I wrote an essay about my post grad experiences in the working world: how I had to “dim down” my creative and artistic experiences to fit the profile of what my future employers wanted.
Read the essay posted on December 18, 2015 online here. The full text of the article can be viewed by clicking below.
“By Day I’m Grayscale, By Evening I’m Fully Saturated”
By Danielle Levsky
Dec 18, 2015
4 min read
I lived my life through a series of filters, changing my appearance and exploring new experiences to identify different parts of me. I planned on dying my hair blue, learning to beatbox, taking flamenco dance lessons or starting a calligraphy course. It’s been a little bit over a year since I graduated college with my multi-faceted filters. Now, I must learn to apply filters I don’t identify with, filters that make me feel as if I am leading two different lives. One is where I am a flamenco-dancing, calligraphy artist… and the other is a quiet, nine-to-five shift with Netflix at night.
In the first two weeks after graduation, I realized just how much I had taken the freedom of my colorful filters — my individuality — for granted. I was fresh out of college, and to prospective employers who were looking for an entry-level worker with a minimum of three years experience, I worried I looked incompetent and inexperienced.
My fear was only coupled with the disappointing statistics revolving around recent college graduates. According to a recent analysis done by the left-leaning Economic Policy Institute, there is a 12.3 percent unemployment rate among workers under age 25. Generation Opportunity, a conservative nonprofit that advocates for millennials, confirmed this information in their monthly “Millennial Jobs Report”. As of May 2015, the data show 13.8 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds are out of work, while the national jobless rate is 5.4 percent.
The data was frightening and my job application experience confirmed how unprepared I felt. Heck, I didn’t even know how to write a proper cover letter or time my follow-up emails. I taught myself about the job search process in depth. Slowly I began to apply new, less vibrant filters. I dimmed the saturation of my experiences and blurred all the qualities that made me unique.
After figuring out the job application process, I had to learn how to filter myself during an interview. It took two phone interviews and three in-person interviews for me to realize that I needed to tell employers what they wanted to hear, not what I thought was most exciting about me. They didn’t want to know how for a magazine assignment, I spent an entire day at a Russian deli in Pittsburgh, chatting with the owner and all the customers that came in. (They were like family, the way they spoke to the owner and the way they spoke to me. Someone even brought in pastries, to which the owner brewed up a hot pot of tea and was adamant about sharing with me.)
But my employers didn’t want to know about precious moments I had with interview subjects. They wanted to know that I produced engaging, short-and-to-the-point copy. They wanted to know I knew how to work on a deadline. They wanted to know that I managed a team of over 50 people.
They were interested in my experience in writing, editing, graphic design, website management and magazine finances because I was a go-getter, not because our student publication was incredibly short-staffed and I cared too much to let the ship go down.
They wanted to know that I studied abroad and kept up with my trilingual studies because it would encourage market engagement. They didn’t care that I adored the way the different words gurgled up my throat and rolled off my tongue. They didn’t care that I was taking mental notes of every person I met in my journeys abroad, remembering what made them laugh, smile, scream and cry. The filters of human existence were what interested me, not the markets I could sell to.
So, what my interviewers saw was a grayscaled version of me. My hair, usually dyed a fiery red and completely untamed, was a sensible, auburn shade and straightened. Instead of a green velvet dress with loud, purple earrings and floral tights, I wore a cotton black office dress with small pearl earrings and sheer tights. My creative efforts and intellectual pursuits were boxed up in valuable business and marketing criteria; my experiences were for the good of the company, not for the good of my soul.
When I started my first full-time job, I was ecstatic that they let me be myself more than any other place I interviewed. And yet, I still couldn’t shake the discomfort I felt with the “office environment.” Despite how casual modern workplaces have become, I felt the need to cover up my obscurities, to turn the volume down on my appearance. I even refrained from posting my commentary and reaction to current events, Internet culture and anything else I might have seen on social media for fear of my coworkers thinking of me negatively. Funny enough, it was only at my workplaces that I’ve been told I’m quiet. My friends and family have known me to be outspoken and above all, loud. I keep quiet at work to keep the filters intact. It is only when my shift is over that I can waltz out the doors and be my loud, colorful self.
It’s taken me over a year to start removing the filters, to start showing who I am to my coworkers and what I bring to the table other than marketable, company qualities. I am hopeful about the future of my filters.
But I don’t know if I should be hoping for a future place of employment that allows me to be myself entirely around my peers or if I should accept these two sets of filters: one fully saturated, the other grayscale.