Alumni Outreach Gone Awry [ 2003-10-07, 12:18 a.m. ]

(Editorial Note: Freeze read some of my entries and was vehemently opposed to the nickname, "Freeze." He requested I change it to Kent. As in Clark. Since I love him and he bought me this computer, I am complying. Please note that that Kent = The Man Formerly Known as Freeze.)

The other day I almost made a college student cry.

It was Saturday night and Kent and I were about to head out for a movie when the phone rang. I answered it.

“Hi, is Molly there?”

“This is Molly.”

“Molly, this is Young Perky Girl calling from UC Davis. How are you this evening?”

“Fine.”

“Well, I’m calling from the UC Davis blah blah blah fundraising blah blah blah alumni, money…”

Young Perky Girl listed all the ways in which UC Davis depends on their alumni, the new performing arts center, etc. Then she asked me what my major had been, and if I’m using it now.

“Well, I double-majored in Rhetoric and Sociology, so no - I’m not using my majors directly…” I answered.

“Oh. Hmmm. Well, what field are you working in?”

“I worked in finance for a few years, then fashion,” I told her.

Young Perky Girl paused. “But, um…did your majors help you get a job? My parents are reaalllly worried about me getting a job. They think I should go to grad school. Because, you know…of the economy.”

“The economy…um, yeah, that’s rough. Well, I was planning on going to grad school too. But I didn’t feel ready, so I moved to New York instead. I got a job in finance, which made me realize that I didn’t want to work in finance. But whatever your major is, you’re going to change jobs and do lots of different things in your life, and it will all turn out fine,” I tried to reassure her, as some of her perkiness was waning.

“Thanks, you’re probably right.” She paused. “It’s just that my parents are really worried about my job prospects. I’m an econ major with a communications minor. Do you think that’s okay?” Young Perky Girl was sounding a little panicked.

I told her that I thought it was fine. Then she asked me what I’m doing now.

“I work in retail,” I told her.

“Retail? Like, retail how?” Perky Young Girl asked.

“I work in a little boutique in New York.”

That’s when she audibly choked. Her voice rose about two octaves and cracked as she asked, shrilly, “Because you wanted to, or…”

I reassured her that it was my choice. “I had a great job with a big company, but I wasn’t happy. I like what I do now.”

Young Perky Girl’s breathing was rapid and choppy over the phone, “You work in a store? But you were able to get a real job, right?”

Yes, I was able to get a real job. I had a “real” job and I chose to leave it. This young girl on the phone was nearly in tears over the idea that her college education was all in vain because she was just going to end up working in a store somewhere, but this was a choice I made. Really. I freak young professionals out on a regular basis at the store: whenever we get to talking and they discover that I was Just Like Them before leaving my office job behind. I’ve seen their eyes glaze over with the fear that they are only a short round of lay-offs away from working behind the counter at Barnes & Noble. I’ve dealt with numerous customers who assume that I work in retail because I am uneducated and unable to get a better job. But sometimes, the same young professionals who are aghast at the idea of leaving a secure corporate job start to walk out of the shop, only to turn back to me, and ask, quietly, “Are you happier now?”

I am. I am more relaxed and more involved in my work and I feel more balanced. For every three panicked associate marketing managers who look at me like I’m their worst fears incarnate, there is the burnt-out financial analyst who is amazed to discover there is an alternative to the long, cubicle-enclosed hours they’ve been working.

This is not to say that working retail is like a vacation. It’s hard, exhausting, hands-on work that never stops. Oh, and the pay sucks. It’s not for everyone. But I like it. I really, really like it. And I don’t for a second think my college education was in vain. I may not have gone on to graduate school, and I may not have flourished at the Large Investment Bank where I started my career, but every choice I’ve made has led me to where I am today. I wouldn’t undo any of it (well, okay – maybe a few little things), and I don’t consider my career a finite thing. It is all a process and a journey.

I didn’t say all of this to Young Perky Girl, because it’s something you’ve got to figure out on your own. In fact, I think I might have sent her running straight to an LSAT prep class, haunted by images of herself in a Starbuck’s barrista apron. And that’s fine.

What did I say to her?

I told her she will be fine. I also told her I’d pledge $50 to the Alumni Fund because I felt so bad about almost making her cry.

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