Part blog, part oral history, part research project.
How has the Great Recession affected your path beyond college? What is your story?

Wednesday, December 29, 2010


Layla is in her mid-twenties and recently earned her Masters in Public Policy. For now, she lives in Oakland. She spent much of her undergraduate pursuing education issues and is passionate about engaging youth in the policies that affect them. Throughout the interview, Layla descended into wry laughter about her current job.

When I first decided to go to grad school, I thought that I wanted to be writing curriculum or designing a program for young people to be connected to policies. And then by the time it was time to graduate, I felt like I didn't know anymore what I wanted to do.

I knew that I didn't want a job to be specifically research-oriented. I still wanted it to be interactive with people. And I knew the idea of connecting people to policies is really important to me.

So I did this whole “ideal/less than ideal” job search thing. The idea was that I would spend a whole lot of time crafting my cover letter and being really, really deliberate on my ideal jobs and then crank out as many less-than-ideal jobs as possible. ‘Cause, you know I was getting broke. I kept feeling like...Job searching sucks, right? It's hard to feel successful when the outcome that you want is still not happening. No matter how many resumes you send out it's still hard to feel like "Oh, I did something."

Now, I work at this start-up nonprofit. This one was a less-than-ideal job. They're actually the only people that ever called me back. [When they called] I was kinda confident. I was looking at the less-than- ideal job, reading the job description and then I convinced myself that it was a really awesome job and that I really wanted it and that I'd mistakenly written less-than-ideal on it.

The phone interview went pretty well. I totally crammed for it. The woman who interviewed me is a weird phone person. So I'd talk and then she'd go, "Yeah, thanks for sharing." She laughs. And I was like, "Sorry?" It was really weird. We did that and then, I obsessed about how it went. But, pretty quickly after, she e-mailed me. Maybe a day later, "Oh, we're going to invite you in for an interview." They did the interview at this super posh cute place. It was actually up the street from the real place where I really work now. She laughs. So I went and it's all fancy and I met the board president and saw the board member and I remember thinking like—I’d assumed that I was going to meet the staff. So the interview itself went really well. And they asked me to do a timed writing. Which is crazy. It was 30 minutes to write an op-ed piece and an outreach plan for an event. I left there feeling shitty. I didn't do either of those well. I had 30 minutes and I'm dyslexic.

I've been reflecting on what they were trying to get at recently. Hindsight's twenty-twenty. Because now so much of my job is working under pressure, I feel like that was actually the test—as opposed to getting anything right, getting something done. It's a way that I hate to work and a way that I work a lot.

I'm really surprised that I got a job so quickly, but I think that a big piece of that is because it doesn't require the skill level that I have. The person who was doing this job before me was a sophomore in college. She laughs. I was like, "Ooooh! You guys are making me feel good—tell me more."… I don't think that there's as much opportunity to hire people that are overqualified when the economy is booming.

I think I definitely—I had to do it. The day I found out that I got the job? I was at $5 in the bank account. So I needed to. I feel mildly duped about how excited I was about it.

It's the exact right organization, which is how I think I confused myself. They do what I wanna do. I don't do what I wanna do. You know? It's that. It's decently close, in that it's the right kind of place. Just the wrong kind of position.

I get to work about 8. I do a lot of little stuff that fills my day entirely—I don't know that I could tell you what I do. Everything just takes a lot of time. I do mostly website stuff. I’m stupidly over-qualified for this job. I'm more or less an office manager who blogs and tweets. You don't need a masters degree for that, right?

And I get paid crappy. Yeah, I thought that would be different for sure.

Usually I leave, like physically leave work at about 6:30, 7. I just come home and maybe make dinner, sit down and immediately do work. And then I stop that at around 10, eat food, hang out with [my boyfriend], complain about work.

