Friday, March 28, 2008

Advice Column #18

Hey Bartender,
I'm a senior in college, and I'm having that senioritis problem where I'm not sure what to do after graduation. The job market looks crappy and I don't have a very "professionally oriented" major anyway. I don't want to go to grad school yet, and they say you need life experience to get in. What should I do? I promised myself I'd let go of my anxiety for all of spring break, but some advice would be handy. A drink might help too.


The year after college is going to be the most trying year of your life. It will test you and it will not always be pleasant. All those things your professors told you about bright futures and infinite possibilities will suddenly turn into the horror of paying taxes, or worse, living in your parent's house again. Be strong senior. You went to college so you'd have options. You may not be the oldest, most refined whiskey on the shelf. You might not have that unending initiative that drives people to do great things immediately. You can still be great, and have a great life. Only, you have to do it. No one else can do it for you now. Step up.

First, find out if your school has a dossier service. Sometimes these are called letter services and are usually in the career services office. Open yourself a file, and give recommendation forms to every professor who still knows your name. Ask them to write you two general recommendation letters: one for a job and one for any graduate programs or grants you might apply for. Tell them you respect them, and hope that by asking them to write you a letter now, you won't have to bother them in a few years if they move on with their careers. Realize that you are asking for a favor, so be gracious. You want as many recommendations on file as you can get, so that if you decide to apply for anything, you can have the dossier service send letters for you, on short notice, without having to remind your professors who you were and how they might remember you. This is important- you will need these letters in a few years and they will not be as easy to come by then.

You might want to have a meeting with a few of those trusted mentors and ask them what they think you should do. Obviously, the bartender gives the best advice, but perhaps your teachers can provide professional contacts to jobs, internships, organizations, or research. Who knows, maybe your favorite professor needs an assistant on his or her groundbreaking new project, and you are the perfect candidate for the job. You don't know unless you ask. Ask early, before someone else gets there first.

Consider your dreams. Maybe being a rock star is a little far fetched for your first few months, but getting an entry job in the music industry or becoming a roadie for a touring band- you could make that happen. In the professional world, being pesky is called tenacity, so send thank you notes and make follow up calls. Defer your student loans (it's easy, really) and get a job that sounds exciting to you. Do everything you can to explore your options. Work on a boat, teach English in France, get a job on a farm in New Zealand. Don't settle for the coffee shop job unless you have to. For goodness sakes, get out of that town, which ever town you've been in, leave your stuff in your parent's basement while your parents are still living in a house with a basement, or get rid of all your stuff, and get someone to pay you to try something not on the required curriculum. Meet people in bars, walk through open doors, be willing to live your life. Your future is not right now. Your life is right now.

The sensible side of me also wants you to think about putting 10 percent of your income into a savings account, get a credit card you don't use but for emergencies, and not to get that tattoo you've been talking about. Start applying for things when you get back from break, in the spring, before applications are due. Get better grades this last term. If your parents give you money for graduation, put it into an interest bearing mutual fund. You need to work your way to your future, not spend your way there. Get a job, but get a job that challenges you. Meet new people (your college friends will still be on Facebook later), and try to make your way across some ocean to somewhere else.

The job market in the US might be staggeringly bad, but in other countries, the situation differs. A year or two in an exotic locale will not hurt you if you decide to come back. There is no rush, no time limit, and no prize for being the first one of your friends to go to law school, get married, buy a house, or get a job with a 401k and stock options. Try to remain confident in yourself, and know that you are making good decisions. Don't do drugs, try not to get pregnant, and stay away from diseases or too much booze. Also, don't live like this for more than 5 years. In five years, re-evaluate what you want from your life, but not until then.

Some cocktails rely on the harshness of a lesser quality bottle. Cocktails so classic that they emerge from a time when quality was harder to come by, but taste remained at a nearly unachievable level. The relic of that time is the Manhattan. One can say what they will of that tiny island full of nonsense and finance, but this drink is the ideal of American prosperity. Take a harsh, ordinary quality of whiskey, not the finest proof you have, not one that remarks in it's sweetness and smooth qualities, take that bottle and pour 2 ounces out into a high glass. A martini glass will do, but really, any glass will do. Pour one ounce of Italian vermouth, and a single maraschino cherry, and stir. Why? Because your future is based on you being able to make the best out of whatever happens. Your luck may change, your credit may suck, but you need to be able to let go of that anxiety and roll with the punches. When you hit bottom, push hard. Whiskey, like people, comes in many refinements. If you don't think you're precious enough to be drank neat, make yourself into something you admire. A great cocktail can open doors you didn't even see, and strangers at bars will change your life. A Manhattan is a simple, pleasant drink made from a harsh spirit and a little something to cut the booze. You'll be fine, kiddo, just relax and go.

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