The Epic Saga of Two College Grads (Or: Why You Should Quit Worrying About Your Resume)

 

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Please Click "Display Images" To View PhotoOnce Upon a Time … Two newly-minted college graduates step out into the world. Their names are Abel and Kant.

Both have Bachelor of Arts degrees from state universities. Both carry $25,000 in student loans. Both have average family backgrounds.

They feature similar height, build and appearance. They project the same grammar, diction and poise.

They’re virtually the same in every characteristic but one: Their attitudes.

No, I’m not talking about “carpe diem” rah-rah feel-good attitudes.

I mean their hidden assumptions about life.

One makes decisions based on what looks good on her resume. The other makes decisions based on a mind that sees limitless possibility.

Let’s hear their story, shall we?

Kant

Kant frets about what her future employers might think of her. She loves art, but she opts for a “realistic” major, business management, even though the classes bore her.

“It will look good on a resume,” she tells herself.

Kant loves to draw and paint. But those hobbies won’t help her land a six-figure salary.

So she quit creating art. She fills her days with an unpaid internship at a local consulting company. She volunteers to stay late to file papers.

Deep down, Kant feels overworked and unhappy. She doesn’t like her internship. But she convinces herself that it’s the first rung on the ladder.

“This demonstrates my leadership and initiative,” she tells herself.

Abel

Abel, on the other hand, doesn’t give a damn about what any future employer might think.

She shares the same major, management, because she loves that it pulls knowledge from a broad array of fields. It appeals to her sense of curiosity.

Outside of class, she refuses to pack her after-school schedule with resume-boosters. Instead, she spends her time exploring new topics.

She reads books, listens to podcasts, and watches TED Talks. She strikes up long conversations with intelligent strangers. She plays around with design programs like InDesign, Illustrator and Photoshop.

Abel loves to draw and paint, just like Kant. She gives herself ample free time to practice art.

Kant

Kant and Abel both visit Ecuador during their senior year. But their trips look very different.

Kant participates in an organized research trip with her professor. It’s part of a 3-credit-hour Honors Class.

She would have preferred the freedom to backpack across South America, but her parents dismissed it as dangerous. Anyway, Kant reasons, “international research” will look great on her resume.

Abel

Abel just wants to explore. She flies to Ecuador solo. She feels a little lonely on her first day. No one talks to her.

So she practices breaking out of her shell. She holds eye contact with passing strangers. She smiles reflexively when she encounters someone new.

She meets twenty new people within that first week. She shares small talk with some. She enjoys fascinating deeper conversations with others.

One of those chance encounters is with a man who owns a digital marketing agency near her college town. He asks Abel what she wants to do after graduation.

“I have no idea.”

Abel never tries to impress. She’s just herself.

“Well,” probes the stranger, “what do you enjoy doing in your spare time?”

Abel shrugs.

“Lots of things, really.”

“Like what?”

She tells him about her art – about drawing, painting, and computer design. She describes her opinions about color, composition, lighting and space.

Then she switches gears. She begins describing a psychology book she recently read, which poses a radically new theory about how humans make decisions.

She draws parallels between that book and unrelated research about online consumer behavior that she had heard about in a TED Talk.

“I never would have linked those ideas,” the man says.

Abel continues to chat excitedly. She tells him about eye-tracking studies that illustrate how consumers interact with websites. She talks about new advancements in the fields of art, design and psychology. She veers off-topic and describes a motivational speech she enjoyed.

The man nods, but doesn’t say a word. He knows that her enthusiasm is genuine, and that impresses him most of all.

Kant

Graduation day arrives, and Kant is panicking.

Her relatives keep asking her what’s next on the horizon. Does she have a job lined up?

Kant is embarrassed to admit that her plate is empty. She’s sent out 50 resumes, which have resulted in six interviews.

Four of those interviews went well, she thought. Two companies even called her back for a second interview. But she hasn’t gotten any offers yet, and now her stomach is tied in knots.

What if she ends up with a gap on her resume? How will she explain this?

“Breathe,” she tells herself. “A summer-after-graduation gap isn’t so bad. I’ll get a job offer by August.”

Then she thinks about the $25,000 debt she racked up getting this degree, and starts panicking again.

Her minimum loan payments are $300 per month, and her 7 percent interest rate ratchets the balance higher each month. She figures she’ll be in debt for 10 years.

She’s not the least bit concerned about her passion. She just wants a job.

Abel

Abel is cool as a cucumber. She doesn’t send out any resumes. The idea of getting trapped in a cubicle with two weeks of vacation doesn’t appeal to her.

