The Pleasures and Dangers of a Harvard Degree in Philosophy: or the Accidental Chronic Starving Artist

(Warning: This is primarily a rant about my very specific background and current position in life.)

Mid-20s is a hard time for a recent grad standing on her own two legs.

I chose to study hard in my first 12 years of schooling partly because I had a smart dad who provided a good study environment for me and partly because I love learning. (Really.) I worked my tush off and got into Harvard half out of luck. (SO many well-qualified students don’t make it in. Some element of luck is necessarily involved. On top of that, I was surrounded by generous people who introduced me to other generous people, who advised me well and advocated for me. Lucky ducky.)

Once I arrived at the academic mecca of the Western world, I chose to study Philosophy – for the love of it. My parents didn’t push me into a particular study, but my sleep condition did prevent me from doing as well as I could have my Freshman year, and I ended up taking time off. After returning, I improved every semester, both in health and in school.

I found a job right out of college and jumped at the opportunity to earn money. My family doesn’t have much, and would never be able to support me. Going back home to live with no rent is simply not an option. There are few jobs in Fresno. My mother isn’t allowed to have overnight guests more than once a month at her government subsidized housing. My father is a whole different story, but suffice it to say the prospect of any support from him is so entirely out of the question that it is floating lightyears away in the outer reaches of outer space.

Unfortunately I’m not made for my right-out-of-college job. Sparing details, I live a principled though markedly flawed life. And after a genuinely most welcoming experience at my first “real” job (I call it my first real job, but I’ve had others before), I know in the pit of my self that I am ill-suited for it. My boss treated me well. My co-workers were really nice and helpful. But there are a thousand things about the job I cannot mentally make peace with. If the job is a gift, we’ll say that I found myself indubitably disenchanted with all of the gift-wrapping. What seems like glitter and bows turned to dust in my hands and I knew my heart was elsewhere – or at least not there. So I decided not to throw my self full-throttle into a career I don’t think I could love.

Since this realization, I’ve learned how friggin’ hard it is to get a job as a Harvard graduate a year and a half out of college, who studied Philosophy and is passionately artistically inclined. It’s one big struggle. I’m overqualified for too many jobs. The Harvard name definitely opens many doors, but it can also have them slammed in your face. I’d love to work in a cafe for a year or two, but no cafe will hire me because I’m a Harvard grad. They won’t even return my emails and calls. They think it’s a joke, or that I’ll just work there a month until I find something “better” or — whatever the reason, I’ll never hear back.

Even in interviews for administrative positions, I find my prospective employers asking questions like, “With all of your education and your creative projects, don’t you think it is possible you’ll be “discovered” – I mean that kind of thing happens .. ??” Or, “How do you feel you will grow in this position, what will you gain in this position?”

Well, being “discovered” out of the blue is a one-in-a-million sort of deal. 99% of the time people work damn hard to get where they’ve gotten. And why ask questions like “How do you feel you’ll grow??” I mean, I need a JOB. I need to pay my bills. I enjoy admin work. I enjoy interacting with people in this specific environment. I’ll grow into the community and feel great providing a very concrete service —- BUT this is not what interviewers want to hear. They don’t want to hear “I want to make ends meet” … they want to hear things like, “Well you see, I’m wonderfully passionate about post-its and ink” – or some such fanciful b.s. that EVERY interviewee KNOWS is b.s. but plays into anyway. And even when you answer in a way you truly believe they wanted you to answer, you still run the risk of being a wildly over-qualified applicant with way too much passion for your hobbies. Hobbies, mind you, that you can’t NOW (and possibly could NEVER) make a career out of.

So I find I’m stuck between a rock and a hard place.

With 3 or 4 part time gigs (which I love by the way), and just enough money to last to the end of December, I’m still in hot pursuit of a full time job. And the thought keeps popping into my head that I’m in the great famed funnel of Academia. There’s pressure to go to grad school to satisfy my curiosity, to go to a place I’ll never be called “over-qualified”… to suck on the teat of perpetual and self-perpetuated schooling and schooling systems, primarily because I cannot find a job outside of academia. Anyway, I’m not opposed to the idea of grad school. It’s definitely an appealing option. In fact, I’d love to do engineering but with my background I’d have to take something like 20 undergraduate classes to make up the difference in my education and prepare myself for grad studies. That would take years. And money I don’t have… which brings me back to the first point. I’d very much like to have a job at this point in my life. To work and fully support my own grown ass. To pursue my varied, numerous, interesting artistic hobbies (like candling making, video producing, blogging/writing, logo/design work, clothing re-purposing, etc.) on the side, and someday, years from now, feel qualified enough and financially secure enough to take the leap into other worlds.

There’s more to the story than even this, but I’ve exhausted my energies and have typed more than enough. So that’s all for now.

If you know of any jobs, I’m all ears. Thanks a million in advance.

Yours,

Aruna

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