When Ideals Butt Up Against Reality.


For the last 2.5 years, I’ve had a job I enjoy, and colleagues I dig, and an awesome boss. The next 2.5, in which I intended to get my Master’s degree and grow professionally, are up in the air now.

About two weeks ago, I realized that pouring my heart into my career doesn’t guarantee anything. About two weeks ago, we got the news that layoffs were coming to our hallowed halls. I know that losing my job, especially at 24, isn’t a death sentence. But it is sobering and I’m feeling disillusioned about all the things I thought were true. The things I used to believe, like: if you’re lucky enough to find a job you love and are good at, everything will work out to your advantage. Now I sound like my parents: no matter how cool you think your job is, it’s still just a job. When push comes to shove, there is a constellation of things more important to your company than you.

I wonder what other lessons the U.S.’s Gen Y, who grew up in a time of unprecedented national (if not personal) prosperity, will take away from this recession.

21 thoughts on “When Ideals Butt Up Against Reality.

  1. quadmoniker May 5, 2009 at 11:46 am Reply

    I’m in the same situation but on the opposite side of young adulthood. I’m nearing 30, my job is announcing a second round of layoffs June 1, and I’ve gotten an expensive master’s degree in a field that’s dying. I feel that if I were a little bit younger, I’d be poised to take better advantage of the vacuum the death of newspapers will leave. But I’m already set in my ways. Help me, Malcolm Gladwell! Find an anecdote that will help me live my non-Outlier life.

    • ladyfresshh May 5, 2009 at 12:02 pm Reply

      Im in my mid 30’s on the other side of approach 30’s. lol

      I decided to hold off on my masters for that same problem you are facing now.

      I regret that decision.

      Your masters although expensive still gets you a foot in the door and access to positions in your 30’s….well i think… well ideally…

      so yes what to do now that the field is smaller?

      or disappearing or being cost downwards (i work in photography an expensive hobby to begin with but with all the digital advance photographers and the field is finding themselves priced out of what were once lucrative positions/salaries)

      the problem only seems to have worsened and i find myself sans masters

  2. -k- May 5, 2009 at 12:05 pm Reply

    The realization you describe is something that has, for some reason, always been with me. I got my first job with a work permit when I was 15, and I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t absolutely convinced that any one of my employers wouldn’t hesitate for a second in throwing me out on my ass if it came down to me vs the bottom line. (This is especially true for large employers; when I was laid off at Citi, my boss was laid off along with me, and his boss didn’t even know about it until the day of. Many times the people that care enough about you to want to help simply don’t have the power to.) That knowledge translated into a sense of freedom: a refusal to put the companies’ needs above my own. I was and am a highly productive, capable employee, but I sure as shit took the vacation days I had coming to me, for example, and left when I was being treated poorly or a better opportunity came along. I may work for the company, but the company also has to work for me. I thought that this was more representative of our generation, while our parents and especially grandparents tended to value loyalty to one’s employer.

    As always, there are a lot of other factors-beyond just not having a spouse or kids-that have contributed to my confidence in being able to find another job, and the state of the economy has been one of them. My guess would be that scarcity of jobs would make me more likely to jump when my boss says jump. (Knowing me, it’d probably just make me more likely to draw unemployment, but hey.) I’m on my way back to grad school this fall as well, but I see this affecting coworkers of mine right now. It’s been something of a dream, and they are without question the best team I have ever been a part of, but the arrival of a new boss has changed the dynamic considerably. Their stress is making them physically ill, one of the surest signs that it’s time to start sending out resumes– but to where?

    Sorry to hear about the layoffs. Good luck going forward.

    • shani-o May 5, 2009 at 1:13 pm Reply

      k- I think I’m coming around to that way of thinking. My parents didn’t let me get a job when I was growing up; it was all about school. (They didn’t even like me having a job at Banana Republic in college, but as they lived in CA and I was in DC, there was nothing they could do about it.) The idea behind it being, if you worked hard in school, you’d get a good job, and be set for life. They both work in education, as do I, and since it’s relatively more stable than corporate, I think I had an expectation that if I don’t screw up, this job is here as long as I want it. Plus, that’s sort of the culture of this place, or it was, up until the last few months.

