Cynicism about the economy, the job market, and basically anything in “the world today” is inappropriately and lazily fashionable right now, I think. Not that I’m foolish enough to say that the aforementioned institutions have nothing going wrong with them; it’s just that the default conversation seems to too often involve predictions of our gloomy, futureless futures, especially for my demographic – that is, middle class college students in the US.
Those of us who are reading this on the internet, who have enough food to eat, who have clean water to drink and somewhere warm to sleep, and who are able to rely on at least temporary financial assistance from our relatives if we really needed it – we are some of the most privileged people in the world right now, economically and situationally.
To be clear, I don’t think we’re guaranteed happiness. Life is hard. And sad. But I do think that we have been given ample resources to construct a stable and joyful existence, however, and I think that it might be healthy to occasionally reflect upon that fact with a simple and unaffected sense of baffled gratitude.
Students now are groomed not only to succeed academically but to operate professionally. We’ve been taught textbooks worth of information and, more importantly, a work ethic—the emotional benefits of which you can discount if you like but which does, it cannot be denied, set one up rather nicely for social and economic success (in the West at least). Some of us read nonfiction and enjoy it sometimes. Most of us will never be homeless. Almost all of us have some sort of skill that we cultivate for no career-oriented reason. We have learned that sometimes we are wrong, that sometimes our opinions matter and (possibly most importantly) that sometimes they don’t.
And yeah, going from college into the Real World is going to be a rather shocking change for many of us. But I think most of us will thrive on the opportunity to do work for money, after floundering in abstract work while paying lots of money to do so (yes, in the long term this makes sense, but when you are writing a paper at 3 in the morning and think to yourself that this is costing you your life’s savings, the logic of the situation is hard to articulate).
When the terror of post-graduation becomes paralyzing, I think it might be helpful to remember that we are all rather intelligent, capable, ingenuous people. We might get a job the summer after we graduate that has nothing to do with our major, but we will know to be thankful for a job, and we will be able to do it to the best of our overqualified abilities. And we might not be able to achieve whatever two-dimensional ideal of living we hold in our heads (I’m an English major, so for most of my friend group this involves “a cabin in the woods somewhere” and lots of books and wine and maybe facial hair), but I think we have the resources to find joy and a sense of potency in whatever work is at hand, whether it be academic work or scraping by for a few years at a job for which we are wholly overqualified. So I have hope that my generation can survive if given the chance.