I’ve been spending a lot of time lately in a college cafeteria. This is way less creepy than it sounds, I promise. Think about it – cheap, ample food and a chance to reminisce on younger years? It’s a win win I tell you. Ah college cafeterias. The place where you really can have it all. Can’t decide between the hot entree and a bowl of cereal? Have them both! Want seconds on that dessert? How about thirds? One flat rate gets you in and the dining hall is yours for the taking.
Of course this makes me think a lot about my own college experience, food and otherwise. College kids don’t realize how good they have it. Think about it: you merely have to roll out of bed and walk a short distance to have this array of food stuffs at your fingertips. And speaking of rolling out of bed, don’t feel like it? Hey, no biggie, sleep in. Yeah, you’ll miss class but what are the repercussions really? No one is going to “fire” you. You won’t be out on your ass wondering how you’re gonna make the rent this month. You really have nothing to worry about.
It’s easy to feel a little envious of the sheltered life of the college student until you remember what they are facing just a couple short years away: the real world. And it will hit hard, believe me. Pass up the ramen noodles now my friends. You’ll need them in the years to come when you’re barely scraping by and your fridge is empty but for some old milk and a few condiments.
I think about myself in college and how naive I was. I thought I would graduate, get a good job, make lots of money, become successful and feel happy about my chosen path in life. I thought it would all fall into place, effortlessly. I can remember signing my financial aid forms for the first time, feeling all grown up at eighteen because I didn’t have to get my parents to sign them for me. Those forms promised I would pay back the thousands upon thousands of dollars in student loans I was accumulating. Loans I’m nowhere near done paying back for an education I’m not using.
Can we really hold a person accountable for something they promised they would pay for “later” when they were still only a child with no context whatsoever to base their decisions on? You know that song by Mr. Mellencamp that states, “seventeen has turned thirty-five, I’m surprised that we’re still livin”? They played that song at my high school senior prom and as I danced the night away, comfortable in the knowledge that I was indeed seventeen and thirty-five was an unfathomable lifetime away, I didn’t understand what it meant. But guess what? Seventeen has, in fact, turned thirty-five, and suddenly, I find myself in this sea of college students yet somehow I’m the adult. It’s surreal.
And to juxtapose the college experience, here is an example of the real world that happened to me just today. Scrambling to devise a plan before the unemployment checks stop coming, I made an appointment to visit a placement agency. I had already spoken quite a bit on the phone to Maggie who painted a lovely picture of finding me a contract job in my neighborhood at the right price. Something that will put recent HR experience on my resume while freeing me up to travel in July. The easy, breezy idea of it fills me with hope that I really can have everything fall into place effortlessly.
I planned to meet Maggie today at eleven. As I was leaving my house in my suit and dressy coat I noted that it looked dark out and briefly wondered if I would need an umbrella. Somehow I didn’t bother looking out the window and decided it couldn’t really be raining or anything, plus I thought there was an umbrella in my car. I opened the front door to a torrential downpour and dashed, or rather, stumbled quickly through snow drifts in my fancy shoes, to the car. There was an umbrella that’s been loitering on my car floor. I tried opening it and found it utterly useless. It was so broken that it wouldn’t even open. But counting on my good parking karma, I wasn’t too concerned. I thought I would find something on the street, right near where I was going, if I merely left myself enough time to look. I couldn’t have been more wrong.
Realizing I was going to be late, I gave Maggie a call. I left her a voicemail and proceeded to look for the parking garage that the agency’s website recommended as it’s the one they validate parking for. I looked where it was supposed to be. I must’ve driven around the targeted block eighteen times. No parking garage. Finally I found another one, just a little further away. I parked, glancing at the rates with a sigh, but I had no other choice.
Exiting the garage into the pouring rain, I walked as fast as I could in my hurty, fancy shoes which kept twisting or getting stuck in cobblestone. I burst into the agency at eleven thirty, wet, cold, bedraggled, frustrated, and wanting nothing more than to turn around, go home, and crawl back into bed. But this is the real world. Are you paying attention college students? This is what it’s like out there. You don’t get to run back to the safety of your bed. You take a deep breath, straighten your suit, praying no one will notice the undone hem of your pants which is attached by a few pins and keeps drooping down to get caught under the heel of your fancy, hurty shoe, smooth down your bedraggled wet hair, and you tell the receptionist you’re there to meet Maggie. Maggie will understand. Maggie has been so friendly and helpful over the phone. Maggie said she was really looking forward to meeting you. Plus, Maggie knows you’re late because you left her a message.
“Maggie’s out today, but you’ll be meeting with her colleague, Sara,” the receptionist says without a trace of remorse. What??? How can Maggie be out? I also, just for kicks, tell the receptionist I couldn’t find the parking garage mentioned on their website and she assures me it exists. Wow, that’s so helpful. I ask if they validate parking at any other garage and she cheerfully explains that they don’t. Then she hands me a metric ton of paperwork to fill out which I start to until I realize that there are all kinds of legal documents and W2 forms or I9s or whatever the heck those forms are that you fill out when you are becoming an employee someplace. (I should know this, really I should, how can I call myself an HR professional, geez.)
I explain to the receptionist that I’m not filling out the forms because I’m not there to become an employee, that Maggie knows all this already, and where the heck is Maggie anyway? The receptionist tells me she’ll let the recruiter know I’m here and she gives me a look and I think, don’t you give me that look little girl, I have been in your shoes. I was a receptionist for years and I always recognized a difficult candidate when they arrived and refused to fill out the necessary paperwork and I always went to tell the recruiter they were there and rolled my eyes and silently indicated that the person was a real pain in the neck. I know that look, I gave that look, and now here’s this little receptionist giving me that look like she invented that look. I eat that look for breakfast missy, you got that?
So Sara arrives to relieve the receptionist of me and I explain that I couldn’t find parking and that I didn’t bring an umbrella and that I left a message for Maggie explaining I was running late. Sara is all smiles and tells me Maggie is out sick which I guess is a reasonable excuse but I would’ve preferred someone to call me and give me the option to reschedule with Maggie. Instead Sara needs to be briefed on everything I’ve already told Maggie. Then she sends someone else in to talk to me about HR contracts, and then that girl says she’s going to go get Sara so Sara can wrap up with me.
She leaves the room and I look at the time because all I can think about is money with wings flying away as the minutes tick by and each one signifies more of my nonexistant cash that will be spent parking but hey at least I got something out of this meeting right? Wrong! There was absolutely nothing that couldn’t have been discussed over the phone and in fact, already had been, with Maggie. I checked some email on my phone, made some notes for a possible blog entry on this whole exercise in futility, and looked at the time again. Twenty minutes had elapsed. I gathered my belongings and went back to speak to my bestie, the receptionist. I told her I was maybe forgotten about and that I had to go because of the parking garage. She called Sara who returned saying “oh sorry about that!” and then wrapped up with “Maggie will be calling you.”
So I came all the way into town, in the pouring rain, in my suit, and spent $22 I don’t have to park just so I can be told that Maggie will be calling me which, let’s face it, I knew already. OK college students? So enjoy it, no, embrace it, while you can. Eat those hot meals and that cold cereal and frequent the salad bar. Make your own ice cream sundaes and go back for seconds and thirds. Because the real world is out there and it’s waiting for you and it’s getting angry. Believe me, I’ve seen the real world and it ain’t pretty.