• Charmaine Lising

Dream Small

Money isn't the end all be all

As I watch students toss their caps in the air and celebrate a difficult year of distance learning, I remember the excitement of finally starting my post-graduate life in March of 2020. At the same time, I also remember the many lingering fears I had about graduating college. My biggest fear was that I wouldn’t land a full-time job doing my ideal career. To make things even scarier, the pandemic ended up making the job hunt 100 times more difficult. Not only was I desperately trying to land any job I could find, I was also competing with every unemployed adult impacted by the pandemic.

I applied to over 80 jobs during the time I wasn’t in school and they were all jobs I was confident I could at least land an interview with. My confidence definitely dipped; I wasn’t landing those interviews. Whether it was due to the competition, the pandemic or my lack of qualifications, I will never know.

Luckily, one of the few interviews I did land, was to a job I don’t even remember applying to. It was my 76th application, and I was so burnt out at that point that I was blindly attaching my resume to any position I felt remotely interested in. While excited and relieved that I had finally received an interview, I remember feeling disappointed when I read through the job description over again.

It was for an Academic Coach Position at a Charter High School in Point Loma San Diego called High Tech High International (HTHI). I felt disappointed, not because I didn’t want to be an academic coach, but because I thought I was ready for bigger positions now that I had received my degree. All throughout my undergraduate years at the University of California San Diego (UCSD), I had filled my time working multiple jobs that often revolved around student retention and academic support. I felt more disappointed because I knew that the salary of a coach/tutoring position would be very low, and I would only be working part-time hours.

After interviewing for the job, I received an offer almost right away. I was grateful to be working, but it just wasn’t what I had in mind. I kept self-deprecating and comparing myself to my peers who were landing full-time jobs in the careers they received their degrees in. It was so hard to talk about my struggle to pay rent off my paychecks, while they had a surplus to spend on personal goods because they were making over $76k annually.

As I started to work at HTHI, I felt a huge wave of nostalgia and confidence. I felt very much in my element and dove right into work. It was bliss being able to support students and work with them in their classes again. It felt great to be working again.

While working with the students, I would forget that I was hesitant to be in this position because of money. I was good at my job and I felt very confident in my abilities as a coach. It was fulfilling to work with students and teachers every day. While I was helping students, I found myself learning something new every day. Being out of college for a year and a half at that point, I missed the feeling of learning and growing as a person, and this job gave me that.

I really find it silly that money was the biggest factor for the jobs that I applied to. This is because money was never my end goal, and I don’t know when I started to convince myself that it was. Throughout college, I didn’t apply to my previous jobs because I wanted a high salary, I applied to them because I wanted to do jobs that I would enjoy and receive fruitful experiences from.

When I applied to my masters program, it still revolved around student affairs. I had forgotten my true goal because I was wrapped around the concept of earning a high salary. I felt like an imposter because I was aiming for a goal that didn’t equate to the degree I received. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median usual weekly earnings for someone with a bachelor’s degree is roughly $1,250. This means that most individuals with a bachelor’s degree average a salary of $65k right out of college doing entry level positions.

The position I was currently working, didn’t require a bachelor’s degree. I started to wonder if I was wasting my degree, if I was allowing myself to settle with work, or if I simply wasn’t qualified for higher positions even with my bachelor’s degree. I didn’t wonder this often until my college friends and I were catching up about post-grad life and work.

I discovered, however, how different my experiences were with my peers who had landed their dream jobs right away. While I was still comfortably enjoying a role I had done many times, I never got tired of it or felt that I wasn’t growing. My friends would often tell me how monotonous their jobs were and how they didn’t feel like they were reaching their full potential at work. They were earning lots of money, but they weren’t happy. They didn’t feel excited going into work every day, and constantly felt like they were searching for more and something different.

According to “Job Satisfaction Statistics” on Career Vision, only 20% of the American population feel very passionate about their jobs, 33% feel they have reached a dead end in their career, and 21% are eager to change their career. That makes up over half the American population who are dissatisfied with their careers. I believe we belong to a generation where we are torn between choosing what makes the money and paying bills (influenced by our parents' generation) versus choosing our passions and fields which are influenced by our current generation.

Since I was a child I dealt with imposter syndrome and felt a constant fake desire to become a nurse or a therapist in the medical field. I respect those careers but I never believed they were for me. I pursued them at first because I thought it was a job more suited for my background. But what exactly did that mean?

I felt I had fallen under the model minority myth. Growing up, I felt the immense pressure to be successful because I was a “smart Asian woman” who could have chosen to do anything— become anything. I found comfort in the article “Debunking the Model Minority Myth” from USC’s Pacific Asia Museum (PAM) and APASS Online Exhibition. It showcased students like myself who were experiencing the burden of living out these high expectations engrained with our race and culture while trying to maintain pieces true to ourselves. The article explains how, “Asian Americans are often stereotyped as studious, successful, smart — a model minority who excel in education and accomplish the ‘American Dream’”.

As if it wasn’t hard enough to prove why I wanted a job that didn’t pay a triple value salary, I also felt that I was betraying my parent’s efforts to come to the U.S. for better opportunities by pursuing a career path that was less than stellar in comparison to that of a doctor or dentist. The notion of fulfilling the “American Dream” felt different in Asian cultures because of the intense pressure to pursue a career that was viewed as the predominant reason for coming to America in the first place. The “American Dream” embodied better opportunities, and in translation, that meant access to better education, homes, food and jobs. However, in order to maintain those opportunities for our future families to come, we needed to land the one thing that could ensure it’s stability: a respectable career that paid well.

I felt my calling in the field of education and student life. For a while, I had my heart set on working as a Special Education teacher. When I told people this was my dream job, they would often tell me how I could do better given my potential and academic skills. I had heard time and time again how teachers don’t get paid much, and how I could be making twice the amount if I had chosen something more influential rather than “practical.” There was so much scrutiny from my family and even within my own communities about my career choices. It was hard to convince others that I had willingly chosen a career that didn’t fall under the medical field or STEM realm, because it was often looked at as an excuse for failing. It was too difficult for my peers to believe that I would “waste” my potential and chose to believe it was a mistake rather than the choice I had made for myself.

Money was never the end all be all for me. By changing my perspective, I was easily influenced by the idea that money is power. I’ve heard the phrases, “do what makes you happy” and “follow your dreams” all my life. They’re phrases adults threw around, our parents threw around, and even phrases we, young people, threw around. As individuals on the receiving end of those phrases, and as individuals going out into the real world job hunting, I didn’t feel we were held accountable. It’s easy to tell someone to follow their dreams, but even easier to scrutinize those who actually do.

You always hear “dream big” and “dream bigger” but no one ever says, “dream small.” I say “dream small” because it’s up to you to make it something big. The salary does not necessarily equate success, and it especially does not equate happiness. Those who dream, have direction, and we should not belittle the directions we choose because it’ll always lead us to where we need to go. It’s time to practice what we preach and normalize choosing happiness.

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