Tag Archives: advice

“The Best Advice I Ever Got”

17 Oct

After eight months of a grueling, non-stop search, I was finally offered a job on Friday.  On Saturday, I turned it down.  Why?

Let’s backtrack a couple weeks, to when I attended a fundraising dinner for the literacy council that I volunteer with.  I sat next to a 31 year old woman named Giselle, and we giggled like schoolgirls through the whole dinner.

Giselle asked me about my goals.  I told her that I wanted to work in education, but I wasn’t sure if I wanted to be a teacher, an administrator, or work in policy.   I told her how much I wanted to leave Florida and live in Boston or New York, but I was getting to the point where I felt like giving up and staying here.  Then I told her about my five year plan, and how it was falling apart.  She completely understood what I was going through.

Please God, no.

“I was just there, I remember being 23 and not knowing what to do with my life, or how to do it,” Giselle told me.  “Let me pass on the best advice I ever got when I was your age.  It’s okay to have goals, but don’t put a timeframe on them, otherwise you’ll just be severely disappointed when it doesn’t happen.  And you gotta do what you really want to do: if you want to live in Boston, go for it, don’t settle.  Why should you settle if that’s what you really want?”

Giselle was absolutely right–this was great advice.  When I got offered a 10 hour/week job working for an organization that was not related to education, I was ready to take it.  And even though it felt good to finally get hired somewhere, I knew that I was settling, even if I told myself that it was only temporary.  Regardless, I called up the director, Mena, and told her I wanted the position (albeit with a two to three month deadline).

Mena and I got along really well in my interview, and though there was a significant age difference, we felt like two peas in a pod.  She could sense that I was going through some kind of emotional struggle, and she asked me what it was that I was really thinking, and what I really wanted to do.  I told her education is my passion.  I told her that there are some private schools that, if you work for them, will help pay for grad school.  I told her I may want to go to grad school in a year.   Mena said that’s where she wanted to see me too, even if it meant I couldn’t work for her.  She encouraged me to find work in a fabulous private school for the spring term.  In the end, she helped me figure out that this job wasn’t the best move for me.  We bid each other farewell and good luck.

I think the one good thing about small towns, besides the abundance of drugs and antique car shows, is the people.  There are plenty of people who are friendly and willing to give you (good) unsolicited advice.  Even though you’re a stranger, they still want to help.  Giselle and Mena hardly knew me, and their wisdom cost them little to impart, but it was incredibly valuable and much appreciated.

These women helped me figure out my next steps; I think I owe to them to follow through, and then pass on that same generosity when I get to a respectably employed adult and not some clueless 23 year old.


Guest Post: So Many Dreams, Too Few Realities

10 Jun

I asked Leslie, a good friend and former roommate, to write about her volunteer experiences in Israel.  She said, “THIS is what happens when you tell me to write something for your blog. I can’t fall asleep, because thoughts are chasing themselves around my brain, and then at 1 AM I get inspired and stay up writing until 2:30AM and now I am tired and sending you a three page blog post which is pretty much (I think) illegal in the world of bloggers. So there.”

You can read more about her travels here.

My soul crushing, thought paralyzing, niggling little worry is that I will choose the wrong path in life. I’m suffering from a crisis of choice. No, really, they’ve done official studies and stuff.  Basically, too many choices make Jane Average stressed, unhappy, and a bad choice maker.  Anyone else see the vicious cycle poised to eat us like a raging wildebeest?

In the good ole days, Mr. and Mrs. Midwest inherited their father’s farm, or Young Shopkeep took over the family business. One, or two, or maybe three career choices were open to yon liberal artist. Assuming one of these choices was a good one, you had, at worst, a one in three shot at happiness in life. Between globalization and modernization, we’ve got a whole world of careers open to us, with new ones being developed every day. My grandfather sat down and made a list (a list!) of possible careers and then crossed out everything that he would hate; the last career standing won and he became a pharmacist. Badda-bing badda-boom, you’ve canned yourself some job fulfillment. But can you imagine listing all the available career paths today? Just what sort of dissertation would that endeavor turn into? In my twisted, paralyzing logic, I now have, say, a ten in a ZILLION chance at happiness. Which is depressing. If there is a parallel word created by every decision we make, where the other us makes the other decision, than presumably one version of us is wildly, happily living the dream. But that’s cold consolation if the here and now sucks the big one.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Spoilers, spoilers. Like a good little storyteller, I should start back at the beginning.

