So clearly, you don’t often start the day thinking of “The Graduate.” But I was reminded of the iconic film about post-grad angst this A.M. via an op-ed from the Daily Pennsylvanian, written by Juliette Mullin, a senior at Penn, where, Mullin writes, students tend to equate the Penn seal on their diplomas with a six-figure salary.
Lately, I’ve been having the same conversation on repeat. It doesn’t matter whom I’m talking to or where I am, everyone loves asking the same question: “Do you have plans for next year?”
This question has become such a sore spot for so many seniors at this point in the year that most will flat out preempt it with “I know this is the question we’re not supposed to ask each other but…”
Now it’s not how you ask that bothers me. In fact, unlike most, I don’t even mind being asked. What bothers me is the response I often get when I tell someone my plans are still up in the air — the look of slight pity and concern that I still don’t have my life completely figured out, followed by a weak, “Sorry I asked.”
Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? No matter how old you are. Sure, it’s a question college seniors have been ever asked, and it’s been ever loaded, mixed as it is with curiosity on the part of the questioner (I confess. Often guilty as charged) with just a dash of reproach. But add the expectations that ride the backs of so many women today — Succeed! Excel! Score Trophies! — coupled with the added onus of graduating from a prestigious school like Penn and you’ve got a boatload of angst, according to Mullin, who compares figuring out her future to the stress of taking one more class — but more so:
Unlike our classes, however, we tend to go through this alone, constantly feeling behind the pack. This year, it’s especially tough thanks to the economy. And, of course, it’s all made more stressful by being at a school with such a pre-professional focus.
When Career Services Senior Associate Director Barbara Hewitt used to work at a more “liberal-arts focused school,” she found that the general stress level surrounding the job hunt was not nearly as pronounced as it is at Penn. Here, we look at the students who have already secured well-paid Wall Street or engineering jobs for next year and immediately start to feel like we’re behind.
Which leads us back to expectations. Sure, they help us to move forward, to do our best, yadda yadda. But when they are impossibly high, when the you-can-do-anything mantra becomes part and parcel of the iconic self, well, anything less becomes grounds for disappointment.
Or indecision. That grass over there? Gotta be greener. Let’s check.
Meanwhile, scroll to the end of the story, and you find that our Ms. Mullin seems to have things figured out. At least right now. And I agree with her, but in a much larger sense: no matter your age, your job, your personal goals — life itself is a work in progress. Look at it that way, and you’re less likely to be lusting over that other side of the fence.
Until you get to that mindset, though, what then?
There’s always plastics.