I feel like what they stand for is cool and I hate working there. Which makes me sad. She laughs. It's really, really busy. My position is actually two and a half positions. So they needed an office manager, they needed a communications person and they needed support for all of the [community] work. So they balled it up into one position. I should never be an office manager. On the best of days, I'm nobody's office manager. She laughs. I suck at that. The communications part is what I was interested in. When I worked at the P----- , I did all of their outreach and all of their newsletter blog, all of that kind of stuff. I would go to community meetings and connect to people. I feel like that is the least of my work now, but that is what I was most excited about, right? So that's kind of whack. The [community] work, even though it's really, really frustrating, is really interesting. I like watching it unfold, but hate being in the room while it's unfolding. That said, my role for that work? Is notetaker at the meetings. So I'm not doing anything interesting, I'm just watching things that are interesting.

The one cool thing is that I found out that everybody else that works there feels the same. Which sucks, but makes me feel not-so-bad. We ended up having this long discussion about how unhappy we all are...It all came spewing out at this team retreat where I was like, "Oh, P.S., I hate my job.” It was really bad. We were talking about all of these organizational problems—the fact that we move too fast, the fact that there's no consistent vision for us all to work toward, no decision-making process for us all to work together…Those I think are [all] very true and I would've said them, but somebody got to them before I did. So, I was like, "By the way, I hate it here." She laughs. And now they just think that I need constant praise

I ask her why she hates her job.

I'm the only communications person and I had assumed because I am the only communications person that I helped make decisions around stuff. Not the case. I got told extremely bluntly that my job was doing the bidding of other people that do the thinking. And I've been really trying to push back on that and do thinking anyway, but it's hard when that' s the place where I start at every day. I worked really hard to become a critical thinker. To be doing something and to just be a gopher—to be a complicated gopher…I put up websites, I do things that require a skill set, but I don't think and I don't feel like it's valued when I do, I feel like it's a little bit put up with. She laughs.

I don't like it at all. I'm trying to like it more. I'm trying to get zen about it, honestly. I don't think that I'll ever really like it. Even before I got disgruntled [she laughs], I realized the first day that half of my daily tasks are things as a dyslexic person that I struggle with…Everybody needs me to do something and are genuinely appreciative of the work that I do. It's just that it's really stressful to do something that you know that you struggle with. So, there's that piece.

And then there's just like…I'm not feeling successful in the work that I'm doing—I'm busy all the time, but it's not the same as having something to be proud of.

This is the point in my life where it is time for me to work a whole lot. I was totally ready for back sweat and crazy working, right? But I wasn't ready for this much work without feeling fulfilled. I expected to feel a lot more confident in myself and my abilities—I have a cool new piece of paper and I have all of these new skills, but I feel way insecure now. I'm really stressed and I'm—because I'm doing work that is so not my bag, it's all organization and catching other people's typos? I don't catch my typos! She laughs.

I'm always nervous and I don't feel confident in the stuff that I do.

I really thought I'd have more autonomy in whatever it is that I'd be doing. I thought that I would have the opportunity to be a lot more creative and do work that I thought was interesting.

I would hope that the next place that I look for a job, that they would understand that we've been going through a recession and that I wasn't necessarily in a job that was my maximum potential. But it doesn't look super great on a resume, fresh out of grad school, [to] be a glorified office manager. The only good thing is that it's a startup and that I do lots of little things. So I feel like I have some good resume spin.

My boyfriend just graduated in 2010 too and it's been even harder for him ‘cause he got a masters in fine arts—more nuanced than that, he does video art. He's been having a really hard time finding a job. He's been applying for a bunch of jobs that he's overqualified for too. One thing that he really wants to do is teach. At this point, we made a deal, I'm putting off my job search until he finds a job.

And even though I love Oakland and I love the Bay, we'll probably have to move. We're just, more or less, gonna go anywhere that doesn't suck that he can teach. This is probably the right area for me to do some interesting nonprofit work and reform work and stuff like that. This is probably not where I'll end up, at least not in the next couple of years. We're gonna live somewhere not as interesting, with not as many opportunities. It will be hard for my whole future trajectory.

Postscript: Less than 3 months after this interview, Layla was laid off—the nonprofit ran out of funding for her position.

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