I recently saw the following pass across my social media radar…
I immediately laughed before reposting it, instantly receiving a dozen friends ‘liking’ the tweet as well.
Why? Because this is a Millennial reality! And I am seeing two routes that recent grads are taking to confront this issue:
a) Ending up in a job so far removed from what they are interested, qualified and passionate about (me). Essentially you are underemployed, underpaid and frustrated.
b) Pursuing higher education. Surely you’ll be set for life after the Master’s degree, the MBA, the PhD, medical school or law school (or maybe all five)?
Out of my peer group graduating in 2013, I am only one out of two in my friend circle that is currently employed. The rest of my peer group has opted for option B.
But what happens to Option Bs? I met my friend for dinner last night. She has just finished graduate school at a prestigious university in London. She also recently got married and her husband is a contractor. Presently, her husband, who has started specializing in providing scaffolding services to building sites, has more jobs coming his way than he can take. My friend is unemployed.
We are a disillusioned generation. Sure, many of us manage to secure those lucrative grad schemes, worming our way into the elevator and holding on for dear life as we painstakingly make the climb throughout the organization. This is still the predominant culture in investment banking, consultancies and law firms. The Millennials are the ones pulling the all-nighters, working through the weekends, struggling through humiliating initiation rites, lives narrowed to the next promotion, the year-end bonus. For some that works. For others they are blinded to the fact that a world exists beyond this. I am sad for those people. I see the self-destruction. The suicides. The addictions. The burnouts.
For others, we prolong our education, going for the Master’s, then on to the PhD. The longer we can hide behind our education, the longer we can delay going out there in the world, armed with our academic achievements and accolades, only to be turned away due to our lack of a decade of experience, among the rest of the 2,789 applicants for the role.
We’re told we can do anything that we dream of. My experience, however, has been that the structured job market is not the most supportive of this optimistic ideal. Maybe it’s the sheer volumes of similarly qualified individuals these days, all competing for the same jobs. Maybe it’s the lack of superpowers on my CV.
What I do know, however, is that being a Millennial in early career stages today can be demoralizing. It can be frustrating. It can be heartbreaking. It can be confusing. It can be crazy-making. It can ignite fury and catalyze resentment.
I have had an insider view of the world of recruitment by nature of my job. I see the same applicants returning for job after job opportunity successively turned down. I see the collective number of applications for our graduate schemes climb past the 10,000 mark. I see the organizational behemoth wield it’s power, convincing you that without it’s brand on your CV, you can’t possibly embark on a successful career.
After two years of grappling with this monster, I am tired. I’m tired of the countless hours on the cover letters, the hundreds of applications, the soul bearing, the hope and the relentless drive met by the a solid wall of automatic rejection emails.
I have come to a place of surrender and of temporary peace with the hardship. For the longer I have been surrounded by career office workers the more I realize that I may have been barking up the wrong tree the entire time. Because at the end of the day, securing any of these jobs boils down to the same thing: answering to someone else, answering to the all-powerful giant that is an organization. For many of the typical office based jobs I have been pursuing may also require condensing an essential freedom and a freedom of spirit into a structured environment where we are bound by a culture of presenteeism. I am hopeful that a wave of change is sweeping through the workplace as certain organizations begin to restructure the current work-life division (shout out to Richard Branson reimagining flexible work arrangements and rigid vacation policy). But until the day where I find an organization like that that wants me too, I’m leaning more and more towards Option C.
I have found the doors shutting and the windows shuttered. So I’m starting to find my own opening. The sun is starting to peek through a skylight that I didn’t even realize was there. And I’m building the ladder towards it.
To all the Millennials out there battling through those first jobs – as hard as it may be, focus on the big picture. I know the pain of dreams unrealized, of closed doors. Maybe we are the lucky ones, being nudged by the universe to embrace our essential freedom and to jump headfirst into the insecurity of finding our own way, far from the security and comfort of that grad scheme. There is another way. Just because the beginning has been rocky doesn’t mean we won’t end up where we dreamed of being. It might just require taking a different route to get there. Entertaining the idea of Option C. Taking the unconventional way though the skylight rather than through the sensible door or by wedging ourselves through the window.
Don’t give up hope on what you really want. You can get there. We can get there. Don’t forget your essential freedom.
And for any non-Millennial readers, feeling stuck and disillusioned twenty, thirty years into your career – it’s not too late. It’s never too late. You are not bound by chains or beholden to a company. Your skylight is still there too. There may be a few years’ of dust concealing the sun but it’s there all the same. We have the power to incite change whenever we are called to do so.
So look skywards. Shoot for the stars.