By Nadira A. Hira
June 11, 2007

A happy story from me to you to start off the week. This one’s for all the starving and would-be starving artists, struggling to uphold their ideals by saying no to I-banking, and wondering how they will ever make it on $20,000 a year — even with the ideals. (Many of you fellow Gen Yers in the more creative arenas have written me about how tough it is, and I just thought this might be a good and optimistic way to get some conversation going…)

A few weeks ago, my little sister, Elizabeth, was just another 22-year-old unemployed recent graduate of a pretty good school. (She’s Stanford Class of 2006.) After graduating with honors in history, she’d gone completely unorthodox and spent the summer archiving at Yellowstone National Park in a town where she got no cell reception and couldn’t leave home in the morning until the bull elk on her lawn had left to start his day.

While wonderful experience, it wasn’t exactly a career choice, so in September, she moved back home to our mom’s to study for the LSAT and work on law school applications. Lots of savings, several long talks, and countless tears later, it finally occurred to her that she didn’t really want to go to law school; it had just seemed like the best and most reasonable thing to do. What she did want was work that combined her interests in art and advocacy, maybe even something that made use of her history degree.

The sibling council wasn’t what you’d call hopeful. But it was such a monumental decision for our sister that my high-school-aged brothers and I engaged in some Bond-level ruses to keep it from our mom until Lizurd — that’s what we actually call her — was ready to come clean. Mom, to her credit, was supportive, if a smidge confused. A protracted and largely fruitless job search ensued.

Fast-forward nine months or so to now. In the last weeks, the munchkin has managed to go from having zero jobs to having three:

  1. Worried that she’d barely started her life and already managed to waste it, she decided to apply for a job at a local cafe to regain her dignity and earn some street cred. In reality, she was doing the whole family a service by staying at home, since my mom had begun a new job out of town and Lizurd had volunteered to stay with my brothers so they could finish out the school year. She didn’t quite see it that way, though. So in May, she began slinging coffee — her first real job since September — to become a contributing member of society.
  2. A friend from Yellowstone who knew her interest in oral history recommended she reach out to someone at Florentine Films, the outfit best known for renowned documentarian Ken Burns’s work. This was of course a long shot, but in December — not knowing if the company even took interns — she wrote a blind (but lovely) letter and sent it out. The goal? Simply to learn more about the art of storytelling from some legendary historians. Just as she began playing barista, she got an e-mail asking her to come up and interview. She just finished the first week of her internship there. (The coffee shop folks, though sad to see her go, were excited.)
  3. At about the same time that all this was unfolding, an old TA found her on Facebook and asked her to write him a recommendation for a job he was applying to at a nonprofit. She does, he in turn recommends her for a paid junior post there starting in the fall, and there you have it.

Guess she has a little more to contribute to the world than coffee. But more than anything, I’m just glad that she took those risks — and that we were able to help make it possible for her to do that. So here’s to being Gen Y. Sometimes it does work, and you don’t always need law school! And I’m sure you guys have your own stories of struggling to realize your creative dreams. Care to share?

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