About 18 months ago, my older brother graduated from Ohio State University. He still lives in Columbus today in a small rowhouse with his girlfriend and their cat, Dorian Gray.
Tony is a night manager at a local movie theater, making just $11.50 an hour and, because they’re understaffed, working upwards of 40 to 50 hours a week.
And yet, at home over Thanksgiving break, he was asking my dad all about how to invest in the stock market and start saving for retirement, and chatted about where he’d like to take his girlfriend on an overseas trip.
Turns out, my brother, the English major we were all so worried about when he neglected to go to graduate school, and who will turn 23 in April without ever having held a salaried job, has an abundance of disposable income.
Hearing about his life over break got me thinking: It often feels like GW’s culture dictates that neglecting to secure a hotshot, full-time, salaried entry-level job straight out of college in a flashy place like D.C. or Manhattan is a failure.
After all, that’s why we fill our summers with (often unpaid) internships – to make us the best, shiniest, sparkliest candidate come application season. I’ve just begun my job hunt for summer 2015 and am feeling this pressure already.
But in just the short period of time following his graduation, my brother has been able to find not just the ability to make ends meet, but happiness, living what’s essentially a working-class life. As we close out 2014 and seniors begin to think about post-graduation options, we shouldn’t forget that success can be defined in ways other than finding work at a place with name recognition. In fact, we should strongly consider thinking outside the box – about jobs that will pay us well enough to just get by.
Now, of course, the linchpin of all this is a subject with which D.C. residents are all too familiar: rent prices. For a one-bedroom with an updated kitchen one block away from Columbus’ hippest area, Tony and his girlfriend pay in total, between them, $700 a month in rent.
I don’t know about you, but upon hearing that, my jaw dropped and my heart hurt. The average D.C. resident spends more than double that – close to $1,500 – each month on housing, and places on Foggy Bottom can be even worse. (According to my brother, for what I pay for my one-bedroom-plus-den on L Street, I could swing a three-bedroom pad right on OSU’s campus.)
Obviously, there’s a huge difference between our two cities, and that’s the main reason why Tony is able to live the way he is. But GW students should think about expanding the scope of their job hunts outside of D.C., and outside of some of the country’s other most expensive cities, like San Francisco, Seattle and Minneapolis.
These metropolises are of course great cities to live in, especially for young professionals, but let’s not discount the high quality of life you might be able to find in groovy places like Tucson, Ariz., Memphis, Tenn., or Louisville, Ky., which all landed on CBS MoneyWatch’s 2013 list of the top-10 cheapest U.S. cities to rent an apartment.
Winding up somewhere lesser-known doesn’t represent a failure on your part, and it doesn’t mean you’re lazy for not reaching for the highest tree branch right away.
My brother also seems, plain and simple, content. Though his job is a ton of work, he’s learning about how to run a movie theater, as well as invaluable management skills. He doesn’t have any concrete plans for his immediate future, either, besides continuing to subsist the way he has been – but he doesn’t seem to care.
He’s even casting about for exciting ways to spend his 20s, a time he sees as offering him the first real taste of independence since college and the last chance to have adventures before being locked down by having kids in his 30s: He’s talking international vacations and big purchases for his home.
These may not be the kind of long-term plans GW students are used to hearing, but they’re working for people like my brother and they could work for us, too. We shouldn’t buckle to the pressure to succeed so early on that we forget to live our lives as young adults.
Robin Jones Kerr, a senior majoring in journalism, is The Hatchet’s opinions editor.