Since some of my close buds are going through the painstaking process of finding that first job after college, I thought I’d share a little 2-years-out reflection on the whole working in the real world thing:

College was a time when I spent a great deal of effort on coming to terms with my sexuality and learning how to negotiate this new "self" with my old and new networks – friends, family, peers, etc. Graduating and finding a great first job was, for me, my way of proving to myself and to the world that even though I was a wishy-washy liberal and activist…I could do just as well as people who had not gone through what I did and probably majored in something more practical like business.

I started my job hunt the December before graduation, sending resumes to over 200 companies in the field I thought I wanted to work in. I landed a job right as graduation neared, and moved to New York City in late June.

Let me be the first to tell you that life sucked. Even though I lived in the beautiful West 70s (we found the perfect place) and I had a great job in the business world, adjusting to a regular work schedule – waking up at 7am, getting to work at 8:30am, returning home at 6:30pm, eating, and going to bed to start the whole process again in the morning – made me feel like life was over. I was exhausted by the end of the day, and I no longer had the time to just…do things that made me happy. Work was okay, but didn’t make me happy the way I hoped it would. One month in, I started thinking about grad school and the possibility of looking for a new job.

The reality is that this feeling is pretty common for people coming out of the college; for me, this period lasted about 4 months, and then I started doing a lot better – I adjusted to my schedule, I realized that I didn’t like my field too much and slowly kept my eyes peeled for new opportunities, and I discovered coffee. Five months after starting my first job, I landed Perfect Job in Ideal Field, and now life, for the most part, is quite good.

I do have to express, though, that this transition many people go through after graduating college is reflective of a highly privileged upbringing – I never had to work a great number of hours for a job I didn’t entirely like while trying to balance a million other things, like my finances, my apartment, schooling, a family, etc. But this aside, I think the difficulties privileged folks like myself undergo when transitioning to the working world are reflective of something interesting from a sociological perspective: transitioning to the workforce and to be successful in many workplaces/fields – “becoming a professional” – is kind of an identity struggle in and of itself.

There are moments now, as I’m becoming comfortable in the workplace and confident in my ability to do work, when I realize I’ve become “a professional”. When someone calls for me on the phone I reflexively act happy and excited to hear from them, and grateful for the good work they’ve brought to the table. When I sit in a meeting, I always bring a notepad and pen and I try to anticipate questions about anything that might be brought up during the meeting. I offer to help with others’ projects I may not have anything to do with. I am outgoing at work, I always ask how people are doing, how their weekends were, what they’re doing for the holiday. My work identity has, in many ways, been institutionalized -- and it's crazy because those who knew me a few years ago knew me as a very shy, almost socially defunct kind of guy. In some ways I kind of like this new personality I can turn on. I feel that it has helped me to be more successful at work.

Obviously this institutionalized identity can have its problems. What if, for whatever reason, you are unable to fit this behavioral image of “the professional”? What if the ideals of the office are such that other identities (gender/sex/sexuality/ethnicity/socioeconomic status) create a discomfort in the office that causes short term problems and prevents long term growth? And further, what if you become this “professional”, and lose behaviors associated with your original identity to this new, fairly superficial, work-driven way of life? I don’t know that I necessarily want to instinctively start small talk every time I talk to someone. Isn’t that a little fake?

I guess it all comes to finding that balance. Some people – people I’m sure we all know – become the Stepford Robots about everything…work, social life, etc. A lot of them lose flexibility in life. Transitioning to the workforce is rough and can be very demanding, but just make sure that you create a space for yourself. Some of us start blogs, but I’m sure there are other ways to do this, too. :)

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