As pomp-and-circumstance season draws to a close and recent college grads say tearful goodbyes to their drinking buddies and favorite professors, they might want to say one addition farewell...to their naïve and often overblown expectations of the real world.
You see, so many of us Generation Y superstars --especially the hyper ambitious female variety-- leave the hallowed halls of higher learning with great expectations. We have been told --thanks to self-esteem education and hippie parents who adored our every bad poem-- that we are as unique and special as beautiful snowflakes. And we believed them.
The workplace melts that delusion very quickly. We learn that we are in competition with thousands of other recent grads who also have student loans and few marketable skills (no, regurgitating Foucault does not count as a skill). Neither will we scale the corporate ladder like Spiderwoman. Instead, we will have to crawl up one copying/collating, coffee-fetching rung at a time, just like everyone else. The humiliation of ordinariness bites after all those "you can be anything" feminist pep talks.
That's the bad news. The good news is that a young writer with one of those overpriced degrees (from Brown) and plenty of adverse experience has arrived to explain how to make the real world bite sting a bit less. Hannah Seligson's book, New Girl on the Job: Advice from the Trenches, speaks directly to this disappointed generation of highly ambitious and more than slightly unrealistic women. She deals with all the doozies: Devil Wears Prada bosses, sexual harassment, annual reviews, and salary negotiations.
Seligson, 25, was --gasp-- fired from her first job and she's not afraid to admit it. Through her conversational tone, she takes the shame out of career experimentation and the occasional wrong turn. After all, we are destined to change jobs an average of 10 times, an unprecedentedly high number in comparison to the career paths our parents and grandparents faced (or didn't face in the case of our grandmothers, but that's a whole different can of worms.)
Seligson relays just how much she understands the Gen Y predicament when it comes to the workplace, but she also doesn't sell us out. She also believes in the contemporary conviction that it is important to actually like your job. She writes: "If you don't find a job that in some capacity makes you tick you will be miserable, or at the very least, less productive at work. Think of it this way --you'll work for ten thousand days of your life, and that's too many days to not enjoy what you do."
The New Girl on the Job uncovers the new American Dream. It's not the perfect house, the white picket fence, and the 2.5 kids -- it is fulfilling work and respect. We don't just want to make a good living and put food on the table anymore, we want to be professional creatives, entrepreneurs, inventors, visionaries, and influentials. Sure it is a tall order. Sure we're a little entitled. But isn't this what you raised us to believe was possible?
Seligson sees the intergenerational rifts and addresses them very matter-of-factly: "You shouldn't fear that the arrival of a new girl will undermine your position, or write off the older women you work with as out of touch. There is room for all of us."
Her section titles on working with other women say it all: "Confrontation is Not a Dirty Word" and my personal favorite, "Not Everyone is Going to Like You and That's Okay."
This isn't a philosophical treatise, but God knows it is what college graduates really need: a book that respects their ambition while still sobering them up a bit to the economic and organizational realities of the work world. Seligson, like a great mentor, takes the steep incline out of the learning curve ahead.