It used to be that the best post-college jobs were the ones that gave you a sense of security (law, medicine) or financial windfall (banking). But the finance industry and grad-school route are both dead ends at this point.
The New York Times reports that we're experiencing a sea change in the career department because the former favorites are no longer prestigious, and new choices, like teaching and government service, are rising in popularity. But, as college grads contemplate their options for June, and twenty-somethings watch pink slips fly, here's something to consider: The prestige job of the new millennium is waiting tables and folding shirts. That's right. If you are in your 20s, you should try retail. Here's why.
Retail enables an honest approach to adulthood
Emerging adulthood makes life in one's 20s more difficult than ever before in history. Being lost is important in terms of navigating to adulthood. And the most dangerous thing you can do in your 20s is try to get around the discomfort of being lost by over-committing to a career. You will change careers five times in your life. You will depend solely on yourself to build your own skill set and forge your own path. So give yourself time to figure out what's best for you.
Going to grad school burdens you with an amount of debt that severely limits your career choices. And it's a way to prolong childhood by continuing to have someone tell you what to learn and reward you for doing it.
Posturing as someone who makes only perfect choices means you'll probably end up lying to yourself: Only 12% of people make a good career choice for themselves right out of college.
The best way to figure out what you should be doing with your life is to give yourself time to explore yourself and the world. Which means you need time to think. Retail is flexible, and it doesn't take a lot of brain power. This leaves a lot of time and energy to do what you really need to be doing: Trying a lot of things on for size.
So the people who are honest with themselves about where they are in life also are brave enough to admit they are lost and should take a retail job to give themselves space to figure things out.
Retail gets you the American dream
The American Dream is no longer about money and things. It's about self-knowledge. The ultimate achievement is not a huge house and an expensive car. It's a solid family life and self-knowledge to steer clear of a quarterlife crisis or financial meltdown.
Kurt Anderson captures this shift in his essay in Time magazine: “[Too many of us have been] operating, consciously or not, with a dreamy gold-rush vision of getting rich the day after tomorrow and then cruising along as members of an impossibly large leisure class. (That was always the yuppie dream: an aristocratic life achieved meritocratically.) Now that our age of self-enchantment has ended, however, each of us gobsmacked and reality-checked by the new circumstances, is recalibrating expectations of the timing and scale of our particular version of the Good Life.”
The best way to give yourself that knowledge is to give yourself time in your 20s. It's difficult to explore who you are after you have kids. And it's difficult to focus on yourself once your career is in full swing. So you need to establish a foundation for personal exploration by practicing in your 20s. Practicing a lot. Retail enables this.
The new dream job is a combination of jobs — retail is usually a part of this, at least to start.
It's clear that the age of job security is gone. And the best way to get security is to have multiple revenue streams, so that if one fails, you have a backup. In her book, Marci Alboher labels this the “slash” life — where you have more than one profession and a slash between them.
In a nod to this trend, PayScale created a list of a new type of dream job — one that affords a slasher life, and also enables the type of control and flexibility in life that accommodates the values of the new American Dream. The dream jobs Payscale cites are freelance, hourly, and generally creative on some level. They validate the idea that the American Dream is not about money but instead about personal growth and control over one's life.
It would be great to be able to support yourself in one of these jobs, but it's tough going. Especially if you need health insurance. So retail is a stepping stone to the dream jobs of the new millennium. Retail gives you a safety net, a financial cushion, and the flexibility to build a dream career.
Retail gives camaraderie — something you really need in your 20s
One of the most jarring aspects of emerging adulthood is that in college we are surrounded by friends, and after college, our friends disperse. This means that at the time in life where we are separating from our parents, learning to support ourselves, and trying to figure out where we fit in the world, we're doing it alone. This is why depression is such a huge risk for people in their twenties, and why a support system is so important.
For everyone in the workforce, having two friends in the office can save a worker and a job. But this is especially true for people in their 20s because while other people probably go home to a significant other and maybe even kids, many people in their twenties go home to no one. In an office full of people in their 20s — which is most retail and not most offices — the shift from college to adult life is not so drastic and lonely.