    • mute May 5, 2009 at 2:03 pm Reply

      “That knowledge translated into a sense of freedom: a refusal to put the companies’ needs above my own. I was and am a highly productive, capable employee, but I sure as shit took the vacation days I had coming to me, for example, and left when I was being treated poorly or a better opportunity came along. I may work for the company, but the company also has to work for me.”

      Pretty much, especially the sense of freedom part.

  3. drfantastic May 5, 2009 at 12:23 pm Reply

    This is when you turn to your Gen X brothers & sisters for help. We’ve been through this before at your age.

    • Feral Historian May 5, 2009 at 1:53 pm Reply

      Been through it before and are still going through it. When I was getting my master’s, my professors told me I’d have no problem getting work teaching at a community college until I got my Ph.D. And maybe in their day it was true. But since then universities have been cranking out so many people with degrees of all sorts that I’ve seen people with Ph.D.’s struggling to patch together enough part-time community college jobs to keep their head above water. Jobs that used to require a college degree – any college degree – now require a specific degree and umpteen years of experience. And the degrees keep getting more and more specialized. It used to be that a history degree would quality you to work in an archives or a museum; now those positions want degrees in archival science or museum curatorship. The system is broke!

  4. blackink May 5, 2009 at 1:02 pm Reply

    I’ve also sort of dealt with this, though at different times. I lost my “dream job” when I was 27, managed to bounce back in the same field and – like quad – find myself trying to hold on in a dying industry. We had a huge round of layoffs last summer, and there’s a strong chance that we’ll face more this fall.

    Shani, our parents were right – a job is still a job. And to an extent, we’re all expendable when executives are thinking about the bottom line.

    More than anything, I’ve just started thinking about finding freedom and flexibility and a vague sense of value in whatever field I pursue next. With the understanding that nothing is guaranteed. If only I could start up that wilderness store …..

  5. shani-o May 5, 2009 at 1:05 pm Reply

    black and QM, I have a question for you two. Are you more dedicated to journalism or to newspapers? Or neither, now? (I think I fell out of love with journalism first, but newspapers followed quickly thereafter.)

    • blackink May 5, 2009 at 1:31 pm Reply

      For me, it’s probably more journalism than newspapers. I grew up with newspapers, and I still can’t visit a new town without picking up its local (hopefully, daily) rag. But I understand that I’m one of a dying breed.

      Like a lot of people, I get most of my news online – from a number of outlets – these days. I understand that producing newspapers can be cumbersome and needlessly expensive for those in search of maximum profit.

      That said, we still need reporters to hold our public officials accountable, to file FOI requests, to report on malfeasance in our local governments, to serve as the figurative watchdog. I think journalism can still maintain an important role in our communities, even if the way readers consume it changes.

      I think, in some ways, I’ll always be a journalist. But in the future, it probably won’t be with a newspaper.

      • shani-o May 5, 2009 at 1:39 pm Reply

        I couldn’t agree more. The ideals of journalism still move me, and I think they’re more important than ever. It’s the application that bugs.

    • quadmoniker May 5, 2009 at 1:33 pm Reply

      I love them both equally and somewhat separately. Mostly, I’m not convinced that many places right now can do journalism the way newspapers do. Blogs aren’t as intensely edited, and TV doesn’t have as much time to tell as good story.

      It’s partly my idealistic view of newspapers that got me into this mess. I didn’t want to spend too much time learning new media in grad school. I’m also convinced that the things you learn about at newspapers are the things that should hold true everywhere; standards, story-telling, economic but powerful use of the English language.

      Also, I’m not sure people realize the ancillary literary benefits newspapers provide. Hemingway was a newspaper reporter. So was Mark Twain, kind of. The author of “Friday Night Lights,” a successful movie and TV show; newspaper reporter. Black Hawk Down author? newspaper reporter. If you want to learn how to tell a story, newspapers are the place to work. They’re tough and you have to work quick, and you have to be really really clear and concise. The best novels, even the gigantic ones, follow that rule.

