Ignoring a few ill-fated frat parties, I never really did the whole #college life. Don’t get me wrong, I cherish my few clear memories of the first month, but by my first midterm, I’d sworn off the sketchy basements and sloppy dudes for studying. Why waste my nights sipping watered-down drinks, tossing ping pong balls into Solo Cups, dodging that drunk guy with a mission, when my glamorous post-grad life glistened in the horizon?
Absent the option of faking sick when I felt like it, committing 40 hours per week to a cubicle wouldn’t necessarily be fun. But surely my newfound free time and financial security would afford me the weekend trips and longer vacations, guilt-free shopping, a Pinterest-worthy North Side apartment of my dreams.
Yes, as a college freshman scheduled for 10 class hours per week, I genuinely believed that a 40-hour work-week and daily commute would provide me more free time. Common sense, am I right?
Despite my older friends’ constant reminders to “enjoy it while you can” and corresponding complaints about office life, I clung steadfastly to my idealized vision of twenty-something life until studying abroad during my junior year. After finally enjoying the spontaneity of student life, wandering through European cities each weekend, I ventured off to Spain to spend Christmas with my older brothers and two family friends. In Madrid, we’d meet up with Kevin, another friend spending the year teaching English in Spain.
And less than a week with 4 20-somethings shattered my illusions of post-grad life. 5000 miles away from their desks, many of their conversations still cycled back to work. One brother had banked years of vacation days for this trip. Another had reshuffled weeks of projects. One of our family friends sacrificed a day in Madrid to answer work emails. Even during their “vacations”, their career consumed their consciousness in a way I’d never anticipated. On the opposite extreme was Kevin, the English teacher who despite his 700 euro monthly income, frequently expressed his reluctance to sacrifice his adventures through Croatia and Germany for some office job.
For the first time, I fully appreciated this existential conflict between my freedom and financial security. Despite my attempts at ignoring it, my school’s twice-daily emails about summer consulting internships forced the issue. Once I signed my life to Bain or Deloitte, my life would be enclosed by a corporate bubble, my social circle largely confined to my coworkers, my schedule controlled by my preferences, my life’s work constrained by “company needs.”
Terrified as I was, I took solace in my two remaining years of college. But college is its own equally oppressive bubble, as I realized upon coming home. Immediately, I began bumping against its boundaries, most obviously in the geographic sense. Compared to Dublin and Madrid, Chicago didn’t seem quite as cosmopolitan, to say nothing of Evanston or (dear god) Tinley Park. More importantly, studying abroad had reignited my passions for storytelling, photography, cultural history, international development, social advocacy, etc, none of which I could pursue further at Northwestern. Instead, my intellectual development was confined to the psychology major I’d chosen two years earlier. Ironically, succeeding in my unwanted classes required sidelining my real professional aspirations.
The Northwestern bubble may have sheltered me as an oblivious freshman, but it stifled me as an upperclassman. It suspended me in a perpetual state of preparation for a nebulous future after college. During my junior year internship, I’d assumed that I’d just exchange my college bubble for a corporate bubble, with micromanagers replacing professors and Excel replacing essays.
My current internship, though, has introduced me to a legion of female professionals, some my age or younger, combatting the corporate bubble. through freelancing, moonlighting, and starting their own companies Rather than entrust their career development to corporate needs, they’re creating their own experiences. Rather than placing their careers and creative pursuits at odds, they’re combining their professional skillsets and personal hobbies, and channeling them toward their self-generated vision.
Need some examples? There’s Emily Montayed and Lee Mayer, sisters who left business consulting to start their interior design enterprise. There’s Aliza Licht, who balances a fashion career with marketing work and her own self-empowerment empire. There’s Joanna Lau, who directs her financial expertise and fashion savviness toward Jemma, a line of handbags specially designed for work and play. There’s Abby Larson, the former PR pro behind wedding website Style Me Pretty and spinoff enterprise Style Me Pretty Living. There’s Caroline Ghosn, a former consultant who founded Levo League, a mentoring resource for Millennial women.
Far from surrendering to the corporate bubble, they’re bursting the bubble entirely. Their stories have inspired me to pursue my post-grad life with the same vigor. Magazine writing? Freelancing? A book or brand?
Absent college, corporate, or any kind of bubbles, the possibilities are endless.
And in the presence of such potential, how could I possibly fear post-grad life?