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(I Didn’t) Ask Abby

When did everyone everywhere decide that they were an expert on everything?  Why is everyone compelled to offer advice on things they know only a marginal amount about?

Specifically, why does each and every person I encounter seem to believe they have the magic solution to what I like to call “The Job Problem” (that state in which an intelligent, college-educated, and otherwise desirable employee gets stuck in a job traditionally reserved for high school students saving up for a car, retirees looking for a sense of purpose, and community college dropouts due to a cataclysm in the economy)?  Some, in fact most, mean well enough, but everyone I meet or know will at some point follow into some version of this line of questioning:

What did you study in school?  (Art history.)  And what did you want to do with that?  (Yes, it has occurred to me this wasn’t the most career-savvy decision ever made, but thanks for the news flash.  Hey, did you also have a fruit joke related to my last name being Berry, because I’ve never heard that before either.)  Have you been applying?  (Wait, you actually have to apply before they’ll hire you?)  Why don’t you try looking in New York?  (Well I thought about moving to the greatest city in the world, but I’m so happy living at my parents’ house and having no friends that I ruled it out.) 

At some point they will also offer a platitude like, “I feel so bad for you kids these days, it’s so tough.”  Yes, it is.  I feel bad for me too.  Then there will be some sort of specific anecdote from their own life – for instance, the newest Bananager today explained to me how she worked in corporate for some retailer or other, and got to meet with buyers and learned so much and blah blah blah (I have to question why, if she’s so smart and had such a good job, she now works at a Banana Republic store in Freehold, New Jersey, and therefore the validity of her advice.) 

None of this is ever novel.  Very little is ever helpful (People recommend such esoteric sources as Monster.com and come to the very true conclusion that you really need to know someone, which I don’t.)  So why is everyone compelled to these statements and actions?

My guess is discomfort.  And I certainly don’t help make anyone more comfortable.  At the Banana, my fellow college grads (both of them) and I regularly make self-deprecating in-group jokes of the sort outsiders feel uncomfortable laughing at, i.e., “I would make a great retiree – if I ever get to.”  It’s like when black people make black jokes and white people aren’t sure if they’re “allowed” to laugh.  No one knows how to deal with this bitter humor, so they usually settle on something like a half-laugh/half-pout.  It is clear that I (and my ilk) am overqualified, unhappy, unfulfilled, and really adrift in life.  People, particularly older people who cannot relate to this experience, realize they have no way to make this better and try to fill the void with talking. 

What’s certain about this phenomenon is that it needs to cease.  It’s unhelpful, it’s unnecessary.  Honestly, it would seem much more sincere and empathetic to just agree, “Yeah, that sucks.  I’m sorry.”  Don’t patronize me by probing about my job search with the implication that I’m not trying hard enough.  Don’t think that where I, my teachers, my family, my friends, and my coworkers have failed, you will swoop in with a catchall solution.  Really, unless you have a job offer or a connection somewhere to offer, just don’t go there.  It’s a shitty economy, I’m doing what I can, and talking it to death is only likely to talk me to death.


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