I am an Elder Millennial, born in 1981, and was raised by Baby Boomers. I was raised to value loyalty and putting in work for an employer and being rewarded for it. I learned the value of working my way up through an organization and proving myself to the company. I was taught my loyalty and hard work would be rewarded.
When I graduated high school in 2000, it was immediately off the college. College would give me the tools I needed to get a good job and to be able to provide for myself and my family. I would have a degree, the key to freedom and financial success. I went to college and dutifully got a Bachelors of Science (in Communications, specially Creative Advertising).
I was lucky and privileged enough to leave school without student load debt. Something the same degree today would absolutely not allow me to do. It’s not even worth comparing what an undergraduate degree costs to an in-state resident in Virginia anymore. (Hint: It’s tripled!)
I had that all-important slip of paper that would spell success as an adult. I graduated in 2004, the economy wasn’t great. (When has it ever been?)
Finding work in a creative field, like Advertising, was a pipe dream. So I fell into IT works. I took a job where I spent the next 12 months replacing computers with newer computers. I spent my days in a basement next to a steak house smelling grilled beef and loading Windows XP on to Dell computers for the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality.
This was always going to be a temporary job, even with the slight prospect of being hired full-time. Eventually, this contract ended and I was back out on the market looking for more work. Little did I know I had chosen my career path not out of some carefully thought out plan.
I needed work, I was good with computers and enjoyed working on and with them. I needed to pay rent and buy gas and food.
That’s how I chose my career path. Not out of some well-thought-out plan or meetings with advisors or guidance counselors. I needed money to live and I had time and skill I could trade for money. That is all there was to it. Trade time and effort for money.
Real, Adult Jobs
As I got “real, adult jobs” I thought the name of my employers would mean… something. Little did I know that chosen career path in IT meant never really working for the company where I spent 40 hours per week. No, I worked for some other entity. Sometimes nameless and faceless, other times more real, but just still largely anonymous. I thought the names of places where I worked would carry weight. I was excited when I was working at/for Honeywell, GE Lighting and Industrial, Wachovia, and City of Richmond government and later the National Institutes of Health (NIH), Department of Labor (DOL), Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and The Atlantic Media Company (home to The Atlantic magazine.) Despite meeting some very interesting people, the names on my resume never mattered for my next role.
Where I worked and who I worked for were two different question. I learned slowly that working for people who never saw you, and unless you did something bad enough to get yourself fired, were never going to know your work. It didn’t matter if you came in and won employee of the week 52 straight weeks, or if you showed up, did barely enough to get by, and do it all again tomorrow.
None of it mattered. Don’t even mention performance reviews or exit interviews. Those were largely tales I was told growing up. I was here one day and gone the next, no exit interviews. For performance, I was expected to. Whether I did or not… well, if I wanted to avoid getting chastised from afar, I should continue to perform. But there was no benefit for good performance, only avoiding poor performance.
The illusion I held in my head about loyalty and working to impress those above me no longer had a place in the world. It took me a long time to learn that lesson. It’s one I wish I had learned sooner.
Loyalty is Dead.
I changed jobs about every 3 years. That has been the amount of time where I feel like I’ve learned absolutely everything I could in a position that was never going to change. The nature of contract IT work is you’re hired to fulfill a certain task. Placed into a box to perform the same set of tasks over and over and over until the end of time. You can only reset a password, troubleshoot Microsoft Office, or remove malware or a virus from a computer so many times before you lose your mind.
So I changed jobs. That’s how I got my raises. I was never going to get one staying where I was. Even if I wanted to be loyal and work hard, there was no reason to continue to do so where I was. The only way to get ahead is to change jobs. Work somewhere else and ask for more money than the last time.
I went looking to compare and despair at the cost of college and when I graduated Virginia Commonwealth University in 2004. According to page 11 of July 2004 State Council of Higher Education for Virginia’s report on Tuition and Fees at Virginia’s State-Supported Colleges & Universities, tuition and mandatory fees in 2004, the year I graduated, were $5,138. According to page 12 of the 2021-2022 version of the this same report, that same cost is now $15,028. This cost is for Full-Time In-State Undergraduate Tuition and All Mandatory Fees.
When I graduated in 2004, I was barely making enough money to live. I don’t think with the costs of the same education is now three times more valuable today to command that price tag. This doesn’t count finding a place to live, food, and expenses of living, all of which have also risen substantially.
The AAA’s survey of gas prices hit a new record of $1.753 a gallon on Tuesday
Gas prices hit another record high – Mar. 30, 2004
Record gas prices of $1.75… As of this writing, they’re hovering right around $3.00 a gallon in Maryland.
People are graduating college today with mountains of debt before they even start out in the world. They’re entering world having paid three times what it cost my for the same four-year degree.
What advice would I give someone entering the working world today?
I don’t know if I would have any advice worth listening to. I don’t have kids. I am married and we have two incomes. Just as I learned the lessons of working in a world that no longer existed, the world I entered work in no longer exists. The cost of college today is astronomical compared to when I graduated for the same degree.