Life in Mongolia

My first life changing experience happened when I went traveling in Mongolia after I graduated high school. It was all roses and Hallmark cards. I left being able to say, “that one time in Mongolia,” which is cool.  I also left convinced that I was joining the Peace Corps the instant I had a college diploma in hand.

This proved trickier than I anticipated. I graduated in February, proudly presented a beribboned replica walking stick and only given the faint promise of a May diploma arriving in the mail. I did have a liberal arts degree, studying film and physics (because you can do that as a liberal artist). I also had three film internships shinning like golden beacons on my resume. I had begun networking, having decided (such a wonderfully solid life-raft of a word—decided) that I wanted to be an assistant editor, or at worst, a postproduction assistant at some film, television or advertising firm in New York, Boston or Los Angeles. But I had conveniently forgotten the tiny, pinprick of a hole in my particular life raft: I hated nearly every day of each of those three shiny internships. Somewhere between the wonders of editing my own stuff in the basement of my college’s crumbling film building and the bustle of an actual workhorse of the industry something got lost. I got a bit lost.

Around this deluded networking period, I got rejected from the Peace Corps. Apparently the economic downturn generated a record number of applicants and third world countries would rather have English teachers than house builders. My cocky-I’m-a-shoe-in ego stumbled down a few rungs on the ladder as I scrambled for new post-graduate plans. In one of those random happenstances, my mom read in some Jewish magazine or other about this program, Tikkun Olam—did I want to look into living in Israel for five months?

Rebound me said “Yes! This is my wonderful new Life Decision!” I sent letters; I got recommendations; I wrote essays the way every desperate nearly-college-graduate finds that only they can. And after an awkward phone interview I got the good news: I was in!

Pause for a moment. I am not a religious Jew. I did the Bat Mitzvah thing, so at one point I could read Hebrew, but I am not what you would call a gifted linguist. In fact, I matriculated to Middlebury College in large part because there I could avoid taking a language entirely. And I have just committed myself to five months of intensive volunteering and language study in a country I have never visited which is governed by the principles of religion about which I am deeply conflicted. There’s my life raft again, deflating before my very eyes.

I land in Israel. In a haze of ambien-induced sleep, I overcome the jetlag. I meet my twelve housemates, pick four volunteering positions and take six hours of Ulpan (Hebrew Study) a day for the first month. I take a lot pictures, have shouting matches in a bastardized mix of the three dominant languages (English, Hebrew and Arabic), teach basketball (which I haven’t played since high school), momentarily despair of peaceful coexistence, shave my head (unrelated to coexistence), give the look to kindergarteners who throw wooden blocks at my back, hold an illegal immigrant’s toddler while she cries, and sheepishly join the ranks of the bloggers. Once again, life is all roses and Hallmark cards, idealism and positive action. And I love it.

"Peace Players" basketball tournament

Around this everything-coming-up-daisies period, I have an epiphany. I realize that I don’t want to be an assistant editor or a postproduction assistant because those jobs would SUCK. And they would suck for a few years before I was promoted, which is a LOT of suckage. Because if I can be happy (for a Jew, this is really saying something) in a life of volunteering, which I don’t mind, and language study, which college-me hated so much she would rather munch on glass shards, then what else could I be happy doing that I’d previously written off my metaphorical dissertation of a list? I decided that Decisions (with a capital “D”) were silly, and I had a world full of possibility awaiting me once I touched down at JFK. All I had to do was find ONE thing that would make me happy. How hard could that be?

Flash forward a month from this revelation, and you’re back at the beginning of this post. Diagnosis: plethora inducing paralysis. Symptoms: long, stressful periods of meditative rumination and long, whiney skype chats complaining to anyone who will listen.

Luckily, one of my skype buddies had her head on straight (wink, wink, future guest poster Diana) and snapped me out of my completely mental funk. The world of possibility is largely in my head. If I stop thinking about the many careers that exist (not to mention those careers that will be born tomorrow) and start thinking about actual job descriptions for entry level positions, I’ll be able to ferret out that golden apple in those zillion bushels of choices. Maybe I can’t pin down exactly what lights my soul afire in the floaty metaphysical world of words, but I should be able to find a job listing that holds, for me, the promise of happiness.

Some kids at the unrecognized kindergarten for illegal migrant workers' families where I volunteer.

Does this story have a moral? It should. When Sarah asked me to write something for her blog, she wanted (and I quote) “a post on your experiences, a la ‘I took time off to volunteer and discover who I am.’” Well, her ‘post‘ has rapidly turned into my monologue-cum-essay with no ready moral. So for Sarah, and for clarity’s sake, here are some morals you liberal artists can take from my story:

Decisions are dangerous and silly if they’re not flexible. Don’t get stuck in something yucky just cause you’re holding to your guns.

