Call On Me” neon '80s gear are not proper officewear), and run up a bar tab the way a 20-something is supposed to? My institution instilled in me that I don't have to settle: I have a very expensive, moderately prestigious degree.

There's one route: Marry well. Regardless of one's gender (sugar mommas are just as viable as sugar daddies, after all), the clear solution to this problem is to get hitched to someone with money so that you can work for less than $30,000 a year at a nonprofit or NGO with a mission that is no less than inspiring, and still live in the major city of your choice with a small summer home on the nearest quasi-deserted coast.

If marrying at 22 seems less-than-palatable — or the solution doesn't sit well regardless of age — then the job search becomes real. And hard, especially for someone with a liberal arts degree. That's when you look to a job that gives you the ability to survive, and when you turn to something like sales, advertising, or marketing where you actually make a yearly salary that’s above the poverty line versus a job as a program associate at a small nonprofit where the question of being able to buy food and afford rent is, well, actually a question.

So, right: Marketing sounds awesome! What is that I do, exactly?

But, sadly, rudimentary financial security is not all that we want. No, we want it all. We want to be deeply invested in what we do. We want to get started on making the world a better place. We want to fix the problems we see in public education, in public health, in housing, in food access, and in transportation. Oh, and we also would like to be able to afford a roof, food, Internet, drinks on weekends (and some weeknights), cable, a music festival or two, and that pair of Frye boots we’ve been lusting after since freshman year of college. We're not asking for a lot, just, well, everything.

But I'm changing my mind. After three months of piling on part-time jobs, sending résumés off into the black hole that is the Internet job market, roadtripping up and down the California coastline, and watching friends who are far more intelligent and talented than me receive rejection after rejection of their carefully crafted cover letters, I've re-thought both of those initial requirements. I need to pay rent and feed myself, yes. I need to be excited about what I'm doing, yes. But that is where the requirements stop.

I am allowed — no — I am expected to be creative. That means that I can be excited about a lot of things, not just the ones that I have stereotyped as "liberal arts grad acceptable." That means I can find alternative avenues to get somewhere near the path on which I want to be. That means I can work somewhere that's not San Francisco, New York, D.C., Seattle, or Boston. That means that, if I so choose, I can do something that just sounds fun, rather than something that is a sturdy building block for a career. That means I can find other ways to pay my bills if the job I want to be doing doesn't pay enough.

The idea that, at 22, I deserve to have my dream job is unbelievably naive. I don't. None of us do. We don't know anything yet! I am not ready for my dream job. That is something to look forward to, along with paying my own cell phone bill and owning a wine fridge. Right now, it's enough to focus on just getting any job, hold the dream part, because that, on its own, is hard enough.