forever undeclared: the ballad of the quarterlife crisis

When I was in high school, I didn’t know what I wanted to study in college.

This made for some arguably misguided college choices (keyword: arguably) as well as many tense conversations with my parents regarding my interests/skills/inability to think critically about my future.

When I was in college, I didn’t know what I wanted to do after college.

This made for two years of living at home with my parents as well as many tense conversations regarding my interests/skills/inability to WANT to work 40 hours/week for the rest of my life.

Should it really surprise you, then, when I tell you that now that I am in grad school, I do not know what to do when I am done?

I was having a brief conversation with one of my managers about my career path. “And what do you want to do?” she asked. “I have no idea!” I answered. I giggled. (I laugh when I don’t know what else to say. I annoy myself in this way.) I said “I should probably figure it out. I’m 26. I am almost done with school. I should probably sit and think for one hour a day about what I want to do with the rest of my life, and keep doing that until I decide.”

I was joking. My manager laughed at me (most people aren’t the kind of people who require extended meditation to make decisions, I’ve found).

But I decided it wasn’t a bad idea.

Since then, I have devoted one of my shiny, empty notebooks to writing little journally things about what I want to do with myself. I schedule myself little 20-minute blocks to write: nothing stressful, nothing major, just a little uh… directed thought exercise.

Don’t worry, I haven’t made any revelations yet, but I’ve been thinking abstractly about what I want from my career and my life, and I’ve brainstormed some “next steps” to take.

My biggest issue is my lack of singular direction. I can “see myself” happy in a number of positions. I could be happy as a young adult librarian, as a children’s librarian, an academic librarian, a school librarian. I could be happy as a book reviewer, an editor, and agent. I could be happy teaching high school. I could be happy teaching college. I could be happy teaching elementary school. I could be happy writing novels. I could be happy writing academic papers. I could be happy writing freelance articles.

Above all, I want to find a position that lives up to the following ideals:

Jessica’s Work Values

1. I would like to work in a field that I feel strongly about.

Right now, this is “children’s literature,” but this is certainly not a limitation. I do, without a doubt, feel strongly about libraries, and even though I might find the day-to-day work of being a librarian less desirable than some other potential jobs, I would still be very happy to work in a field that I support 100%.

As I gain more experience in life, I might find new things to feel passionate about, things I’ve never even heard of right now. But there are also some fields that I will never feel strongly about, and I should avoid… like, uh, the Republican Party. I should probably not accidentally start working for the Republican Party.

2. I would like a position that rewards creativity and successful independent projects.

I do not want to work for an organization that is blindly invested in maintaining the status quo or that disrespects its workers by keeping their duties and job tasks under excessive lock-down. I want to be able to pursue my own initiatives, to make systemic changes, and to try new solutions to old problems.

And if I am successful at what I do? I want to be rewarded.

3. I would like to work in a field or for an organization in which there are opportunities for increased responsibility and career growth.

I don’t want to be stuck in a dead-end position. This doesn’t necessarily have to mean that I want to work for a huge company with lots of room to move up – I just want there to be flexibility, chances to learn new skills or assume new positions, and performance and responsibility-based raises over time.

4. I would like to work almost exclusively with great people.

This is really important.

I don’t need to or want to be best friends with everyone, but I want to work with people who are excited about life and about what they are doing on this planet. With people who are friendly, smart, and have a sense of humor.

5. I would like to work for an organization that respects me as a person with talents and expertise… and with human needs.

Some jobs treat their employees like idiotic peons who don’t have anything of value to say and shouldn’t be involved in 90% of what the organization does.

This rubs me the wrong way. Despite any necessary management hierarchies, I would like to feel like a valuable part of the machinery  Рsomeone who the organization needs, not someone who could be easily replaced or taken advantage of.

Some jobs do not offer reasonable health care, vacation time, maternity benefits, etc. I know this is often a financial decision, but it also reflects a certain level of respect for their employees. Never do I want to work somewhere, for instance, that might fire me for having a health emergency, or going over my vacation allotment, or if my kid is sick or whatever.


What I do is much less important to me than these other intangibles. And while these priorities might make me weird, I think they are the common denominator of my ideal work-life.

So maybe I have no idea where I’m going, but I know what I want it to look like when I get there.

One step at a time.

Ooooone step at a time.

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