She’s not sure what to do. She waits tables at a Mexican restaurant, which pays the bills. She improves her coding and design skills at night.

After a few months, she begins picking up web design projects during the evenings and weekends. She pulls in an extra $2,500 each month, and throws every penny towards decimating her student loans.

After 10 months, Abel demolishes her student loans. She works four more months, saves another $10,000, and flies back to Ecuador.

Kant

Kant tries not to think about the disappointing year that’s passed since graduation.

After 8 long months of searching, she reluctantly accepts a job at an auto dealership. She doesn’t care about cars, and she doesn’t want to work in sales.

But jobs are hard to find, she reasons. And a proven track record in sales will look good on her resume.

Her student loans have ballooned to $27,000 already. She deferred payments while she was unemployed.

She certainly wasn’t going to wait tables to make ends meet, the way Abel had done. After all, she has a university degree. With honors. What would people say?

Abel

Two more years pass by. Abel and Kant both turn 25.

Abel travels throughout Latin America. She loves Brazil; she adores Argentina. But she finally settles down in a beachside town in Costa Rica.

She runs a small but successful freelance web design business from her laptop. It covers her expenses, gives her a nice savings cushion, and allows her to make a meaningful impact on the world.

She’s been debt-free since she destroyed her student loans two years ago. She’s now saving up to buy a small cottage home in cash.

Abel’s freelance success gives her the confidence to dream even bigger. How could she expand? Could she create a partnership with a firm in a related field, like digital marketing, so that her clients could get service from a one-stop shop?

Wait a second, what about that guy she met two years ago? Doesn’t he run a small digital marketing company?

Hmm. The wheels in Abel’s mind are spinning with possibility.

Kant

Kant still works at the car dealership. She dreams about finding a new job, but she’s afraid that switching jobs too often will look bad on her resume.

“I should stay with each employer for at least two years,” she tells herself. “It makes me look like a more stable employee.”

The last two years have been brutal, so she drowns her sorrows in happy hour cocktails. The drinking has caused her to gain a few pounds, but she doesn’t have the motivation to workout. She watches long TV marathons on the weekends to distract herself from the agony of Monday morning.

Kant knows she needs to “dress for success,” so she maintains a closet full of nice clothes. But hey, she scored a great Birkin bag during a Black Friday sale.

She needs to “drive for success,” too, so she took out a $15,000 car loan. But her dealership cut her a deal on financing. And they even threw in free floor mats.

Between the car, clothes, cocktails and cable TV, she can only pay the minimum on her student loans. She will carry those loans for a decade. She fumes over the unfairness of the system.

One morning, Kant decides she’s had enough. She sends an application to a digital marketing agency in town.

The owner calls Kant that evening.

“Your resume looks great,” he says. “Unfortunately, we’re not hiring. We have all the talent we need. We just took on a new partnership with a web-design business based in Costa Rica …”

****
Thanks to Flickr user Canine to Five for today’s photo, and thanks to Elliott Broidy.




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29 Responses to “The Epic Saga of Two College Grads (Or: Why You Should Quit Worrying About Your Resume)”

  1. Quinn
    21. Nov, 2013 at 3:41 pm #

    Funny. I was always the one who worried about how my resume looked. I thought you needed the two year commitment, no gaps on the resume, certain licenses…

    But I too found that by not stressing about the resume, finding work that I enjoy (or even just outside passions/hobbies that I enjoy), I’ve had much more success in my career. I think confidence comes from not worrying about how you look on paper, but how you’ve developed as a person.

    The six month gap I worried about, is now a great story about the six-month road trip around the U.S. The less than two years at one company, is now showing that I’m always trying to improve myself and take on more responsibilities.

    Thanks for the reminder!

    • Afford Anything
      22. Nov, 2013 at 9:04 am #

      Quinn, if I could press a “Like” button for your comment, I totally would. :-)

      I love how you’ve turned those so-called “negatives” — like the six-month gap — into something that reflects your strengths and character. Career success (and life success in general) comes from authentic self-improvement, not trying to fit some standardized mold.

  2. Linh
    21. Nov, 2013 at 8:29 pm #

    I guess I must be Kant. Graduated with a Management degree in May 2012 (18k in student loans) and now working at a Corporation making 56k before tax. My loans are now at $7k and will continue to shrink. Your posts are usually thought provoking but this one…the word that comes to mind is reductive.

    • Afford Anything
      22. Nov, 2013 at 9:00 am #

      @Linh — It’s just meant to be a fable. Kant never made choices based on what she really wanted; she made all her choices based on what she thought other people wanted her to do.