Trust in the journey. The process is worthwhile, even if some people give you that look when you say you’re still figuring things out.

Alternatively, planning is for wusses.  Place your trust in the mysterious tentically sea gods of fate. Something (possibly incredible) will work out in the end.

Skype is wonderful. Not only can I have my psychoses sorted out by a buddy across the planet for zero dollars, my Jewish grandmother can tell me to my face that she can’t talk now because she’s reading my blog.

Write a blog. It’s like a public diary, which makes it like a Facebook Status Update or a Twitter, but way classier. And you can brag about things like Hits and Comments to people who don’t care.

Don’t limit yourself because you think you know what you like. You are stupid, and have no idea how limitless you can be. Which is scary. But as the Hallmark card might say, “You’re worth every minute of the struggle.” Because if you power through, you might just end up somewhere amazing.

UPDATE: Leslie is now writing for liberalart.us.  Check back often for more of her eloquent insights! – Sarah

Guest Post: Applying to Grad School and What to Avoid

8 Jun

Hello friends! Today we have a guest post from my pal Chelsea, a 2010 Sociology/Chinese major who was determined to get her master’s, but the road to grad school was not as easy as she thought it would be.  Below she shares her story and some helpful advice.

I, unlike the vast majority of my classmates, took the GREs, finished my thesis, took my final exams, and wrote up all my grad school applications within the space of a month and looked forward to hearing back from schools.  Flash forward a few months: I got into my top school, accepted their offer without a second thought (after all, this was one of the top programs in the country and everyone told me how I would fit in so well there), and went to go and visit.

Grad school: rude.

When I went and met my prospective department, sat in on classes, and attempted to see where I would be for the next two years, I felt unwelcome, disturbed, and generally miserable at the prospect that my secure future had suddenly ceased to be so secure.  I had a door closed in my face, had my proffered hand of greeting ignored by a professor I wanted to work with and was instead asked “why are you here?”, was unchallenged in a top level class, and was told I was either not registered as a student or already had a large sum of money owed to the school despite having not started yet.  I was miserable and completely confused.

Here’s the interesting thing: I came back to my school, my friends, professors, etc and explained my predicament.  As I flew back across the country I had pretty much mentally settled on declining their offer, but wanted to get the opinions of my professors, family, and friends first, telling each of these people that I wanted to go and get my masters because of a love of learning on my part, not because of a need to get a certificate that would get me a high paying job in the long run.  My friends, all from liberal arts schools, looked horrified and told me not to go, why waste money, time, and energy on a program that I didn’t like and wouldn’t be challenged at.  This was my future, after all, and people always say don’t settle for important aspects of life, why should I settle for my education after years of hard work?  My professors and family, on the other hand, told me in short to suck it up for two years, it is a great program and will look great when I can put that on my resume. Plus, if it was as easy as I claimed, it would be an easy two years with a great GPA to show for it.  Grad school wasn’t undergrad: I wasn’t going to have the warm and cozy campus environment where professors and students share close relationships.

I learnt two main things from this experience: I love learning for learning’s sake. I don’t agree with everyone that told me to go just for the certificate and job I will get at the end, what’s the point?  I’m not going for the paycheck I will get later on, I am going to learn.  I have worked far too hard these last sixteen years to suddenly settle.  I am doing this for me, after all, may as well enjoy myself by means of being challenged and happy if I am going to go.  The job market currently isn’t the prettiest, but there are jobs available to me if I wanted to go that route right now, I just choose not to.

Second thing I learned: I didn’t know my goals in going to grad school when I applied. I initially applied to programs that mimicked or combined my joint majors of sociology and Chinese in college and expected it to be the same.  What I realized after that trip was that my goal really was to make my Chinese as good as it possibly can be and if I wanted that, I needed to get my butt over to China and work/live there.  Applying for grants or scholarships that would allow me to combine sociology as well would be one option or just living there and doing my own research, whether it be by free lance writing for city specific magazines when I am there, commenting from a foreigner’s point of view, or just keeping my own blog, would be ways as well.  Either way, I would be practicing my Chinese like I wanted.

China: She wants to go to there.

