The majority of my friends are doing cool things with their lives: I have lots of journalist friends, friends who got cosmetology licenses, friends in law school, friends taking the Series 7 exams, even friends deployed in Iraq.
Yet, for all the ones climbing up their career ladders, there are a few 26- to 30-year-olds who’re still hanging out on the first or second rung. I’ve pretty much stopped asking, “Do you think you’ll start applying to jobs in that field you’re interested in?” or “Do you think you’ll move out of your hometown?” because the answer is always some variation of “I don’t know” or “not yet.” Some of these conversations have been going on for years.
I’m starting to see that your 20s aren’t just about making bad relationship decisions. They’re about making bad career decisions as well.
There are so many areas of her life where my good friend Melissa* has got it together: She’s in a loving relationship; she’s sweet, kind, intellectually engaging, and funny. But there’s one area where Melissa has always kind of been a mess: her resume. It has been almost five years since we both graduated from college and even though she went on to earn a graduate degree (which I have not), Melissa is still kind of floundering, career-wise. There was the grad school internship where she fetched coffee. There was the job she got fired from for misplacing important paperwork. Then she took a job that sounded boring which — guess what? — is really boring and she’s dying to quit. Last time we talked, she was trying to get a job in retail — and this is a woman with a graduate degree.
Melissa’s not my only friend who can’t seem to get her career together. My guy friend Jason*, who has an undergraduate degree, has flit around for years at jobs he is enormously overqualified for and he doesn’t seem at all serious about changing that. Kim*, who has a graduate degree, has been telling me for years that she wants to get a job in the field she got her graduate degree in, but she still has done nothing about it. And the most extreme case would be Peter*, who actually earned an MBA degree, but never got a job for some reason I don’t understand. Peter’s wealthy parents literally paid his rent for (at least) nine months while he sent out the occasional resume. Eventually his girlfriend dumped him because she was so frustrated by his failure to launch. And none of us blamed her.
Let me be clear about something: I don’t begrudge anyone in this economy who has been laid off and is struggling.
I’m friggin’ tired of holding the hands of 25-, 28- and 30-year-olds who’ve been blessed with an education but still don’t have their lives “together” yet.
Am I being a little bit harsh? What does having your life “together” even mean at 30 or even 25? Aren’t your 20s supposed to be full of frivolousness and fun, wild nights drinking and dancing, hooking up with lots of guys (or girls … or both) and figuring out who you are? Well, yes. But the majority of my friends and I have juggled having fun in our 20s with putting lines on our resume that will bring us to where we want to be career-wise. And just like some friends get reputations for “always dating jerks,” other friends are getting reputations for “not having much ambition or drive.”
So, why is this any of my business? It’s not — or it shouldn’t be. But somehow I get sucked into helping all these people because I am a caretaker to a fault. If someone I care about says they want something, my immediate reaction is, “How can I help? What can I do? Oh, yes, I can introduce you to so-and-so!” Plus, there is always the assumption, true or not, that someone who has a steady job can help her friends get a steady job. So when Kim asks me to make introductions for her, or Melissa asks me to send her resume along, I always say yes.
But really, I’m getting burnt-out by giving what’s starting to feel like hollow encouragement, because you cannot teach people to have the drive or ambition to just do something. It’s not within my power to get anyone a job; it’s not in anyone’s power to reverse the last five to 10 years of poor decisions on the job front. I have all the sympathy in the world for people who have to fight for the jobs that will lead them on the career path they want, but my sympathy tank is at zero for the people who aren’t putting up much of a fight at all.
I hate to use a cliché, but I’ve often found myself thinking (while sighing, of course), “You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink.” Maybe sometimes you just have to stop being polite and give that horse a kick in the ass.
*Names have been changed.