      • shani-o May 5, 2009 at 1:43 pm Reply

        Agreed. So, since newspapers are dying, where can all the fantastic journalists and editors go so they can continue to practice, hone, and, more importantly, teach their craft?

      • blackink May 5, 2009 at 1:47 pm Reply

        You make a great point. And don’t forget, the creator of “The Wire” was also a former newspaper reporter.

        So for now quad, I think you’re right: Few mediums, if any, can do journalism in the the way that newspapers do.

        But I wonder if that’s part of a general reluctance to completely embrace the Web as the primary storytelling vehicle. Maybe some of that will change, particularly for blogs and online news organizations, as it becomes apparent that newspapers (the way we know them) are no longer financially viable?

        • quadmoniker May 5, 2009 at 6:14 pm Reply

          Right, absolutely! The Wire is the result of like, 20 years on the beat.

  6. Jiovanni May 5, 2009 at 3:49 pm Reply

    Well I’ve noticed that our Y Generation seems to be going to job to job to job. And with that, there is a freedom like blackink said but there’s also no sense of stability. In the end, it makes everything feel temporary. There is nothing guaranteed out there. It matches my personality perfectly because I get bored easy. However, I wonder how others will deal with this change in the job market with people staying at a job on average 2 years. I also wonder how we, folks who are ready for a change at any given moment, will deal with this change later on when if and when we decide to have our own families.

  7. Scott May 5, 2009 at 4:01 pm Reply

    I’ve sorry you’ve had to come back to reality. If it is any consolation, the first time you are laid off is the worst. If it happens again it does not feel quite so bad. About three weeks ago my wife who has a MBA and a MHA was just laid off for the second time and she is 36.

  8. Tiffany In Houston May 5, 2009 at 9:41 pm Reply

    I am 35 and have been fired and laid off before. This is my second lay off period. What I’ve learned most of all is how important it is to keep a vibrant network going. My network was sorely neglected because I was so busy with church and sorority stuff. That will never happen again. What has been the blessing is that I have been forced in to talking and connecting with folks I never thought I had anything in common with.

    Shani-O, my brother is your age and what annoys me mainly about Gen Ys is the sense of entitlement that seems to come with the territory. Nobody owes you anything. Though I do suspect every generation of youth may certainly feel that way (in terms of what is owed them), it seems to reek off Gen Y’s.

    Some of your peers are not going to handle this period well. The lack of continuity is going to be jarring. I would suggest you tell them that this is life and they are going to need to hang on for the ride.

    • shani-o May 5, 2009 at 9:56 pm Reply

      TIH, I don’t think it’s a sense of entitlement as much as it is a (perhaps warped) sense of fairness. I’ve done my part. I got a college degree, I’m making plans for a grad degree, and I work really, really hard. Why isn’t my employer holding up their end of the bargain? Obviously, that isn’t how it works in real life.

      Although, now I’m starting to think I’m an anomaly in Gen Y.

      Especially since most of my friends who have been laid off have actually taken it in stride or without too much gnashing of teeth. My ex, who got laid off from his dream job today, only had this to say: “I had a good run.”

      • Scott May 6, 2009 at 8:29 am Reply


        What bargain do you think you had with your employer? When they hired you the deal presumably was that you would work and in return they would pay you. I doubt there was any mention of lifetime employment. I hate to seem harsh but life isn’t fair and is not going to become fair anytime soon. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do you a good job but it is just a realization everyone is expendable, except maybe for the boss’ relative.

        • shani-o May 6, 2009 at 8:41 am Reply

          Scott, harsh away. You’re absolutely right. That’s what this post was about. I will say that where I work is a place that traditionally, if you’re good at what you do, you only leave when you want to leave, or when you’re lured away by a competitor/peer. That doesn’t hold true for every place, obviously, and with the recession, it no longer holds true for my employer.

          I guess I should have titled this post: “when ideals of fairness butt up against unfair reality.”

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