Musings on a Tuesday afternoon

“When I was on my book tour, I went out for a drink with a girl who I guess is in her 20s. She is mostly a photographer but not quite sure what kind of artist she wants to be, and she confessed to me, after a pitcher or two, that she really wasn’t sure she wanted to be an artist. She just didn’t want to get a job. And I said, ‘That’s what an artist is!’ We pinky-swore not to reveal that to the public. It’s a trade secret.” -Tim Kreider for Johns Hopkins Magazine


There are a whole slew of things to write on a Tuesday afternoon from my work desk. Here’s the gist of it: I got a job and it’s with nuns, and then I got bored. Simultaneously, a bunch of personal-life stuff happened. I went on a series of bad online dates. On a date, one guy ran away.

But more about the job and the guy and the dates and the other people I’ve mentioned on this blog (yes, their lives went on, too) later. Keep those thoughts bookmarked. For right now, it’s a Tuesday and I’m at my desk and, even though I’m bored, I still have a job. I’m mostly doing it. If we’re honest, I would profess to not want a job at all, but there are bills and, even more pressing than bills, I’ve found, there’s this expectation in society to stand up and say that you’re doing something. At 24, it doesn’t matter so much what you are, it matters what you’re doing. Half of my friends are students and poor as shit. But they’re doing amazing things.

I spent 2013 in Malaysia with a group of Americans who taught English to kids in public school. The government liked the idea of us but they didn’t like what we might actually do, so they kept us around but prohibited us from having any power within the school. In our most reduced state, we were clowns, shiny-faced and flown in from halfway across the world for novelty. Some of us actually taught. All of us came home with stronger American friendships, and a greater affinity for alcohol, bagels, and Mexican food.

In any case, the most stunning part of arriving in Malaysia for me was the group with whom I arrived. Everyone spoke multiple languages, played multiple instruments, excelled in multiple sports. Most had studied or lived in an array of countries. One girl had started an orphanage in India.

They were humanitarian and diplomatic and brilliantly smart all at once. They cheered when Obama took the stage at his reelection, an event that we stayed up past midnight to watch live on American time (which is twelve hours behind Malaysian time). We all got Tiger beers and made a night of it. Of course, this is exactly the kind of thing that the State Department would hope to see for one of their foreign exchange programs, so maybe we were just being goody-goodies in some way that wasn’t conscious for us but was wholesome, nonetheless.

If college is a chance to be a little fish in a big pool, Malaysia made me a minnow in a national aquarium. When I called home, I didn’t sulk about my stomach’s poor reaction to Kuala Lumpur’s street food; I gushed in awe about the people in this program (and, really, how the heck did get accepted, anyway?).

One year later, I was as assured as ever that these people would take over the world. I’m still as confident. They wasted no time in getting into Ivy-League graduate programs for Middle Eastern conflict studies, public policy, global poverty and practice, education policy, women’s studies, and so on. One went to Rabbinical school and spent a summer working on a Yiddish farm in Upstate New York. In short, they pursued their own lives –and boldly– and they’re intent to light the entire world on fire with peace and justice and kosher foodstuffs and lots of other good things.

In reality, they’re broke-as-heck students. Some have never had a nine-to-five job. But they’re in the process of doing amazing things. So it is for law students and medical students, or any kind of student who’s likely to have an amazing career in fifteen years, but will be poor and jobless until then. These are our twenties. We’re doing amazing things, we just haven’t done them, yet.

As you know, I didn’t go back to school. I fought hard for employment, and, eventually, I got it. It’s a full-time job and it’s a writing job and it involves nuns. I’m happy and thankful to have it. (And, because I still have it, I want to be prudent with what I say about it here.) But, what am I doing? Yes, there are projects and tasks, and there’s this business of religion and the frequency with which it is excluded from public radar. In a very broad way, I’m trying to make one specific type of religion “cool.” But, right now? Right now I’m just sitting at my desk, bored with my Facebook feed, tired of formatting another article, typing away about my own little nook of the world.

