The Paradox of Expectations



I was at it again last week- seeking more career advice. I distinctly remember feeling like I was standing at a sushi conveyer belt with a shellfish allergy all the while trying to pick out the parts I could and wanted to consume.

“I expect my job to:

  • Be challenging and constantly evolving; keeping me on my feet
  • Involve working with people, not just computer systems or telephone operators
  •  …Just please not a desk job!
  • Have meaning and purpose so I can help people all the while sleep with a good conscious
  • Avoid making me feel like I’ve entered into the straightjacket of ridged hierarchal institutions
  • Use more than a fraction of my skills, not some screwing on toothpaste caps in an assembly line, or fetching someone’s Starbucks
  • Pay more per hour than 3 bean and cheese burritos at Taco Bell”

…The list continued until I felt like the various people advising me were getting a good chuckle.

I’m surprised no one has mumbled, or just directly spat out, “Another millennial, thinking the world owes her a fulfilling career just because she got pumped out of University with a degree.” Cue the eyes rolls and the, “When I was your age I worked 4 jobs” speech.

With this anticipated reaction, I am forced to wonder- Even with hard work, and a willingness to start from the bottom, am I expecting too much from my career? Am I trying to force it in a dress, put lipstick on it and make it dance?

On one hand, William Shakespeare said, “Expectation is the root of all heartache.” For me to make my career my ‘ideal spouse,’ expecting with ample quality time, and the occasional back rub, for it to fulfill me, support me, and entertain me is asking for disappointment.

On the other hand, as a civil rights activist, Jesse Jackson said, “No one rises to low expectations.” I would never motivate myself for more than mediocrity and sufficiency if I didn’t envision/expect myself doing something greater. So, for me to expect anything less than working to the most fulfilling career is absurd and lacking ambition.

How can I emerge into the workforce expecting everything, while simultaneously expecting nothing? And how can I sort through the platitudes labeled ‘career advice’ and grapple with this patronizing paradox?

According to novelist Jeffrey Eugendies, “All wisdom ends in paradox.” I feel peace knowing, if anything, that I’ve asked the right questions to bring me to this point. It has led me to begin a potentially lifelong pursuit of understanding these seemly contradicting ideologies. Luckily, or unfortunately (still not sure which), my ‘real world’ testing period for these questions will not be far away considering my post-graduate rendezvous with the workforce is rapidly approaching.

signature2Artwork by: Hugo Barros 


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