My Future Looks Dim

I’ve spent lots of mental energy this year memorizing German nouns and generating ways to fall asleep amidst my neighbor’s raging dub-step music. But I’ve spent substantially less time considering what comes next. With less than a quarter left of college, maybe today should be the day I give some thought to my future.

So I head into the Career Services Center. After browsing the shelves (wishing I had done this three years ago), I decide to take an online careers test. It involves checking off boxes for specific programs of interest, special qualifications, school subjects you like, desired hours, and positions you want to avoid.

Imagining how my favorite classes in Linguistics, Psychology, Foreign Languages, and History might translate into a real-world paycheck, I mark hospitality and tourism; education and training; marketing; and human services.  I give myself mostly high marks for all forms of basic skills (“proficient” in Microsoft Word), and I’m not too picky when it comes to working hours or positions. Hell, give me the graveyard shift! I’m young and fresh.

My test yields 17 careers. Possibilities! Direction! Maybe today will be the day I set out on the path of adulthood. I never had a Bat Mitzvah or Confirmation, but perhaps a visit to Career Services will be my coming-of-age ritual.

I glance at the list.  Nearly a third of my options revolve around the food industry.  “Chef. Restaurant cook. Industrial/Cafeteria Cook. Short Order Cook. Fast Food Cook.” The relevance to my Linguistics major escapes me. Is this all my degree is good for? Besides, I’m a vegetarian who never eats fast food, so with the latter I wouldn’t even benefit from the employee discount.

I’m a little spooked, and not just from wondering why I bothered to go to college.  I checked no box indicating the many hours I spend glued to the Food Network, and yet the computer seemed to intuitively sense my love for the show Chopped. Or maybe it discerned that the whole time I was taking the test, I was dreaming about the grilled cheese I’d make when I got home. Intuition has its limits, though: The computer failed to register that any inclination toward a career in the food industry had been thoroughly extinguished the day before at my dining hall job, when I removed the fibrous ends of sugar snap peas by hand for two hours. Anyway, I’m graduating from a liberal arts university, not Le Cordon Bleu.

I scroll on. Please let this quiz enlighten me. Please point me on my future path. There has got to be a high-paying Eat, Pray, Love sort of job out there. How did Elizabeth Gilbert make a living by eating pasta and meditating?

Next up, I read: Director of Religious Activities.

Perhaps that’s the “pray” part of the job. But is this test some sort of prank? I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve been to church. I’m an atheist. And would God approve of the beer pong socials I’d plan as Activities Director?

I reach the bottom of the short list, where the computer program suggests a final career option: Maid/Cleaner

So THIS is my college dream, come to fruition! Why my parents pinched pennies to finance my education! Maybe a Bachelor’s degree is the new prerequisite for a lifetime of mopping in this ever-competitive job market. Did I mention my GPA is 3.92? That I’m hardworking, outgoing, and reliable? That I’ve scrubbed our shower and dusted our furniture exactly never this year?

I adjust my search in the side-bar to include my preferred salary range. Since it’s too late to study computer engineering, I don’t see myself making a fortune, but I want to be comfortable and independent. So I check the box for a reasonable $60,000 and up, hoping that more sophisticated titles like “Dean of Admissions, Harvard” might replace the entry-level jobs that seem to be my future.

A message pops up on the screen: “We’re sorry, no matches could be found to fit all the selected criteria.” Apparently both money and job fulfillment really is too much to ask.

Career Services has an entire wall devoted to “How-To” sheets; rows of GRE-prep books; tips on resume-writing, securing internships, or asking for letters of recommendation. But even they don’t have a clue what I should do with my life. Perhaps on the far-back wall, tucked between “So You Want To Be A Therapist?” and “Jobs In The U.S. Government,” there should be a special pamphlet just for me: “Learn To Settle: The How-To On Flipping Burgers.”

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  • Hey, I just found your blog and have been reading my way through it… loving every bit of it so far! I remember having a test taken to help me with focusing on a career path, and each of the results were so… random. At the end, I didn’t choose any of my “options” and just went for what felt right. You can’t really rely on what a test says where you should be heading – you make your own path after all :)

    • So glad you found the blog, and are liking it! Agreed, sometimes I wonder how they calibrate their answers on those tests. How does a degree in Linguistics correlate at all with religious activities director? Haha, definitely glad I chose to move to Spain instead of apply to flip burgers.

  • i agree…i think this is one of your best posts yet!!

  • HAHA! Love this Jen… I am cracking up at my desk and I'm pretty sure every 20 something person can relate to it. You're the best