By: Dana Sukontarak
My manager sent out an email to the whole department, congratulating me on my miniature promotion. There was a picture of me atop a brief bio that painted me as a very serious bookworm, and apparently it didn’t look like me at all, according to a coworker. “I didn’t choose the picture,” I told my coworker, a cute girl with long, curly hair. “He grabbed it off my LinkedIn page.”
“LinkedIn?” she asked. “What’s that?”
It was supposed to be a part-time job. I was fresh off a break-up with what I considered to be the epitome of soulless adulthood: a very junior IT position within a very powerful government agency. So, maybe I overcompensated for my occupational lack of whimsy when I copped this new gig: part-time cashier at my favorite natural foods grocery store. But I was starting a graduate program (more or less an act of panic) and getting SAT tutoring and catering event gigs on the side (both of which paid more hourly than my “real” government job, by the way). Three months, a full-time offer and one promotion later, I found myself in the most curious position. What is the appropriate balance between tending to the now and tending to the future? I enjoy my job – but how much effort do I devote to something not contributory to my eventual career? And who defines “eventual”—what timelines exist other than socially generated ones? Am I rebelling, aiming too low, or just taking advantage of the unmarked roadmap we affectionately refer to as “life”?
My gay childhood best friend is a raging and back-flipping alcoholic, the type of friend you’ll love forever but sometimes need a yearlong break from. Very recently, he was laid off from his “eh”-paying job, just months after securing his own one-bedroom apartment that cost more than half of what he earned monthly. He was forced to his limits, texting me for advice on selling his Macbook Pro and even requesting via a Facebook status that 50 friends donate to him 20 dollars each. Just before eviction, his cell phone lit up in glimmering gold with a job offer – one paying nearly double his previous income. And not long after, he texted my roommate (and our mutual friend) to ask, “Dana went from contract editor to working at a grocery store?” He told her that I was needlessly being a renegade, and that “at this age, it’s crucial to establish stability.” By the way, “this age,” for the both of us, is 24. We’re old enough to admonish our peers for not yet achieving as much as we have, but apparently too young to catch the irony in it all. The twenties are not an excuse to do poorly. It just so happens that lots of twenty-somethings do poorly, whether in terms of their careers, finances, or relationships. But “poorly” is a matter of opinion, and age ain’t nothing but a number (thank you, Aaliyah).
It is pointless to make comparisons. The only standards we should be striving for are those set by ourselves. I recently came across an essay I wrote for my introductory Philisophy class, which I took during my freshman year of college. “Finding the cure for cancer or otherwise ‘saving mankind’ is not the sole path to having meaning in one’s life, and is rarely the case anyway,” I wrote. “Shucking oysters every day and playing the guitar by fireside can have just the same, if not more meaning.” Apparently, I’ve been the way I am at least since I was 19, and probably long before.
These types of short essays sometimes feel farcical, as if it’s really possible to outline a huge, vague problem and a corresponding brilliant realization in 600 words. I don’t have a solution. Today, I sent off two very important applications. Later this month, I’ll send off a third. If the responses I receive aren’t good, then I’ll wait for the right opportunity to go for something else. And in the meantime, I’ll be working 8 hours a day, 5 days a week at a very nice grocery store in a very nice part of Maryland, enjoying myself and the good fortune of being able to wear jeans to work.