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Do You Have What It Takes?

The Confessions of Millennial Tribute in the Capital

Let me give you a scenario.

You’re trying to take your love life seriously, and being set up by your friends just isn’t cutting it. First, you go to networking events to meet someone; it’s met with equal failure. So you suck it up, brush off your writing skills, and make an online dating account. (No, not my way of saying I’m single again– bear with me on this.)

Even the best can have the worst time searching. (Thanks for the image, George.)

Even the best can have the worst time searching. (Thanks for the image, G.)

At first, you feel like a cliché; one “unique and wonderful person!” among millions. Then you continue to tinker with your descriptions, fine-tuning it to ring perfectly true to who you are and how you want to be perceived. Yes, this includes those little embellishments to experiences and attributes– don’t judge us, world, it’s human nature.

Suddenly, your dating profile becomes an extension of your identity. Each date becomes an initial validation of your entire being. The more you date, the more you tweak small phrases or camera angles. Each time a second date isn’t forthcoming, your self-critique grows harsher.

Sometimes, in a pit of despair, you even scrap the whole lot and start from scratch. A fresh beginning feels invigorating, you tell yourself, but a small part of you wonders about what genuine detail has been left behind this time.

Some versions are full of purpose and inspiration, all raw desire and emotion. “I’m passionate, driven, and unique, looking for something real and a relationship I can grow in.” It’s who you are and what you want—so why do the dates you’ve gone on, which you assume have pre-screened your background and interest level, not moved forward?

You consequently adjust expectations and add: “Doesn’t have to be forever, just something quasi-substantial and fits for right now.” You go on another few first dates, and possibly snag a repeat-engagement. But you both know it’s temporary, and the band-aid dates only provide the minimal level of shallow comfort you need to survive. You might lie to yourself that it’s a worthwhile price for independence, but eventually the fake smiles and stress of uncertainty wears you down. You don’t bother to put much effort into your appearance or performance anymore. Neither of you complain, because let’s be honest—neither of you stopped looking at other fish in the sea in the first place.

I would seriously consider doing this.

I would seriously consider doing this.

Other profile incarnations are reduced to bare facts and cold realities. “This is who I am, what I want, and I’m not fucking around anymore. I have a lot to offer to the right opportunity. Serious inquiries only; I’m tired of assholes and have the track record to prove it.” This usually emerges after a period of life that jerks you around, yet somehow transcends desperation. It ironically sets you apart from your competition, and can occasionally yield positive results.

Then there’s always the option, “I’ll take anything, my standards have withered away to dust and left nothing to compare against. I want to not be on my own anymore. No joke; anyone can have me.” Survival mode is a bitter pill to swallow, but I won’t judge you. Abject dejection has a sad sort of honesty to it that I have to respect.

Before I violently beat this metaphor to death, let me give you another scenario: you’re job hunting in our nation’s capital. You moved here after college, bright-eyed and ready to intern maybe 6 months before you get your first admin. assistant position. You go through two or three internships (6 months-1 year), unpaid, while working full-time nights and weekends at a restaurant. (Let’s assume you’re like me, and there is no family money to skate by on. Bills gotta be paid, yo.)

You have bad luck, and the first round of staffing agency attempts land you with young recruiters who drop your ball. So you give up for a bit. Restaurant money is way easier anyway, and you’re tired of being broke. You spend a few months enjoying the successful income and job satisfaction, half-heartedly send your resume out in spurts, but mostly try to get by without it. Plus, you’re in your early 20’s, and working in bars is fun.

It's like this sad little pup just KNOWS your diploma will gather dust.

It’s like this sad little pup just KNOWS your diploma will gather dust.

A year or so pass this way; time flies when you’re goofing off. After a while, your discarded diploma pushes itself back into your mind and demands life. Time to resurrect that horse! The little “if you know anyone looking, my company is hiring” emails that your friends forward just don’t cut it anymore, and networking events are the purest form of debasement and an almost entirely worthless exercise. (It does toughen the skin, which serves you well in the future.)

You’re trying to take your future seriously, and the search for career opportunities has yet again thoroughly exhausted and rejected you. Nonetheless, you dig back down into your “Jobs Please?” folder and dust the depression off those resumes. Polish them up nice and shiny. Come up with [what you think are] new ways to say “educated, entry-level, eager, DEARGODHIREME, skilled”. You research how cover letters and CVs are formatted these days, what content to include, which are the sought-after catch phrases. You spruce up that LinkedIn account with a photo in well-pressed Interview Clothes and update your connections.

