I received news that my job was about to end due to a “fiscal exit” from the big sponsor across the pond. My sputtering bank account was still empty from the move cross-country, so I hit the pavement in search of some sort of continuation in paycheck.
I clicked many links and pulled myself together for many interviews; rustled up old connections and trolled job boards for everything I’m pretty sure I didn’t want.
At the end of July of last year it came down to two options.
Take a salary cut and transfer to the technology department of the current company to work in what was literally called “The Cave.” It was a large dark room of database guys and hardware engineers — think telephones and small towers of networked computers connected to boxes of flashing LEDs. I’d occasionally tiptoe in for something like batteries and find a lone soul peering owlishly into a computer screen, cryptic contents reflected back in a thick pair of glasses.
Accept an offer at a hotshot app design and development company of which I knew little about. I was aware of the high demand for agencies like these. I also knew it was an exciting time to be working at such a place.
I mulled it over during long walks to and from the subway as I shifted my knockoff handbag stuffed with wrinkled resumes from one side of my body to the other.
The mobile shop could be cool. It would be a nice return to working on apps, which is what I was doing at my last job in Los Angeles.
I considered the downsides. It very well may likely be a situation where I’d wind up reporting to young entrepreneurs amidst muddy creative chaos at best, a workplace where decaf was criminalized and all sense of structure condemned — where all bets were off.
Still, the company was sexy. They had a flashy website. Everyone was young and creative, and the office was in Soho.
There was no third option.
What I disliked about mobile startups was the illusion associated with startup culture whereby an entrepreneur, “creative,” or anyone with an inkling of experience developing in Objective-C is revered as rockstar. Within this framework specifically, no one else seems to matter.
There is also a sense of entitlement harboured by those handed more responsibility than someone their age should have in relation to their work experience. (I should know, I was one of them once.) But when did 28 year-old CEOs become a thing?
At startups there are also things called “soft perks.” While they support the glamour of start-up culture they replacing other niceties like a 401K or market-rate compensation.
I never gave a shit about ping-pong or free coffee, although at one company I received enough concert tickets to anchor my social life for years.
Clearly I say all of this with a heavy-handed dose of cynicism. Born in 1980 and a possible first of the so-called generation millennial, I wonder if this some sort of later-in-life reality check.
Any random Pinterest board provides chalky motivational quotes conveying the message to abandon responsibility in favor of things like pursuing one’s dreams or to “do only what you love.”
These motivational temptations feel like a juicy paradox offered to only the fortunate few, suggestions for the hoi polloi to chew on as we wonder how the hell we’ll be able to live comfortably in a big city, let alone save for retirement.
Is the risk worth it? Are soft perks a key piece of the modern work environment, one non-committal yet ripe with positive learning experiences?
And how many other “millennials” are working a full-time job while secretly working to grow a personal passion?
At the end of the day I wonder if we’re simply a generation of dreamers.
Or maybe, we’re hard workers tired of a flawed system. We understand that it’s possible to make a difference in a genuinely interesting time of technological innovation and opportunity. The aspirational approach is one of many ways of getting there.
I like to think of myself as a futurist at heart, and will never be too old to shy from excitement. Even if it’s just drama arriving late to the party in a fancier outfit — a “soft perk” of living in New York City.
So, steeping in self-assuredness and curiosity, I shrugged and popped the red pill.