It was not until I had already been out of university for several months that I sought out the small, and isolated, career services building-positioned slightly off campus, down the end of a tree-lined street that seemed, by its very nature, to signal something along the lines of a “fresh start.” It was early Fall. I had recently returned from a trip throughout the better part of Europe. I was waiting tables at a Lebanese restaurant by the room I rented for $150/month. Things were superficially fine, garmented in the pretend trappings of apathy which, privately unbuttoned, gave way to a feeling both vast and microscopic: that of underuse.
A currently enrolled student met me at the front desk of the service center with a general questionnaire. Pushing aside a stack of alumni magazines, she directed me to sit on a canvas couch, the room lit by fluorescents, and complete the form-now attached to a bulky plastic clipboard emblazoned with the name of the university in question. There was a short wait. There was a short walk down a short hall. And there was a short chat with an administrator. I went home and edited my resume.
A few months later I was still waiting tables. Thinking I would be a professional baker I had taken a job at a popular coffee house making scones. I was not prepared for the task outside of my sharp interest in the food network and, movingly slowly through motions of a baker’s life, was casually fired three months after I was hired. Not being able to return to the Lebanese spot, I took a job at a diner, got fired two days after the start of my first new year out of school, and then took another job at an Italian restaurant. This, for whatever reason, is what I consider to be my first “job” out of college.
Although I spent nights scanning career generating and building sites, with little idea of what I actually wanted to “do”, I fell into the strange routine of doing just enough. I was, very much so, a wait-er. Having little planned, and conceiving of the entire ordeal as buying time toward the big time-whatever that may have been in thought or dream or lack of action- I did accidentally learn a bit. For one, my interpersonal skills were put to the daily test, forcing me to agilely maneuver between a varied, and consistently disgruntled, customer base and a boss- both who would hear none of it. Their firm and continued skepticism- “are you sure?” “did the customer really say that?” “did you actually put in that order?”-left me with the ability to impersonally focus in the midst of being vetted and the mindset to not follow up after a grievance without first checking the evidence of said grievance (useful for a teacher, I think).
Outside of this, I wasn’t particularly stimulated on an intellectual level and sort of kicked about when the restaurant was empty, writing phony Yelp reviews here and there for a couple of extra bucks on the side (an activity I liked quite a good deal, creating a series of characters who now, for whatever reason, have garnered quite a following across restaurant boards in one intentionally unnamed small New Jersey suburb). When not working I continue to update my Monster profile or my Linkedin or scan Craigslist, or-well-you get the picture. I did get the rare interview here and there but, entirely devoid of professional experience, I was usually turned down in the second round of the review proceedings. Once, at a particularly grim taupe-colored call center I even experienced such a sharp sensation of existential dread that I had to immediately remove myself from the premises to laugh, mimicking the cliched actions of a tragic character about to fall. In short, I was privileged, uninformed, broke, and in search of even the thinnest slice of pale meaning.
Then, out of the blue, I received an email from a former college professor asking I’d like a part-time job working as an AVID instructor Advancement Via Individual Determination) Tutor in the New Jersey Public School System. I accepted and found that I truly enjoyed the process of teaching, of taking a student who may lack even the initial foundation for embracing the subject knowledge, harnessing his or her potential, and then following up to ensure his or her commitment to the task at hand. About two to three months in I applied to a graduate program in education and was accepted. It was a grueling process to acclimate myself to the life of the average public school teacher. I was and, in some ways, remain unprepared. Yet, I figured and continue to figure it out-no help from career services or alumni networks had.