      The question is: Is that what you do? Do you work at a Corporation because it’s what you genuinely want, or do you do it because it’s what others want? Did you get a Management degree because you authentically enjoy the subject, or did you do it because it ‘looks good on a resume’?

      If you’re making choices based on your own passions, then you’re Abel, regardless of the industry that you choose or the type of employment that you partake in. If you’re living your life in order to satisfy others, however, then you’re Kant. Most people, myself included, can see bits of themselves in both characters.

    • Afford Anything
      22. Nov, 2013 at 9:12 am #

      P.S. I should also add that it works in the reverse, as well.

      If you’re practicing art or traveling the world because other people expect you to do so — i.e. you think it looks “cool,” but you don’t really enjoy it — then you’re Kant.

      Partaking in any particular job, industry, occupation or hobby doesn’t make you Abel. Living life on your own terms makes you Abel.

  3. Mrs PoP
    22. Nov, 2013 at 10:27 am #

    I was 23 when I figured out that if I kept doing what everyone else said I should or what was “best” for me hat I would be absolutely miserable for a very long time. So I stopped doing what I was told, turned down scholarships totaling more than $200K, burnt a few bridges, and about 8 years later am pretty happy with how my life has turned out so far.

    • Afford Anything
      22. Nov, 2013 at 2:00 pm #

      That is AWESOME!!

    • greg
      30. Nov, 2013 at 10:03 pm #

      I think there can definitely be a combination of more “traditional” and more independent that works. There is absolutely no denying the name recognition that my places of education and employment bring, but at the same time I will not leave myself pigeon-holed into perpetual minion status.

      Sure, every single thing I’ve done either on my own or for a business owned by others has had some nose-to-the-grindstone aspect, but in many places there are truly opportunities to build something great that simply do not exist elsewhere. However, my personal guiding principle has been to find not just great, but **excellent** people to work with. Sure, I will probably end up on my own, but hanging out and learning from great people has its place (IMO of course).

  4. Cindy @ GrowingHerWorth
    22. Nov, 2013 at 3:59 pm #

    This couldn’t be a more timely article for me right now. I’ve literally been sitting here at my desk all day pondering between “I really need to look for something else” and “I don’t even have 2 years in at this job yet. If I hold out at least a few more months, it’ll look better on my resume…”

    • Afford Anything
      24. Nov, 2013 at 8:35 pm #

      You know what will look great on your resume? Even better than hitting the 2-year mark?

      The really impressive resume-booster is achieving something spectacular within your job. For example: Figure out a way to help your company save 5 percent of its operating budget. Or figure out how to expand your services to a brand-new niche.

      But here’s the catch: the best ideas often strike us when we’re in the shower, or walking the dog, or cooking dinner. Our subconscious mind is thinking about how to solve some complex issue at work.

      And for that to happen, we need to actually care about our work. If we don’t care enough to be thinking about it “outside” of the office, then we’ll never hit those Eureaka moments.

      So pursue your passion. Because passion yields results. And results look far better on your resume than some arbitrary period of time. :-)

  5. Allesen
    22. Nov, 2013 at 4:19 pm #

    I’m totally Kant and am having a really hard time breaking out of it. I am taking my first step right now though. I desperately need a new job (hate my current one that is totally what I was “supposed” to do), and I’ve been contacted by a recruiter from another company that would look great on my resume, but I have NO interest in working for them. Everything in me says I should “just talk to them”, but why? I don’t want to work for them, so I’m not going to. I’m looking for something that sounds fun – though it’ll likely still involve a cubicle at this point. Baby steps.

  6. Guess I'm a Kant
    22. Nov, 2013 at 5:33 pm #

    Unfortunately, I am a successful Kant. Always fretted about my resume and extra curricular activities, taking on more and more until my day was packed with work. I did this for 3 of 4 years of college and landed a consulting job out of undergrad. My student loans were abolished within two years and I make a six figure salary. Life is comfortable but unrewarding. The fretting continues as I debate leaving my current job for a lateral role at a promising startup. Moving from a top software company to an unknown startup isn’t getting me into Harvard, but moving up at said software company may.

    I also know an Abel who never made those connections. Still working waiting tables and hoping to leave her small town. Loans are not paid off and not saving much of her paycheck.

    For every Kant I know there are at least 3-4 Abels in a worse off situation. Actually I don’t really know a Kant… They all found employment after school. I caution thinking like an Abel as they are typically the exception and not the rule. Then again, I’m a Kant :)

    • Afford Anything
      24. Nov, 2013 at 8:42 pm #

      Ah, I know so many people who get “stuck” waiting tables in their small town. But I don’t know if they’re Abels.

