All students in college right now can relate to the dream of getting their first job after graduation. Some dream of working in a Fortune 500 company earning thousands of dollars — others dream of working in a swanky office with fancy perks — and some simply look forward to having financial independence and a semi-nice apartment. No matter what the exact dream may be, we all look forward to starting this new chapter of our lives, but we have unfortunately been conditioned to call this our first “real” job, a sentiment it’s high time we unlearn.
Growing up I’ve always been told school is a bubble and the “real” world awaits us once we graduate. While this doesn’t seem like a problematic thing to say, in honesty, it undermines the value of our hard work during this time of our lives. School, both K-12 and college, are a part of the real world and the work we do during these years matters as much as anyone working a full-time job. This work isn’t limited to just academics and school-approved extracurriculars, but also part-time jobs at restaurants where students work a few hours, or even time spent developing a hobby.
It’s well known that a lot of students in high school and college work part-time jobs, and there’s a number of reasons why they choose to do so. It can look good on a resume for future applications, it helps students find some form of financial support and it also allows students to supplement their classroom learning with hands-on experience in different industries. However, by repeatedly telling students to look forward to their first “real” job post-graduation, it starts conditioning them to view certain jobs as dignified and others to be shameful after a certain point in their lives.
These unnecessary labels can create biases and a lack of respect within a person. Since we have been led to believe that only salaried jobs are considered “real,” some start looking at minimum-wage workers with a sense of superiority, when they are in no way better than anyone working hard to support themselves and their families.
There are a number of reasons why someone would choose to work a job that may not be your first choice. That job might be in a location that works better for their schedule. It may offer them an incredible amount of flexibility to nurture side passions and responsibilities. The job might actually be something they enjoy doing and they might have found a good community working there. And lastly, not everyone has the privilege to be educated at a four-year public university and go on to work a salaried job. For some, that job you look down upon might be the best they can do, which is highly commendable.
Furthermore, this labelling of certain jobs as “respectable” can put a lot of pressure on a student who is just trying to do their best. It’s OK to not have your dream position first thing after graduation, but a lot of people are scared to go back to the part-time jobs they had in college because they fear being shamed. The stigma goes so deep that students would rather stay at home or unnecessarily stay in school longer than work a minimum wage job until things work out the way they want to. By adding a label of “real” to post-graduation jobs, you are not only adding an incorrect social status to certain positions, but you are also selling yourself short by not recognizing your current work to be as important.
The bottom line is all jobs are real and all jobs are important. In a society full of unnecessary judgment, let’s try and get rid of labels, starting with this one.