Since the first few months of my sophomore year, when upperclassmen friends began their search for jobs, I've harbored certain anxieties about my own senior year process, wherein I begin to shape my future self.
I came down to breakfast one morning to find track friends, whom I never saw dressed in anything other than Nike Frees and Levis, buttoned up and polished in Hugo Boss blazers or Ann Taylor skirt suits, always looking uncomfortable, nervous, and self-conscious.
Career planning at a private, selective liberal arts college is full of self-consciousness. It involves self-analyzing, psychological and emotional probing, and a constant sense that finding a job is about 10 percent what you want and 90 percent what everyone else wants.
Am I serving the "common good" by interning at this firm? Can I earn this salary and still feel like my Bowdoin degree is going to good use? Should I work at this position to refine and polish my résumé instead of doing what I actually want to this summer? By doing so, am I allowing my youthful liberty to fall victim to the iron capitalist bars choking American society?
I don't mean to take on a "woe to the young bourgeois and their inner turmoil" tone here, but I also don't want to suggest that any of these questions are silly and unworthy of consideration. Our role in the work force, our dream careers, and wanting to use our world-class education to improve the world around us and ourselves—these are legitimate concerns. They're especially pertinent during a time like ours, when the work force is completely revamping itself, and everyone needs to question their position in the economy.
This past weekend, I opened the door to those career-planning anxieties. The question of my purpose and value in society has been hiking its way to my door since early in my college career—since birth, actually—and a few days ago, with volume and authority, the question knocked.
On my closet door, specifically.
You guessed it: I bought my first "job interview" pantsuit. With the possible of exception of orthodontia, I've never resented a purchase more in my life. Freeport offers four pantsuits for your consideration. Two have shoulder pads. One of the padless ones is out of stock. The padless, in-stock one is too expensive, though I've been told it is dirt cheap in comparison to the pantsuits that real, professional businesswomen buy when they want to impress their superiors.
I once had a dream of looking great in a pantsuit. Looking confident, contemporary, articulate, and, above all, prepared to intellectually kick the asses of whatever sub-par job candidates were interviewed before or after me, I would be the prototype of a real, professional businesswoman.
But as I stood in my common room before a couple of friends, modeling my outlet-mall pantsuit, their quizzical stares confirmed what I felt in my spine, but what I thought was just a slightly off-center seam: I looked unnatural and uncomfortable. I didn't look contemporary; I looked constipated.
There is no doubt in my mind that I don't want this suit. But again, since when is job hunting about what we want? Does it matter if I feel like a clown when I'm obviously making an effort at appearing professional? The qualifications and experiences listed on our résumés rarely capture our best talents and abilities; the point is for those qualifications to fit someone else's standards, isn't it? Just because the pantsuit doesn't fit me, or isn't something I would ever want to wear myself, doesn't necessarily mean it won't work for my potential employer.
But we can only guess at—and certainly can't control—what our employers think. Or our parents, peers, or teachers. We can't even necessarily convince ourselves that the steps we're taking to go down this long, winding road of professional life are the right ones. And, the truth is, there's no way to tell.
What we do always know, though, is what at least feels like the right step. What jumps off the pages of eBear, what our classmates have done that sounds exciting, what images flash in our minds when we dream about our future selves. We can know what we like, what we're good at, and what we have to offer.
So a couple days ago, I made what felt like the right move. I tried on the skirt suit of a friend. I looked in the mirror, and felt much better, much more like a professional, confident candidate. So I borrowed it.
And on the way back from an interview that's now largely out of my hands, I took a bag out of the backseat of the car, went into to the outlet store, and returned the pantsuit. It's not me.