      I’d characterize an Abel as a person who sees opportunity everywhere she looks, and who is willing to take calculated risks in pursuit of those opportunities. Abel isn’t the type of person who would let herself stagnate.

      (I’m not saying that your friend is stagnating — after all, I’ve never met your friend — but I thought that I should clarify that waiting tables, in a vacuum, doesn’t turn someone into a career rebel. Commitment to a passion creates an Abel.)

      As far as your dilemma: “Life is comfortable but unrewarding.” You summarized it perfectly right there. The next two questions are: What will make it rewarding? What risks are you willing to take in pursuit of a more rewarding life? Only you can answer that …

      (P.S. Congratulations on demolishing your student loans!! That creates so much more freedom in your life!!)

  7. Rich
    22. Nov, 2013 at 6:00 pm #

    Great post, as usual. I guess I must be Abel, even though I didn’t really buck any conventions in pursuing my calling.

    I appreciate your clarifying comments in response to Linh. They help to make clear what you’re promoting and not promoting. :)

    I’m working with a couple of college students now who are doing an internship with a homeless ministry I help lead. Will they put it on their resumes? Probably. But they’re clearly passionate about what they’re doing and love making a difference. They’re both Abel. :)

    • Afford Anything
      24. Nov, 2013 at 8:30 pm #

      @Rich — That passion is the key marker. I’m willing to bet that the two students with whom you’re working are learning and contributing more than any indifferent student ever could.

      Have you ever encountered students who “don’t really care” but who just show up because it’s required and/or expected? You can see the difference right away … in their attitudes, their ideas, their energy levels. Contrast that against the students who are genuinely enthusiastic about being there … the ones who go that extra mile … :-)

  8. Rich
    22. Nov, 2013 at 6:01 pm #

    BTW, what’s the checkbox underneath the “Submit Comment” button? I thought it used to be a box we had to check to prove we’re human… but there’s no text next to it now, and leaving it unchecked doesn’t seem to matter…

  9. Betsy @ ConsumerFu
    23. Nov, 2013 at 5:25 pm #

    I was a little of both in college, but developed into a full-blown Abel as a stay at home mom. I did what I wanted to do. Once my daughters started school I spent more time freelancing, but this was years ago pre-Internet. In the second ten years I continued to stay home, taught myself how to code and started freelancing as a Drupal developer. I never invested a penny – just time. I love what I’m doing. I do sometimes meet clients in person, but typically, I can pick up and travel with my husband when something fun comes up. All I need is my laptop and a computer connection.

    • Afford Anything
      24. Nov, 2013 at 8:25 pm #

      That’s fantastic, Betsy!! Location independence + work that you love = a whole lotta awesome. Good for you!! :-)

  10. Quentin Jones
    23. Nov, 2013 at 7:01 pm #

    Wow! Okay, I have to be really careful right now how I write this. I totally see myself as Abel in my thought pattern of don’t really care. But I have the Kant’s in my ear on a daily basis (family, sisters, parents). The only reason I ever started working at the age of 18 was to get my mother off my back. I am now thirty and now I realize that I am F**** sick of working, but I have the thought pattern of needing a paycheck. Hey, if you don’t get money somehow, then how are you going to buy stuff. I am a farmers hired hand. My time is limited and given to them. but in my evenings, for the few minutes before I go to bed, I have been actively searching for the past two years for a way to make passive income, or at least work location independent so I could get the hell out when I wanted. But unfortunately I haven’t found anything legit. Or haven’t been blessed to find what will work. I hear success story after success story of how people made it work for them, but that doesn’t help me. I need something tangible in my hands for this to make sense. My head literally hurts from looking and dreaming. I am to the point of no return!! OMG I just got what the names mean!!! Well, I guess I am more like Kant!

    • Afford Anything
      24. Nov, 2013 at 8:24 pm #

      Quentin, I love your reply!! Those success stories that you hear — keep listening. Everyone can produce passive income or location-independent income if they want to. The routes to creating it are different — e.g. the types of work that you’ll gravitate towards are different — but the end result is freedom. You’ll find yours. I know you will. Just keep exploring, and stay open to possibilities.

  11. Deia @ Nomad Wallet
    23. Nov, 2013 at 9:46 pm #

    Nice story, although as Linh mentions above, it seems rather simplistic. I like how your reply to that comment clarifies things. Of course just doing whatever you feel like doesn’t always produce the best results. But the things that career guidebooks etc say you should do don’t always produce the best results either, and yet they’re taken at face value.

