I have a lot of hard feelings toward my alma mater. While I don’t take for granted the privilege to receive a secondary education, I get extremely frustrated when I consider the cost, the lack of a challenging curriculum and the over-focused subject matter of the courses I had to take. See, I was a marketing major. Every one of my marketing classes involved some sort of case study on existing or fictional brands, and a crap-ton of group presentations. The most intellectually challenging classes I took were my gen-eds in other disciplines. When I got to graduation day I actually thought it might have been the most expensive mistake I’d ever made.
My university boasted the high hiring rates of their graduates and the very well-known corporations that fund the marketing program. I quickly learned that these companies fund the marketing program to serve almost as a direct pipeline for new talent. Once I figured this out, I quickly went from being the teacher’s pet obsessed with straight A’s to being the girl who didn’t care much because an average effort would get a fine result.
After my brief slacker stage, I made peace with the fact that my school was not the ticket to the career I wanted and I, for lack of a better explanation, started hustling. I was working a part-time retail job for a brand I adore and shook all the hands I could. I worked hard to impress everyone I came into contact with. My manager at the time connected me with someone in the “experiential marketing” industry and we met over coffee. His job sounded awesome. He got to travel a lot, think creatively every single day, and be surrounded by other creative people every day. When he dropped an f-bomb during our meeting, I thought to myself, This guy is one of my people. Ultimately I met with one of his colleagues regarding the possibility of an internship and after I’d sent about a million follow-up emails, they gave me the position.
I started a job “in my field” within two days of graduating college. Whenever I think about that I feel pretty proud. Not everyone is so fortunate, but it was not without hard work that I got to that desk, you know? My internship quickly turned into a promotion, which quickly turned into that full-time-salary-benefits-carrying-job. And with these changes came a lot of responsibility really fast. I mean, I’m at the beginning of a full-fledged career. I’m traveling, planning, organizing, recapping, presenting and more. Sometimes, all of this is ridiculously overwhelming to me. I wonder Why am I doing this now? Did I start too soon? Am I not supposed to be poor and travelling and experimenting and being young, wild and free? While I definitely still feel poor (shout out to my student loans), I have a lot of security and stability in the life I live now and sometimes I feel like I’m being young the wrong way. I talk about clients and airline status and out-of-pocket expense report reimbursements. Is this “normal” 23-year-old life?
I recently went to my first university alumni event and showed up right after work. I was wearing one of my favorite work outfits, this black mock-turtle-neck sundress from Urban Outfitters and a pair of tan camel booties my mom bought me. I scooted into the event fashionably late and was immediately flushed with the feeling of being underdressed. Everyone else came from work too, but they were all in their “uniform”—some combination of black, light blue or khaki business-casual garb. Nobody’s hair was in a top-knot and it certainly wasn’t pink. I looked in this room of business school grads and had a sense of exactly what all of them did for a living. I could imagine what all of them were talking about as they looked at me and thought, “Whose plus one is she?”
I’m not going to lie, it was satisfying. I went there secretly hoping I would run into a professor and be able to tell them, “Yeah, you probably don’t remember me because I sat in the back and coasted through class, but I am here because I have a job in the marketing field that I got by working hard and networking and being myself and I wanted to show you there’s more than one way to reach that goal.” Well, maybe not those exact words, but you can catch my drift.
I realized something when I was in that hotel ballroom drinking free wine for an hour or so: while work sometimes makes me want to pull my hair out or curl up in the fetal position, I think I love it. Those moments are just “part of the job” as I’m sure they are with other jobs. I love that while I go through the hard things I can IM my work BFF about it, and that I can hangout with remarkably creative people who inspire me daily, and that I can create really meaningful relationships with those people because we genuinely like each other, and that I can do this all while enjoying a cold beer after 4pm (3 on a rough week). I love that I can express myself with my tattoos and pink hair and the ability to choose my outfit without having to think: Can I wear this to work? I might not be living an Elite Daily article, and I might not “fit in” with the definition of young professional that my university understands, but I am being young in exactly the way I want to.