I want to be doing more, I think. Unlike my many American friends, I’m not quite sure what that means, yet.

Bookmark this: the job and dating and the others you’ve read about so far. I have a lot to catch you up on.

The 1 Question You Must Ask About Your New Job

Flickr: AnnieAnniePancake

I got a job. Upon learning that I had a job, I compiled a list of all kinds of queries including but not limited to: Can I wear jeans to work if I dress them up? Will I get a company phone number/email address/computer/phone? and, of course, Will there be a water cooler, and, if yes, will people stand around it and chat?

I went out and bought a dress that is just a notch below a skirt-suit (because who wears those, other than Hillary?). I bought pop-and-lock containers in which to bring my lunch. I joined, now that I have income to monitor.

Yet, the biggest favor I could have done myself would have been to consider that, not only was I clueless about my exciting new job, but my employers were novices, too. Because I am the first person ever in my position. Because my workplace is an NGO. Because we’re breaking boundaries and conventions everywhere, but none of us have any idea how to do it.

I’ve now been happily employed for nearly five months, and we’re still figuring it out. This autonomy, which has become dual parts freedom and frustration, is the one thing I wish I could have foreseen. Viewing the job as an official position at an organization, I figured that the line of command would be simple: my boss would tell me what to do and I would do it to a better standard than she’d requested. That’s how things had always been: teachers gave strict parameters for assignments, and I did them. In school, I sometimes broke the rules (I needed to let my creative genius shine through), but, before I broke the rules, the rules themselves were clear.

Yet, here’s what no one in the “real-world” tells you: There are no rules. Or there are no rules in religious-owned non-profits where your position was created for you and no one agrees on who your boss is, at least. Does this mean that I’m unlucky, or that I’ve found myself in a bad situation? Hardly; I’m thrilled to have found a real, paying job, and such a special one, at that. But I’m also realizing how very well I do with preset, clear expectations. In fact, this notion of expectations and accountability is one of the reasons I wanted a 9-5 job as opposed to freelancing in the first place; I was a miserable human when I had no structure. Is creating professional standards and creating a personal goal outline something you learn after a certain amount of time in the workforce? Is it something some people are born with but others can never achieve? Is it yet another skill that Millennials disdainfully lack?

I now know that there is no water cooler at my job (but there is free coffee, soda, hot chocolate, and trail mix). I got the workstation/email/password. I haven’t worn jeans to work yet. I still think nuns are as cool as I did five months ago. But I see now that all of those things will work themselves out in any job. In fact, I didn’t really need to ask these questions as I was preparing to start, because I ended up figuring those all out soon enough. Instead, the important questions are these: How much responsibility are you being given? Are you given the proper support to fulfill these responsibilities? And, most importantly, can you handle more autonomy than you bargained for if you end up in an environment where the rules are, largely, up to you?

That Opposite-Sex Friend

By the time you’ve reached your mid-twenties, you’ve usually found “that” opposite-sex friend. I say ‘found,’ but the truth is you were never looking– the friend happened upon you and the click was so strong is was nearly audible and the two of you have been inseparable since. Except you haven’t dated. Or you tried to date and it didn’t work out. Or you had feelings for each other but not at the same time, or there is some massive, indestructible thing separating you from each other and forever eliminating you from the realm of lovers.

Tracey Clark-Flory, Salon’s sex columnist, writes in  her article How to Actually Marry Smart “You know that guy friend you weren’t romantically interested in because he was just too nice and available? Marry the fuck out of him.”

I’d be delighted to marry the f*ck out of him, you think. Come to think of it, your parents would be thrilled if you married him. Your college roommate would be ecstatic. Everyone you know would be psyched because they’ve seen the way the two of you laugh together, and they have probably interrogated you about your relationship at least once in an attempt to get you to admit you’re more than friends.

But, alas, the friendship really is platonic. Off-hand, I can think of four friends who are in this situation with “that” opposite-sex friend, though the girl is not always the one pining. In only one case has the friendship transitioned into a romantic relationship (and their Facebook photos are so darn cute that it’s impossible not to hum Canon in D while flipping through them).