  12. Jamie V
    25. Nov, 2013 at 2:09 pm #

    I think I’m a combo of both Kant and Abel. I went to school and got a degree in history and anthropology because I enjoyed it. But now I work at a bank because I got no hits in my field of ‘expertise’, and it was the job that had the best pay and benefits for the flexible schedule (and I could do the work until I found something else). I still don’t know what I want to do when I grow up (perhaps my degree will not matter one bit), but I’m slowly getting there and realizing that it’s okay to feel that a cubicle isn’t meant for me after all, which I think is a big first hurdle that a lot of people need to overcome. It’s okay because not everyone is cut out for it, and like a lot of other people, I thought I was; so what if I’m not? The world didn’t end and now I know better than I knew yesterday what I do and do not like. That’s a good revelation to have and I’m glad to know what to look out (or not) for in a next job. I now see this position as a stepping stone to get to where I do want to be, and right now, I’m okay with that, too. While lacking excitement, my job is not permanent and once I get what I want out of it, I will move on to something else when the time is right. Who knows?

    • Afford Anything
      26. Nov, 2013 at 10:53 am #

      @Jamie — Most people, myself included, are a combination of both Abel and Kant … so you’re in good company.

      “Stepping stone” positions can be super-valuable. They give you the training, cash savings and debt pay-down that you need. Just always remember that it’s only temporary, and keep your eyes trained to search for opportunities elsewhere. Stepping stones are fantastic; getting stuck is not.

  13. Money Saving
    26. Nov, 2013 at 3:14 pm #

    Great story! I feel like I’ve been leading a life a little too much like Kant. I’ve been taking steps to shift more towards the Able way of thinking :-) I think the human mind puts a lot of arbitrary constraints on our actions that are pretty self limiting if we don’t question and challenge ourselves.

  14. Steph
    30. Nov, 2013 at 12:07 pm #

    Great article.

    I’m definitely a Kant, but trying to be more Abel.

    I have a 25+ year career in Corporate America. It’s really hard to leave the security of a full time job, even though that’s what I desperately want to do.

    I invest in real estate and dabble in other ventures to try to get out of the rat race. It hasn’t been enough (yet) to get me to leave my 9-to-5. With a family, children and elderly parents to care for, I’m a bit limited (pay-wise) as to what jobs I can take at this point in my life.

    My company announced last Spring they are sending job out of state in the next couple years. Most of my co-workers (who are “lifers” at the company) are horrified. I’m thrilled…I can’t wait to leave, take my year’s severance and move on and never look back! The company keeps changing their mind about the job moves, so if they keep procrastinating, I may just leave before the severances are handed out, which totally shocks my co-workers, too!

    I’m looking forward to freelancing, contracting or doing whatever I can to pay the bills. I just know that I can’t go back to Corporate America.

    Love your blog, Paula!!

    • Afford Anything
      02. Dec, 2013 at 10:29 am #

      @Steph — I love it when I hear from readers who know exactly what they want, as you do. Some people are unsure of whether or not they want to leave the Corporate Job. They’re harder to help, because the best advice I can give them is to reflect deeply and clarify their goals.

      But when I hear from readers who KNOW that they want to leave their Corporate Job, like you, I want to jump up and down in excitement. That’s huge! Deciding to leave is a critical first step! That’s the hurdle that most people can’t overcome!

      Now you just need to execute that dream: save some cash, create multiple streams of income, and cut the corporate cord. It sounds like a lot, but believe me: That first step of clarifying your dream is the hardest. The rest is just execution.

      I’m so excited for you. :-)

  15. Evan
    02. Dec, 2013 at 10:02 pm #

    Eh, just as likely that abel ends up living at home mooching over her parents talking about how she could make it if the man wasn’t keeping her down:

    • Afford Anything
      03. Dec, 2013 at 10:47 pm #

      @Evan — People who believe that “the man is keeping me down” have nothing in common with Abel, and have no place on this blog. That type of whiny, waah-waah, crybaby, I-have-no-power-or-control-over-my-own-life mentality is the polar opposite of everything that Abel and Afford Anything stand for.

  16. Gabe
    14. Jul, 2014 at 8:41 pm #

    I have a mixed approach of both. I studied sociology because many of the other subjects bored me. And if I was going to pay for school, it might as well be something that was interesting. I did take a summer internship that looked great on my resume, but kept working in the mall and at a restaurant to make ends meet. I got stuck in that job where I was just making the minimum payments but thought it would look good on a resume. It did, but now it’s brought me to something greater where I am finally able to grab hold of my finances and start to tackle and save for retirement. People asked me what I wanted to do with sociology and I always replied with I don’t know. Now because of it, I work in Marketing (social media to be more specific) and I absolutely love my job!

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