What is a legitimate job? If you spend four years at an academically elite institution that costs tens of thousands of dollars to attend, are you obligated to do something big and world changing? If so, what qualifies as big and world changing? For the past two and a half decades, Julie McGuire has been grappling with these questions.
Following graduation, McGuire put her career aspirations on hold in favor of a “gap year” filled with excursions to Europe and Australia. “When I was a senior, I very intentionally did not run around and try to figure out what I was going to do because I had already identified that I was going to take some time off.”
McGuire had vague plans for her return—move to New York, find a job in international business, begin “real life.” “During the time I was traveling abroad, my girlfriend who was living in New York took a job in Japan, so there wasn’t anywhere for me to drop my bags in New York. I moved in with my sister in Southern California instead.”
As a way of covering her living expenses while she searched for a “real job,” McGuire took a position as a server at a local coffee shop. “When I took the job, two things came to mind. One was that I would just do this job until I find a real job. The second was that I’ve always enjoyed this kind of coffee—I’d love to know how to make it.”
Weeks turned into months, and McGuire’s “real job” prospects remained thin: “I didn’t even know what field I was looking for.” Meanwhile, her work at the coffee shop went from part-time to full-time, and, much to her surprise, McGuire found herself drawn to the work. She enjoyed the way the coffee shop brought the community together, and the way that her work as a server allowed her to interact with different types of people.