The rest of my friends have not been so lucky. They’re still vying for the Cory-and-Topanga ending while realizing that their relationships are already a lot like Cory and Topanga, but without the sex. Or the kissing. Or the romantic aspect at all. This isn’t so bad, they think, because it means you can have this lovely friendship in addition to a romantic relationship with someone else! That’s kind of like winning twice in the coolest-people lottery, right!?

It would be, of course, if you weren’t yearning to win the lottery only once, only with “that” opposite-sex friend.

Quarter Life in the media: what’s being said about it in the news?

Comprehensive. Millennial. Yea, we love this.



Spring is (sort of) here and we want to be outside which means it’s even harder to keep up with the news since we wrote last month’s ‘top 3 QLC articles’. There’s just SO MUCH of it everywhere. And lately we’ve been spotting a lot of intriguing media coverage of the quarter life crisis in all its different forms.

But you don’t have to go trawling through all the weekend supplements, blogs and magazines because we’re gathering the best stuff right here at QLClueless. There’ll be new material each month so come and see what we’ve found in the world of QLC.

Top 3 things you should read this month (Spring QLC Special)

1) This account of being 25 and ‘stuck’ by  ‘black feminist writer and PHD candidate’ J.N Salters  is our favourite QLC piece of the week. This  Huffington Post article is a brilliant insight into exactly…

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An Open Letter to Early Graduates

“I hate to break it you, but school is the best thing you’ll ever have.”

“Honestly, the only people I ever hear say that are people who don’t make any money.”

-Girls, Season 3 Episode 2


My brother has decided to graduate (from undergrad) a year early. I want to be happy for him, to congratulate him, to tell him that the best is yet to come. I have had some of my most incredible moments since I graduated. I saw the world. I made friends. I learned languages. I taught people stuff. I got published and wrote music. Nicholas, and all early grads, I know that you’ll do the same. But, because you’re smarter and more spry and better looking and much more talented than I am, your lives will be awesome in even more profound ways. College might feel hard to leave, but, trust me, it gets better than bad beer in a dorm room.

Flickr: David Goehring (I edited the contrast)
Flickr: David Goehring
(I edited the contrast)

The media says that my optimism for you is unfounded. It says that we Millennials are unreasonably positive for a generation that’s doing significantly worse than the previous two. Something inside of me –some squeaky, squirming part– feels that my optimism is unreasonable, too.

When I graduated college, I dismissed everyone’s warnings on grounds of crochety-ness. “I’m scared for you,” well-intentioned passersby would tell me. “It’s a bad job market out there.

I shrugged them off (though never face-to-face). The job market might be bad for other people, but it will surely be fine for me, I thought naively.

While I know that you have loads of fun waiting for you in your life post-graduation, while I believe that you will, ultimately, find employment and reach financial independence, I am also scared for you. I understand now what those people I ignored meant. It is a terrible job market out there for the both of us alike. There’s a good chance you’ll spend time feeling useless and totally discouraged at the hordes of people who won’t even answer your emails, won’t even give you a chance.

Alan Alda was right when he said that the world is running about as smoothly as a car with square wheels. (He said that in the 80’s; I think it’s gotten worse.) I’m not suggesting that you live in fear, but rather that you brace yourself for what’s out there. Make many professional connections now. Take every opportunity to work for free (after graduation, state labor laws will make unpaid internships impossible, thereby ruling out a slew of ways to get your foot in the door). Start aggressively job searching now. Do everything you can think of to beat the job market so as to avoid the job market beating you.

There’s a lot of joy in this post-grad universe; the magnificence of it all will blow your mind. But parts of it are scary and unrelenting, too. Don’t underestimate the difficulty of finding employment/a place to live/a social life in the “real world.” Shield your heart for it. Be proactive. And, as you do so, remember that I’m here, ready to brave the storm with you.