Another part of that second lesson was that I am now reconsidering which field I want to go into. So my main goal now is to make sure my Chinese is top notch, okay, cool.  That’s not an academic goal, so want do I want to do academically?  Everyone and every company is in China currently, I have the world of choices ahead of me.  Where are my interests?  What type of field could I combine many of my interests.  The smartest, most mature choice currently may be to not go to grad school next semester and just reapply in Fall, when I have my brain screwed on straight, my interests in order, and much, much more time to research all possible fields.  I just did what I thought I had to do last year and ended up in this predicament.  Clearly, that was not the smartest move and I can see why people don’t typically apply to grad school while they are still at school.  There simply is no time to do so and you end up screwing up because your head is in so many different places.

Here’s my advice for you liberal artists: if you are going to go to grad school for the same reasons I want to go, love of learning, need to be challenged, fear of the real world, etc make sure you know what you want to do.  You don’t want to end up in graduate school like I could have ended up and realize that field isn’t the field you want to be in, ending up with a ridiculous amount of debts and a lack of resume worthy experiences because you chose the education route rather than the job route.  Look outside the box of what you did in college. Realize that graduate schools tend to name things differently from each other, so while you normally wouldn’t look under one department’s heading for potential programs, you never know what you might find.  The perfect department may be hiding under a completely random title.  Lastly, just go with your gut.  I know some people who don’t think I am making the right decision, but I know this is what is best for me.  It just took a major disappointment for me to figure out what exactly I wanted.

So what’s next for Ms. Chelsea? Who the hell knows, check back for more updates!


Guest Post: Just Ur Average

22 Apr

This is a guest post by Sophia T. She tweets @Just_urAverage with an ongoing list clearing-up what it means to be part of Generation Y (or Millenial, as I call it). She is from San Francisco. Her post below reflects many of the values of liberalart.us. She helps give voice to this story and her advice is sound. Interested in writing a guest post like Sophia? sayhello at liberalart dot us. -Ryan

I’m not your average college grad. I’m ambitious in every sense of the word, but my ambitions have not caught up to my resume or potential employment opportunities. Let me back-track and introduce myself, my name is Sophia. I graduated in 2009 with a B.A in Political Science. Unlike other college grads, I actually had a resume. I worked on my college campus as a student office assistant for two years. I had a summer internship in Washington D.C. working for an association, for God-sakes – yet my job prospects were slim, zero, zilch!  Like most college grads, I moved back with my parents. I uploaded my resume on Monster. I went to temp agencies. I read the “how-to-get a job” books, the how-to-network books, and most of the self-help section. Yes, I even read The Secret. When I did get the occasional job interview, I was clobbered. I went home depressed, disappointed, and ultimately defeated.

My turning-point came at one particular job interview when I was asked, “What have you been doing for the past year?” I said, “Personal growth.” I came out of the interview and I was pissed, “How dare they ask me something like that?” But deep down inside, I knew being pissed wasn’t going to be the answer.

I created @Just_urAverage not because of angst, but as a proactive way to voice my concerns for my generation and our democracy. You are not alone. The way employers treat young grads and young people, in general – is unfair. Writing covers letters, perfecting resumes, and cold calling potential employers are not going to get you the job and here are 10 reasons why:

  1. While the “too big to fail banks”, ran to the government asking for a hand-out. We asked, “What do we need to do to land jobs in a recession?” Where is our bail-out? There is none. Period.
  2. There’s a big empty blackhole on my current resume. How do I put survived the Great Recession on my resume? You can’t.
  3. Having a mind and knowing how to use it should be a marketable skill – but it isn’t.
  4. Volunteer work doesn’t pay for food or bills or anything else a person needs to survive. (Non-paid internships fall under this too.)
  5. Thinking of how far behind I am from my peers – in terms of a career is enough to get me depressed every time.
  6. Online job boards like Craigslist and Monster are nothing, but a source of frustration especially during a recession. Frankly, it is not the way most people find jobs.
  7. You must have concrete examples on your resume showing you can an indispensable part of an organization. The problem is teachers teach students how to be proven followers, not proven leaders.
  8. You don’t like solicitors. I don’t like solicitors. Don’t tell us to be solicitors in our job searches.
  9. Don’t waste our time being nice to us at an interview – letting us think we got the job. Then waiting a week to tell us: “We decided to go with a different candidate.” It’s torture.
  10. A decent job for a college grad should not be a prerogative especially in the US. Skyrocketing increases in tuition, plummeting revenue for state colleges (budget cuts), knee-high student loan debts + no job prospects = unacceptable.

A lot of us think that we have no control over how things are done, but let me tell you: the best way to voice your mind is through the ballot. Having a Black man become the President of the United States should be enough proof that – WE have the power to enact changes that are seemingly impossible.