Kind of the definition of a job.

Kind of the definition of a job.

You go through nearly identical phases of your profile/cover letter  as detailed a few paragraphs back, to similar effect. (Read: none.)

One-time engagements provide the negligible paycheck you need to survive, but you still feel like your life is starving. You even land an “indefinite” assignment (which means they’re supposed to give you notice when it will end), only to get dropped at 4:55pm on a Friday after three weeks of hard work for a rather difficult individual. It feels worse than the time a guy broke up with you via text; at least he wasn’t your sole source of income.

Bills start to change color for the first time in your life; you never thought, learning about our economic recession and the poverty line in college, that you’d see red delinquency notices. That your rent checks would bounce. That you would apply for one deferment after another forbearance on your student loans. That you’d have to pay your phone bill with cash just to keep the line going, suffering a constant fear of missing “The One” call from recruiters. It never occurred to you, studying economic development programs and applying for jobs at their corresponding institutions, that you would one day qualify for Welfare.

Cold weather means my garden– which supplied the only produce I’ve really managed this summer– has come to an end. My grocery list is no longer the greens, fresh fish, and healthy choices I prefer; I now live off of canned tuna, frozen vegetables, and cheap pasta. Purchasing salad items is a rarity. I’ve had friends and roommates offer to buy the food if I craft a meal– a great deal for both of us, since I’m a great cook and they can afford normal food. The first few times someone offered, it was just fun. Now, I realize that those are the few times I eat well these days. It’s the Hunger Games now, DC.

My general response to job opportunities.

The weight I gained struggling last winter, which I had started losing over the summer, has come back to stay. To rub salt in that wound, this means the selection from my professional wardrobe that fits has been slimmed down (ha! get it?) to very few items, and I can’t afford new pencils skirts or dress pants. So I have taken my clothes to resale shops and eBay to buy the necessities I can’t afford. I’ve gone through my group house basement to sell anything in working order that’s been left behind, and have now made at least $250; thanks, Craigslist. With holidays coming, I’m prepping an extensive Etsy account with the products of various artistic skills.

The past six months, I have had to make medical decisions based on finances, rather than healthy necessity. I have forgone my Adderall some months, which genuinely impacts my ability to concentrate on professional tasks. Recently, I’ve even opted out of serious tests on concerning issues, for fear of the hundreds of dollars of medical bills I’m already going delinquent on. I am literally choosing between prescribed medication and health care, and affording my food and shelter.

It also means not seeing friends as often. I have a social life entirely dependent on service industry connections. I go out to bars where friends work, and usually pay for probably one PBR or whiskey-ginger out of every five I drink. My “tabs” over the weekend amount to maybe $20, when I easily consume over $100. (This also usually replaces that day’s spending for food.) But with the options in this city–and we all know I love them– my friends don’t want to go to the same handful of bars every night out. I usually lie and say I’m home with a cold, trying to save money for a trip home, or something pride-saving of the like. So I stay in, and watch my social circle dwindle.

This is where the decision to leave the hospitality industry in order to chase down my start to an actual career has taken me. I am young, [still] well-dressed, and professional. I have a marketable degree from a well-reputed university, and an extensive resume of experience. I am a progressive, skilled, and driven woman. These are all attributes a city like DC claims to desire in an applicant. I have earned and deserve my place in this society.

And yet, this has been the legitimate, brutal price for me. I in no way mean that this will happen to everyone committing to their future; to be honest, a majority of this city isn’t capable of the stunts I’ve pulled. Not everyone even enters the true Capital Games; there are those who luck out or rightfully earn a place in the professional workforce. But over the years, I’ve met countless just like me: some flamed out after an epic internship, and others eked meekly by. They all end the same: as competition killed off by the game. They weren’t survivors.

This is what it has come to, for this Washington Tribute. I have sold, repurposed, and bartered my skills to manage survival in the Capital. I graduated into the end of a recession and moved to a dog-eat-dog city that went rabid; we’re all hungry here. At first, I tried to wait it out in the safety of my restaurants– but we all know what happens to those who play it safe. They don’t make it.

So it’s time to sharpen my weapons and go hunting. I suggest those in the Game, both untried and battle-hardened, take heed and evaluate the sacrifices you are willing to forsake.

I would say “may the odds be ever in your favor”, but there is no room for sentiment in this arena.

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