“In” and Out

Flickr: Thomas Leuthard
Flickr: Thomas Leuthard

It’s easy to blame unemployment on a lack of an “in.” For most of my job search, I’ve attributed my lack of work to the fact that I’ve largely been applying to jobs anonymously, which means that my résumé has likely been unseen. If I could just get someone to meet me face-to-face, my personality would dazzle him/her and I would immediately score a job!

I was sure of this, until a friend got me an interview at a local paper. Finally, I had my “in.” Then I failed the edit test.

“Are you sure that this is what you want to do?” The publisher asked, slightly bewildered. He was the head of a small newspaper close to my parents’ home, laid-back and in his fifties. He had enormous blue eyes and a homeliness and suggested he might spend his spare time chopping wood in his yard. He also had the air of someone who had never watched a sporting match in his life.

“Often times, these tests are indicative of interest. You don’t seem to be very interested in small government and community reporting. Maybe you should pursue music.”

I bristled at the suggestion that I should do something other than that for which I was applying. But he had a point: I wasn’t particularly interested in local news or civics. I was interested in a job, and the salary, purpose, routine that came with it. Colleagues. Holiday secret-santa swaps. Casual Fridays. I had gone on this informational interview not because I’d judged the position to be a perfect fit, but because I was trying to be flexible and receptive to a variety of writing positions. I wanted to be open to surprises. Just not these kinds of surprises.

“No, I made the decision that I want to write, and I still want to write,” I replied, mustering up the confidence of a forty-year-old woman who is fiercely ambitious and has the fine-tuned skills to match her drive. I often imagine this character –she wears straight-leg trousers, heels, and smug grin– and hope that I’ll somehow grow into her. As I tried not to shake in my cognac-leather boots, it felt like I had a long way to go.

Giving up the charade, I admitted to him that I wasn’t really interested in local news, and we discussed what kind of writing I wanted to do and his trajectory to being a publisher. When I suggested that I attend a zoning meeting armed with a dictionary and a huge will to learn, he dismissed it gently (“That will be hard for you, hard for us, and potentially hard for our readers. Better to send Bob who knows the jargon like the back of his hand.”). I nodded politely. Underneath my determined, ready-for-anything facade, I knew he was right.

We chatted for a bit before he walked me to the door and bid me off with a handshake. I was not, and would not be, offered a position with this local paper. Opening the door to wisps of harsh wind and light snowflakes, I was out of the publishing house just as soon as I had been “in.”

I Don’t Know What to Do with My Life

Flickr: Seyed Mostafa Zamani
Flickr: Seyed Mostafa Zamani

“I feel like I’m stuck in terms of not having a career, not having a path,” Lisa said via Skype. “I’m having a hard time figuring out what I want.”

Lisa was a receptionist at for a chocolatier in Seattle, where she’d recently moved to be closer to her boyfriend. Before that, she was a hostess in Milwaukee. She’d studied political science and French in college, where we’d met.

It wasn’t the first time I’d heard that qualm that evening. Earlier, my friend Grey in Maryland expressed an identical sentiment. “I’m so tired of searching– searching for a place to live, searching for the right career, searching for someone to love,” she texted me.

At the core of most of my friends and even myself, there seems to be this common, controlled lost-ness. We find it easier to rule out what we don’t want career-wise than to pinpoint what we do, which leads to distress. The problem isn’t laziness: we’re active and we’re good at lots of stuff . But we find ourselves struggling to choose just one route for the rest of our lives when we have a bunch of workable options.

For educated, well-rounded humans, Millennials shouldn’t be so bad at discerning a career path. Many of my friends and I had cushy childhoods that encouraged us to pursue hobbies and interests. We’ve been privileged to explore our passions and whims: my friends’ hobbies range from woodworking to mountain biking to taxidermy, all of which they perform with surprising finesse. Lisa studied abroad in Morocco and taught English in a quaint French village. Grey learned Danish while studying in Copenhagen and then worked with apes in the jungles of Tanzania. Our liberal-arts degrees boast impractical titles like “Religious Studies,” “Peace and Justice Resolution,” “Philosophy.” Our travels (read: “hands-on education”) span entire continents.

