[Memoirs of a Dutiful Xer]
It was not the life I planned, but it was the life I feared. Graduating college with loads of debt and job prospects that were no better than what I could have gotten straight out of high school.
I rarely thought of these things during my university years which ran from the mid to late 80s. Instead, I escaped into my studies, compassionate ministries, student government and friends. I spent hours in the college library, which makes it very hard to explain the astonishing number of book fines I received. But, so it goes.
And, this is how it went. I read hundreds of books and periodicals, and I wrote dozens of papers. I was mostly bored with formal learning. It was something I tolerated because I could not disappoint my father by failing to graduate. There were two things he demanded from his children: chastity and education.
Every semester I found a new fascination. Sometimes it carried over from one year to the next, and some interests defined my entire college experience. There were semesters I poured over holocaust literature; the 10,000 day war that was Vietnam and Russian Orthodoxy.
Hangin’ tough, stayin’ hungry
They stack the odds, still we take to the street
For the kill with the skill to survive
– From Survivor and Eye of the Tiger
I wished sometimes I was the kind of person who just went to college and became a nurse or a teacher. But, I couldn’t allow myself to become decidedly anything.
My first job out of college would have been a dream if not a miracle for any of the millions of Chinese working in those iPad factories with bars to prevent laborers from leaping to death. I was paid 50 cents above minimum wage, but I realize this is a problem anyone in a third world country would love to have.
Still, I went to college and got a degree — something fewer than 7 percent of people in the world have. But, I, along with my Generation X classmates graduated into an economy marked by a sharp rise in joblessness. According to a report from the Bureau of Labor and Statistics in 1988 unemployment rose from 4.8 to 7.9. This trend continued through 1991.
Today, things are much worse for Generation Y. The most educated generation in history must weather mass unemployment.
So, the office at my first post-college-real-job was air conditioned. I had my own desk. They told us we were lucky because we could wear Walkmans to work and listen to music on our headphones. I found a station called KTOK and I listened to it all day long.
Monday through Friday stretched on forever like a wall of white paint I watched all day long and never saw dry. Sometimes, we were required to work overtime on Saturdays. They said if we didn’t show up we’d be fired. Every day was the same. I taped coupons to white pieces of paper so they could be microfilmed. It was a factory job dressed up like a corporette. We were kindly fooled by the low pile carpet and the desks as if we had anything other than tape to put in the drawers. And, our families were fooled. Or maybe sometimes they fooled us into thinking this was a good job.
I quickly learned that in this environment my college degree was a liability. This feeling was familiar to me. I’d worked part-time during college at Little Giant Pump Company. I could never ingratiate myself to the gum-chewing, cigarette wielding women who wore men’s clothes to work. I might as well have been wearing a tiara.
I don’t know why I thought I needed their acceptance.
And, oh, I netted $60 less a week at that part-time real factory job than I did working full-time at the corporate job.
Whatever happens to me
Though the air speaks of all we’ll never be
It won’t trouble me
– From Toad the Wet Sprocket and All I Want
Every day, my fellow office-factory workers — young women just like me – talked about getting drunk and getting laid. They seemed miserably content with their weekend prison passes. They’d plan weekend trips to the lake and negotiate who would bring the beer. Even though I was lonely, I never said more than a few words to any of them. I was afraid if we became friends I might be sucked into accepting this job as my lot in life.
This time was like the Great Teenage Wasteland. The summers when I was 14 and 15 when I was too young to get a job and there was nothing to do except eat, watch soap operas and volunteer at VBS. I’d wait all summer for church camp to roll around.
|Shaking hands with Governor Walters | TAFB, 1991|
It’s a wonder that I didn’t run screaming out of that office complex every day at 5 p.m. And, then one day, I did something I didn’t see coming. I walked into my boss’s office, which was a desk in a fishbowl, and I told him I quit.
He asked me why and I told him because I wanted to work for Governor Walters. It was the most ridiculous, far-reaching thing I could have said at the time, but that is what I told him. He asked me if I had a job lined up and I told him, no. Funny, he didn’t judge me, but marveled at my escape.
I never did go to work for Governor Walters. I never even tried. But, I met him about a year later, a few months after I’d gone to work as a writer in the public affairs office at a military installation. Today, we’re Facebook friends, a commentary on the times.
During the spring semester of 1987, I read 30 books from the shelf of holocaust literature. Among them was the story of Martin Gray. Through sheer determination he prevailed over Treblinka, a death camp. I have prevailed over far, far less, but that book meant a lot to me. I wrote a paper about it for a class taught by a visiting Jewish professor, the rabbi of a local Oklahoma City synagogue. When Rabbi Packman returned my paper to me, he’d written at the top, “Brilliant summary, but you said nothing about the will to survive.”
Below is a video created last year by Amy Langdon and Nicholas Padiak. It’s about Generation Y being overeducated and underemployed in America. Here is some advice about this from career blogger Penelope Trunk, Best Advice: Trust Yourself. It’s the post that inspired me to write this piece.