Life in the Slow Lane

It’s okay to be utterly clueless when it comes to career decisions

If you’re a student at Harvard, you know a few things. You know that “Primal Scream” is not a Stephen King novel (although it can be just as frightening). You know that Pinocchio’s takes Crimson Cash and Felipe’s doesn’t. Most of us even know how to do our own laundry. Everyone, though, knows that Harvard is a pretty intense place. Even with final exams over and a fresh start on a new semester, the intensity among Harvard students is still as palpable as the aroma of cod cakes upon entering the dining hall. I find that this time of year, in particular, yields these feelings; as the temperature drops and ice blankets the ground and our souls, we can’t help but start thinking about the future. Warm, picture-perfect days of summer…and which desk for what company we will be sitting at while entering data for hours into Microsoft Excel for our summer internship.

I have to admit, I find the entire process of finding a summer job very intimidating. Last summer, as my friends’ internships led them to conquests on Wall Street, launchings of their 2024 presidential campaigns, establishments of new religions, etc., I found myself coaching 10-year-olds at a youth football camp (Motto: “No! Run the other way!”). At night, while my classmates were in Chile discovering extrasolar planets, I was in my pajamas discovering the identity of the Half-Blood Prince. While some students were interning at hospitals learning how to save lives, I was giving Little Johnny a Shrek band-aid to cover his knee scrape. The whole idea of even finding a “worthwhile” job was foreign to me: I was shocked to discover that the word “resume” was more than a button on my TiVo remote.

So this winter, I too am putting down the remote, embracing the French language, and working on this so-called “resumé.” As job interviews and career-related events erupt all over campus, I find myself getting a familiar feeling in the pit of my stomach as my mom lectures me about my Future in her “College Process” tone of voice that I thought I had left for dead in high school. It seems like everyone around me is building a resumé that is of similar length and quality of Moby Dick. I constantly ask myself, “What things should I do that will look good on my resumé? Does buying season tickets to the Boston Bruins count as community service?” I have constant nightmares about falling behind in the summer job search. I feel like a grandma driving an old Volvo station wagon at 30 mph in the fast lane that is Harvard University.

Knowing that a tenured youth football coach won’t impress many recruiters, I’ve started to get desperate to add other activities to my resumé. Like many other Harvard undergraduates, my natural inclination in this situation was to try to found an extracurricular club. The only problem is, the last time I checked the number of clubs at Harvard, I got a figure so big it had to be expressed in scientific notation. In order to be original, I started a club called “Collectors of Potato Chips that are Shaped Like Things.” I encourage everyone to join. We meet Thursday nights at 9:00 p.m. by the vending machines in Loker. Last week’s meeting was a great success. We found a chip shaped like a really large amoeba, and another chip shaped like a fat, upside-down “T.” It’s great resumé material, as everyone who joins the club is made a vice president.

The part of the job search process that I struggle with the most is figuring out what career to pursue; I have no idea what I want to do with the rest of my life. I know things that I like, but unfortunately, I don’t think I will find many job openings for a video game beta tester or owner of the Boston Red Sox. I get nervous when I hear other students talk about their future careers as if they were I-Banking while still in the womb. Walk into the Coop these days and all you see are books with titles like (I am not making this up): “Sell Yourself!: Master the Job Interview Process.” As a twenty-year-old college student, I had no idea that I was up for sale. Do I really have to be overly concerned with my future career when I’m still not old enough to drink legally? I thought college was a place where I would be exposed to a wide range of opportunities and be able to try many different things.

In talking to different classmates about this, I discovered that, in fact, I am not alone in my sentiments. There are still a lot of us out there who haven’t yet determined where we are headed in life. There are still some of us who haven’t switched our homepage from google.com to cnbc.com. While everyone around you may seem to be headed down a predetermined career path, destined for fame and success, you may be like me and my 10-year-old football players, utterly clueless as to which direction you’re going. But let me tell you something, those kids were laughing their butts off the entire time, and they always eventually made it to the end zone.



Eric A. Kester ’08 is an anthropology concentrator in Winthrop House. His column appears on alternate Thursdays.