I majored in philosophy. What the fuck do I do now?
For a significant portion of my friends, the fall semester is drawing to a close, a two-week dead sprint to rake up stray assignments and study for finals (skills I never truly mastered, for all of love I bear for scholarship). Though torturous, it’s a ritual I miss, an end-of-year festival that sets up if not outright rivals the yuletide season. And this is the first year out of the last five that I’m not caught up in it.
Last summer was a drastic departure from what could be referred to loosely as The Plan. As my time as an undergraduate wound down, I set my heart on academia, the next step the master’s degree, for which I’d already been accepted. Upon graduation, it was quite clear I’d exhausted my resources. I’d taken out too many loans. I hadn’t held a proper job for almost three years, and had developed a slight phobia of employment. Like so many people my age, I was moving back in with my parents.
This was a double mark of shame. Not only was I failing to be “independent” or “start my life”, I was abandoning friends. Unlike what seems to be the majority of cases, the dreaded Move was not a matter of a few hours, a trivial retreat from metropole to hometown, compensated for with frequent weekend excursions. I was packing up an existence I’d established over 5 years and raking it across 3 states’ worth of interstate highway.
And here I am, back in my rural Minnesotan hometown, the robust social network of my high school years whittled down to the few who decided to settle here permanently (not a slight/insult, dudes).
The first month and half or so were marked by depression, a sense of profound loss, and anxiety. I barely left the house. I couldn’t bring myself to fill out job applications. I watched the entire run of The West Wing in around 2 weeks.
My parents grew frustrated, and in an extremely rare show of naked hostility, outright ordered me to look for work.
People don’t realize how hard this is when you haven’t drawn a paycheck for a few years and filled that time with a steady diet of Marxism and muckraking reports about how exploitative temp positions are. This was amplified by self-awareness. My degree is in philosophy; not even universities want to pay people to do philosophy. Before I even tried, I felt unwanted, even scorned by the world for my passions and decisions. Grudgingly, painfully, I filled out some apps and posted my resume on internet job boards. To my surprise, I got a few calls.
3 months on, I’m rockin’ a temp position at an optics lab. I aid in the process of polishing lenses for eyeglasses, basically. So far, my acute anxieties were unwarranted. I have a supervisor who actually gives a shit about people, my co-workers are civil, and I make just about as much money as regular employees. It’s better than slapping up lattes or selling insurance (sorry, Kenny.). I have lucked out. Hard.
So, my anxieties have been thoroughly assuaged, but it’s made room for a more positive agitation. I’m not comfortable, and my ambitions aren’t unrealistic, yet.
It seems that the idealism acquired at college usually gets stamped out around this time. We graduate, all of a sudden we’re expected to be functioning members of society, hold down a job, pay rent, be independent. Liberal virtues and revolutionary politics don’t weather the storms of rent checks and student loan statements very well. This is understandable.
The path I’ve wandered on to is one of dependence, a path mostly scorned and derided, symbolic of failure. But, it’s one that allows me to tend to my small flame of idealism. This is to say, though I’m not able to fully act on the radical ideas I espouse, I’m still able to espouse them. Things could be a lot worse.
10 more months. With some hard work and a lot of luck, I’ll be able to throw some gasoline on this campfire.