If you add up all my modes of earned income (besides financial aid or the occasional $20 my mom slips me when I come home) then I have three jobs in addition to going to school full-time. Just your average student/journalist/museum attendant/travel agent assistant. It’s not really something I mind; I need to stay busy and I grew up understanding the importance not just of working hard, but also of having work to do in the first place.
Without getting too much into my own family’s background and finances, I’ll just say that my childhood was not one of riches. There was that thing called the recession, and it especially affected my immediate family through job loss and underemployment.
While my parents and aunts and uncles experienced the heavy blow of the bubble’s burst, our generation is now dealing with the blowback. We are the generation of Uber and Lyft and Postmates. We promote our crafts and style on Etsy and Depop. We upload albums on Bandcamp and hope people donate a dollar when they download. We sell original prints. We are the generation of resourceful income. Because we are the generation that understands what it means to not have any income.
The phrase “the rich get richer and the poor get poorer” isn’t just left-wing jargon to undermine the 1 percent. It applies to lower and middle class rural and suburban and urban families, the ones who lost businesses and job titles and stability over ten years ago. Frustrations over seeing how truly popping the upper class has gotten leads to aspirational richness. Or aspirational enough-to-get-by-ness.
A lot of talk about millennials criticizes their desire to not have a career. So many of us dream of doing more than one thing, of doing everything! And this doesn’t stem from being flighty or immature; it’s because many of us saw our parents do one thing, then have that thing taken away from them, leaving them with nothing. We want to do everything because we want options, we want back-up plans and we want to feel the financial security that so many of us didn’t have growing up.
There’s an antiquated notion that your job creates your life. If you’re a doctor, then being a doctor becomes your identity. If you’re a mailman or a teacher, then that’s how you are known in your community. “What do you do?” the question goes, with the impending answer determining a myriad of judgments, impressions and conclusions.
Now, we seem to be free of those fetters. This is the hyphenated generation, where being this and that and that is normal. But more than that, we can differentiate between what you do and who you are. Especially since the internet and social media have allowed for advertisement and promotion of a person’s creative endeavors to dominate their professional identity. That photographer you love on Instagram? He works at Subway. The producer whose mixes you keep liking on SoundCloud? She’s a barista. Creative output now overrides minimum wage output.
I’m graduating in March and I have no idea yet what my next step is. Well, my first step is to go home and sleep for like a month and hug my mom a lot. But after that, I’m not really sure. For the first time in years, however, that uncertainty doesn’t terrify me. I have a degree, I have experience and I have a vision for how I want things to go for me. That being said… someone please hire me.
Savannah Peykani is a fourth-year literary journalism and film and media studies double major. She can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org.