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Sunday, November 22, 2009

"The view seems endless."

It may be more of a feature than a front page-worthy story, but I loved the latest installment in a continuing Washington Post series about the economic downturn's effect on Americans coast-to-coast. Today's story took readers to Missoula, Mo., and a recent college graduate who was poised to "have it all" -- until she couldn't find a job and returned home to live with her parents.

While I never even attempted finding a "proper" job after graduating from university in 20o8 -- instead taking the road less traveled and ending up in South Korea teaching English for a year -- Melissa Meyer's story resonated with me. She had followed the norm all her life, getting good grades, holding down jobs and impressive internships, being involved in extracurriculars and eventually graduating from a good university.

As the economy took a turn for the worse over the past year, more and more new college graduates are finding themselves un- or underemployed. Hiring for recent college graduates is down 40 percent in 2009 from last year, according to a new study.

Some of my friends have fantastic jobs that put them firmly on a fast-track career path and I definitely envy their security and freedom with money sometimes, but many others are stuck waiting tables or working retail -- not exactly where they expected to be after four years of hard work and thousands of dollars spent on tuition.

What Meyer realizes in the course of job-hunting is to embrace her newfound freedom after a lifetime of playing by the rules. Suddenly, she dreams of moving abroad and exploring the world. The article's final paragraph especially resonated with me:

All she sees are deep blue lakes, snow-capped mountains and clouds floating above dense forest. The view seems endless. So do the possibilities. She turns to Freihofer: "I wonder what our friends are doing right now in their cubicles."

Koh Samui, Thailand

That's pretty much how I felt one late January evening while walking down a beach in Thailand, having just finished an amazing plate of curry, without a care in the world. It may have been only a vacation from my 9-5 gig in Seoul, but I doubt I would have had the same opportunity for a week-long getaway working back in Washington.

I'm tentatively poised to enter the rat race -- or at least begin seriously job hunting -- in June. Be ready, corporate world.

Until then, I'm enjoying planning trips to Costa Rica in December, Australia and New Zealand from February, and Spain and Portugal in late spring. You can take your highly-paid job with benefits -- although I sure wouldn't mind having health insurance...

Would you ever take time off from work to travel? There are arguments on both sides and definitely something to be said for having job security, benefits, savings and a secure life.

6 comments:

  1. You know my answer to that....YES!! As you know, my intent is to take a 3-4 month trip where I would have to take the time off work. Right now, I can't pull it off yet as I have my DE stuff to work on (if that happens) and then I would like to get a place of my own and then raise the funds as I have no intention of traveling too cheaply.
    In any case, Erin, take the time to travel, and hopefully things will have improved a bit when you return and you can jump into that corporate world (it ain't that great by the way...but it ain't that bad either) and get your cute place.

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  2. That article was the topic of conversation over breakfast at my house.

    I thought it was quite revealing of how narrow-minded most people are about using our short lives. Either get a job at a respectable company but waste away at a cubicle (maybe a window office one day!) or have bohemian adventures but be oppressively poor.

    My favorite people are ones who spent their twenties striving to find a life's work. Cooking, writing, science, art -- doesn't matter what it is as long as it is creative and meaningful. Heck, Edward Burtynsky found his passion in photographing industrial wastelands:

    http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/eng/edward_burtynsky_photographs_the_landscape_of_oil.html

    using large format cameras that are cheaper than most entry-level DSLR's.

    But his is a life of significance.

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  3. I like this post. And obviously approve of "taking time off" by working a bit to fund living and traveling abroad. We'll see how quickly I get around to an actual job... Or, if all else fails, there's always graduate school.

    And, if you feel like extending your European travels in the spring to Southern Germany/Austria/Alps, you know who to call. :) Consider it! Particularly if you would fancy a weekend of hiking in the Alps, which I am always up for but can't seem to find enough company to do.

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  4. Enjoy your time off. I'm happy to have health insurance and all, but man it would be great to be able to travel the world and not to have to worry about whether or not I have enough vacation time.

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  5. This is fantastic. Good for you for noting something about this! I definitely didn't envy anyone while I was in London - sounds not so modest? Probably so. But I loved the fact that I picked up my shit and just went without even a job offer in my face after graduation. Much love. xoxo

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  6. I love this post. I spent two years post college graduation in AmeriCorps, which allowed me to have a job without having a "real job" and move from CT to DE to RI (I like the small states I guess..:)). It was only in the past two/three years, when I had a real job and a paycheck that I could start to afford to travel. And it's only really been within the US, but it's been so great!

    I would love to travel more often, and more extensively too. I think that in my life, I'll probably always have a "secure" job but balance that out with traveling as my "investments." Screw a house, or a boat, or fancy clothes - just give me a suitcase and a guidebook!

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