Lisa Lo Paro
March 12, 2015 5:56 am

During my senior year of college, I was at peace. The literature classes I was taking were instructive and enlightening, I had a great circle of friends, and I waited with eager anticipation to enter the famed “real world” I had heard so much about. Without applying to any jobs, I ran out the clock on my last internship, knowing full well they could not offer me a full-time position. I didn’t have a “plan.” I hadn’t gone apartment hunting in New York, didn’t go on interviews, and I looked forward to the summer, my last free summer, during which I would be maid of honor in my sister’s wedding. The last stages of planning the event would be utterly time-consuming, and so I put off job searching until the special day was over. I figured: I have my whole life to work. I can wait three months to start my “real” life.

After the wedding, I settled in at home and kept my job as a waitress, and my days were occupied filling out a frenzy of job applications. I haunted job boards, asked old friends and family if they had connections, and went on dozens of interviews for jobs I didn’t want: in PR, in publishing houses, all the while completely confused and getting seriously discouraged. I saw my friends’ Instagram photos of late nights in New York, read their updates about office life, and I had to wonder if there was something wrong with me. I had a high GPA in college, decent work experience and determination to find a job—any job.

Last year I went on an interview for a position at a small PR firm in Soho. I got a second interview, and then a third. I got dangerously close to being offered a job and I realized, with a huge pang, that if I got offered the job I would take it, because I have no other options. I had never wanted to work in PR and only considered it because I had a strong connection and because I seemed to be impressing my interviewers, inexplicably. I panicked, wondering what my life would look like a year from now, and if I would ever find the chance to do what I really wanted to do with my life: write.

Now, I was lucky in several ways. First, I didn’t get the job offer. Second, I had the luxury of being able to live at home, with a decent waitressing job and parents who were very supportive (or otherwise very distracted: my other sister had recently become engaged and my mother was consumed with more wedding planning!). I had the chance to stop and think, the chance that many don’t have. But I also made myself stop and think: if I don’t go after what I want now, I’ll never get as good a chance.

So I stopped and thought. I’d always wanted to be a writer. I sat down and made a list of websites I could potentially write for and scanned their requirements. In an effort to have more diverse clips for a portfolio, I started a blog. I began writing for the Internet completely uncompensated, all the while juggling an almost full-time job as a waitress and tutoring half a dozen middle schoolers for extra cash. I lived at home, and loved the fact that I was an adult just beginning to relate to my parents on an equal level, our relationship unencumbered by curfew requirements and anguished pleas to clean my room. A year after failing—yet again—to get a job, I’ve learned that a successful life looks very different to me than it once did.

I’m still waitressing, still tutoring (and loving it), and most importantly, I’m still writing. I don’t know what my future career will look like but I hope I’m still writing, and even if I do get a job I’m not crazy about, now I know that I won’t let it prevent me from going after what I want. And I won’t let other people’s opinions and prejudices change who I am.

Almost every day, people ask me what I’m doing “with my life.” Sometimes they condescendingly ask me—while eying my waitress uniform up and down—if “this is the only thing you’re doing.” It hurts that many assume I’m “wasting” my college education. When I tell them I write freelance, I find myself in the position of having to defend my choices and my passion to complete strangers. I’ve had people straight-out ask me if writing freelance pays a lot. “No,” I tell them flatly. But it’s made me very happy. And that’s all the success I need.

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