It follows, then, that our fault isn’t in a failure to engage with the world around us. We hone skills, interact with a global world, and chase ambitions fearlessly. The trouble comes with narrowing down interests and identifying practical skills. What are marketable skills from travels and humanitarian interests? Is it really useful that we can speak French, Latin, or Malay?

While being active and multi-talented might make us feel fulfilled on many levels, it also makes direction feel impossible.

It’s rare for a person to have a clear vocation, a certainty about what to pursue and where. Yet, just as we need work experience and team-building skills to be attractive to employers, we also need direction. No doubt, Lisa, Grey, and I have all been enormously lucky to be able to pursue various passions throughout our lives; this post is not a complaint for that freedom. It is, however, a critique of the jack-of-all-trades mentality we’ve come to prize.

I wonder if Millennials wouldn’t be better off if our options were more limited, if we weren’t groomed to thrive on variety. For talented, active people, our difficulty in discerning is disturbing. We know who we are and what we like, but, for many of us, the question of where we want to end up is as mysterious as the query of where to begin.

An Open Letter to the Woman Who Shushed Me on the Commuter Rail

Today is the fortieth anniversary of the mobile phone call. It’s also the day that a Brit climbed into a water drain to retrieve her phone.

Basically, phones are all the rage today. I’m raging about them, too.

A woman shushed me on the MetroNorth train a few weeks ago, a bold move that resulted in anger, humiliation, reflections on the current job market, and this letter on my part.

It’s generated some comments on HuffPost of people agreeing that calls can be missed, that you shouldn’t pick up your phone if you can’t talk.  The comments raise interesting questions: can all calls be missed? Is it okay to put off an employer until later (especially when you’re grasping at straws for a job)? Is climbing into a water drain that crazy? (Probably.)

In the celebration of all things phones, I want to continue this conversation. I’d love hear your thoughts on this phone-debate: Vote below, sound off in the comments section here, on HuffPost, or on twitter. The letter’s full text is at

Speak up!


Flickr: Alyssa L. Miller

I’m never ready to wake up when the alarm sounds at 9 am. All things considered, I should be well-rested and thrilled to face the day, but instead I snooze until 10:30 am and then pull myself out of bed and wander through my house in a groggy stupor. Still half awake, I make tea, brush my teeth, check my emails. Summoning to mind my list of things to do for the day, I grumble, meander back to my bedroom, and flop onto my bed, face-down.

Unemployment yields a paradoxically long to-do list: there are cover letters to write, resumes to send out, informational interviews to schedule, thank-yous to script from completed informational interviews, and more emails with names of friends of friends whom I should solicit for more informational interviews.

There are articles to read from a roundup of news sites, so that, in my eventual cover letters to them, I can deem myself a “loyal reader” in good faith.

There’s a freelance article to be written. A column to edit for an unpaid internship. A phone call to return.

Any day is a mix of these things, the things I need to do (find a job), the things I ought to do but are not necessary (find alum on LinkedIn and stalk them for potential connections), and the things I should do but don’t have a time limit for or consequences for not doing (practice piano, learn French, put in laundry, floss).

I also need to call the insurance company to ask if I’m covered for dental…
(It turns out, I’m not.)

This is how, at 11:00 am, I find myself slapped with the harsh reality of unemployment, the land in which there is plenty to do but little motivation to do it. Although I’m aware of my objectives, I lack a shared goal, a team with which to achieve it, and a superior who expects to see results. In a workplace, there can be serious consequences for not getting out of bed in the morning or not completing one’s job (say, not getting paid). In my realm of zero-accountability, the only consequence of sloth is more of the same, an endless cycle of joblessness, laziness, bed-flopping.

I fix myself a second mug of chai tea and begin the day’s first cover letter, keeping in mind the image of festering all the while swearing it off.